Provins is Switzerland’s largest winery, a regular winner of medals at various competitions – in addition, it is the largest winery and a cooperative in the largest wine-producing region of Valais – so what it does matters.
Last week, 25 May, it took restaurateurs, major clients and wine writers into four of its vineyards to show them exactly what it means when it says it is releasing a new line of “domaine” wines. These will go on the market 10 July, four haute-de-gamme wines that reflect clearly four domains owned or managed by the winery. (Note: you can order them now, for delivery in July. Priced at CHF40-60 bottle.)
Start by remembering that as a cooperative, Provins buys grapes from its 3,200 member-growers and while it has a strong marketing arm, it cannot entirely control its commercial direction in the same way as a private winery. As one manager puts it to me, “We’re kind of stuck with some of what we have.” A problem with such a large and mixed intake of grapes is creating a lineup of wines that makes sense to the consumer. The wines are well known in general and have a good reputation, with Provins twice named Swiss Winery of the Year, in 2008 and again in 2013. But there are 17 distinct lines, each with several wines.
The winery has decided to promote together two groups of wines that represent, as Raphael Garcia, CEO, says, “the high and the low” terrestrially speaking, of the company’s finest wines: Les Titans is a collection of mountain wines named in honour of those who built the dams near the glaciers in Valais, where the wines are matured, while the new collection, Crus des Domaines, emphasizes the integrity of four of the best domains whose terroir is of special interest.
The four in brief:
- Petite Arvine Domaine de Tourbillon AOC Valais, 2017
This very old domain belongs to the Bishopry of Sion, and the bishop himself took part in one of last week’s group tours. The domain is wedged between the Tourbillon tower and Valère basilica, Sion’s two high landmarks visible from great distances. Soil: schistous, with a very dry climate. It has now been turned over completely to Petite Arvine – Pinot Noir vines here were pulled up recently – which develops as a strongly mineral and fruit (citrus) wine. Matured on its lies in stainless steel. A beautiful example of this grape. The name means hurricane, or whirlpool and has long puzzled locals and visitors alike, but the story goes that when the dry foehn wind blows hard in Valais, on the rare occasion when it reaches this protected area it swoops up leaves and debris the swirl and swirl in the air above.
- Heida Domaine du Chapitre de la Cathédrale AOC Valais, 2017
This was a favourite with the people alongside me, an elegant and ample, mineral Heida strongly marked by its terroir. Matured in amphoras, which give it depth and good aging potential without being marked by oak. You can see the vineyard in front of you when you climbed the Tourbillon hillside, to the north, on the road to Savièse (the Lentine hillside north of Sion). It belongs to the Chanoines of the Cathedral chapter and it is impossible to visit these wines, drenched in history, without being aware of the centuries of struggles for powers between lay and religious groups, not to mention Sion and Geneva’s religious leaders. Steep slopes, dry stone walls here: the handiwork of vigneron here for more than a century marks the landscape. Thin schistous soil with some clay, south-facing and hot.
- Diolinoir Évêché AOC Valais, 2015
One of the first Diolinoir planted, and one of the more full-bodied, rich and interesting wines from this grape that I have tasted. This is also a historic vineyard belonging to the Sion Bishopry, this time in Savièse, sloping down towards Sion and facing south. Complex loess soil, with the wine matured in oak and larch barrels, underscoring the traditional side of Valais winemaking.
- Clos Corbassières AOC Valais, 2014
This was my personal favourite, a wine of great character and with a good story behind it. We walked along the Montorge bisse to reach a newly built platform for guests (tables delivered one week earlier!) at an old shelter on the land. The wine “makes its own blend” each year, we were told: 7 grape varieties were complanted here by Provins some years ago; it is one of the few vineyards actually owned by the cooperative. This is a very hot area, lower than the other vineyards we visited, on the very steep slope below Montorge. Limestone-schist soil, extremely dry, terraced vines. Provins does little to adjust the wine in terms of balance of grape varieties: they are all harvested together, vinified together then oaked for 24 months – tannins are quite high at the outset. A wine that will keep for 8-10 years at least.
Chapeau! Four very fine wines for exceptional moments.