Switzerland

7 growing regions

The Romans planted vines in the region of Basle and Windisch around the time of Christ, thus establishing viticulture in Switzerland. In the 6th century AD, monks form Burgundy established the St. Maurice abbey close to Aigle in the canton of Vaud, and cultivated vineyards. There is evidence of vineyards in the Rhine valley close to Chur and on Lake Constance in the 8th century. As in other parts of Europe, viticulture was maintained by Cistercian monks in medieval times. They established the Hautcrèt Palézieux abbey, and in 1142 established the first terraced vineyards on Lake Geneva in the canton of Vaud. Even today, Dézaley is still counted among the best appellations in Switzerland. From the beginning of the Swiss federation in 1291, consisting of the cantons of Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden, right up to the 18th century, wine production increased steadily. The total vineyard area around 1850 was some 35.000 hectares, more than twice the area under vines today. In the 19th century, the spread of mildew and phylloxera, which reached Switzerland at a late stage, as well as increasing foreign competition led to a downturn in viticulture. There was a revival after the Second World War. After Albania, Switzerland ist he most mountainous country in Europe, and the Alps, with their foothills, also strongly characterise viticulture. The vineyards are concentrated around the beginning of the three major river vallies of the Rhône in the west, the Rhine in the north and the Po in the south. In these vallies, and along the shores of the many lakes, many vineyards have been established on glacial moraines, many of them terraced and located on steep slopes. In the wine-growing town of Visperterminen in the canton of Valais (the largest region), vineyards cab be found at an altitude of 1.100 metres above sea level, making them among the highest in the world. The southern side of the Alps (which includes the largest wine-growing region Valais) enjoys many hours of sunshine with relatively low rainfall. The canton of Ticino in the south has high rainfall. In terms of languages, Switzerland is divided into the three wine-growing regions Western Switzerland (French-speaking parts, with three-quarters of the vineyard area), Eastern Switzerland (German-speaking parts – the ”land of red country wines”, and the smallest region) and Zicino in the south (Italian-speaking). For this reason, the varied wine culture reflects German, Italian and French influences. The number of grape varieties is limited. Red grape varieties make up slightly more than half the total vineyard area. The most widely planted varieties are Pinot Noir and Gamay, while only in Ticino in the Italian section the dominant red variety, with 85% of the vienyard area is Merlot. Among the whiote varieties, the dominant one is quite clearly Chasselas (also known as Doran, Fendant and Perlin), followed by Müller-Thurgau (still called Riesling x Silvaner here) – the name serves as a monument to the Swiss viticultural pioneer Dr. Hermann Müller (1850-1927). In Eastern Switzerland (German) there is virtually a monoculture, with the red variety Pinot Noir accounting for 70% of the total vineyard area. American varieties planted after the phylloxera catastrophe, such as Americano, still account for 15% of the vineyard area, and are used mainly in Ticino, and mainly as table grapes and for the production of grappa. The leading grape varieties in terms of vienyard area are: * Chasselas white 36% * Pinot Noir red 31% * Gamay red 13% * Merlot red 6% * Müller-Thurgau white 5% * Chardonnay white 1,5% * Silvaner white 1,4% * Pinot Gris white 1% The total vineyard area in 2004 was around 15.000 hectares, with a total production of 1,2 million hectolitres. Switzerland produces a wide range and variety of excellent wines. The only reason why they are not better known outside the country’s borders is that they are almost all consumed within the borders of Switzerland. In addition, imports total twice as much again. Most wines are named after the commune in which they are produced. The country is politically divided into 24 cantons, with wine being grown in 17 of these. The most important wine-producing cantons, with their total vineyard area, are (the largest and leading wine producers are listed in the entries for the individual cantons): * Aargau 395 ha * Baselland 80 ha * Bern 250 ha * Frybourg 120 ha * Geneva 1.355 ha * Graubünden 384 ha * Neuchâtel 605 ha * Schaffhausen 500 ha * St. Gallen 220 ha * Ticino 961 ha * Thurgau 274 ha * Vaud 3.879 ha * Valais 5.255 ha * Zürich 645 ha The wine laws are based on Swiss food laws. The term ”wine” must be precisely defined, for example perlé wine, sparkling wine, rosé (Süßdruck) and luxury wine. In the 1990’s, several cantons decided to introduce so-called AOC statutes, these are handled individually by each canton. The regulations are not particularly strict, the maximum yield for white wines is set at 1,4 kg/m² and for red wines at 1,2 kg/m². That translates to yields of 84 to 110 hl/ha. Chaptalisation with sugar is widely implemented. The indication „leicht süß” (slightly sweet) and „mit Restzucker” (with residual sugar) on the label applies to wines whose fermentation was artificially stopped, and that have a residual sugar content of more than 4 g/l. Naturally sweet wines do not carry this designation. A wine with a residual sugar of below 4 g/l is considered to be dry. Blends are permitted to a limited extent, wines of a higher quality may be added to a limit of 20% in order to improve the wine. White wines amy be blended only with other domestic wines, while red wines may also be blended with foreign wines. If the content of foreign wine is greated than 30%, the wine must be designated as a foreign wine. In 1988, the commune of Salquenen in Valais was the first to introduce a Grand Cru system, and thus a controlled system of wines of origin. In the meantime, many other regions have followed suit. All claims and statements on the label must be true, and must be formulated in such a way that any confusion or mistake by the consumer is excluded. The items on the label include origin (geographical designation of larger regions), specific origin (appellation such as town of production, wine estate or single vineyard site), grape variety (not obligatory), vintage (not obligatory, may be blended with up to 20% of a different vintage of the same town and specific origin), quality description, alcohol content, producer, etc. The more precise the information on the label is, the higher is the quality of the wine. Perlé wine must have a carbon dioxide pressure of 1,6 to 2,5 bar at 20 °Celsius. Sparkling wine is a wine that has undergone a second fermentation in either bottle or tank, has a content of no less than 4 g/l of carbon dioxide, resp. has a carbon dioxide pressure of no less than 2,5 bar at 20 °Celsius. The minimum alcohol content is 8% vol.

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