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Swiss raise a toast to winemaking success

Swiss wines are among the world's greatest wines Keystone

Swiss wines are gaining a good international reputation, thanks to winemakers’ insistence on quality rather than quantity.

This content was published on December 16, 2004 - 09:12

They regularly win top awards at international competitions, despite the fact that only one per cent of production is exported.

Following the liberalisation of the domestic market, a new generation of Swiss winemakers have been upgrading their vintages by lowering output, replanting vines and placing emphasis on regional grape specialities.

Olivier Poussier, voted the world’s best wine waiter in 2000, says this strategy is paying off. The Frenchman says that both white and red Swiss wines are “increasing in power”.

This is confirmed by the Hachette Wine Guide 2005 - the French wine bible - which awarded three stars for “exceptional” to 17 per cent of the 190 Swiss wines in the book. Only two per cent of French wines achieved the same rating.

But Poussier says there are always exceptions to the rule, and that bad wines also exist in Switzerland. According to the wine expert, there is “a two-tier winegrowing culture” in the country.

“[That said] the best Swiss winegrowers rival the very best French winegrowers,” said Poussier.

Valais on top

Poussier says that the best Swiss wines undisputedly come from the French-speaking Valais region.

“They are greatly ahead of the others. There are around 30 really good winemakers there,” he said.

Valais wine benefits from being grown on alpine terraces and the region boasts 52 types of grapes that are native to it.

“It’s fantastic. Switzerland, especially Valais, has been able to keep the regional grapes which are an integral part of its winemaking tradition,” said Poussier.

“These grapes give us different flavours which avoid international stereotypes [such as vanilla for merlot, wood for chardonnay].”

These include such varieties as l’amigne, la petite arvine and le cornalin.

Swiss winegrower of the year 2004, Michel Boven, says the reason that the Swiss are so good at producing fine wines is that winegrowers have a more professional approach than their foreign counterparts.

Swiss know how

“In Switzerland, we are very thorough when it comes to the land, vines and the winemaking process,” he said.

Valais winemaker Marie-Thérèse Chappaz adds that the secret also lies in the rich variety of wines found in Switzerland, reflecting the country. For her a wine “highlights a climate, region and vintage”.

Apart from Valais and Vaud in French-speaking Switzerland, reputable wines are also produced in Zurich and the southern region of Ticino.

Jean-Michel Novelle, a winemaker from Geneva, says that Swiss producers have two options: to reduce production costs (and the price) by automating the winemaking process or to specialise in high quality – and more expensive – wines.

Expensive

Wines from Novelle, Chappaz or Boven typically range between SFr8 and SF55 ($7-$48) in price.

“Swiss wines are a bit expensive,” said Poussier. “But not any more expensive than the big French wines. But they don’t have the same image, of course.”

This is one of the major problems facing Swiss wines. With only one per cent of production (one million litres) exported annually, they are – despite their recent accolades – still relatively unknown in the rest of the world.

That is something that Swisswine, the industry’s marketing agency, is hoping to change. It wants to raise the amount of wine exported to ten per cent, starting with the markets in Belgium and Germany.

swissinfo, Pierre-François Besson

Key facts

For the past decade, Swiss wines have made up 40% of the domestic market.
Last year, for the first time ever, Swiss winemakers made more red than white wine.
Two thirds of wine worldwide is made from a blend of different grapes.
But nine out of ten Swiss wines come from just one grape variety.

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