Travel: Vaud for wine lovers

Whether you drive along the north­ern shore of Lake Geneva from Nyon round to Aigle, speed along in the tilt­ing train, or even cover some of the dis­tance on foot, you could be for­given for think­ing the only game in town is wine. Sue Style pays a visit


Here in Can­ton Vaud, the coun­try’s sec­ond largest wine re­gion, a quar­ter of all Swiss wine is pro­duced. Ev­ery­where you look, an art­ful patch­work of care­fully tended vines teeters on ter­races but­tressed by dry­s­tone walls, criss-crossed by yel­low-sign­posted walk­ing trails and in­ter­spersed with small cob­ble­stoned vil­lages of old-world charm.

An en­chanted land for wine lovers, the vine­yards af­ford spec­tac­u­lar views out across the shim­mer­ing lake to France and dis­tant Mont Blanc and the Dents du Midi. Many, par­tic­u­larly be­tween Lau­sanne and Vevey, ri­val those of the Douro or the Mosel for gid­dy­ing steep­ness and jaw-drop­ping beauty.

Prac­ti­cally any time of the year you de­cide to visit – spring and au­tumn are my favourites – the

like­li­hood is you will stum­ble upon some kind of wine fes­ti­val, great or small. Ev­ery spring, the Arvi­nis wine sa­lon ( www.arvi­ in Mon­treux as­sem­bles around 200 wine-grow­ers for a full pro­gramme of tast­ings and work­shops, while over the Whit week­end (the dates vary an­nu­ally) it’s the turn of Caves Ou­vertes when winer­ies through­out the can­ton throw open cel­lar doors for clients to taste and buy.

Septem­ber sees the an­nual Lavaux Pas­sion ( www.lavaux­pas­, a street­fest held in a dif­fer­ent vil­lage each year of­fer­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties to taste, min­gle and meet the wine-grow­ers. This year’s event (in Cully) dou­bles up as a cel­e­bra­tion of the 10th an­niver­sary since the Lavaux vine­yards were des­ig­nated a UNESCO World Her­itage Site for their re­mark­able nat­u­ral beauty. And mark your cal­en­dars now for the mother of all wine fes­ti­vals, the Fête des Vignerons in Vevey, which has taken place ap­prox­i­mately ev­ery 20 years since 1789 and will be staged next in sum­mer 2019. Au­di­tions have al­ready started for this mind-blow­ing theatri­cal per­for­mance, which in­volves a hand­ful of pro­fes­sion­als and around 4,500 vol­un­teer mu­si­cians, singers and dancers, aged be­tween six and 96 years old, all with some con­nec­tion to the lo­cal wine-grow­ing scene.

Fa­mous vine­yards

The lake­side re­gion di­vides into three sec­tions. Start­ing at the western end, La Côte, stretch­ing from close to Geneva around to Morges, is the big­gest and most bu­colic part. Vine­yard hold­ings are larger here and vines rub shoul­ders with ap­ple and pear trees.

First up in Founex is Les Frères Dutruy ( www. les­fr­eres­, which of­fers vis­its on week­days to the orig­i­nal prop­erty in the vil­lage and on Satur­days to the mod­ern win­ery close by. Julien Dutruy is an ir­re­press­ible guide to the do­maine’s wines and a good ex­am­ple of Switzer­land’s younger gen­er­a­tion of well-trav­elled wine­mak­ers, with two-year stints in Bordeaux and Bur­gundy un­der his belt. Un­usu­ally for La Côte – a re­gion ma­jor­ing in Chas­se­las – the Dutruys’ main plant­ings are of Ga­may, Pinot Noir and Ga­maret.

Fur­ther round the lake at Mont-sur-Rolle, jovial wine­maker Yves de Mes­tral’s Do­maine de la Mai­son Blanche (­maine­maison­ sits on

‘When you age Chas­se­las from a prime site, it gets dressed up and be­comes a jacket-and-tie wine!’ says Blaise Duboux

a gen­tle el­e­va­tion over­look­ing the lake, sur­rounded by vines. If the weather is fine, tast­ings take place in the gar­den; it’s just the place to start test­ing Chas­se­las’ oft-quoted abil­ity to faith­fully re­flect the ter­roir in which it is grown, as seen through the lens of de Mes­tral’s dif­fer­ent cu­vées of the same grape from var­i­ous plots (plus a sparkling wine).

The cen­tral part, the Lavaux re­gion, ex­tends from Lau­sanne round to Vevey. This is home to some of Switzer­land’s most ven­er­ated vine­yards, orig­i­nally ter­raced and planted in the Mid­dle Ages by Cis­ter­cian monks and to this day re­spon­si­ble for some of the most el­e­gant and age­wor­thy Chas­se­las.

There’s a huge con­cen­tra­tion of tal­ented wine-grow­ers here (help­fully in­di­cated by small brown sign­posts), among them Do­maine Chap­puis (­mainechap­ in Ri­vaz, a fam­ily-run estate es­tab­lished in 1335 – Christophe Chap­puis be­longs to the 22nd gen­er­a­tion to make wine here. You can sign up for the ‘Lavaux Ex­pe­ri­ence’, which in­volves a morn­ing in the vine­yard where he ex­plains the tasks of the sea­son fol­lowed by a tast­ing, lunch and three bot­tles to take home; or sim­ply set­tle down in the cosy tast­ing room and work your way through his range of su­perb Chas­se­las and stun­ning red blends.

Lavaux snap­shot

If you run out of time, or just fail to se­cure an appointment with one or other wine-grow­ers, Vi­no­rama, a wine bar-cum-shop in Ri­vaz will come to the res­cue (see ‘Dine like a lo­cal’). The brain­child of Christophe Chap­puis’s fa­ther Vin­cent, it gath­ers wines from around 150 vignerons in Lavaux all un­der one roof. The visit starts with a short video, which ex­plains the wine­maker’s year, then you can taste from the weekly-chang­ing of­fer of open wines and/or buy a bot­tle to go.

Up the hill in the vil­lage of Epesses, bio­dy­namic grower Blaise Duboux is an­other mas­ter of Chas­se­las and a firm be­liever in its abil­ity to age (‘when you age Chas­se­las from a prime site, it gets dressed up and be­comes a jacket-and-tie wine!’). He’s also an ar­dent de­fender of Plant Robez (aka Plant Robert), a Ga­may clone thought to have ar­rived long ago from Bur­gundy, which took root here, then all but

‘the Lavaux re­gion is home to some of switzer­land’s most ven­er­ated vine­yards, orig­i­nally ter­raced and planted by monks’

dis­ap­peared in the 1960s and was re­sus­ci­tated in 2002 by Duboux and a band of be­liev­ers.

The fi­nal piece in the lake­side vine­yard puz­zle is the Ch­ablais re­gion, spread out along the right bank of the Rhône be­tween the Château de Chillon and Bex, on the thresh­old of neigh­bour­ing Valais. Badoux, es­tab­lished in Aigle by Henri Badoux in 1908 and now part of the Schenk group, is fa­mous for its best-sell­ing Chas­se­las, Aigle Les Mu­railles, whose iconic la­bel, painted by Frédéric Rouge in 1918 and un­changed ever since, shows the green lizard that basks in the estate’s steep shale/gravel ter­races above the town. It’s their bread-and-but­ter wine, whose huge sales al­low oe­nol­o­gist Daniel Du­faux to have fun with small cu­vées of other whites (Viog­nier, Pinot Gris), reds (Pinot Noir, Mer­lot, Mal­bec, Caber­net Franc) and even an or­ange wine from Chas­se­las named Hom­mage; many of these can be tasted in the newly cre­ated wine bar and shop ad­join­ing the win­ery.

The best part about vis­it­ing the Lake Geneva wine re­gion is that dis­tances are short – from Nyon to Aigle it’s barely 100 kilo­me­tres, or one hour speed­ing along the mo­tor­way or us­ing the ex­cel­lent train ser­vice. But speed, of course, is hardly the point. It’s the chance to slow down and wan­der gen­tly through the vine­yards, stop­ping along the way to fa­mil­iarise your­self with the land­scape, meet the peo­ple – and taste the very special wines.

Sur­rounded by some of the most-re­spected vine­yards in Switzer­land, Epesses en­joys mag­i­cal views across Lake Geneva

Right and be­low: grand theatri­cal per­for­mances are acted out at the Fête des Vignerons

Château d’Aigle is sit­u­ated just min­utes from Lake Geneva

Above: Christophe Chap­puis at the fam­ily vine­yard in Ri­vaz

Above: you can taste the weekly-chang­ing of­fer of open wines at Vi­no­rama, a wine bar-cum shop in Ri­vaz Sue Style for De­can­ter (in as­so­ci­a­tion with Lake Geneva Re­gion Tourist Of­fice)

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