Golden harvest of 2018
Grapes are in the air, literally, with the Swiss harvest moving out of the vineyards and into the cellars, where fermentation is adding pungent aromas to wine villages across the country. Facebook and Instagram images from wineries abound now, most of them featuring the finest grapes we’ve seen in a few years: gloriously golden Chasselas with perfect bronze highlights, deep purply black Pinot Noir and more, much more – grapes galore, looking very healthy.
Maurice Zufferey in Valais, when I asked him 10 days ago how the harvest was going, smiled broadly and said, “In a year like this, with weather like this? Fairly easy.” Ditto for wineries in the rest of the country, from what I am hearing. Sunshine, no rain to rot the grapes as you bring them in, a year with good growth and no hail to speak of – a fine change from 2017, where weather caused a lot of damage.
So what’s the verdict for the vintage, that’s our next question. The grapes are beautiful, if on the sunny, rich side, and some wineries found they had to cool down the first grapes to keep them from fermenting too quickly. Otherwise, this promises to be a very good to great year, although it is still early days. Let the grapes do their thing and we’ll check back in a few weeks, when today’s juice and must has become young wine.
If you like European wines, it’s the same story elsewhere, with reports of happy and healthy harvests coming in from most major wine-producing areas.
Fete des Vignerons tickets
The Fête des Vignerons, Vevey’s once-in-a-generation mega festival, sold 36,000 tickets when they went on sale to individuals (large groups had already pre-ordered) 17 September, reports Relais du vin in an interview with Marie-Jo Valente, associate executive director. If you don’t yet have yours, don’t wait, as this much-loved event (19 July to August 11 of 2019) is likely to sell out quickly, now that it is less than a year away. A hugely popular feature is the cantonal days, with each canton having a day to put on parades and display local culture and food and drink; locals join their cantons en masse for the fun.
What to do this autumn
Oolala, you won’t be short of choices even though the Swiss Semaine du Goût (taste week) ended last weekend. Wine tourism has clearly taken off at an extraordinary rate in Switzerland this year, with wineries, museums and villages organizing hikes through the vines, for a start, or inviting the public to join workers during the harvest or to take part in local festivities. Badoux winery, in Aigle, Vaud, this summer began to offer guided e-bike tours of the vineyards followed by a tasting, ditto for Domaine des Chevaliers in Salgesch, Valais, and Domaine de la Colombe in Féchy, Vaud, will soon offer e-bikes to tour the hilly vineyards in that area; meanwhile, consider their classical music and wine evening, a sellout every December.
Cave Alain Emery in Aigle has Saturday meet-ups to visit the Vaud wine museum and talk about history and family wineries (ending at the winery, of course) and much more. Château de Vaas, aka The Maison de Cornalin, in the Valais hamlet of Flanthey (between Sion and Sierre), is starting to offer Thursday and Friday night raclettes with regional products including local wines, in addition to three Brisolée evenings in October – and you can take in the permanent exhibition on Cornalin, a Swiss grape treasure, on the upper floors of this small, beautiful old house. Brisolée, centred around chestnuts, is both a traditional late-autumn meal and a chestnut festival in several areas, with Fully’s (13-14 October) one of the most dynamic.
Vinum Montis is a two-year-old venture, a wine tourism partnership that began at the Sierre tourism office. This summer it began to expand, to cover more of Valais. The club, which promotes wine-related activities, has grown rapidly – keep an eye on the group. Some of these offers are classic, others such as golf and wine or rafting and wine, or commented wine tastings in your own home, are more unusual.
I used to list events on this blog, but there are now far too many. Keep an eye out for these larger commercial events:
Foire du Valais in Martigny, 28 September to 7 October. Far more than a wine fair, but wine certainly plays a big part in this hugely popular cantonal fair.
Gouts & Terroirs, 31 October to 4 November in Bulle, if you want to know more about Swiss-crafted foods and drinks, a great opportunity to sample and buy.
Baslerweinmesse, 27 October to 4 November in Basel, traditional big autumn wine tasting fair.
Expovina, 1 to 15 November, on 12 boats docked in Zurich: the big Zurich wine tasting event that’s a not-miss for anyone in German-speaking Switzerland, with 4,000 wines from around the world.
Foire aux vins Coop, Geneva, on the lake, 6-10 November. Coop holds several of these, in the largest Swiss cities, but this one in particular is a long-standing Geneva November tradition.
Stellar wine projects: Swiss wine tourism awards
Learn about the 10 dynamic tourism projects centred around wine that were nominees for the second annual Swiss Wine Tourism awards, which had 62 entries, impressive for only a second time around. The winner, Sion’s year-old L’oenoparc des Celliers de Sion (see my report from the opening), will now compete for the International Best of Wine Tourism award sponsored by Great Wine Capitals of the World. The winner of the 2017 Swiss award was the Chateau de Chillon. More on this later today.
Future of wine fairs
Where to, Arvinis and Vinea?
In other Swiss wine news, much of the buzz is about the future of the wine fairs that have marked French-speaking Switzerland for the past 20-plus years. There is currently a shakeout going on that – this is my guess – will result in these gradually being replaced by a mushrooming collection of activities and smaller events around which wine tasting takes place. If that happens, the future of these organizations will be called into question. Arvinis could evolve as the wine part of Geneva’s cantonal fall fair, les Automnales and Vinea as a fair could simply become part of the Valais fair in Martigny, which already boasts a large wine section. Vinea’s other work, running international wine competitions, would need to be developed but it remains to be seen if the organization can build on the Pinot Noir and Merlot global competitions and the Grand Prix du Vin Suisse, the national awards event that it runs with Vinum magazine.
Arvinis, which traditionally opened the summer tasting season in April, moved from Morges to Montreux two years ago, but it is now making a more permanent move to Palexpo in Geneva, which purchased the privately-owned fair from PHF Production (who remain on the board). The exhibition centre there plans to run Arvinis in November, at the same time as its Automnales. Vaud wineries I have spoken with in the past three weeks since the move was announced say there are concerned that their regular clients, who count on Arvinis to taste new wines and put in their orders, might not be happy to go to Geneva. And the people who attend Les Automnales are a different clientele, not necessarily wine buyers (wine tasters who do not eventually become wine buyers can be a problem). And that Palexpo’s dates, 7-10 November, could conflict with the popular Coop Foire aux vins in Geneva as well as Expovina in Zurich, which many Swiss wineries feel they need to attend because of the size and importance of the Zurich market.
Meanwhile, Vinea in Sierre, which at its height was pulling in 20,000 visitors for a three-day weekend, saw fewer than 7,000 during its two-day fair in August. When numbers began to dwindle, as they did for Arvinis, although less dramatically, Vinea opted to take wine tastings to Swiss regions in a series of smaller one-day fairs. But the proposed solution runs up against the problem that others are doing the same: wine club Divo has been organizing tastings around the country, as does Vinum magazine, in addition to cantonal winery open days and, increasingly, regional and local open houses and special events, such as several Fully events centred around Petite Arvine.
Wait and see. It’s not clear that all of these will survive, but it’s clear that wineries are keen to pour their wines for a larger public to taste.
Earthworms, baboons, Jura birds, supergrapes
Swiss researchers drew world attention this summer with groundbreaking (sorry!) research into the work worms do in restructuring soil (English summary) – they recorded the sounds worms make as they create galleries. And as we wine-lovers know, soil is at the heart of terroir, and terroir at the heart of good wines.
In South Africa, the Klein Constantia winery and another drew public ire when they applied for permits, valid until this October, to kill baboons. The permits have a daily limit of two baboons, and after seven of them were killed one owner issued a statement saying they had no desire to harm baboons, but the animals have clearly become a nuisance. Details, Drinks Business.
Wine producers in the French Jura earlier this year began working with the Franche Comté bird protection society on a promising biodiversity project to stop the decline in the number of bird species. The birds have seen their food sources diminish. Perches for raptors and shelters for bats and birds that eat insects that damage vines are part of the effort to encourage the birds while helping the grape growers.
French researchers earlier this year were given the green light to make wines from four new grape varieties that they have been developing for nearly 20 years; the wines from Artaban, Vidoc (red), Floreal, and Voltis (white) will be bottled in 2020. The article in Drinks Business that presents the new grapes also gives a very good explanation of how new grape varieties are developed.