As I walked down a cobbled street in the petite Swiss village of Corseaux, I didn’t know what to expect of my destination. I had passed by the unassuming front of the Association Vinicole a few times over the last couple of weeks; a little display case with a few bottles of wine, steps leading to a door that always remained closed – no peeking, three barn-like doors on one side with French written on it, but what always caught my eye were a wine barrel for sale with a vintage grape picking basket hanging on top of it in one corner. For someone who adores antiquities, the scratches and marks on the grape-picking basket were romantically fascinating.
As I approached the entrance, I found my friend, Jeanne, and her father, Mr. Delapraz, waiting. Coming from a family that had cultivated vineyards in the village for over 150 years, they have always been participants in the region’s wine culture. I was already aware of the pride they have for the wine, but it was during my stay, I realized that it went a lot deeper as they had worked or volunteered to help the Association in many ways, whenever possible.
So strong are the bonds they share with the region that I dared not test them. I did however come close when a few days earlier, at the nearby Château de Chillon, I had picked up a bottle of their locally produced wine – this is a region barely 15 minutes away from Corseaux – and Jeanne had sneaked up behind and startled me by saying, “You’d better not drink that in my house.” She’s playing with me I thought. But, soon enough, as I stared at her dead serious face, my laughter subsided into a giggle, then a smirk, and finally an expression of anxiety. Suddenly the Clos de Chillion bottle of Red I had in my hand felt heavier and my knees weaker. Some sense prevailed, and like a good little boy, I placed the bottle back from where I had picked it.
I consider myself to be very lucky to have had the opportunity to experience wine from the region of Lavaux, especially Corseaux, because the more I talk to travelers who have visited Switzerland I realize that this region of vineyard terraces is often overlooked and still to an extent undiscovered.
For a food and drink enthusiast like myself, this moment was more than just a revelation but also a crash course in how distinct wine production is across the world and that certain regions still remain humble and not overly commercial.
While the French might evoke romance when it comes to wine, Californian and Australian wines are the new kids on the block that have made wine culture hip, and every other country – including my very own, India – claims to be the next big thing, Swiss wines have subtly and secretly, pleased and sometimes surprised many wine drinkers, both amateurs and connoisseurs.
The primary reason for this subtlety is that the wine is produced in limited quantities and as a result a lot of it is consumed locally, within the country, and in some cases within the region, leaving next to none for export. The other reason being that the industry is still homegrown with individuals and locals working together to produce the wine, having tight budgets to promote or even advertise, unlike some of the bigger wine producing nations. Swiss wine isn’t cheap – it’s not inordinately expensive either – but with labor costs in Switzerland being high and while the terraced vineyards give both direct and reflected sunshine on the developing grapes, the terraces greatly restrict the amount of mechanization.
On the one hand, the low volume of sales is hard on the manufacturers and the vineyard owners, but for a consumer, that makes the wine a limited edition and thus all the more special.
I had been receiving snippets of information from Mr. Delapraz whenever we’d had a chance to meet earlier in the week, but today was special as Jeanne and her father gave me a first class private tour of the workings of the Vinicole and, of course, a sublime wine tasting like no other, afterwards.
The Vinicole opens up onto a small reception area, stacked with wine bottles along the walls and a few barrels on one side with a cute little display in the middle. I would imagine that this is the equivalent of a wine lover’s toy store in heaven.
Mr. Delapraz started the tour by taking us from one room to another highlighting the process of wine making – vinification – from the beginning, when grapes are brought in to be separated and gently squeezed – under controlled pressure – until the fermentation process. It is a lot more scientific in nature and quite unlike the squashing of the grapes in barrels by stamping on them that we’ve often seen in photos and movies.
As we walked around, Mr. Delapraz continued to share episodes about life in Corseaux and wine manufacturing with stories that were equally informative as they were fascinating. He didn’t shy away from divulging some “secrets” like about one of the bestsellers – Triade – which is made from three types of red grapes – Gamaret, Garanoir, Diolinoir. These three vine varieties were developed in Switzerland in the 1970’s, mainly to give color to Pinot Noir and Gamay. As luck would have it, they proved to be quite good either alone or as a blend of grape varieties. In Corseaux, each of this variety is fermented and put into oak barrels separately for a full year. Then the oenologist blends them to maintain the personality of the Triade from one year to the next. The percentage of each variety used in the final product is a well-kept secret – Okay, so I didn’t get my hands on all the secrets.
The oak barrels are imported from France and only used for 3 years as the oak taste eventually fades, after which they are sold at a very cheap price, as the one I saw outside the main door – If only I didn’t have to pay airline baggage weight, I would have happily carried it home with me.
Another aspect of wine culture in the province that emerged time and again was the continuous importance given to working together as a community and if the harvest isn’t good some year, then it’s not only about covering the losses but making sure no one down the line, from the grape pickers to the Association, is left hanging.
That is also one reason why the Association has stood the test of time and celebrated 100 years of existence in 2016, which in this day an age is by all means a huge achievement.
Mr. Delapraz continued the tour non-stop with genuine and sometimes animated enthusiasm discussing wine, his passion evident. During this hearty conversation I was allowed to be a novice and ask any questions that popped into my mind, no matter how simple or stupid – most were of the latter category.
I was so busy listening and trying to take in all the different aspects of wine making, that I didn’t even realize when we took a turn and went down some steps, into a room that had floor to ceiling casks. My eyes widened in amazement.
I take back what I wrote earlier because THIS is probably what wine heaven looks like; tanks and tanks full of wine all around me, a deep smell of wine lingering in the air, tickling my nostrils – a night here would be intoxicating enough without even consuming a single drop. The very thought of being surrounded by so much wine – even though some of the vats were empty at the time – was surprisingly comforting.
What a great sight it would be if I were to open one of the vat doors and let the wine free in a wave that would fill the room with grape-y goodness and drown me in it.
Morbid thoughts aside, and before I could get any more bright ideas, we moved on to the small bottling machine that had recently been in use. A few chipped bottles lay discarded on one side, an overhead that is often overlooked or ignored by the drinker, but costs the wine manufacturer a lot since the wine already poured can no longer be used as a chip of glass in the wine can be extremely dangerous.
Another facet of bottling we discussed was the labeling and how most of the wines produced at the Association Vinicole only had a front label – done by the same person for years. This allowed cutting costs and since most of the consumption is local, everyone is aware of the wine and no “romantic” details are required on the back – a marketing ploy adopted especially if bottles are being exported.
Finally, we headed to the tasting room where Mr. Delapraz opened a 2014 bottle of Clos de Châtonneyre, a white wine of the Chasselas variety. There are 35,000 hectares of Chasselas vineyards around the world, and with its 4,000 ha, Switzerland ranks third after Romania (13,000) and Hungary (6,000). However, Switzerland is numero uno in terms of vinifying the grape, which is essentially grown as a table grape in both Romania and Hungary. Other countries that vinify Chasselas includes France – where it is also mainly cultivated as a table grape, Germany, Canada, the US, and even Mexico, but this is a tiny and niche production.
The distinctive feature of this particular grape is that it absorbs extraordinarily well the typicity of its terroir, reflecting beautifully each of its specific aspects. Primary aromas are well supported, with the wine producer’s work adding another layer of complexity. Chasselas is the Vaud grape variety par excellence. The Clos de Châtonneyre we tasted was dry, delicate and very refreshing with lots of minerality and a slight floral nuance. As it is low in alcohol content – 12 % – it works well as an aperitif or to accompany fish dishes.
Following the Clos de Châtonneyre, we had a bottle of red wine – a good year I’m told. Mr. Delapraz went on to discuss the wine notes and was modest enough to acknowledge that it wasn’t the best wine but it was a good wine. While I didn’t say much at the time, I would disagree with him to the point that all the wines that I had from Corseaux during that entire trip – and there were quite a few – were splendid and possibly the most satisfying and unrivalled wine drinking experience I’ve ever had.
I had caught myself many-a-times during dinners staring at a half empty bottle wondering if it would be greedy to take more so soon… and more often than not, I did.
As I stood there trying to pay attention to the wine notes and all the talk about the region and the workings of the Vinicole, sipping and spitting the wine, a different kind of conversation commenced inside my head, one that included my entire body.
It went something like this:
Stomach: Hey, what’s going on up there? I smell wine, but I’m not getting any.
Liver: Don’t ask me, nothing has come past me either.
Brain: Mouth! Stomach’s complaining about not getting any wine.
Mouth: He’s such a whiner.
Stomach: Wait! Are you drinking Swiss wine? Why am I not getting any?
Taste Buds: Tee hee hee hee
Stomach: Mouth! You better send some to me right now!
And then my Stomach thunderously grumbled.
The other organs, which had been quiet till now, all joined in and sent a petition to the Brain. The Brain had no option but to get to work – hate it when that happens – for it would not be good if bodily noises were to be the cause of embarrassment for me – and them as a result – in front of others.
And so I devised the best possible technique to make all my organs happy. I started by taking bigger sips of wine, gulps if you may, and would slowly let half of it trickle down my throat and spit only a measly amount of it back. Then when I realized that no one was really paying attention at me spitting – because why would anyone – I just pretended to do that and not actually spit anything out.
And I did this all with a smile on my face and nods of my head as we went on discussing different types of wine glasses, how they help accentuate the flavours, and various other advantages and disadvantages of the surroundings –once a bottle of wine has been opened – and their effects on the wine.
It can be the location, the atmosphere, or that we were having a wonderful time in Switzerland, but one of the reasons why wine from Corseaux is so beautiful and delicious is the love and passion that goes into it.
You simply have to converse with anyone minutely related to wine producing and you’ll understand how important it is, not just as a business, but as a way of life.
With all the initial uncertainty about visiting the Vinicole, I had forgotten my camera and thus made do with the one in my phone – another excuse to go back some day. From the outside, The Vincole has a very petite and quaint look, cramped in-between residential houses. Inside, the space is “decorated” in such a fashion that nothing takes away from the wine. There is no hullaballoo over gimmicky attractions of any sort. It is a place of business where the spotlight always shines bright on the Wine. But, it’s filled with (hard) labours of love and emotions that will ultimately bring joy to many others.
As I walked out, shielding my eyes from the bright sun, I dreamt about the scene that would play around harvest. “Carts” filled with grapes coming in through the narrow lanes of the village, the barn doors permanently open to welcome them and start the process that would take a year before being fruitful, but what I fantasized the most about was the air, and how the smell of crushed grapes would tempt me, pull me inside the Vinicole to take a little sip, a gulp, a whole bottle to enjoy.
The story doesn’t end here – for you, right now, maybe yes – but I will have to go back some day and experience it all again, especially during the harvest season. In the meantime though, if you find yourself in the region before me – Vevey is next door, Montreux is 10 minutes by train, Lausanne is a half-hour away – take a little detour to Corseaux and buy a bottle, or ten, from the Association Vinicole and thank me later for having one of the best wines you ever will.
La Cave des Vignerons de Corseaux en Lavaux
Rue du Village 20, 1802 Corseaux, Vaud
Tel: 021 921 31 85
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/cavedecorseaux/
Mon-Fri: 8:00-12:00 / 13:30-18:00
Sat: 9:00 – 12:00
Wine tasting: CH 5.00 (5.00 USD) or free if you buy 6 bottles
This post is co-authored by Jeanne Delapraz who provided vital information about the Association in addition to various facts about the grapes, wine notes, and the process of winemaking.