The smallest vineyard in the world is located in a medieval village in Switzerland: in Saillion. Its area is only 1.67 square metres, but it is registered as a vineyard in the cadastral office of the commune. This is mainly due to its current owner: the Dalai Lama.
The wine village of Saillon features in most travel guides in Switzerland as one of the best-preserved medieval villages. It offers a panoramic backdrop down into the Rhône valley and to snow-capped peaks. For wine fans, however, there is a second sight in the "must see" category. It lies somewhere between the rows of vines that surround Saillon. On a grassy hill surrounded by trees, on the slope, there is a bed enclosed in white field stones. Three vines stretch out of it into the light, none taller than a metre. It is the smallest vineyard in the world.
The fact that the municipality officially entered this piece of land in the cadastre was due to a special permit - and the responsible persons granted it because of its owner. Since 1999, the vineyard patch has belonged to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and secular leader of Tibet. Since then, thousands of visitors have been drawn to the three vines every year. This is not only because of the world-famous saint of Buddhism, who is followed by almost 40 million people on social media, but also because of the history of the vineyard. And that history consists of a chain of famous names: Gina Lollobrigida, racing driver Michael Schumacher, Roger Moore, football star Zinédine Zidane, Caroline of Monaco and Peter Ustinov, to name but a few, have visited this vineyard.
The idea to plant the vineyard came from a few friends in Paris around the world-famous French chansonnier Gilbert Becaud and the actor Jean-Louis Barrault in 1980. They wanted to honour the centenary of the death of the counterfeiter Joseph-Samuel Farinet, who still enjoys a reputation like Robin Hood in the region. According to legend, he and his accomplices minted many thousands of deceptively genuine 20-centime coins from 1870 onwards and not only paid for them, but also distributed them to the poor and needy. The circle of friends, which soon grew to 22 people, had made it their goal to continue Farinet's legacy.
Their goal: to collect as much money as possible with the vineyard in order to donate it to the needy. And so they have been piloting top celebrities from their circle of acquaintances to Saillon at harvest time ever since. Symbolically, they have to do vineyard work for a few seconds - and then face the photographers, tourists and autograph hunters. The minimal yield, together with the harvest from surrounding Grund Cru vineyards, is turned into 1,000 bottles of wine annually, which are sold for charity.
In 1994, the vines passed into the possession of the French poor priest Abbé Pierre. However, he rejected alcohol in any form and had grape juice pressed. There were hardly any takers, and the Farinet friends' donation box remained empty. In 1999, the Abbé handed over his property to the Dalai Lama. More than 10,000 visitors came to his first visit to the vineyard. Since then, the wine made from the grapes has been called "Peace Wine".