The first time someone asked me if I wanted to spend the day going wine tasting in Switzerland I was in Zurich and assumed we were heading to Germany. Instead, we stayed in the canton sampling the Swiss wine Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir) from a variety of producers.
Wine in Switzerland? At first, I thought, “No way,” but then I started to think of the countries bordering this tiny neutral nation-Germany, Italy and France, and it quickly made sense. But why are Swiss wines cloaked in as much mystery as Swiss banking?
Swiss Wine Overview
Most people outside of Switzerland aren’t very familiar with Swiss wine because only one percent of the wine is exported. I’ve spent a lot of time here and I can tell you, these people like to drink wine and they like to drink local. And by local I mean don’t go to a dinner party in the Valais region and present the host a bottle of wine from rival Canton Vaud.
Switzerland has six wine regions including Valais, Vaud, Geneva, Three-Lakes, Ticino and German Switzerland. Over 252 grape varieties grow in Switzerland, but the most planted are Blauburgunder, Chasselas, Gamay and Merlot. The Valais region in the French part of Switzerland produces a third of the country’s wine.
While some of the most planted grapes are ones you’ve heard of, I’ve found that the most popular bottles in the country are more unusual varietals. My favorites are Petite Arvine, a frangrent, fruity and acidic white, Johannisberg, a fuller-bodied, aromatic white, and Dole, a light red that is a mix of Pinot Noir and Gamay.
Living in Swiss Wine Country
I’m sure there isn’t a wine lover out there who hasn’t fantasized about chucking it all and living on a vineyard. While I didn’t quit my job to make wine, I did have a chance to live among the Swiss grapes during the summer of 2021.
At the time my now husband lived in the Valais region. As the country’s largest wine-producing area, vineyards were as commonplace here as cactus are where I live. While we weren’t exactly residing in the beautiful villa that always accompanied my vision of living in wine country, our apartment was surrounded by vines.
Instead of a manicured lawn that was designed to configure to an HOA guideline, each day I’d step outside into the magic world of wine. I’d go on long walks through vines that would eventually produce Chasselas, Johannisberg or Humagne Rouge wines. Throughout the summer I got to join the grapes on their journey, watching the clusters go from tiny buds to juicy globes. I marveled at their transformation, while mentally pondering how my own life was also changing before my eyes.
It's 5-O-Clock Somewhere
Living in a big city, I got a kick out of the fact that I could simply walk to a winery for an apero at the end of a day of writing. My favorite spot was Caveau Régence Blavaud. The wines were only five Swiss Francs, came with complimentary bites and the people working there were friendly. According to my boyfriend, none of these things are typically Swiss.
I started bringing my laptop and working inside the tasting room or enjoying the terrace. I got to know some of the staff and pretty soon I felt like Norm from the old TV show, “Cheers.” Over glasses of Petite Arvine and Johannisberg I found a connection and a sense of place thousands of miles from where I’m from. Never underestimate the power of a shared glass of wine to bring people together.
At home in Phoenix figuring out what to do often stressed me out as I looked for new restaurants, wine bars and events that would be different and exciting. However, during my summer in Switzerland, I found that the evening’s entertainment didn’t need to be that complicated.
My boyfriend and I would eat in, elevating the meal with a bottle of whatever Swiss wine we picked up at a local winery, or in a pinch, the Coop grocery store down the road. Afterwards, we’d walk the vineyards in our town of Ardon sharing stories about the day. As the grapes began to ripen, he’d pilfer a few and tell me how close we were to harvest based on the taste. I’d tell him to stop stealing the winemaker’s profits. He’d counter that you can’t steal nature.
Instead of slowing down to smell the roses, I was slowing down to savor the grapes and the simplicity of a different way of living.
Just as the grapes were ready to transform from vineyard grapes to Swiss wine, it was time for me to transform as well. Walking through the vineyards during the summer I had the chance to reflect on life and made some big decisions:
I loved my boyfriend and wanted this to become a permanent relationship. We were married in a wine-themed wedding the following year.
I wanted to focus even more on wine and travel. I got my Level One Sommelier certification, applied for and was accepted as a 2024 Fellow to the Wine Writers’ Symposium and launched wine education classes.
I want to lead tours introducing people to cool, less-discovered wine regions. This one is still a work in progress, but I plan to have the first one ready this year. Stay tuned!
While I believe wine is best enjoyed as a shared experience that fosters communication and connection, my summer in Switzerland showed me that wine is also a tool to slow down, savor life, and connect with yourself.