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Comprehensive description of all European growing areas, their grape varieties, traditions and legal rules with maps.

Description to Switzerland

The Romans planted vines in the Basel and Windisch-Aargau area around the turn of the century and founded viticulture. In the 6th century AD, monks from Burgundy founded the monastery of St. Maurice near Aigle in the canton of Vaud and cultivated vineyards. In the middle of the 8th century, there is evidence of vineyards in the Rhine valley in Chur and on Lake Constance. As elsewhere in Europe, viticulture was cultivated by the Cistercians in the Middle Ages. They founded the Hautcrèt Palézieux monastery near Les Tavernes and in 1142 planted the first terraced vineyard on Lake Geneva in the canton of Vaud. The Dézaley area is still one of the best appellations in Switzerland today. From the beginning of the confederation of the three cantons of Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden in 1291 until the 18th century, wine production increased steadily. Around the year 1850, the vineyards covered around 35,000 hectares, more than twice as much as today. In the 19th century, viticulture suffered a decline due to foreign competition, as well as phylloxera and mildew, which reached Switzerland as one of the last European countries. After the Second World War there was an upswing again.

Tessin - Weingärten San Pietro und Ligornetto-Mendrisio

Soil & climate

Switzerland is the most mountainous country in Europe (after Albania) and the Alps with their foothills also have a strong influence on viticulture. The vineyards are mainly located at the beginning of the three large river valleys, the Rhône in the west, the Rhine in the north and the Po in the south. In these valleys and along the many lakes, many vineyards are located on glacial moraines with mostly terraced steep slopes. The Riebe vineyard near Visperterminen at 1,100 metres above sea level is the highest vineyard in Central Europe. Particularly on the southern side of the Alps, with the largest area of Valais, there are many hours of sunshine but relatively little precipitation. Only Ticino, which lies in the south and is considered the most scenic canton, has high precipitation. Linguistically, Switzerland is divided into three wine-growing regions: Western Switzerland (French Switzerland with 75% of the vineyard area), Eastern Switzerland (German Switzerland as the smallest area) and the Ticino in the south (Italian Switzerland). For this reason, German, Italian and French influences are reflected in the diverse wine culture.

Wine-growing areas

There are 26 political cantons, 17 of which have wine-growing areas. Many of them do not have their own wine regulations, so not every canton is a wine region in its own right. The six wine regions are the cantons of Geneva, Ticino, Vaud and Valais, as well as German-speaking Switzerland (with 17 cantons) and the cross-cantonal Three Lakes Region. In most cases, the wines are named after the commune (many have AOC status) in which they are produced. The wine cantons or wine regions:

Aargau Argovie, Argovia German-speaking Switzerland 395
Basle Country Bâle-Campagne, Basilea Campagna German-speaking Switzerland 80
Berne Berne, Berna German-speaking Switzerland 250
German-speaking Switzerland (WR) Suisse alémanique, Svizzera tedesca German-speaking Switzerland 2.600
Three-Lakes Region (WR) Pays des Trois-Lacs Western Switzerland 945
Fribourg Fribourg, Friburgo Western Switzerland 120
Geneva (WR) Genève, Ginevra Western Switzerland 1.340
Graubünden Grisons, Grigioni German-speaking Switzerland 384
Jura Jura, Giura Western Switzerland 9,5
Lucerne Lucerne, Lucerna German-speaking Switzerland 40
Neuchâtel Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel Western Switzerland 605
Nidwalden Nidwald, Nidvaldo German-speaking Switzerland 0,2
Schaffhausen Schaffhouse, Sciaffusa German-speaking Switzerland 500
Schwyz Schwytz, Svitto German-speaking Switzerland 32
St. Gallen St-Gall, San Gallo German-speaking Switzerland 220
Ticino (WR) Ticino, Ticino Italian-speaking Switzerland 1.028
Thurgau Thurgovie, Turgovia German-speaking Switzerland 274
Vaud (WR) Vaud, Vaud Western Switzerland 3.882
Valais (WR) Valais, Vallese Western Switzerland 5.236
Zurich Zurich, Zurigo German-speaking Switzerland 644

Grape variety index

In 2016, the area under vines covered 14,793 hectares. Of this, around 1 million hectolitres of wine are produced (see wine production volumes). The wines are almost exclusively consumed in the country. The most common red wine varieties are Pinot Noir and Gamay, only in Italian-speaking Switzerland (Ticino) Merlot dominates with over 80%. Among the white wine varieties, Chasselas clearly predominates (here Dorin, Fendant or Perlan), followed by Müller-Thurgau; the name is a memorial to the Swiss winegrowing pioneer Dr Hermann Müller-Thurgau (1850-1927). In Eastern Switzerland (German-speaking Switzerland) there is almost a monoculture, here the red wine variety Pinot Noir dominates with about 70% of the area. Americano, which was planted after the phylloxera disaster, accounts for about 15% and is used especially in Ticino for table grapes and grappa. Old growths are the numerous old autochthonous grape varieties cultivated mainly in the canton of Valais. The grape variety list of 2016 with the top 50 (statistics Kym Anderson):

Grape variety

Synonyms or name in Switzerland



Pinot Noir Pinot Noir, Clevner, Chlävner red 4.209
Chasselas Dorin, Fendant, Chasselas, Perlan white 3.838
Gamay Gamay Noir red 1.349
Merlot - red 1.124
Müller-Thurgau Riesling x Sylvaner white 465
Gamaret - red 425
Chardonnay - white 359
Silvaner Gros Rhin, Johannisberg, Sylvaner white 250
Pinot Gris Malvoisie, Malvoisie du Valais white 230
Garanoir - red 225
Syrah - red 194
Arvine Petite Arvine white 178
Sauvignon Blanc - white 170
Cornalin Cornalin d'Aoste, Humagne Rouge red 138
Rouge du Pays Cornalin du Valais red 136
Traminer Heida, Païen, Savagnin Blanc white 127
Diolinoir - red 120
Pinot Blanc - white 111
Cabernet Sauvignon - red 66
Cabernet Franc - red 63
Gewürztraminer Heidarot white 51
Marsanne Ermitage Blanc, Marsanne Blanche white 48
Viognier - white 44
Amigne Amique white 42
Regent - red 38
Muscat Blanc / Muscat Muscat du Valais white 36
Doral - white 35
Galotta - red 35
Humagne Blanche Humagne Blanc white 29
Ancellotta - red 28
Cabernet Dorsa - red 28
Cabernet Jura - red 27
Kerner - white 25
Aligoté - white 24
Räuschling Great Räuschling, Züri(ch)rebe white 23
Dunkelfelder - red 23
Dornfelder - red 22
Solaris - white 20
Riesling Petit Rhin white 19
Zweigelt - red 19
Johanniter - white 19
Dakapo - red 15
Cot Côt, Malbec red 15
Maréchal Foch - red 14
Carminoir - red 11
Bondola Bondola Nera, Brieger red 11
Divico - red 10
Charmont - white 10
Mara - red 10
Seyval Blanc - white 8
Muscat Dr. Hogg Muscat white 7

Wine categories / quality levels

In 1990, the canton of Valais was the first Swiss wine-growing region to introduce a quality wine hierarchy. Previously, it was largely up to the winemaker to decide what information to include on the label. As a rule, this was the commune and/or grape varieties or a branded wine designation. Swiss wine legislation provides for three categories of wine:

Category I (quality wine)

This refers to "quality wines with a controlled designation of origin" that are labelled with the name of a canton or a geographical area of a canton. Under certain conditions, the cantons may extend individual areas beyond the cantonal borders. The cantons shall lay down provisions on territorial limits, authorised vine varieties, minimum must content per vine variety, maximum yield per vine variety, cultivation methods, vinification methods, as well as a system of sensory and analytical testing as a prerequisite for marketing.

The must weights must reach at least 15.2 (French-speaking Switzerland) and 15.8 °Brix (German-speaking Switzerland, Italian-speaking Switzerland) for white wine varieties and at least 17 °Brix for red wine varieties. Yields may not exceed 1.4 kg/m² (1.2 ital. Switzerland) for white wine varieties and 1.2 kg/m² (1.0 ital. Switzerland) for red wine varieties. There are the following wine types:

Although almost 90% of all Swiss wines have or could have AOC status, this is not very important in Switzerland. Many cantons do not yet have their own regulation, but the above general federal regulation is sufficient for them. In some cantons, such as Vaud and Valais, there is the even higher level Grand Cru, which is used for privileged sites. In the canton of Vaud, there is the special Terravin award in gold and platinum for top growths.

Category II (Country Wine)

These are the country wines designated with the name of the country or part of the country with a larger extension than that of a canton. Must weights must reach at least 14.4 °Brix for white wine varieties and at least 15.2 °Brix for red wine varieties. Yields may not exceed 1.8 kg/m² for white wine varieties and 1.6 kg/m² for red wine varieties.

Category III (wine)

This lowest quality level comprises simple wines that originate from grapes harvested in Switzerland and whose must weights reach at least 13.6 °Brix for white wine varieties and at least 14.4 °Brix for red wine varieties.

Picture: © OTR Mendrisiotto e Basso Ceresio

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