European Breaks: Three suns, one grape, a lot of flavour
As Lavaux celebrates its new World Heritage status, Adrian Mourby raises a glass to its viniculturalists
Sunday 19 August 2007
'I was not sure that this was a good idea," says Bernard Bovy, mayor of Chexbres, as we sit on his verandah looking down on terraces of grapes with the blue lake beyond. "Maybe there would be too many restrictions." But M Bovy decided it was worth putting together the document that convinced Unesco why this landscape must be preserved.
The Lavaux region has produced wine for more than 1,000 years on a series of stone terraces overlooking Lake Geneva. "The first monks came here around 1000," says M Bovy. "They cut down the forest and planted vines. They needed wine for the divine service – also for themselves!"
Nowadays, the slopes are dotted with wine-producing villages. If you take a steamer up from Geneva, you'll know when you've reached Lavaux – large signs in Hollywood-white letters proclaim the region's seven appellations from iridescent green hillsides.
"We are 270 wine growers working 800 hectares," says M Bovy. "Some families go back hundreds of years. We produce some red wine, but mostly Lavaux blanc with the Chasselas grape." I must admit I've never heard of Chasselas, though I've tasted other whites with this slight tang and delicious apple flavour.
"Seventy per cent of the wine output of this whole region is Chasselas. This is something that we are very proud of." It's the oldest grape used in wine-making, but is usually blended because the flavour is rarely good enough for wine.
"But these terraces are very rich and very varied. The soil makes all the difference," says M Bovy. "That is why we are able to produce eight different appellations in Lavaux with just one grape. Of course, having three suns also helps!" Bernard is referring to the sunlight reflected off Lake Geneva, as well as solar heat stored in the stone terraces.
"But it is not easy working these slopes. Everything has to be done by hand: no machines," he says. "I hope World Heritage status will help us to sell our wine better. Nowadays, young people want to drink New World wines. We want them to be proud of what their land produces."
Later, I'm struck by the fact that Lavaux symbolises how we want to believe our wine is produced, in small domaines run by individual growers who love the land. It's only when I call in at my soulless local Co-op that I see the problem. Italian and South American wines are selling at £1.20, while a basic Lavaux blanc costs more than £5. Next month, Lavaux will be staging a Festival of the Five Senses to celebrate its Unesco status.I wish them luck. The place is beautiful; the wine is good and the owners of the domaines will talk to you all afternoon. I hate it when my love of a landscape and its people comes between me and a cheap drink.
How to get there:
Adrian Mourby flew to Geneva with Swiss (08456 010956; swiss. com) which offers return flights from London City airport from £92. He stayed at Le Baron Tavernier in Chexbres (00 41 21 926 6000; barontavernier. com); doubles start at Sfr240 (£99) per night.
Swiss Tourist Office (00 800 100 200 30; my switzerland.com).
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