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Description to Switzerland

Switzerland (German "Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft", French "Confédération suisse", Italian "Confederazione Svizzera", Romansh "Confederaziun svizra") with its capital Bern in Central Europe covers 41,285 km². The four official languages are a special feature of this federal state with its pronounced federalist structure. Switzerland borders Germany to the north, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east, Italy to the south and France to the west. It is divided into 26 partially sovereign cantons. 58% of the area is mountainous, there are 3,350 peaks over 2,000 metres and 48 peaks over 4,000 metres high. Viticulture is mainly practised at the beginning of the three large river valleys (see below).

Schweiz - politische Karte

History

The Romans planted vines in the Basel and Windisch-Aargau region around the turn of the century and established 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, vineyards are documented in the Chur Rhine Valley 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 planted the first terraced vineyard on Lake Geneva in the canton of Vaud in 1142.

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 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 were among the last European countries to reach Switzerland. After the Second World War, there was an upswing again.

Soil & climate

Switzerland is the most mountainous country in Europe (after Albania) and the Alps also have a strong influence on viticulture. The vineyards are mainly located at the beginning of the three major river valleys: the Rhône in the west, the Rhine in the north and the Po in the south. Here 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 one of the highest vineyards in Central Europe.

On the southern side of the Alps in particular, with Valais as the largest area, there are many hours of sunshine but relatively little rainfall. Only Ticino, which lies to the south and is considered the most scenic canton, has a lot of precipitation. Linguistically, Switzerland is divided into the three wine-growing regions of western Switzerland (French-speaking Switzerland with 75% of the vineyard area), eastern Switzerland (German-speaking Switzerland as the smallest area) and Ticino in the south (Italian-speaking Switzerland). For this reason, the diverse wine culture reflects German, Italian and French influences.

Tessin - Weingärten San Pietro und Ligornetto-Mendrisio

Wine-growing areas

Viticulture exists in 17 of the 26 cantons. Many do not have their own wine regulations, which is why 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 and wine regions:

KANTON
WINE REGION (WR)

CANTON/WINE REGION
french/italian

GEOGRAPHICAL
REGION

HA

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) Geneva, 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

Saillon (canton of Valais) is home to the smallest vineyard in the world. Only three vines of the Roter Muskateller variety (a mutation of Muskateller) are planted on the 1,618 square metre "vineyard", which is registered in the land register. A wine is pressed from the yield in a special way (see the Dalai Lama's vineyard).

Grape varieties

In 2022, the vineyards covered 14,606 hectares and the wine production volume was 922,000 hectolitres. There is very little export; the wines are almost exclusively consumed in the country. The most common red wine varieties are Pinot Noir and Gamay, with Merlot dominating only in Italian-speaking Switzerland (Ticino) with over 80%. Chasselas (here Dorin, Fendant or Perlan) clearly dominates among the white wine varieties, followed by Müller-Thurgau; the name is a memorial to the Swiss winegrowing pioneer Dr Hermann Müller-Thurgau (1850-1927).

There is almost a monoculture in eastern Switzerland (German-speaking Switzerland), where the red wine variety Pinot Noir dominates with around 70% of the area. Americano, which was planted after the phylloxera catastrophe, accounts for around 15% and is used for table grapes and grappa, especially in Ticino. The numerous old autochthonous grape varieties, which are mainly cultivated in the canton of Valais, are known as old vines. The grape variety index with the top 50 (Kym Anderson):

Grape variety

Synonyms or name in Switzerland

Colour

Hectare

Pinot Noir Pinot Noir, Clevner, Chlävner red 4.209
Chasselas Dorin, Fendant, Gutedel, 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 Heather red 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 Grosser 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 winegrower to decide what information to include on the label. As a rule, this was the commune and/or grape variety or a brand name. Swiss wine legislation provides for three wine categories:

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 also extend individual areas beyond the cantonal borders. The cantons lay down provisions on territorial boundaries, authorised grape varieties, minimum must content per grape variety, maximum yield per grape variety, cultivation methods, winemaking methods and a system of sensory and analytical testing as a prerequisite for marketing.

The must weights must reach at least 15.2 °Brix (Western Switzerland) or 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 for white wine varieties (1.2 in Italian-speaking Switzerland) and 1.2 kg/m² for red wine varieties (1.0 in Italian-speaking Switzerland). There are the following types of wine:

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 regulations, but are satisfied with the above-mentioned general federal ordinance. In some cantons, such as Vaud and Valais, there is the even higher Grand Cru level, which is used for privileged sites. In the canton of Vaud, there is the special Terravin award in gold and platinum for top wines.

Category II (country wine)

These are country wines that are labelled with the name of the country or part of the country with a larger area than that of a canton. The 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 category comprises simple wines made from grapes harvested in Switzerland with must weights of at least 13.6 °Brix for white wine varieties and at least 14.4 °Brix for red wine varieties.

Map: © Federal Department of Home Affairs FDHA
Ticino: © OTR Mendrisiotto e Basso Ceresio

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