Celliers de Sion, the year-old wine tourism centre in Sion, is capping its first year with yet another prize: the “public choice award” among the international finalists at the Great Wine Capitals of the World wine tourism awards. The new venture was given an “international best of wine tourism award” in Adelaide, Australia in early November, after winning the Swiss national wine tourism award in September, among 60-plus projects. The public then had two weeks to register online votes and among the 6,000 sent in, Lausanne received the most votes.
The Celliers won the popular vote over 65 projects from elsewhere in Switzerland as well as: Bordeaux, Bilbao, Verona, Porto, Adélaide , Mainz-Rheinessen, Mendoza, Casablanca Valley and Napa Valley–San Francisco.
Lausanne is Switzerland’s member of the network of Great Wine Capitals: the member must be a large city at the centre of a wine-producing area that cannot be too small. For Lausanne this has meant, from the start, throwing its net large to include far more than the city or Lavaux or canton Vaud.
Yann Stucki, who is the coordinator of Lausanne Great Wine Capitals, noted this week that “These prizes and collaboration … symbolize the federated effort made by wine-producing cantons. The goal is to make Switzerland a well-known wine tourism destination, on an international level. We can do this if the cantons combine their efforts and strengths. At world level, we have a strong card to play. The proximity of our lakes, mountains, vines, cities and countryside means that our offer is unique – we have nothing to fear from other [wine tourism] destinations, as the prizes won by the Celliers de Sion show.”
The “wine tourism park” is more than just an architecturally interesting place to taste wine, although it is that. It is designed to give visitors an education in the basics of how grapes are grown, how wine is made and matured and how to taste it. A series of hiking trails have been created on the mountainside next to the Celliers, for all levels of hikers and all ages, with a series of stops for food and drink. Some of the walks connect with the famous Valais bisse hiking trails, reinforcing the suggestion that this is an entry point for the larger world of Valais wines.
The new winery opened in December 2017, a joint project between Varone and Bonvin, two independent family wineries whose partnership is called Celliers de Sion. Bonvin is the larger of the two, producing about 250,000 bottles a year; Varone 150,000. Bonvin is one of the oldest wineries in the area, created in 1848 before the railroad had even reached Sion. The winery has about 23 hectares; Bonvin, which opened in 1900, has 11.5 hectares but it buys wines from other growers.
The reaction to the prize will surprise some in Switzerland who puzzle over Sion – which is in Valais – winning a prize as part of a Lausanne (in Vaud) membership in a world organization. But Stucki argues that “we have to definitively get rid of this sense of local-only and start answering the needs of clients, who don’t care about these cantonal and regional borders. We need to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity that wine tourism, a very promising market, is offering us.”
The success of the continually busy Celliers in Sion appears to back up his words.
See also: my detailed profile of the Celliers de Sion shortly after it opened.