- Wine Region
Vaud, pronounced Voh in French, is located in Romandie, the French-speaking western part of the country.
Bordered by the Jura to the west and the Alps to the east, the canton of Vaud produces a quarter of Swiss wines.
Wine came to Vaud with the Romans, then later again with the Cistercian monks. It was the monks who built all the terraces.
Vaud was for centuries considered part of Savoie and its neighbour Neuchâtel was considered part of Burgundy.
It is Switzerland’s second wine producing region (Valais being the first) and is known as the ‘great land’ of the grape variety Chasselas. There are vineyards everywhere in Vaud and everyone grows up knowing winemakers - and with strong opinions on Chasselas.
Tasting Chasselas in the different regions is an adventure by itself. The fresh and fruity white wine is particularly sensitive to the character of the soil it finds itself in - transparent to Terroir, as we say. The wine will taste different depending on where it is grown and people in Vaud all learn to recognise regions and even villages, in the glass.
Besides Chasselas, red wines from the Gamay and the Pinot Noir varieties represent about a quarter of production.
Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée
Today, the canton of Vaud offers two great vintages (Dézaley and Calamin) and 26 wines with the appellation d'origine contrôlée – AOC (controlled term of origin). These include a wide range of exquisite white wines coming from the Chasselas grape and a great number of excellent red wines – Gamey and Pinot Noir as well.
The canton is divided into four main areas. Chablais, Lavaux, La Côte and Côtes de l'Orbe. Each is then subdivided into smaller, village level appellations (similar to the AOCs of Burgundy or Bordeaux). So although Chasselas is “the” white from Vaud it is not very well known as a variety because, as the Burgundians do, the variety is not listed on the label, just its AOC.
La Côte is the stretch of the northern shores of Lake Geneva, nestling between the city of Geneva in the west, the suburbs of Lausanne to the east and the Jura to the north. This is a charming region with neat villages, stunning castles, and of course the ever-present expanse of Lake Geneva.
La Côte is the largest winegrowing region in the Canton de Vaud and is principally white wine country. Chasselas is grown extensively here, producing a soft dry wine with a hint of carbon dioxide giving it a most refreshing character, although there are also many good red wines.
It is divided into three sub-zones - Nyon, Begnins to the west, Morges to the east, and between the two, in the heart of La Côte villages such as Luins, Vinzel, Bursinel, Coteau de Vincy, Tartegnin, Mont-sur-Rolle, Féchy, Perroy, Vinzel and Aubonne.
For the tourist, La Côte is within easy reach of the cities of Geneva and Lausanne, and makes an ideal excursion from either, offering country lanes, lovely villages, stunning castles, top restaurants and wine cellars.
The Lavaux region, extending from Lausanne to Vevey-Montreux is a beautiful area, protected from development and overlooking Lake Geneva.
It is home to breathtaking terraced vineyards and in 2007 was added to the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.
Vineyards in this area are documented all the way back to year 900 AD. Lavaux is also the home of Dézaley (where Chasselas grape is said to be at its best). Its terraces cling to the abrupt slopes between Epesses and St Saphorin, which overhang the Lake. Lavaux covers around 21% of the Vaud and has some very important appellations, Dezaley being one and St. Saphorin the other.
In Lavaux, it is said that the sun shines three times - on the vines, directly, from the lake which reflects it upon the vineyards and from the stone walls supporting the vineyards and releasing the heat at night.
Its AOCs are Lutry, Villette, Epesses, Dezaley, Grand Cru, Calamin Grand Cru, Saint-Saphorin, Chardonne, Vevey-Montreux.
The eastern part of the basin of Lake of Geneva belongs to the Chablais region (not to be confused with France’s Chablis). The vineyards stretch out on the right bank of the Rhône as far as Bex, through the delighful towns of Yvorne and Aigle. Other AOCs include Ollon and Villeneuve. Chablais has 15% of the region's grapevines and here you'll find the well regarded Aigle area.
Côtes de l'Orbe & Vully
The north of the canton of Vaud brings together Bonvillars and Côtes de l'Orbe on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel in Vully and make up about 10% of the Vaud wine production.
Vaud’s climate is heavily dictated by the waters of Lake Geneva, which alleviate the spring frosts and reduce the summertime highs to around 86°F (30°C). As the sun passes over the long, thin lake during the day, a great deal of light is reflected up to the vineyards above, many of which are terraces carved into the south-facing slopes. This temperate climate and high luminosity is the secret behind the reliable Vaud terroir, even if relatively high rainfall does dampen conditions slightly.
The vast majority of vines grown in the Vaud are owned by individuals rather than large wine companies. Many thousands of smallholders sell their grapes under contract or make wine cooperatively, but a growing number are now motivated to produce their own wine or group together in much smaller Co-operatives.
Villeneuve: Extremely diverse subsoil of Triassic and Jurassic limestone, glacial moraine, scree and gravel.
Yvorne: Scree and marl, landslide soils, Triassic limestone.
Aigle: Gravely and clay soil on a base of Triassic limestone.
Ollon, Bex: Soils containing large quantities of gypsum on a base of Triassic limestone.
Moraine with varied soil compositions: clay, chalk and all types of minerals.
Moraine with varied soil compositions: gravel, marl and clay. Dezaley is distinguished by the presence of puddingstone.
Sandstone soil compositions of calcareous rock along with sand and clay.
- Grapes & Wines
Although Chasselas reigns supreme, it accounted for 5,800 acres (2,345 hectares) in 2010 which is 38% of all white vines in Switzerland. Vaud is also home to the ever popular Chardonnay – a sign of Switzerland's increasing focus on export markets.
Pinot Gris is also present, plus about half as much Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. The northern Rhône's Viognier grape, a variety on the brink of extinction not 20 years ago, is the next most common, with its plantings here surpassed only by those in Geneva. This seems appropriate considering that Lake Geneva is filled almost entirely by the highest waters of the Rhône River.
The classic Vaud wine style is crisp, fresh Chasselas, although the precise aromas and flavours vary depending on the soil type in which it is grown. In La Côte the wines tend towards floral rather than mineral notes, while a combination of flowers and stones come through in the best and most complex wines from the central Lavaux.
Although white wines may outnumber and overshadow all others in the Vaud, there are still some high-quality reds made here, predominantly from Pinot Noir and Gamay, but also from the blending of Gamaret and Garanoir. The region is also home to a small quantity of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, although these have to be handled differently in the cool climate.
Our tip. A surprising and impressive style of Merlot has been developed in Vaud - don't just take our word for it, try our examples from Uvavins and Badoux Vins.
Whites Chasselas (dominant), Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Doral, Viognier
- Reds Gamay, Pinot Noir, Garanoir, Gamaret.
Filets de Perche: Perch was a very exclusive Victorian delicacy and it is possible that the early English tourists brought it to the attention of the Swiss, but it is now a cherished staple along the lakes.
Whether dusted with flour and fried in sweet butter à la meunière, or sautéed in a simple white wine sauce, this local fish has a ubiquitous place on every lakeside restaurant menu. The filets are small and labour intensive to prepare. There is a reason folks order it year round - when served with thin, crispy frites (alumettes) and washed down with a chilled Chasselas your taste buds will find themselves in seventh heaven.
The Swiss eat more Perch than the lakes can supply, so it is imported all the way from Ireland and the lakes of eastern Europe. Alas, it is near impossible to get small perch filets of the right kind in England.
Papet Vaudois: A Swiss "bubble and squeak". A traditional dish in the Canton of Vaud, Papet is a mixture of leeks and potatoes (boiled to form a soft "papette"). Cream, white wine or vinegar is sometimes added. Papet is traditionally accompanied by saucisson or saucisse aux choux (a seasonal sausage with cabbage).
Tomme Vaudoise: The melt-in-the-mouth soft cheese speciality from the Vaud canton and the Geneva region. Cheese connoisseurs appreciate the round mild taste of the young cheese and the distinctive rustic taste of mature Tomme. It has a very thin white rind and is creamy in consistency. You can find "tomme fleurette" sometimes in the UK.
Saucisson: In Vaud, sausages are serious stuff. From the traditional Easter or Pentecôte Boutefas (sausage stuffed in a pork bladder) to the famous cabbage-stuffed saucisse aux choux, typically enjoyed from September to April, there is a sausage to suit all tastes.
Boutefas or Botatos: A bigger saucisson. The name comes from the patois for 'Boute La Faim,' or ‘end to hunger’. The sausage has been known in the region since 1634, initially under the term Bourrifas and later Boutefas. Legend has it that the occupied Vaudois chopped up the biggest hanks of ham to avoid giving them to their Bernese rulers.
Malakoffs: The villages of Vinzel and Bursins are the best sources for a very local specialty, the Malakoff are gruyere puff pastry which is fried. These cheesy delights have always been a favourite of the Vaudois, but after the Crimean Wars they were renamed after a beloved officer who led his army of Vaud born mercenaries to victory in the siege of Sebastopol.
Desserts here are some of the best, and most unusual in the country.
Le Bouchon Vaudois: A candy shaped as a wine cork created in order to become an iconic specialty of Vaud. First created in 1948 Le Bouchon Vaudois is a registered trademark and only members of the Waldensian Society and French-speaking patron bakers/confectioners can make it. (In my opinion there are better things to try in the bakeries and chocolatiers in Vaud.)
The salée au sucre is a popular breakfast item for special occasions. This is a "cream danish" of sorts, using a yeast dough and a topping of cream and sugar.
The Carac is a miniature pie filled with dense chocolate ganache and glazed with neon green icing. Really sweet chocolate. Not my favourite but they were unavoidable growing up.
Gâteau à la raisinée or Gâteau au Vin Cuit - technically this is borrowed from Fribourg next door but it's been in Vaud so long it is now native. A pie made from a thick syrup of reduced pear or apple juice, this is a must try.
In Vaud they also make a tarte au vin - a tart where the filling is, for the most part, wine, butter, sugar and a dash of cinnamon. It can be made with red or white wine. It's a lot better than it sounds :)