This time Lorenzo Colombo takes the stand.
Lavaux, a winemaking region between Montreux and Lausanne, is located in the Vaud, which is, of Switzerland’s six winemaking areas, the second largest after Valais (more than 3,800 hectares, and a production of about 285,000 hectoliters in 2012).
Let’s backtrack slightly to take a quick look at Swiss viticulture, which is little known outside Switzerland because the country doesn’t produce enough wine to satisfy internal demand and consequently doesn’t export much wine. According to the figures released for 2012 Switzerland’s vineyards extend over about 14,915 hectares, which, by comparison with Italy, is about the same area covered by the Oltrepò Pavese Appellation, while total production is slightly less than a million hectoliters, about the same volume produced in the Regione Marche Most of the vineyards – and production – are to be found in Romandy, the French speaking area, which accounts for about 75% of vineyard area and 81% of production, followed by the German speaking part of the country, with about 17% of the vineyard area and 13% of production, and finally the Italian speaking cantons, with about 7% of the vineyard area and slightly more than 5% of production.
The Vaud’s vineyards begin in Bex – midway between Martigny and Montreux – and extend along the northern shore of Lake Geneva as far as Lake Neuchâtel, which hosts the winemaking areas of Bonvillars and Côtes de l’Orbe.
In mid August, when we were in Sierre for the Mondial des Pinots, we took the opportunity to view the vineyards of Lavaux from a superb vantage, the lake: The directors of the meeting organized an excursion by boat from Château de Chillon to Lausanne, a 30-km journey paralleling the terraced vineyards that make up the six “lieux” and two “Crus” of Lavaux.
A spectacle of rare beauty; beginning in the XI Century the farmers built more than 400 km of dry wall masonry at 40 different levels, which support about 10,000 terraces that extend from the shores of the lake to an elevation of 600 meters, where the forests begin: these are
the 820 hectares of the Appellation Lavaux, which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 with the following justification: “…An outstanding example of a centuries-long interaction between people and their environment, developed to optimize local resources so as to produce a highly valued wine that has always been important to the economy.”
Viticulture in Lavaux – as in many other parts of Europe – owes its origins to the monks of the many abbeys who modeled the landscape and built the roads that made possible the exchange and sale of foods; there are documents dating to the early 1300s that discuss the techniques for building the terraces and walls that made the cultivation of steep slopes possible.
Other documents from the second half of the 1300s establish rules for preserving the quality of the crops grown and encouraging the consumption locally produced rather than imported wines. The construction of modern roads and railways in the 19th century made the area much more accessible, while regulations drawn up in the second half of the 20th century better defined winemaking techniques.
Lavaux is essentially synonymous with Chasselas – Switzerland’s most important white wine grape – which in this Appellation accounts for more than 75% of the vineyard area; the grapes profit from the “three suns,” in other words direct sunlight, light reflected by the lake, and light reflected by the white stones that make up the walls. The other grapes grown are Gamay and Pinot Noir.
The soils formed by the withdrawal of the Rhone glacier are light morenic soils with varying percentages of clay, carbonates, and various minerals; they change with changing altitude, and as a result the characteristics of the wines also change.
The first “lieux” one encounters upon leaving Chillon is Vevey-Montreux, 100 hectares of vineyards between Chillon and Vevey; the town of Montreux is famed worldwide for its Jazz Festival, held annually in July since 1967.
There are then the 122 uninterrupted hectares of Chardonne and the 128 hectares of St. Saphorin; the wines of the latter area are among the most highly regarded in Switzerland.
One next comes to the Grand Cru Dézaley, perhaps Switzerland’s best known wine area: 54 hectares, with slopes of up to 100% and terraces so tightly spaced that in some areas they can only host one row. The wines show best after at least a couple of years of aging.
The other Grand Cru, Calamin, is next – the smallest of the Lavaux Denomination, 15 hectares between the Lieux Epessis – 133 hectares – and the lake; it is followed by Villette, with 176 hectares, and Lutry, with 95 hectares that extend almost all the way to Lausanne.
As I said, we saw the vineyards from a boat, the “La Suisse,” the flagship of the steamer fleet that plies Lake Geneva. The fleet consists of steamers (see here) built during the first two decades of the XX Century, which have been completely restored in recent years, with the furnishings of the halls returned to their original splendor.
One can anjoy a closer view of the terraces, by taking the “Lavaux Express,” a special train with rubber tyers that follows a route through the vineyards from April to October.
Finally, if you visit Lavaux you won’t want to miss Rivaz, home to “Vinorama,” a museum dedicated to the viticulture of the region where you can of course also taste the wines.
Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.