Both nature and man have been kind to the canton of Vaud. This French speaking slice of Switzerland is home to the city of Lausanne with its impressive 12th century gothic cathedral, the famous lakeside resort towns of Montreux and Vevey, and the magnificent medieval fortress of Château de Chillon at the foot of the majestic Alps. It hardly comes as a surprise to learn that novelists Hemingway and Nabakov, composer Igor Stravinsky and fashion designer Coco Chanel (amongst many others) have historically chosen to make their homes amongst the lush green pastures and crystal clear waters of Switzerland’s second largest wine region.
The history of wine in the Vaud probably dates back to Roman times but it was the Cistercian monks, who through their determined cultivation of the Dézaley vineyards from the middle ages onwards, began to weave the tradition of wine-making into the fabric of the region. Nowadays the canton’s wine producing area is divided into four main sub-regions each with its own unique history and growing conditions - La Côte, occupying the North Western shore of Lake Geneva, the Lavaux region - a UNESCO world heritage site which extends along the lake from Lausanne to Montreux, Chablais - bordering the right bank of the Rhone river between Bex and Villeneuve, and Les Côtes de l’Orbe in the North of the canton. Each of the sub-regions benefits from the temperate climate and rich soil diversity of this South Western corner of Switzerland, with the lake helping to reduce frost in spring and regulate summer temperatures such that extremes are avoided.
The most well known and perhaps most prestigious appellation of the region is Dézaley AOC, whose 54 hectares of stone-terraced vineyards cling to the steep slopes above Lake Geneva. The almost impossible gradients, whilst providing obvious grape growing benefits, also create difficulties and potential dangers in tending the vines and harvesting the crop. Dézaley AOC, and neighbouring Calamin AOC, were the first of Switzerland’s appellations to receive the premier Grand Cru status in 2007.
Rather unusually for a Swiss region, production of white wine exceeds that of red in the Vaud. Chasselas - an indigenous, early ripening variety which produces fresh, delicate wines - is king here, with its vines occupying around two-thirds of the region’s vineyards and producing nearly 40% of the country’s white wine yield. A varietal renowned for its ability to reflect the nuances of its terroir, a Chasselas grown on a sun-soaked terrace with high levels of luminosity and rich volcanic soil is markedly different from one produced in clay loam or a cooler climate. Other white varieties of the region include Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and there are a number of high quality reds, mostly from Pinot Noir and Gamay varietals but also from the Gamay crossings Garanoir and Gamaret.
Having ‘good taste’ and having things ‘taste good’ are essentially mottos of canton Vaud and its people. Today a culinary richness flows through the region from traditional cheese-making to exquisitely crafted baked goods and delicious regional specialties served al fresco along the lakeside promenades. The region is also home to the renowned ‘Restaurant de l’Hôtel de ville de Crissier’ - a three Michelin starred establishment with a perpetually evolving gourmet menu, consistently listed amongst the best restaurants in the world. Wine of course, is an integral part of this culture with almost everyone who lives here having some connection to its cultivation or at the least, its consumption! Various festivals and fairs - including the four times a century, Fête des Vignerons - celebrate the tradition of wine-making and the people whose hard work and passion for the vines, continue to produce wines of international acclaim. Even the traditional cantonal costume is that of a winemaker.
So when the sun goes down over the lake, with its tranquil waters and towering alpine silhouette, what better way to accompany the gastronomic delights of the region, than to sit back and soak up the view with a glass (or two!) of its finest wine…?
The Côtes de l’Orbe AOC in the Vaud region of Switzerland is the oldest wine-producing area in the country. Characterised by beautiful countryside vistas and picturesque villages, this appellation is best known for its silky smooth red wines made from traditional grape varieties.