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Swiss wine doesn't do very well abroad, even if it is good. Especially not in France, Austria or Italy. It is said to be somewhat better in Belgium. Germany, however, has been Switzerland's most important wine export country for years; after all, almost 1.5 million litres go to the neighbouring country every year. But now the sobering news: after years of growth, exports to Germany are falling. Oh horror, what's wrong with Swiss wine?

From my wine friends in Germany I keep hearing the casual saying with a wink: "The Swiss just prefer to drink their own wine!" When asked, a few names, terms, wine regions and experiences come up: Gantenbein; the Valais with its autochthonous varieties; the high prices in the restaurants; the much too "sour" white wine from western Switzerland: Gutedel or - just difficult to pronounce - Chasselas; the Swiss wine pope René Gabriel, but he is rather associated with the Bordelais.

Well-known wine region in the Bündner Herrschaft: Jenins

But I have a few good wines in my cellar, especially interesting ones. Admittedly, they are mostly those of the 20 or 30 best winegrowers in Switzerland who are also known abroad (in the best case), and they come from wine regions whose reputation has transcended Swiss borders. Switzerland's largest wine region, Valais, with its 5200 hectares of vineyards, is probably the most strongly represented, especially with its four grape varieties that are so well suited as flagships: Arvine, Amigne, Humagne rouge and Cornalin. But the Grisons, with its 420 hectares of vines, and the small canton of Ticino, with around 1000 hectares of vines, also have their "typical" representatives in my cellar. But then it gets tight: there is still room for a few wines from Vaud, Neuchâtel, Schaffhausen and Eastern Switzerland.

Prestige wines from the Stucki vineyard

There are about 300 more wineries from the Bordelais. Oh shame!

How is it with the "self-drinking Swiss and their wines?" Am I not really Swiss at all?

I wanted to counter this cheeky suggestion and - together with two neighbours - accepted a kind invitation to a wine cellar in a wine region that I hardly know (despite its proximity): Zürcher Unterland. At the confluence of the Töss and the Rhine lies Freienstein-Teufen, a municipality with 2200 inhabitants and 332 ha of agricultural land, of which about 20 ha are planted with vines.

Yes, who would have thought it: Zurich, the economic metropolis and most densely populated agglomeration in Switzerland, also has the largest wine-growing area in German-speaking Switzerland: 620 hectares. Not much - and yet: there are dedicated winegrowers here - mostly self-pressers - who make Swiss wine.

The winegrowing village of Teufen (ZH)

One of them is the young Peter Stucky, - not a household name in the big wine world - who cultivates 3.5 hectares of vines: a self-pressing operation with direct marketing, quite typical for Switzerland. What is not quite so typical, however, is that the winegrowers' family is young, what you would call dynamic, and excellently educated in oenology: The farm has been rebuilt in recent years, the wine cellar has been equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, and a cosy tasting room has been built. Actually a showcase enterprise, a visiting card for the local wine. The grape varieties are also typical of wines from eastern Switzerland: Riesling x Sylvaner, Räuschling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and, of course, among the reds, Pinot noir (Pinot Noir).

Visit to the narrow wine cellar

It is only during the tasting that a certain scepticism develops in me. Räuschling, one of the few, idiosyncratic, typical grape varieties of German-speaking Switzerland, which is so fond of "trickling away", is quite difficult to cultivate and for a long time was hardly for sale, but produces a tart, tangy wine - here vinified in barrique. Just like the Pinot gris, the Riesling x Sylvaner and the Pinot noir. There is still the "classique" - without barrique - but the wines are probably concentrated throughout, the Pinot so concentrated that it is hardly recognisable to me as a Clevner (that's the name of the Swiss Pinot). "Modern wine style" is what this is called, as it has spread to almost all regions of Switzerland, long since no longer typical of the region and increasingly oriented towards market needs.

Barrique cellar

In this case, though, clean and well done. As a 2007 vintage that has just been bottled, however, it is still not very harmonious, still strongly tannic, still aggressive in parts and quite obtrusive. But this will even itself out, because the wines are skilfully vinified, cleanly crafted, certainly a pleasure in their way. But where are climate, soil, location, vine care to be found in the product? I searched (almost) in vain. For me, the vinification dominated more and more, that is: the human being in the interplay of the components that ultimately result in a good wine.

Silent and thoughtful, I drove the 50 kilometres back home. Swiss wine? Not once that day was there any talk about the soils, the different sites, the work in the vineyards, the weather, the climate, the development. After all, it was also a bottling day, when they opened the cellar door and invited wine friends.

It was the day when the winegrower officially "released" his harvest, his product, for the first enjoyment. A memorable day for him.

But for me, too. Because now I have an idea why wine from Switzerland hardly has a name internationally as "Swiss wine" and why the autochthonous varieties from the Valais shape the Swiss wine image. What I was allowed to taste there is interchangeable. The young winemaker, who wants to sell his wines (between 13 and 20 francs - 8 and 13 euros, by the way), can't be blamed. He does his job well. But perhaps some consumers should ask themselves, are these "interchangeable" wines really the measure of the desire to buy and enjoy? Wouldn't a Swiss wine be just as good or even better if it was the way it is, namely "Swiss"?

Yours sincerely
Peter (Züllig)

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