Wine has been grown in Switzerland for 2,000 years. Yet very little is known about these wines outside of Switzerland. That is because the Swiss drink most of it, so Swiss wine is hard to find.
Switzerland is a fabulous winemaking country and one of the most wine crazy countries. In Switzerland wine is so embedded in life and land that almost everyone either is a winemaker or knows one (usually many). The Swiss also have very high expectations of quality, sustainability and ecology, which means the wines are not just excellent, they are also clean and green. The vineyard landscapes are stunning, with unique terroirs and an exhuberance of native and internation varieties. This is a wine lover's dreamland.
Being Swiss, I am able to source wines that are very hard to get - sometimes only because my parents already bought them! I have chosen some of the best representatives of Switzerland's wine scene - classic family wineries, top cooperatives and cult winemakers.
Nearly every canton (county) produces wine but the main areas are along the lakes and major rivers. In Western Switzerland along Lake Geneva, Lake Neuchâtell and the Rhône. In Eastern Switzerland along the Rhine and Lake Zürich. In Southern Switzerland in the lake valleys of Italian speaking Ticino. Start your journey below:
Viognier can be a difficult grape to grow because it is prone to powdery mildew. It has low and unpredictable yields and should be picked only when fully ripe. When picked too early, the grape fails to develop the full extent of its aromas and tastes. When picked too late, the grape produces wine that is oily and lacks perfume. When fully ripe the grapes have a deep yellow colour and produce wine with a strong perfume and high in alcohol. The grape prefers warmer environments and a long growing season, but can grow in cooler areas as well.
The age of the vine also has an effect on the quality of the wine produced. Viognier vines start to hit their peak after 15–20 years.
The origin of the Viognier grape is unknown; it is presumed to be an ancient grape, possibly originating in Dalmatia (present day Croatia) and then brought to Rhône by the Romans. One legend states that the Roman emperor Probus brought the vine to the region in 281 AD; another has the grape packaged with Syrah on a cargo ship navigating the Rhône river, en route to Beaujolais when it was captured, near the site of present day Condrieu, by a local group of outlaws known as culs de piaux.
The origin of the name Viognier is also obscure. The most common namesake is the French city of Vienne, which was a major Roman outpost. Another legend has it drawing its name from the Roman pronunciation of the via Gehennae, meaning the "Road of the Valley of Hell". Probably this is an allusion to the difficulty of growing the grape.
Viognier was once fairly common. In 1965, the grape was almost extinct when there were only eight acres in Northern Rhône producing just 1,900 litres of wine. The popularity and price of the wine have risen, and the number of plantings has increased. Rhône now has over 740 acres (3.0 km2) planted.
In 2004, DNA profiling conducted at University of California, Davis showed the grape to be closely related to the Piedmont grape Freisa and to be a genetic cousin of Nebbiolo. We also know, through DNA analysis, that Viognier is related to Mondeuse Blanche and is therefore closely related to Syrah.