At the foot of one of Europe’s highest vineyards, Visp is an all too often ignored part of the Upper Valais region with most visitors seeing only the platforms and underpass of the town’s train station as they switch from standard to narrow gauge tracks en-route to (or from) the enchanting village of Zermatt. But for the wine lover at least, as well as anyone with more than a hint of cultural or historical curiosity, taking a day or two to explore the town and its immediate environs offers rich reward.
Kellerei Chanton (known also as Chanton Weine) has been a prominent producer on the Valais wine scene since it was founded three-quarters of a century ago. Since 2008, the winery has been run by Mario - the third generation of this passionate viticultural family to take control of the business and follow in the proud tradition of cultivating unusual - often unheard of - varieties alongside more well known grapes. With a primary focus on quality and a commitment to sustainable-practice that is kind to the environment, Chanton restricts grape yield for each variety and uses only natural-based fertilisers on its vines.
In the 1970s, Josef-Marie Chanton - Mario’s predecessor and son of the winery’s founder - reintroduced the indigenous Lafnetscha grape to the Vispertal Valley, creating a truly unique cantonal speciality and likely saving an extremely rare grape from extinction. He followed this in the 1980s, by vinifying Gwäss (Gouais Blanc) - christened the ‘Casonova Grape’ on account of its sheer number of progeny - alongside similarly forgotten varieties, Eyholzer Roter, Himbertscha and Plantscher. Today, each of these is grown, harvested and vinified with meticulous attention to detail resulting in an exquisite range of varietals that warrant international acclaim.
In addition to the rarities, Chanton produces numerous other wines of note. Amongst these are a wonderfully refreshing Petite Arvine, a sumptuous Heida named ‘Gletscherwein’ (Glacier Wine) owing to the altitude at which it grows and the winter-wonderland landscape that unfolds from its plot, and a beautifully balanced and full bodied, oak-aged Pinot Noir which bears the name of the winery’s managing director.
With three vineyard sites and around nine hectares under vine, Chanton remains a boutique operation whose reputation rests on its pioneering spirit and the superior quality of its wines. Sunny settings on the vertiginous terraced slopes of Visperterminen (1,100 metres above sea level), Varen and Leuk provide perfect terroir for unique varieties to thrive, and the careful, creative vinification techniques employed by the wine-maker bring out the very best in every grape.