In partnership with Lake Geneva Region Tourist Office
Lake Geneva wineries to visit
The best part about visiting the Lake Geneva wine region is that distances are short – from Nyon to Aigle it’s barely 100 kilometres, or one hour speeding along the motorway or using the excellent train service…
How to get there and how to get around
By car, train or plane to Geneva.
The vineyards start just outside the city and end at Bex, about 1.5 hours along the lake.
Switzerland has one of the most efficient and best integrated public transport services in the world, so using the train, PostBuses and boats to get around within the region is a viable (and restful) option.
The Swiss Travel Pass (buy before arrival from outside the country) gives free, unlimited, travel on all public transport. Ask about the local transport card, too – it’s given out free by all hotels.
Starting at the western end, La Côte, stretching from close to Geneva around to Morges, is the biggest and most bucolic part. Vineyard holdings are larger here and vines rub shoulders with apple and pear trees.
First up in Founex is Les Frères Dutruy, which offers visits on weekdays to the original property in the village and on Saturdays to the modern winery close by. Julien Dutruy is an irrepressible guide to the domaine’s wines and a good example of Switzerland’s younger generation of well-travelled winemakers, with two-year stints in Bordeaux and Burgundy under his belt.
Unusually for La Côte – a region majoring in Chasselas – the Dutruys’ main plantings are of Gamay, Pinot Noir and Gamaret.
Further round the lake at Mont-sur-Rolle, jovial winemaker Yves de Mestral’s Domaine de la Maison Blanche sits on a gentle elevation overlooking the lake, surrounded by vines. If the weather is fine, tastings take place in the garden; it’s just the place to start testing Chasselas’ oft-quoted ability to faithfully reflect the terroir in which it is grown, as seen through the lens of de Mestral’s different cuvées of the same grape from various plots (plus a sparkling wine).
The central part, the Lavaux region, extends from Lausanne round to Vevey. This is home to some of Switzerland’s most venerated vineyards, originally terraced and planted in the Middle Ages by Cistercian monks and to this day responsible for some of the most elegant and ageworthy Chasselas.
There’s a huge concentration of talented wine-growers here (helpfully indicated by small brown signposts), among them Domaine Chappuis in Rivaz, a family-run estate established in 1335 – Christophe Chappuis belongs to the 22nd generation to make wine here.
You can sign up for the ‘Lavaux Experience’, which involves a morning in the vineyard where he explains the tasks of the season followed by a tasting, lunch and three bottles to take home; or simply settle down in the cosy tasting room and work your way through his range of superb Chasselas and stunning red blends.
If you run out of time, or just fail to secure an appointment with one or other wine-growers, Vinorama, a wine bar-cum-shop in Rivaz will come to the rescue (see ‘Dine like a local’). The brainchild of Christophe Chappuis’s father Vincent, it gathers wines from around 150 vignerons in Lavaux all under one roof. The visit starts with a short video, which explains the winemaker’s year, then you can taste from the weekly-changing offer of open wines and/or buy a bottle to go.
Up the hill in the village of Epesses, biodynamic grower Blaise Duboux is another master of Chasselas and a firm believer in its ability to age (‘when you age Chasselas from a prime site, it gets dressed up and becomes a jacket-and-tie wine!’). He’s also an ardent defender of Plant Robez (aka Plant Robert), a Gamay clone thought to have arrived long ago from Burgundy, which took root here, then all but disappeared in the 1960s and was resuscitated in 2002 by Duboux and a band of believers.
The final piece in the lakeside vineyard puzzle is the Chablais region, spread out along the right bank of the Rhône between the Château de Chillon and Bex, on the threshold of neighbouring Valais.
Badoux, established in Aigle by Henri Badoux in 1908 and now part of the Schenk group, is famous for its best-selling Chasselas, Aigle Les Murailles, whose iconic label, painted by Frédéric Rouge in 1918 and unchanged ever since, shows the green lizard that basks in the estate’s steep shale/gravel terraces above the town. It’s their bread-and-butter wine, whose huge sales allow oenologist Daniel Dufaux to have fun with small cuvées of other whites (Viognier, Pinot Gris), reds (Pinot Noir, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc) and even an orange wine from Chasselas named Hommage; many of these can be tasted in the newly created wine bar and shop adjoining the winery.
This article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of Decanter magazine, out now.
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