The wines of the Valais regionin Switzerland

Anna Caidan meets up with Gérard-Philippe Mabillard, Director at Swiss Wine Valais
Wine Story

What could you tell me about the Valais wine region?

‘Valais is in the south west of Switzerland. To the west of Valais, you have Chamonix, and in the south, you have Italy. We are the main wine region in Switzerland, with 5000 hectares. It’s like Saint Emilion, Chablis. But the difference is we have 50 different grape varieties, it’s too much! We have our own varieties such as Petite Arvine, Cornalin etc. We have also grape varieties like Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, varieties that we can find everywhere. Through Valais, we have the river Rhône, and sometimes we say Valais is a high Rhône Valley! La haute Vallée du Rhône! The beginning of the river is at the top of Valais and runs to Marseille. So that’s why, for example Syrah likes Valais very much, and we very much like Syrah too! Valais is 5,000 hectares, and all of Switzerland’s vineyards comprises 15,000 hectares, very small! People from abroad know we can do cheese, we can do watches, chocolate, knives, but a lot of people do not know we can do also very good wines, very different wines from one region to another region. For example, in Valais we have mountains, in Vaud, close to the Geneva Lake, you have Chasselas, the best in the world for me! The terroir is completely different from Valais. We have in Switzerland, six main regions, Valais, Vaud, Geneva, Neuchatel, Ticino and Thurgau, in the German speaking part of Switzerland, where you can find very good Riesling’s and Pinot Noirs!’

What are the main grape varieties of Valais?

‘For red, Pinot Noir and Gamay, and for white wine, Chasselas. (But I do not remember exactly the proportions). But after that, we have our main speciality of Petite Arvine for white wine, and for red, Cornalin, Humagne Rouge, a lot of Syrah, some Merlot too.’

What style of wines are made in the region?

‘We make Alpine wines. Because you can find wines very close to the Rhône, and also on the slopes. We have different configurations, and you can go very high to find wines in the Valais.’

How is a wine from Valais best served?

‘When I decided to organise the picture for our next advertising campaign, I wanted to do something not only about wine, but also about this mix between food and wine. And for me, wine is a way of sharing, and of meeting people. And the wines can accompany a lot of different food. We have a lot of speciality cheeses in Valais, but a lot of wine can accompany a lot of different food also. On the back of our brochure, we have an « accords mets-vins » I asked two chefs to imagine a menu with different Valais wines, and it can be very interesting, because with fish, we can also drink red wine, with cheese, white wine, and you can begin a meal with a sweet wine. We have in Valais, very good sweet wine, because of the proximity to the Rhône, and at the end of the year, the vineyards develop botrytis. For example, Marie-Thérèse Chappaz achieved a 99 by Robert Parker, with her Petite Arvine sweet wine. I think that unfortunately we do not do enough for those wines, we have to shine a light on the sweet wines, because they are really fantastic!’

How would you describe the Valais way of life?

‘We do not have a lot of industry, but a lot of agriculture for wine, because wine in Valais is really sacred! We also have a lot of arboriculture, vegetable farming. Asparagus is a very important vegetable, as are apricots, because they love the climate in the Valais, so do Williams pears. But now many young people are coming back to Valais to develop their skills in interesting projects, in terms of research and development. I think that Valais is changing right now. In the mountains you have a lot of tourist industry, it’s the main industry, with big ski stations like Verbier, because British people very much like Verbier. So, tourism is very important, because you have the beautiful landscape, and in winter you cannot imagine not having snow in Valais, it could be catastrophic! A lot of people live off the revenue from the tourist industry. But in Valais it’s an easy life, because it’s a very sunny place and a lot of people from other Swiss regions spend their holidays in Valais, especially from the north of Switzerland because the climate is really good!’

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