Despite being one of the smallest cantons Geneva is actually the country’s third largest wine growing region.
- Satigny is the largest Swiss viticultural commune with 480 hectares of vineyards.
Wine production has gone on uninterrupted here for almost 2,000 years.
- My tip: Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay have found an outstanding terroir in Geneva
- Located in the Rhône valley between Jura and the Alps, Geneva is Switzerland’s second largest city.
Lake Geneva is Europe’s largest lake. In French the lake is called Lac Léman (don't call it Lac de Genève).
40% of residents in Geneva come from outside Switzerland.
Geneva has the shortest commuting time of any major city in the world.
Geneva is home to many international institutions - the International Red Cross, several United Nations bodies, the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation.
Geneva is known for its exquisite watchmaking with some of the most exclusive watch brands in the world.
In total there are around 1,340 hectares of vineyards dotted around, just a few miles from the city centre and accounting for about 10% of national production.
The vineyards around Geneva are sandwiched between the Jura Mountains to the west and the French Alps to the east and are separated into three officially named areas.
Entre Arve et Lac
Hermance, Choulex and Jussy are the three main wine viticultural communes here, separated by a matter of metres from the vineyards of France's Crepy appellation and only a little further from Ripaille, Marin and Marignan of upper Savoie.
Entre Arve et Rhône
A small sub-region, it occupies an area immediately south and south-west of the city, in an arc formed by the Arve river to the east and the Rhône to the west.
Bardonnex and Lully are the two main viticultural communes, with the vineyards of the latter separated by only 16km (10 miles) from those of Frangy in upper Savoie.
Mandement (sometimes Le Mandement) is the largest of the sub-regions. It accounts for roughly two-thirds of the region's vines. It occupies an area immediately west of the city, at the feet of the southern 'forest mountains' of the Jura.
The main concentration of vines here is in the parish of Satigny, the most prolific wine-producing commune in Switzerland. The villages of Bourdigny, Peissy and Choully have the best vinous reputation locally and internationally, with the latter two being home to vineyards classified as Premier Cru under Switzerland's French-style appellation system.
Geneva was the first canton to introduce and adopt laws about the production of wines with the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée - AOC (controlled term of origin).
Appellations deemed worthy of AOC status include: Choully, Satigny, Peissy, Russin, Dardagny, Lully, Bardonnex, Cologny, Jussy, Choulex, Hermance, Céligny and Collex-Bossy.
Broadly speaking, the wines made here are at their most full-bodied and strongest in the Mandement district to the west of the city, becoming softer and lighter as you move anticlockwise around the end of the lake.
Although the Chasselas still dominates the white vines, Geneva's winegrowers are increasingly winning awards at international wine competitions with classic grape varieties. Geneva is home to around 25 grape varieties but as is the case across Switzerland (with the notable exception of Vaud), Geneva has moved from its traditional preference for white wines to reds.
Gamay is by far the most widely planted red variety, outstripping the next two most common red varieties combined. Gamay is excellent in Geneva, richer and smoother than Beaujolais with a little spiciness. Pinot Noir is also popular as it is everywhere in Switzerland, along with Gamaret and Garanoir (two red crossings designed specifically for Switzerland).
Others include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and award-winning Syrah. The global success of these international varieties having caught the eye of Swiss winemakers seeking to fight foreign competition on local top tables.
White wines are very much still present in Geneva and are based on Switzerland's favourite white variety, Chasselas, which accounts for more than half of the white wines. Geneva Chasselas is usually fruitier than the more mineral Chasselas found in Vaud and Valais.
After Chasselas, the next most commonly planted white variety is Pinot Blanc, followed by Pinot Gris (otherwise known as Malvoisie) and the Swiss-German classic Silvaner (Müller-Thurgau). Other grape varieties include Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Scheurebe, Aligoté and Viognier. Increasingly, winemakers are planting Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as well as Sauvignon Gris.
My Tip: Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay have found an outstanding terroir in Geneva.
Cardoon: The cardoon is a thistle-like plant, a member of the artichoke family, although you eat the stalk and not the flower. Cardoon gratin is a classic Geneva Christmas dish. Only brave souls should to try to prepare them because they are prickly and the preparation can be long and tedious. Many farmers markets in Switzerland now sell them prepared in plastic vacuum-packed packages, which is probably the best option.
Omble chevalier: Known as the ‘noble one’ from Lake Geneva, the Omble chevalier (a close relative of Arctic char) is the most noble and the best of all the different fish for everyday consumption. Geneva chefs pay due reference to this fish from the Lac Léman by serving it with the famous Sauce Genevoise, a delicate local sauce made from sparkling white wine, fresh herbs, butter and a drop of cream.
La Longeole: A supreme sausage. The people of Geneva love their longeole – the most packed and substantial of all Swiss sausages. It is made with gelatinous pork and flavoured with a spice mixture containing fennel seeds. This monumental sausage must be simmered for three hours before being served, traditionally with boiled potatoes and lentils. It is especially popular during the colder months and is of course an essential feature of Geneva's famous Escalade festivities when the aroma of Geneva longeole wafts up from every street corner.
Rzulé (pear rissole): The age-old Geneva and Savoyard specialty called rzulé in the local dialect, better known today as rissole aux poires, was nearly extinct not so very long ago. The dish consists basically of pears braised until they caramelise and which are then used to fill a pastry. The result resembles a fried apple turnover or chausson, even though it is baked.
Every 12th of December, Geneva organises the Escalade Festival. This is the traditional commemoration of the defeat of the Savoyard troops who attacked Geneva on 12th of December 1602.
Children sing the song ‘Ce qu'e laino’, whose words in old Genevan dialect, tell of the events of 1602. In fancy dress, they go from café to café while members of the Company of 1602 patrol on horseback in traditional costume, complete with pikes and lances.
The climax of the weekend is the torch-lit procession, where more than 1000 people wearing period costumes parade through the dark streets of the city, ending up in the cathedral square for a bonfire.
L'Escalade is even celebrated in London every year.
Vintage boats, some going back to the 19th century, sail on Lake Geneva. The ancient lateen -sail sailboat is probably the most symbolic witness of intense trade navigation on Lake Geneva.
Boats are restored or reconstructed according to authentic period blueprints, La Vaudoise, La Neptune, La Savoie, L’Aurore and La Liberté. At one time totally dedicated to the transport of merchandise, today they sail for the sheer pleasure of their passengers. The spectators can take full advantage of a dream cruise on one of these vintage lateen sailboats of Lake Geneva. Alpine horn, wine-tasting or fireworks display cruises make up an elaborate and colourful programme! (www.leman-tradition.ch)