Switzerland has long been known for its banking, watches, chocolate, cheese, and incredible views of the Alps, but its wines have remained largely unknown outside of the country. The Swiss are serious wine drinkers who drink far more than their tiny Republic could possibly produce. Despite this reality, some of Switzerland’s most exciting wines are finally making their way to the United States. The Swiss have been making wine for centuries, with the first documented evidence of grape cultivation dating back to the Roman era. But despite its long history, the Swiss wine industry has remained relatively small, with only about 15,000 acres of vineyards compared to the nearly 900,000 acres in neighboring France.
Before phylloxera, grape growing was widespread throughout the cantons of Switzerland. Replanting coincided with the rapid growth of cities resulting in only the most favorable sites being replanted with overall lower production and a greater focus on higher quality. Now, the best wines made in Switzerland are jealously guarded by the Swiss leaving only tiny quantities for export.
In recent years, a new generation of Swiss winemakers have emerged and while their local customers would gladly buy their entire production, these growers are keen on seeing their wines available throughout the world. Now more than ever, if you see a Swiss wine in the United States, you can be certain of its exceptional quality. With a growing interest in the US, Sevenfifty Daily spotlighted some of the stars of this new wave of sensational Swiss winemakers, including our very own Chandra Kurt and Tom Litwan. Not mentioned, but equally worth exploring, are Claudy & Shadia Clavien in the Valais, Jean-Pierre Pellegrin in Geneva, and the truly rare and exceptional Pinots of Jacques Tatasciore in Neuchâtel.
Chandra Kurt is Switzerland’s leading wine writer and critic who also makes a range of Swiss wines under her name. With her extensive background and engaging personality, Chandra Kurt is widely recognized as the leading proponent of Swiss wine. “If you had to nominate a single champion for the magic of Swiss juice, it’d be Chandra Kurt. She’s so synonymous with the exploration and promotion of her native country’s vinous treasures that she’s been dubbed “Lady Chasselas” and “the Empress of Swiss Wine… We’re beyond thrilled that she’s making these rare delights a little easier to get our hands on, not to mention making some of the finest and most polished Swiss wines we’ve had the pleasure of tasting!” 1
Her collection of wines includes a fresh and vibrantly youthful Chasselas from Geneva, aptly named Glou Glou Chasselas, a range of Chasselas from the distinct terroirs of the Vaud, and a selection of indigenous varieties and wine styles from the Valais. She assembles each project first by studying the vineyards, then guiding the winemaking to be as minimalist as possible. Thus, what is in the bottle is a pure reflection place and variety. While this may seem overly academic, it is a great way to begin to understand that the complexity of Swiss wines is truly worth exploring.
|Glou Glou||Humagne Blanche||Dole||Cornalin|
Tom Litwan is the rising star of German-speaking Switzerland with a collection of top vineyard sites in the Aargau. “Given the small yields, differing exposures of the vineyards, and low-intervention techniques in the cellar, each wine is unique to its respective terroir and can vary significantly between vintages. The wines have a certain edge that demands an open mind and healthy curiosity… Avant-gardists like Litwan are showing the way. Trained in a Burgundian tradition, they work with respect for nature, distilling the purest of the local terroir. Strong-headed and visionary, they follow a dream, and in doing so, leave their footprint on the wine world.” 2
In 2006 Tom settled in the Aargau and began acquiring small parcels of vines in some of the canton’s most prestigious sites. His new cellar, located in Oberhof, is ideally situated between his vineyards in the Fricktal: Wittnau Büel, Wittnau Fure, Elfingen Rüget, Oberhof Haghalde, Herznach Allmend, and Schenkenbergertal: Oberflachs Auf der Mauer, Schinznach Rägnisbuehl, Schinznach Wanne, Thalheim Chalofe. Tom grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Müller-Thurgau, Zweigelt, and a single row of Petit Meslier. All his parcels are underpinned with Jurassic limestone and range in elevation from 400-500 meters. While this altitude might not seem extreme, the proximity to the Alps and the surrounding forests make these sites some of the last sites to ripen in the Aargau. He prefers heritage clones and massale selection, harvests by hand, and fermentations are spontaneous. His wines age in well-seasoned French oak barrels undisturbed until bottling with only a tiny amount of SO2 for stability.
|Wittnau Büel||Elfingen Rüeget||Thalheim Chalofe|
While Swiss wines may be a small part of our portfolio by volume, much like this rugged alpine Republic, they punch far above their weight.
Post by Debbie Antoszyk & Steven Spanbauer