Around the turn of the century, the Romans planted vines in the Basel and Windisch area 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 in Chur's Rhine Valley and on Lake Constance are occupied. As elsewhere in Europe, viticulture was cultivated by the Cistercians in the Middle Ages. They founded the Hautcrèt Palézieux monastery 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 Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden in 1291 until the 18th century, wine production increased continuously. Around the year 1850, the area under vines was more than twice as large as it is today, with about 35,000 hectares. In the 19th century, viticulture suffered a decline due to foreign competition as well as phylloxera and powdery mildew, which reached Switzerland as one of the last European countries. After the Second World War, there was then an upswing again.
Switzerland is (after Albania) the most mountainous country in Europe 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 Rhône in the west, Rhine in the north and Po in the south. In these valleys and along the many lakes, there are many vineyards on glacial moraines with mostly terraced steep slopes up to 70% inclination. The Riebe vineyard near the municipality of Visperterminen at 1,100 metres above sea level is the highest vineyard in Central Europe. Especially on the southern side of the Alps, with the largest area of winegrowing in Valais, there are many hours of sunshine but relatively little precipitation. Only the Ticino in the south is very rich in precipitation. Linguistically, Switzerland is divided into the three wine-growing regions of Western Switzerland (French-speaking Switzerland with three-quarters of the vineyard area), Eastern Switzerland (German-speaking Switzerland - the "land of red country wines" and the smallest area) and Ticino in the South (Italian-speaking Switzerland). For this reason, German, Italian and French influences are reflected in the diverse wine culture.
Slightly more than half of the total area is occupied by red wine varieties. The most common are Pinot Noir (Pinot Noir) and Gamay, only in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland (Ticino) Merlot clearly dominates with over 80%. Among the white wine varieties, Chasselas clearly dominates (here also called Dorin, Fendant and Perlan), followed by Müller-Thurgau (here Riesling x Sylvaner) - the name is a monument to the Swiss viticulture pioneer Dr. Hermann Müller-Thurgau (1850-1927). In Eastern Switzerland (German-speaking Switzerland), there is almost a monoculture, with the red wine variety Pinot Noir dominating here with about 70% of the area. The Americano, planted after the phylloxera catastrophe, accounts for about 15% and is used especially in Ticino for table grapes and grappa. The numerous old autochthonous grape varieties, which are mainly cultivated in the canton of Valais, are called old plants. The 2010 list of grape varieties (ex Kym Anderson):
In 2012, the area under vines was 15,000 hectares, of which 1.004 million hectolitres of wine were produced (see a global statistic on this subject under Wine Production Volumes). Switzerland produces excellent wines in many varieties. The only reason why they are perhaps not so well known outside the country is that they are consumed almost exclusively within the country and even twice as much needs to be imported. Mostly, the wines are named after the community (many have AOC status) in which they are produced. There are 26 political cantons, in 17 of which there is viticulture. 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 Three Lakes Region, which transcends cantonal boundaries. The wine cantons or wine regions:
In 1990, the canton of Valais became the first Swiss wine-growing region to introduce a quality wine hierarchy. In the past, it was largely up to the winemaker to decide what information to include on the label. As a rule, these were communes and/or grape varieties or a brand name for a wine. Swiss wine legislation provides for three categories of wine:
Category I refers to "quality wines with a controlled designation of origin", which are designated by 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 individual cantons lay down provisions on the territorial limits, authorised grape varieties, minimum must content per grape variety, maximum yield per grape variety, cultivation methods, wine-making methods and a system of sensory and analytical testing as a prerequisite for marketing.
The must weights must be at least 15.2 °Brix (French-speaking Switzerland) or 15.8 °Brix (German-speaking Switzerland, Italian-speaking Switzerland) for white wines and at least 17 °Brix for red wines. Yields must not exceed 1.4 kg/m² (1.2 Italian-speaking Switzerland) for white wine varieties and 1.2 kg/m² (1.0 Italian-speaking Switzerland) for red wine varieties. The following designations are permitted exclusively for Category I wines: Spätlese (Vendange tardive, Vendemmia tardiva), Auslese (Sélection, Selezione), Beerenauslese (Sélection de grains nobles), Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein (Vin de glace), Beerliwein, Flétri (Flétri sur souche), Oeil de Perdrix (rosé), straw wine (Passerillé, Sforzato), sweet wine (Pressé doux) - also for country wines, Village(s) and Vin des Glaciers (glacier wine).
Although almost 90% of all Swiss wines have or could have AOC status, the designation is currently of rather minor importance in Switzerland. Many cantons do not yet have their own regulations, but the above general federal ordinance 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 plants.
Category II includes country wines that are designated by the name of the country or part of the country with a greater extent 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 must not exceed 1.8 kg/m² for white wine varieties and 1.6 kg/m² for red wine varieties.
Category III, the lowest quality category, is made up of simple wines(table wines) which come 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.