Correction: my apologies, but a couple of the wineries listed below are not taking part in the open house days. At Henri Cruchon, where the winery was packed out Saturday morning, they explained that they are already so busy on Saturdays that they could only add to the crowd if they are sure of good weather. Satyr in Begnins is also not taking part. I suggest you doublecheck the list of wineries taking part (pdf), top left on the map,if you’re keen to visit a particular winery. The names below are happily good year round.
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – You’ll need to plan ahead to get the most out of Vaud’s winery open house days, simply because the canton is large and trying to cover all of the regions isn’t really practical in two days. Happily, they are sure to offer the same thing next year.
My suggestion is to start by reading the practical details here, then choosing one or at most two regions per day, not too far apart. For a second day of tasting I would head further afield, to compare two regions, for the wines vary enormously. All you have to do is look at a map to understand why, with some on hillsides that slope back gradually towards the Jura and others in tight sun-drenched terraces perched above Lake Geneva, while yet others have Alpine backdrops and some the softness of the countryside closer to Neuchatel, Fribourg and Bern.
Starting from Geneva and fanning out, here are the wine regions in Vaud – note that the web site for the open house days provides a pdf list of all Vaud wineries that are open, on the site’s cantonal map page.
The size and complexity of the offer is too big to get into here, so let me simply say this: these hillsides are the birthplace of Chasselas, Switzerland’s famous white aperitif wine, and this is a must for tasters, but concentrate on comparing the differences.
Terroir, winemaker, style: they all have an impact and this is anything but a standardized product! But don’t overlook the reds, for there are splendid blends, Gamays and Pinot Noirs here.
Begnins, Domaine La Capitaine has one Vaud’s 11 new Grand Cru wines, and winemaker Reynald Parmelin has been Switzerland’s organic winemaker of the year for three years running. Down the road, at Le Satyre, You can’t go wrong here. Noémie Graf is young, energetic, creative and she is making some of Switzerland’s top award-winning Pinot Noir wines.
Bursins, Cave Beetschen, don’t let the sleek wine bar fool you: this is a family winery par excellence, with sensible prices and an extraoridnary collection. The energy and desire to improve are impressive here. Chateau Le Rosey is a beautiful spot, worth a visit for that alone, and owner Pierre Bouvier works closely with friend and neighbour Yves Parmelin, whose winery is also well worth a visit. Check out the velvety reds, mmm.
Echichens, above Morges by the hospital, is home to Henri Cruchon and family, and this is a must-stop. Henri is one of Switzerland’s top winemakers, a member of the Memoire des Vins Suisse, a delightfully generous man and the wines are exquisite. Some 20 grape variety, biodynamic and you’ll have trouble leaving, so schedule a return trip!
Fechy, I’ve written so much about this village I fear I’m repeating myself. Stop at Domaine La Colombe, where Raymond Paccot, one of the best winemakers in Switzerland bar none, makes one of my favourite white wines, a Pinot Gris. Down the road is the Kursner Brother wineries, with space or kids to play while you sample a wide range (try the bubbly).
Fully, I’m a huge fan of the Frères Dutry, whose beautiful Romaine line with Gamay and the inky Gamaret are complemented by a fine rosé.
Givrins, Philippe Bovet, one of the classiest and finest new winemakers around, who has a good understanding of what a new generatin is looking for. You can’t go wrong here.
Morges has a host of things going on, with discounts to the nearby iris gardens if you have a passport and beginner’s wine tasting sessions on the BAM train parked at the train station.
Nyon, most of the winemakers are coming together at the chateau, so you’ll have an easy time here.
Tartegnin is planning a cheese party for the weekend, to complement its wines, with some fine cheese on the menu, from Gruyere. You can do a shuttle loop to Mont-sur-Rolle, Rolle and Perroy, with a number of good wineries in each.
St-Prex, Domaine de Terreneuve, David Kind speaks English, sells his fine wines at prices that some would say are too low for the very good quality, and the setting, with 200- and 300-year-old trees, is magnificent. Peaceful, well worth a visit and a great address for future orders.
Côtes de l’Orbe and Bonvillars (2 regions) plus Vully
These are the wineries in the Yverdon area. A truly wonderful winery that is worth the trip is the Chateau de Valeyres, whose owner Benjamin Morel works with his childhood friend Frédéric Hostettler. The young duo are creative, talented and making a name for themselves in wine circles. is great fun as well and really wants to know what visitors think. If you can corner him for a minute you’ll learn a lot about wine. This is the soft side of Swiss scenery, with lovely rolling hillsides, nearby lakes and snowy peaks in the distance. Very, very pleasant.
Côtes de l’Orbe
Caves d’Orbes, Yves Monnier and the Chateau d’Eclépens, with the latter a member of the Clos, Domains & Chateaux group of very good wineries with historic homes. I particularly like some of the reds made by Francois and Georges de Coulon at the chateau, and the prices are a bargain for what you get. Francois speaks English and his enthusiasm for his wines is infectious; he is great fun as well and really wants to know what visitors think. If you can corner him for a minute you’ll learn a lot about wine.
This region is tiny and at the northeastern tip of Lake Neuchatel, so it would be easy to miss – but you shouldn’t miss it because Môtier has the Cru de l’Hôpital winery whose young winemaker Christian Vessaz has been catapulted into being called one of the best in the country. He’s a serious environmentalist and a perfectionist when it comes to making wines. I love his Pinot Gris and his red blend is beautiful. Someone to encourage, by all means.
If you haven’t heard of this yet, I would be very surprised. This hillside, now a Unesco World Heritage site, was spotted by monks more than 1,000 years ago as the perfect place for vineyards, and they were not wrong. The region is so dense with vineyards that I can’t begin to offer suggestions, except to say two I’ve loved lately have been Patrick Fonjallaz in Epesses and Domaine du Daley high up on the hillside in Lutry. And then there is Louis Bovard, whose wines are very special and exported to top restaurants around the world, in Cully. But I’m leaving out at least 100 great winemakers, I think!
Visiting Lavaux is all about exploring: the hillsides, the villages, the wines, the views. Just let yourself go.
This is the beautiful wine country around Villeneuve and Aigle, at the east end of Lake Geneva, with spectacular Alpine vistas behind the villages and towns. It is wine country par excellence and a good place to start seeing the impact of geography on wine. This is where the glaciers left their mark, where the Rhone meets Lake Geneva, and where more rain falls than in nearby Valais or along the Lavaux stretch above Lake Geneva.
You’ll find magnificent Chasselas wines here, and I suggest making tracks to the Artisans Vignerons Cooperative in Yvorne as well as Domaine de l’Ovaille in the same beautiful village. Don’t miss the Chateau d’Yvorne, justifiably famous for its wines. Shuttles between Aigle and Yvorne, both noted for their good restaurants, so build in lunch here.
Aigle is home to the old, large winery called Henri Badoux, famous for its Les Murailles Chasselas, a fine example of the minerality in this grape for which Vaud has a great reputation. Head winemaker Daniel Dufaux is the president of the Swiss Oenologists Association and the winery’s range is both large and very good. I like their Viognier, but definitely try some of the top of the line reds if you can.
Aigle has a very good wine museum at its Chateau and the village’s charming, winding little lanes among stone walls, moving out from the chateau, make for good walks (mostly flat). Expect plenty of music this weekend.There are plenty of small, good wineries here, one of which is run by mother-daughter team Christine and Stéphanie Delarze, whose tree-shaded garden alone is worth the visit, and Stéphanie speaks English. Ask her about the latest wine Dou-dou.
Villeneuve, at the tip of Lake Geneva, is celebrating its main festival of the year, with music all weekend, a big market with local products and its wines at the centre of the party.
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Your starting point should be the GenevaLunch news story on the event, with some real changes this year that promise to make it easier, more fun and a great way to learn about Switzerland’s often excellent local wines.
You’ll get the most out of the visits if a) you spit out the wine after you’ve tasted it, in the small buckets provided for this and b) you ask questions, without worrying that you sound like you know nothing. Here are some pointers that I’m reposting from my piece on the Valais wine days, followed by suggestions for types of wineries you might want to visit, from ones with great views to ones with sublime wines.
How to decide what wineries to visit, how to get there
Select the village(s) you want to visit, based on how you’re planning to get around. The advantage of having a car is that you can buy and pack bottles in the car as you go. The disadvantage is that even if you spit out the wine most of the time, strongly recommended, you have to be careful about the amount you consume: Switzerland’s legal limit is 0.5, the equivalent of one glass of wine (please note that it was recently incorrectly reported on a radio programme to be 0.8).
Most wineries will ship to you, with next-day service via the post office. This means that if you’re using one of the shuttle options you can carry home that one bottle you think you must have for dinner and leave the rest to show up later in the post. Wineries’ policies vary, but the shipping cost is not high and if you buy more than 6 or 12 the postage is often free or discounted.
The CFF Railaway offer is a good deal: 20 percent off to get there and back, another 20 percent off on the Mobilis regional public transport system and 20 percent off for the CHF15 “passport” glass that gets you in to all the wineries.
The tasting process, from white to red as a general rule
A good general rule is to start with whites and move on to reds. So how do you do this when you’re visiting several wineries? My approach is to select, for example, three wineries whose white wines I particularly want to try, then six whose reds interest me. I allow 30-45 minutes per winery, which gives me a chance to taste the wines, ask other visitors what they like and why, talk to the owners – and relax a bit. This means that I can realistically fit in three in a morning, take time out for lunch and do another three in the afternoon. Or two, lunch and four post-lunch.
That said, at the press conference for the Vaud Open Days, where journalists I tasted a red with some strong cheese and before moving on to the dessert wine with chocolate I had the first wine offered, a Chasselas designed to be drunk as an aperitif. It also made an excellent palate-cleanser between courses.
Village restaurants are one option for lunch, with several offering special Open days menus, and several of the wineries offer meals. Keep in mind that many of the wineries also offer excellent snacks, so some people simply snack their way through the day!
Suggestions for varied approaches
These are a handful of wineries I personally like, but the most fun involves exploring and visiting new places, so be adventurous. You won’t always find wines that are magical, but you’ll learn while looking for them. The complete list/map is on Caves Ouverte’s web site. I’ve put an *asterisk where I know they speak English.
Wineries with great views
Cellars in Vinzel, Begnin, Mont-sur-Rolle, Bougy-Villars and Fechy, for the stretch between Nyon and Rolle, as well as the higher altitude wineries in Lavaux and, at the eastern end of Vaud, Aigle. Particular favourites for this: Caves des Rossillonnes, Vinzel, Caveau de Langins, Riex, Chateau Maison Blanche in Yvorne – but the list is far too long! We are spoiled for spectacular views from wineries, in Vaud.
Organic top wines
*Domaine La Capitaine, Begnins (see below)
Cellars with sublime wines
Wineries along La Cote that are special for other reasons
*Les Dames de Hautecour, Mont-sur-Rolle (guaranteed warm welcome and rare Chasselas violet), *Cave Cidis, Tolochenaz (don’t expect a romantic setting, but there is a huge selection from this excellent cooperative, for a good idea of what Vaud wines are all about, with knowledgeable staff)
Weather forecast: highs of 19C Saturday and 21C Sunday, with some showers replaced Sunday by haze: take an umbrella and sun cream.
Updated 14:45 The Valais open days, 13-15 May, appear to be the best organized yet, with 179 wineries participating. This is the fourth year for Switzerland’s largest winemaking canton’s coordinated effort to present its wines to the public, and it’s the perfect time to make the trip. For one thing, the weather might not be gloriously sunny, but it’s generally clearer and expected to remain so, than in most of the rest of Switzerland! Nevertheless, bring an umbrella.
And you can eat and drink for free to your heart’s content, as long as you remember that you are the cellars’ guests, and it’s costing these small producers, most of them family businesses, money to host you.
The idea behind the Open Days is to let wineries show off their latest wines, which means you’ll be seeing newly bottled whites from 2009, for example. It was a great year, one of the best, but you’ll have to wait a bit for the reds to be shown, as most are still maturing and are not yet in bottles.
Here’s what you should know about Valais wines
For a start, they are renowned for their diversity, which can be confusing if you are visiting for the first time, but it really is one of the things that makes them so special. As in most places, there are mediocre wines and good ones, but Valais has a wealth of excellent, award-winning wines.
This is the largest wine-growing area in the country, with 120,000 grape growers, although the bulk of these do not make wine commercially themselves. But it’s an indication of the extent to which wine is part of the Valais soul.
Here’s how to visit the wineries during Open Days
Start by visiting the English pages of the Vins du Valais web site. This is the growers’ marketing arm and they have made a real effort in the past three years to provide more information in English – including a brochure (acknowledgment: I provided the English adaptation).
The site this year has information in English about the Open Days, with details (in French) on free shuttle buses in three areas, as well as public transport information. The online brochure, in French only, provides details about what each wine cellar is offering, from entertainment to raclette or other snacks.
The site offers details about grape varieties, what wine goes well with what foods, and it has a database for wineries.
New this year is an iPhone app (French) that offers the wineries’ details – nearly 8,000 people have now downloaded it, and it does simplify visits to the area. Highly recommended.
Take public transport: CFF trains to major towns like Martigny, Sion and Sierre are frequent, and regional trains stop once an hour at smaller towns. Taking the train avoids the problem of drinking and driving, although it limits to some extent your freedom to visit more out of the way wineries.
Plan to spend a day, if not two. You’ll need 30-60 minutes per winery. If you don’t want the tasting sessions to get out of control (and remember, you are the producers’ guests, often at their homes), do spit out at least some of the wine! I limit myself to 3-4 wines per producer, as a general rule, usually starting with 1-2 dry whites, 1 red, maybe 1 sweet, in that order.
Cost: This is a free event, but winemakers are obviously doing it as a marketing event, and they want to sell you their wines. That said, no one obliges you to buy and you’re not even expected to place an order before leaving. Out of politeness, at least ask for the price list and take it home. And clearly, if you do like something, take advantage of the opportunity and place an order before you forget where you were. Swiss wineries ship via the post office on a regular basis, which is an easier solution than trying to lug it home on the train.