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Winemakers cut yields to boost reputation

Geneva is cutting wine production to boost quality Keystone

With the grape-harvesting season just a couple of months away, wine-producers in canton Geneva have decided to take drastic measures to improve the quality of their wines.

Wine has always been one of Switzerland’s best-kept secrets. Hardly any is exported because the domestic market consumes virtually the entire output.

Like any country that takes its wine seriously, Switzerland has strict standards to ensure that its wines are as good as possible. But now the Geneva wine-producers have gone a step further.

Where the federal authorities have established a maximum yield of 1.4 kilogrammes of grapes per square metre, in Geneva it has been pruned to 1.2 kilogrammes. The result: the canton will produce up to two million litres less than last year.

“We not producing as much as we could produce under the federal rules, because we want to improve the quality of our wines,” said Neil Ankers, secretary of the Geneva wine-producers’ association.

“It’s up to the canton, the producers and the merchants to decide each year whether they want to stick to the federal quotas, or cut production. This is the first year we’ve cut it so severely,” he told swissinfo.

By reducing the number of grapes – what is known in the trade as a green harvest – the sugars produced by photosynthesis are more concentrated in the fruit left on the vine. In theory, the lower the yield, the better the flavour.

Geneva’s drastic measures are part of a strategic long-term plan by cantonal wine-producers to respond to a changing wine market. In the 1980s, like much of Europe, Geneva produced far too much cheap, insipid wine.

“Nowadays, consumers want to drink less wine, but better wine. We have to respond to that,” said Ankers.

In the short term, it will mean that Geneva wine-makers will lose money, but the hope of long-term rewards far outweighs considerations of losses.

“This year, we’ve reduced yields more than we could increase prices. But those prices will rise as the reputation of our wines increases,” said Ankers..

Geneva is the third-biggest wine-producing canton in Switzerland, after Vaud and Valais. With a mere 1,500 hectares of vineyards, it may never be a major force on the world wine market.

But it is a sign of its ambition that it no longer regards its Swiss neighbours as its main rivals.

“Our competitors now are more South Africa and Chile, and maybe France and Spain. The quality of our wines has increased so much in the past 10 years that now they are winning medals at international wine competitions,” said Ankers.

The main market for Geneva wines is Switzerland, but even this could be changing. About a third of the canton’s vineyards grow the white Chasselas grape, which makes Switzerland’s famous Fendant wine. Another third produces Gamay, the distinctive light red grape of Beaujolais.

While these two varieties produce interesting wines, and are very well adapted to Swiss conditions, they are slowly being replaced by better-known grapes, and already Geneva grows more varieties of grape than any other canton.

“At the moment we’re concentrating on the Swiss market, because the Chasselas and Gamay are better known here. But there are some niche markets abroad, and we’re looking to take advantage of the bilateral agreements with the European Union,” said Ankers.

“The life of a vine is around 30 to 40 years and it takes around SFr100,000 per hectare to replace the vines. So this change will take some time,” he added.

by Roy Probert

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR