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The third-largest canton (French: Valais) in Switzerland, with Sion as the capital, is also the largest wine-growing region in Switzerland, with a total vineyard area of 5.255 hectares. In late 2007, scientists at the University of Basle discovered that vines have been cultivated here since around 800 to 600 BC. Research has shown that the number of pollen particles found in sediments increased dramatically in that period, which is seen as evidence that vines, which had previously grown wild, were now being cultivated. The vineyards are stretched out along the Rhône river over a distance of some 50 kilometres, from the German-speaking upper Valais to the French-speaking lower Valais. The vineyards are located at an altitude of 450 to 650 metres above sea level. Indeed, some of the vineyards are much higher, those at Visperterminen in the upper Valais are arguably the highest in Europe, at an altitude of 1.100 metres. Most of the vineyards are located on the right bank of the Rhône in south-facing aspects, between the towns of Martigny and Leuk. Smaller vineyards are to be found between Lake Geneva and the bend in the Rhône river at Martigny. The vineyard sites on steep slopes are often terraced, and surrounded by high walls, some of them in the shape of so-called „Tablars”, which are cut horizontally into the slope. There are alluvial soils as well as soils rich in slate, gneis and limestone. Well-known wine-growing communes include Ardon, Chamoson, Conthey, Fully, Leuk, Leytron, Martigny, Muraz, Ort, Salquenen, Sierre, Sion, St. Pierre-de-Clages, Vétroz and Visp. A total of around 22.000 wine producers, some of them with tiny vineyard holdings, produce around 40% of all Swiss wines here, with white wines accounting for 60%. Among the best-known producers, respectively merchant houses, are Bonvin, Domaine du Mont d´Or, Favre, Gay, Germanier, Gilliard, Imesch, Johanniterkellerei, Nouveau Salquenen, Orsat, Provins Valais, Rouvinez, Varone and Vins des Chevaliers.
The climate is characterised by intense sunshine, with 300 sunny days per year on average, as well as by warm ”Föhn winds, thus creating ideal conditions for ripening grapes. Rainfall is relatively low, so irrigation is the rule of the day, sometimes still involving the use of traditional wooden channels (Bisses) that can stretch for kilometres. While around 60 different grape varieties can be found in the vineyards of the Valais region, only four varieties account for almost 90% of the total area. These are Fendant (Chasselas), with over 50% of the total, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Silvaner. Together with the neighbouring Aosta valley in Italy, the region forms a geographical island with a wide range of very old, indigenous grape varieites (also see under Old Growths). They are Amigne, Bernarda (Prié Blanc), Cornalin d´Aoste (Humagne Rouge), Cornalin du Valais, Durize, Eyholzer, Goron de Bovernier, Gwäss, Heida, Himbertscha, Humagne Blanche, Lafnetscha, Petite Arvine and Planscher. As is traditional in Switzerland, some of the white wines are still allowed to undergo malo-lactic fermentation, though this no longer applies to all wines. Pinot Noir and Gamay are used to make the traditional red wine Dôle. A rarity are the so-called 36 Plants, these are wines made from different grape varieties, historically from 36 varieties. Off-dry to sweet late harvest wines are made from the white varieties Pinot Gris (known here as Malvoisie Valais), Marsanne (known as Ermitage), Petite Arvine and Silvaner (known here as Johannisberg or Gros Rhin), these have a potnetial alcohol content of up to 20% vol (this type of wine is also known as Flétri). Glacier wine (vin des glaciers) is made in the Val d´Anniviers valley above the town of Sierre. An AOC system and Grand Cru designations were introduced in 1993.