In Conversation with Gilles Besse
Jean-René Germanier is one of Switzerland’s top wine producers.
Founded in 1886, making it one of the oldest Swiss wineries, this family owned company is now headed by 3rd generation Jean-René and his nephew Gilles Besse. The boutique winery produces unique, award-winning wines such as Cayas, Mitis and Champmarais Cornalin, which are enjoyed at the best tables in Europe.
Available now in the UK in our shop.
I work with my uncle Jean-René as the manager. I used to be the winemaker and still have a key influence in the winemaking.
We produce 700,000 bottles a year. We cultivate 35 hectares of vineyards and buy grapes from various small wine producers around the area.
Today we produce 10 different varietals and 25 different styles of wines, from dry white wine, red wines aged in oak for two years, a late harvest aged in oak and a fizzy (yes fizzy) and I will be producing our first sparkling wine this year.
What do you love about the vineyard and surrounding countryside?
When I look out of my window I see vineyards sloping down the valley. It’s a special area geographically, a big valley from east to west and all the vineyards are on the north side facing south. There are small winding stone walls, very traditional. It’s beautiful but hard work to manage as it’s so slopy. It takes water very quickly and also means the vines have to suck very hard to get nutrition. We say the vines have to suffer to make good wine. Some of our vines are 50 years old. We renewed a few between the late 90's to 2005.
Did you always want to work in wine?
No! The wine business was always on my mother’s side. My first love was music. When I was 15 I went to Geneva to try and break into the Jazz world. I played the saxophone, but after 10 years of sex, drugs and rock and roll, I went back to the family company, as I thought I would secure myself a better future.
Do other members of the family work in the vineyard?
It is mainly my uncle and I but my niece loves to boss visitors around in our tasting room. We receive visitors from all over the world, especially in the winter when it is not good to ski and they are looking for something else to do. What could be better than coming to taste wine?
What is your philosophy on wine?
The wine must be elegant and consistent and be unique to Switzerland. We do not produce cool climate wines or full bodies. We also want people to drink the wines, not just to impress, but to really enjoy.
Yes, I am the sommelier for the Al Dente TV show. It is a food and drink quiz that goes live on Saturday morning/evening on Swiss Television from September to December. We have two chefs who create three course meals and I present the wines to the menu.
It is a very popular show!
In what other ways do you promote Swiss wines?
I am also the president of Swiss Wines promotion (update: he retired from this post in 2017). We receive money from different wine regions and the state and try to tell the world how good are wines are. How good they have been for the last 2,000 years...