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Wooing the world with the wonders of Swiss wine

Switzerland is famous for many things but wine isn't one that springs immediately to mind. That may be changing as Swiss wine producers begin to learn more about the art of marketing and promotion.

Wine production is concentrated in the west of the country, especially in canton Valais. The area is the sunniest in Switzerland and its complex soil structure and southerly winds also favour the vineyards.

Swiss wine may not be as famous as that of its neighbours but the reason for that may lie in its domestic popularity and low production levels.

"The Swiss usually drink their wine themselves and export has never been really important," says Daniel Lehmann, the director of the Swiss Wine Exporters Association. "It's something really recent on a professional basis and we are particularly targeting Germany and Britain."

Switzerland produces between 100 and 130 million litres of wine a year but exports only around one per cent of that figure. Daniel Lehmann wants to increase that to around five or six per cent over the next ten years.

The Association itself has existed since 1958 but in the past did little more than keep expatriates supplied with their favourite tipple. Now it has an annual budget of five and a half million francs.

"We have increased our presence at all the important trade shows abroad and we organise different tastings, promotions and marketing measures in our key markets to raise the profile of Swiss wine," says Daniel Lehmann.

Lehmann has Britain in his sights next with talks underway to supply British supermarkets with two exclusive Swiss wines, including a Chasselas.

"Chasselas is the most famous Swiss grape", says Lehmann. "It is a white wine spread all over western Switzerland and it is original to the country. Besides that we have red wines with traditional grapes like Gamay and Pinot Noir and Merlot in canton Ticino."

Swiss wines have a long way to go before they challenge their better known rivals but it is clear that vineyard owners here are now gaining more recognition for their work.

by Michael Hollingdale

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