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Today I didn't get a Bordeaux out of the cellar, but a local growth: a Jeninser Blauburgunder from the Tscharnergut. And there is a good reason for this. Today - as I write this column - I have already spent three days in the vineyard harvesting grapes. My back hurts, my hands burn, the pruning shears have left their mark.

Vineyard in the "Bündner Herrschaft", namely in the "Heididorf"

Nevertheless, there is a feeling of happiness, namely to bring in what in one or two years can already give the greatest pleasure: one of the best Pinot Noirs in Switzerland, from a vineyard in northern Grisons, where we also come across the vines of Gantenbein, Marugg, Fromm, Grünenfelder.

The Bündner Herrschaft is a very special wine region: it lies above the still very young Rhine and is favoured by a warm mountain wind, the Föhn.

Reception in the vineyard by "Bacchus"..

In autumn, when the Central Plateau sinks into an almost impenetrable sea of fog, the sun very often shines in the four wine villages Fläsch, Maienfeld, Jenins and Malans, it "cooks" the grapes, which are usually harvested last in the highest of the four villages - in Jenins (635 metres above sea level). Here in the Bündner Herrschaft, a good 90 per cent of the vines are Pinot Noir, or Pinot Gris, as we prefer to say.

...... and the winemaker Gian Batista von Tscharner

It is a relatively compact vineyard, not very steep and therefore easy to cultivate. The soils of the four communities are quite different: in Maienfeld (the "Heididorf") it consists mainly of phosphorus-rich marl, in Fläsch the soil is rather loamy, in Jenins and Malans it is lean limestone and slate. This results in - for the connoisseur - clear differences in the wines due to the sites, at least as long as they are not too "overharvested" later on. For this reason, the village of origin is usually indicated on the label of the red wines.

Typical for Switzerland are the many small vineyard owners who cultivate far less than one hectare. In addition to their main occupation, 250 winegrowers in the canton of Graubünden (total vineyard area: approx. 420 hectares) cultivate their micro-vineyards, while 40 full-time winegrowers cultivate between 3 and 10 hectares each.

But I don't want to talk about that now, but about the "Wimmle" in the Herrschaft, as wine lovers and connoisseurs can experience it.

White grape varieties are the exception here% there are only 10 percent

Three days ago, the winegrower started the harvest and - as always - "summoned" us at short notice. The first to greet us is "Bacchus", the winegrower's small, attentive and usually very loud dachshund, then it is he himself, sometimes very loud, determined, cordial: just like a commander who is quite sure of himself. His figure and his specific instructions alone create the conditions under which one moves through the long rows of vines precisely, "meticulously", provided with the necessary instructions, armed with box and scissors.

It is wonderful work to hold the ripe, full, sweet grapes in your hands. In hands that quickly become sticky, because the unripe berries and the rotten ones and the ones left behind have to be removed. This often looks like gutting fish, only the colour and the sweet smell always remind us that we are talking about grapes here.

Pinot Noir in the Grisons village of Jenins% at the foot of the mountains

It's not always easy to grasp the winegrowers' Latin either, let alone understand it. Last year it was the stem-like umbels that gave us trouble, this time it's the "secondary shoots". I am already curious to see what it will be next year.

The highlight of every "Wimmle day" is eating outside under the proud mountains of Graubünden and St.Gallen. After four exhausting hours, the aperitif beckons: a white wine from the Tscharner estate, of course. Yes, white wines are also grown here. This year the harvest even begins with Chardonnay and Pinot blanc, down in the heath village of Maienfeld. Only then does it go up to Jenins, where mainly Pinot Noir grows.

"Déjeuner sur l'herbe". Waiting for the well-deserved lunch

A stew is delivered every day from a first-class kitchen: Never does a meal and a wine taste as good as up here in the Bündnerland, in the middle of the vines.

Actually, every enthusiastic wine drinker should spend a few weeks working in the vineyard, be present at the harvest... Only then are they allowed to judge a wine and give their comments. Working in a winegrowers' business is like working in most of the winegrowers' businesses in Switzerland: family-oriented. Where workers from Poland or Romania are not smuggled in for the harvest, but where the winemaker himself, with his family, friends, acquaintances, pensioners, housewives, holiday guests, wine lovers, permanent employees, lends a hand without leaving the field even once and constantly checking and directing the work of the small, voluntary company. As a rule, there are about thirty people.

Walter Bernina% every year at the grape harvest% at 87 years of age but still on the highest peaks% signing his mountain book here

This is what the grape harvest looks like in a typical, good Swiss winery!

Now - while writing this, the tiredness after the day's work is slowly creeping up - I need a good sip of Pinot Noir, Jeninser. It's twice and three times as good as any other day, and above all it gives you the strength to face the next six to ten days with the same elation.

Cheers, heartily


Peter (Züllig)

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