Vaud is having a turn at the Open Days for its wineries Friday 21 and Saturday 22 May, hot on the heels of the successful similar event in Valais. The list of 300 wineries is daunting, however, so I’ve put together a list of a small number of my favourites, cellars I am happy to recommend, to simplify the task of organizing a visit. There are scores of other very good ones, please note!
For a start, read my tips below on doing a winery tour, adapted from what I wrote last week for the Valais Open Days. Then decide which villages you want to concentrate on: if you have all day, you can comfortably fit in three to five villages, with a couple wineries in each. If you’re doing that much wine-tasting, even if you’re sensibly spitting the wine, please don’t drive! Public transport plus shuttle buses is the best solution. You can order the wine and have it mailed to you. The service is efficient and not costly, within Switzerland.
The Swiss Wine Guide is the Swiss reference guide or bible, to the country’s wines and wineries, and it’s available in English, French and German. I’m responsible for the team that works on the English version, an adaptation. If you don’t have a copy yet, you’ll want one after touring the wineries, for it has a wealth of practical information that makes visits easier.
Worth the detour: the canton’s Wine and Vines Museum in Aigle is undergoing a lengthy renovation and it is being given a new, educational mission. The first phase was completed less than a month ago and a visit to the new museum, in the beautiful Chateau d’Aigles, is the perfect combination with visits to wineries at that end of the lake.
Le Musée de la vigne et du vin
Tel +41 24 466 21 30
Here’s what you should know about Vaud wines
Vaud is the home of Chasselas, the famous Swiss white aperitif wine, and there are some beautiful examples of it, but don’t expect to them to be alike. Some are very mineral and others very floral: the fun is in discovering the differences and deciding what your own preference is.
Chasselas is remarkable for its ability to reflect “terroir”, that combination of soil, micro-climate, wind and sun, not to mention altitude, that makes one vine parcel’s grapes different from the next. Look around you in Vaud, at the nearly flat vineyards along the lakefront close to Geneva, to the steep hills of Fechy, 600 metres altitude, to the remarkable terraced vineyards of LaVaux (a Unesco World Heritage site), and on to the Alpine vineyards in Yvorne.
But don’t forget that Vaud produces as much red as white wine, including some fine Pinot Noirs.
It has six wine “appellations” with AOC’s and 26 wines that are covered by them: Bonvillars AOC, Chablais AOC, Côte de l’Orbes AOC, Lavaux AOC, La Côte AOC and Vully AOC. The marketing arm for the canton’s wines provides a description (French) of each region.
Vaud is about one-third the size of Valais, in terms of land given over to vines and as a result, in terms of the amount of wine produced, which totals about one-fourth of all Swiss wines.
Here’s how to visit the wineries during Open Days
Start by visiting the canton wine office’s pages on the Open Days, to explore the villages via the site’s map.
Take public transport if you can: CFF regional trains stop at main grape-growing centres like Rolle, Morges, Vevey, but they also stop at the little villages that will get you closer to the wineries. Taking the train avoids the problem of drinking and driving, although it limits to some extent your freedom to visit more out of the way wineries.
Plan to spend a day, if not two. You’ll need 30-60 minutes per winery. If you don’t want the tasting sessions to get out of control (and remember, you are the producers’ guests, often at their homes), do spit out at least some of the wine! I limit myself to 3-4 wines per producer, as a general rule, usually starting with 1-2 dry whites, 1 red, maybe 1 sweet, in that order.
Cost: This is a free event, but winemakers are obviously doing it as a marketing event, and they want to sell you their wines. That said, no one obliges you to buy and you’re not even expected to place an order before leaving. Out of politeness, at least ask for the price list and take it home. And clearly, if you do like something, take advantage of the opportunity and place an order before you forget where you were. Swiss wineries ship via the post office on a regular basis, which is an easier solution than trying to lug it home on the train.
My personal recommendations for your visit, by village starting closest to Geneva
Begnins, Domaine de Sarraux-Dessous and Domaine de Serreaux-Dessus and La Capitaine, which is notable for its bio wines (and known for its cooking)
Féchy – Domaine La Colombe, Domaine de Fischer
Eclepens, Le Chateau d’Eclepens
Vully – Domaine de Villarose
Lavaux – Domaine du Daley
Cully – Domaine Louis Bovard
Epesses – Pascal Fonjallaz-Spicher
Yvorne – Chateau Maison Blanche and Artisans Vignerons d’Yvorne