By Lisa Rowlands

One of the last cantons to join the federation in 1815, the Valais (Wallis) region of Switzerland boasts some of the country’s most famous exports. Tourism is big business here with upmarket resort towns like Verbier and Zermatt drawing affluent holidaymakers from Europe and beyond with a host of world class hotels, fine dining experiences and, for the latter at least, a setting that benefits from perhaps the most renowned of all Swiss brands: The Matterhorn. Less is known however, about the canton’s wine credentials, largely on account of the fact that so little of the produce crosses the cantonal line let alone the national border.

But it turns out that the people of the Valais have been making (and drinking) wine for centuries. Evidence, in the form of a ceramic bottle inscribed with confirmation of its contents and dating back to the second century BC, has been discovered near the town of Sembrancher in the west of the canton, and various historical texts mention wine being used as a ritual offering to honour the dead.

Nowadays, the vineyards of the Valais cover an area of 5,000 hectares, producing more than a third of the country’s total yield. The main wine producing area of the region extends in linear progression along the upper Rhone valley, from the town of Martigny in the French speaking lower part of the canton, to Visp in the German Oberwallis. The south facing sun-licked terraces of this 70 kilometre stretch and the diversity of its soils - largely as a result of glacial retreat, provide optimal growing conditions for a range of unique red and white varieties.