When many people think of Swiss wine, they usually think of the month of September and the “vendage,” the harvesting of the grapes at just the right moment with great celebrating and festivals in all the nearby villages in Switzerland. This is, without a doubt, a wonderful time to be there.
However, my favorite part of the Swiss wine experience is in May with the annual open days of the local family winemakers (“vignerons”). That’s when you get to taste the result of their efforts! It starts in the Valais region one weekend (22,000 tasters in 179 cellars), then the Canton de Vaud (Lausanne) and then lastly the “vignerons” of La Côte near Geneva welcome those that survived the other vineyards.
This last weekend the family winemakers of the Canton de Vaud opened 300 wine cellars (“les caves”) from Nyon to Montreux to share a taste of their rare Swiss wines and small exclusive quantities.
Vaud has 3,851 hectares of vines so it’s difficult to cover it all. My pals and I chose the Lavaux vineyards (10 minutes from downtown Lausanne) to hike around tasting the rare delights in the 100 “caves” of Swiss Wine that were open which seemed enough for us. The best way to visit the vineyards and “les caves” is by foot. We started in Lutry (Take the bus 9 from Lausanne at St. François – this is not a time to be driving). We followed the sign on the main road left to Grandvaux and then took the trails that go up (some higher than others) winding through the vineyards and villages with eternally breathtaking views of The Lake of Geneva (Lac Leman). There is also a mini train from the village of Lutry that will drive you up and around the vineyards.
Steep surreally terraced vineyards slope down to the lake and cover every square inch of the terrain imaginable as well as in and around the dotted villages of the Lavaux vineyards region which is now designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lavaux Vineyards. Image courtesy of Dominique Schreckling
We headed up for Aran, Villette, and stopped for a while in Grandvaux, a most amazing little medieval village in the middle of the vines with a view of the French and Swiss Alps that can hardly be rivaled. So feeling smartly healthy from our climb up, we let the “fête” begin in Grandvaux. For about $15 you buy a glass and you can taste as many Swiss wines as you like from any of the 100 family’s “cave” in the Lavaux vineyards. You just take your glass with you from “cave” to “cave”. There are also local specialties such as typical sausages, cheeses, breads and other protection for your stomach. And if you’re really hungry there are a few discreet Michelin restaurants here and there.
And no legitimate occasion in Switzerland can be without the Oompah brass bands strolling and playing well known, sing-a-long international songs with that same oompah beat. The children were dancing while their parents were tasting and the conviviality reached greats heights, especially toward the end of the day.
The Lavaux wine cellars are open for Swiss wine tasting. Image courtesy of Sonja Holverson
You can also, of course, make purchases of Swiss wine and many people buy in quantities but there is no pressure whatsoever. For the Swiss “vignerons” it’s a time to share their most prized wine productions. But so you won’t be discouraged about carry around your purchase while touring the different “caves” they all offer free delivery!
We next hiked down the slopes with our glasses to the village of Cully, right on the shore. Here we found our favorites Swiss wines of the day. We all agreed that the Pinot noir de Cully at the Blondel family Cave de La Cour in Cully was the best red of the day. Our next vote went to the Dubois brothers (Les Freres Dubois) also in Cully for their white desert wine, Pinot gris Tour de Marsens.
By now we’re a long ways from Lutry but the return hike through the lower paths of the Lavaux vineyards is so beautiful and a good way to build an appetite for dinner on a terrace on the lake at Lutry.
Watch out, Geneva has their open days of the winemakers next weekend!
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[image courtesy of Sonja Holverson]