Marc Vicari, a compact man, exudes a sense of order and balance, and at the moment he has a relaxed smile, in part because of last week’s news that his winery’s Servagnin 2015 was awarded 90+ points by Robert Parker. (subscription). The grapes had just been harvested in record time, under two weeks, thanks to fine weather and a couple extra hired hands. The 2017 wines promise to be wonderful and the small quantity is less of an issue here than in many parts of Switzerland hit by late frost or hail. When I met up with him, the sun was sitting low in the afternoon sky, casting long golden rays over the now-empty vines above the Ville de Morges vineyard. His lunch hours are spent cycling along vineyard lanes on these beautiful hills above Lake Geneva.
A great terroir, Morges
“We’re really privileged,” and he waves an arm across the hillside. It’s hard to disagree, and easy to understand why the city fathers have owned a winery here since 1547.
Servagnin, made by 17 wineries in the Morges region that adhere closely to a charter, is a beautiful thread in the Pinot Noir story. The version of it made by the Ville de Morges domain, vintage 2015, was one of four wines I presented last night in an introduction to Vaud wines, and it turned out to be a real beauty. Clean lines, elegant, with all the delicacy that a good Pinot Noir can offer. What a not surprising surprise, then, to be told by Vicari, who is responsible for the wines and the rapid rise of this city winery in the past 4-5 years, the Robert Parker news about this Servagnin.
There are several things that are remarkable about this, one of which is that it is another indication of Parker’s Wine Advocate’s commitment to tasting and noting Swiss wines, since the arrival of Stephan Reinhardt in 2014. Reinhardt has a long and happy relationship with Swiss wines and they are now getting some well-deserved attention. Whatever one thinks of the Parker approach to wine, and many Europeans I meet are not fans, a note over 90 is a commercial boon for any winery.
Switzerland’s first Pinot grapes
Secondly, this is the newest notch in the Servagnin success story. The grape has a remarkable tale to tell, with this particular clone offered to the city some 600 years ago by Marie de Bourgogne, who was married to Amédée VIII, Duke of Savoie, chatelain of the Morges chateau. Marie’s grapes are credited with being the first Pinot Noir planted in what is today Switzerland. Beautiful though it is, the clone nearly died out as easier grapes came along, and a single last vine was saved less than 50 years ago. From it, researchers were able to develop a good clone and producers in the Morges area have since worked carefully to nurse production back to a healthy number of fine vines.
The city’s own wines, a range of 17 at Ville de Morges winery, have gained a beautiful kind of precision. The 120,000 bottles produced today include tiny collections, such as 200 bottles of trendy orange wine, to the popular Chasselas in much larger quantities. Ville de Morges was named the top winery in Switzerland in 2015, the same year that one of its Chasselas wines was named the world’s best by the Mondial du Chasselas. The list of “distinctions“, or awards, on its web site, deserves a browse.
The 2015 wine
Cherry and spice notes, with Reinhardt saying it has an “almost Syrah-like variation of Pinot Noir with firm tannins and a long, juicy finish.”
I presented the wine to a group of international entrepreneurs who are at the EPFL Venture Lab – we had a lively discussion about options for closing bottles, including the new high tech design stopper (photo below) used by the winery for its white Morgienne.
It was one of four wines, our last, and the group’s favourite. For me, it has all the classic beauty and elegance of a Pinot Noir, and while I agree with Reinhardt’s notes, it is important to think of it as a Pinot Noir : remarkable for its balance, with the fruit present but never dominating.
And if you fall in love with Servagnin, be sure to visit the charming medieval old town of the village of St Prex, just 6km down the road, one of the prettiest hamlets on Lake Geneva’s shores.