Vine has been grown in Switzerland since the Roman Empire. Some experts believe that it was actually the Celts who cultivated the first vineyards in Switzerland, in the canton of Valais, around 800 BC. 2015 data from the Wine Institute places Switzerland 28th in the world for wine production, with 0.35% of total world output.In 2016, Switzerland produced 108 million litres of wine. As a comparison, the world’s biggest producer, Italy, made nearly 49 million hectolitres in 2016, according to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV).
About 32% of what the Swiss drink is Swiss and 60% is imported.According to Henry Grosjean of Caves du Château d’Auvernier in Neuchâtel, one of the main challenges in the Swiss viticulture is to “make yourself known” and make Swiss wines accessible to more people and appreciated more by them. “Swiss Wine Promotion”, an industry body, and “GastroSwiss”, are developing a project entitled “Swiss Wine Campus” – a platform allowing its users to meet Swiss wine growers, learn how to consume wine, even pass exams that will eventually be recognized by the guild.
Henry Grosjean comments that it is not unusual for people who sell and serve wine to recommend foreign instead of domestic wines. “The aim of Swiss winemakers is not to replace another Swiss wine “à la carte” in a restaurant or in a liquor store, but to widen the visibility of Swiss wines by simplifying the access of wine to consumers”, he comments. “People who already appreciate wine and consume wine should regain their trust in Swiss wine. Young consumers should be able to identify with the product…Winegrowers should listen to consumers and adapt to their needs.” In 2016, Switzerland imported185 million litres of wine, 123 million litres of it red, 39 million litres of it white, and 22 million litres of sweet and bubbly wines. The largest imports came from Italy (74 million litres or 40%), France (39 million litres or 21%), Spain (32 million litres or 17%) and Portugal (11 million litres or 6%). Daniel Dufaux of Badoux Wines in Aigle in the canton of Vaud believes that the key challenge in sales is to recover market share from foreign wines. “The Swiss market has competitive advantages: the Swiss are good consumers of wine, they have the culture of wine drinking and a strong purchasing power. “If the Swiss winemakers recovered some market share and increased their margin a little, they would invest more in the promotion of their wines, gain visibility and increase sales”, he comments. “Although we are a small mountainous wine-growing country, less known than some French wine regions, for instance, we have our know-how, based on precision, to put forward”, concludes Daniel Dufaux.
In Switzerland, wine is almost entirely consumed within the country. The Swiss drink nearly all the wine they make. Over the last 20 years, the exports of Swiss winehave been between 1% and 2% of the total production. In 2016, for instance, Swiss wine exports were just 1.2 million litres, or 1.1% of total production. Although only a small percentage of Swiss wine is exported – because of domestic demand and high production costs – the industry operates “with the precise efficiency of a Rolex watch,often providing impeccable quality”. More and more Swiss merchants have recently realized that export had to be part of their strategy.
SWISS WINE REGIONS
Switzerland is divided into 6 main wine regions. Valaisis the largest, growing 33 percent of the total, followed by Vaud (25 percent), German-speaking Switzerland (19 percent), and Geneva (10 percent). Ticino produces 7 %, and the Three Lakes region – 5%. Most of the vineyards are located in French-speaking Switzerland. Switzerland is a cool climate wine producer. It has an Alpine terroir – the Alps occupy two thirds of the country. The vineyards are relatively high in altitude(270 m in Ticino, for instance, and 1,100 m in the Valais region)and with steep slopes. In the winter one could see snow in the vineyards.
According to Gilles Besseof Domaine Jean-René Germanier in the canton of Valais, the main challenge in the Swiss viticulture lies in the very high production costs due to the geographical “configuration” of Switzerland. “Our vineyards are located at the foot of the mountains, on terraces, the fields are fragmented.”To balance those high production costs, Swiss wines have to be positioned in the top premium category. Swiss wines must enjoy international recognition.“International competitions such as Concours Mondial de Bruxelles help us sell our products abroad and make Swiss proud of their wines”, Gilles Besse shares. He adds that although it is difficult to produce organic wine in the Swiss climate, it is a challenge that they all need to meet.
There are many grape varieties grown in Switzerland:over 250 on 15,000 hectares(less than 0.4 percent of Switzerland’s total surface area). That sounds miniscule, but it puts Switzerland 10th globally by “vineyards-to-country-surface-area” ratio, according to the industry body “Swiss Wine Promotion”. According to the Swiss ampelographer Dr José Vouillamoz, 80 of the Swiss varietals are “indigenous” varieties, and out of this 80, “59 are crossings, and 21 – “heritage grape varieties”.
The most popular varieties are Chasselas (white) and Pinot Noir(red) which comprise 26percent and 28percent of the total production respectively. Otherpopular varietiesinclude Gamay, Merlot, Humagne Rouge, Arvine and Savagnin Blanc, Gamaret, Garanoir, Pinot Gris.The four most cultivated grapes are Pinot Noir, Chasselas (indigenous), Gamay and Merlot, they represent 72% of the harvest. Traditional or universal varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Syrah allow Swiss producers to demonstrate the quality of the soil and their know-how in international comparisons, the industry body Swiss Wine claims.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND LOCAL PRODUCTS
Currently, there are over 1,800 wine makers in Switzerland. The two main trends in Swiss viticulture according to Henry Grosjean of Caves du Château d’Auvernier are sustainable development and local products. “At the Caves of Château d’Auvernier, sustainable development is paramount in all the decisions we take. A new warehouse has been equipped with photovoltaic tiles, which now provides one third of the energy needed for winemaking. We do not use insecticides”. The Caves of the Château d’Auvernier offer different wines, only one of which is blend. “Wines resulting from plot selection are more and more in vogue. This is part of the general trend of renewed interest in local products, especially in French-speaking Switzerland and increasingly in German-speaking Switzerland as well”, Henry Grosjean concludes.
MADE IN SWITZERLAND
Switzerland took part in Concours Mondial for the first time in 2006. Ever since, it has been among the top ten countries by number of entries.In 2017, the country gained 42 medals, including 3 Grand Golds. Most of the awarded wines are from the regions of Valais and Vaud. In 2018, CMB distinguished the Swiss made wines with a total of 49 medals. In 2018,Switzerland’s indigenous Chasselas got the highest number of medals (11) for that country, awarded by Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. Chasselasis the most common white grape variety in Switzerland. Pinot Noir is the top red grape variety in Switzerland and this year it ranked 2nd in terms of awards for Switzerland (it was distinguished by 10 medals).
The next edition of Concours Mondial de Bruxelles will be in May 2019, in Aigle, in the Swiss “canton” of Vaud. The indigenous Chasselas is the Cépage-roi (“King of grapes”) of exactly that canton, representing 60% of the wine production.