One of the smallest in size of the 26 cantons which constitute the Swiss Confederation, Geneva surely ranks amongst the largest in terms of its influence and impact on the world stage. From its renowned watchmakers - Rolex, Patek Philippe, Omega, Rado and Breitling are all represented here - to its master chocolatiers, CERN nuclear research centre and status as an ‘international city of peace’, this area of Switzerland excels in both upholding old traditions and pushing new boundaries.
The region is surrounded on practically all sides by France, and the influence of its neighbour - owing both to close proximity and history - is prominent, most notably in the language and gastronomy of the region but also in its being the first Swiss canton to introduce a French-style appellation system to classify wines. Despite its relatively small size, Canton Geneva is Switzerland’s third largest wine-producing area with around 1400 hectares of vines planted around the city and the western tip of the lake (known locally as Lac Léman). Unlike the wine regions of Vaud and Valais, the terrain here is less steep and lower in altitude, presenting fewer obstacles for growers and affording the widespread use of modern techniques. Nevertheless, the topography of canton Geneva, a patch of land that is sandwiched between the Jura and the Alps, presents its own unique challenges and rewards for producers.
Although it is not widely regarded as a wine city, viticulture has been an important part of life in Geneva and the surrounding area for two-thousand years. Today the canton’s vines are divided into three officially named, geographical sub-regions:- Entre Arve et Lac (between the river Arve and the lake), Entre Arve et Rhone (between the rivers Arve and Rhone) and Le Mandement (literally ‘the commandment’!) - an area immediately to the west of the city which includes the vineyards of Satigny - Switzerland’s most prolific wine-producing municipality. Of the three sub- regions, Le Mandement is by far the largest and most well known, accounting for around two thirds of the canton’s vines.
Red varietals make up just over half of production in Geneva, with Gamay - which produces smooth, deep-flavoured wines, being the most dominant grape in the region. Pinot Noir and crossings Gamaret and Garanoir are also well represented, alongside international varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel. As with most Swiss regions, Chasselas is the leading white grape accounting for more than 20% of the canton’s yield and producing wines here that are fruitier than those grown in neighbouring cantons. Other notable whites include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Aligoté and Viognier - an unusual variety which has found a fantastic terroir in Geneva, resulting in its producing wonderfully complex, well-rounded wines.
Home to the headquarters of multiple organisations such as The Red Cross, World Trade Organisation and various arms of the United Nations, eneva is a true global city with a multicultural population (40% of its residents were born outside Switzerland) and a world-wide perspective. For so long, the wines of this region, and the country as a whole, have been content to play a supporting role on the world stage, but with undoubted quality, some success already in international competitions and an ever-increasing focus on export markets, it seems only a matter of time before les vins de Genève assume centre stage.