Visiting Lavaux was never part of the plan. But one afternoon, during our idyllic stay at the quiet, French-speaking Swiss town of Lausanne, we realised that we wanted more of the beautiful Swiss wine we’d been having at every meal. The locally grown grape is called Chasselas and morphs into a wonderfully fruity white wine under the right conditions. It’s a great accompaniment with fondue and fish and is the source of livelihood for numerous winemakers of The Lavaux, a terraced region stretching across 30km from Lausanne to Vevey-Montreux. We’d heard so much about this UNESCO World Heritage Site that after a delicious lunch at Café du Grütli, we decided to make the little trip to Lavaux Vinorama.
Walking through the vineyards
According to UNESCO, the vineyards of Lavaux date back to the 11th century, when the region was ruled by Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries. Wine-making is thus an integral part of the local culture.
Trudging through the ups and downs of the terraced vineyards is romantic, but it’s also a lot of hard work. We hadn’t imagined that the paths would be so steep and narrow that at some points, we had to duck to go under the fencing and squeeze ourselves between the gaps. Eventually, we lost all sense of direction and had no clue which way to head to go to Rivaz (pronounced Riva). Fortunately, we found a winemaker’s cottage where the owner was actually present (several others appeared uninhabited). Walking through the flowery paths with the mesmerising Lake Geneva in front of us had been ethereal but we were quite happy to emerge on to a road that was wide enough to walk on comfortably!
Wine tasting at Lavaux Vinorama
We were eager to start sipping on some wine but first, we were to watch a film on the life of a winemaker. Titled ‘Une année vigneronne’ (a winegrower’s year), the film turned out to be a beautifully depicted and absorbing journey into the difficult yet fulfilling process of wine-making. Until I watched this fictionalised documentary, I hadn’t realised just how dependent winemakers are on the vagaries of climate. As the protagonist says, a good season can make or break the wine, because sowing the grapes is only the start of the journey. For the grapes to mature appropriately, the vineyards have to be protected from unseasonal rain. The story in the film has a happy ending and the winegrower ends up with some near-perfect wine.
A raucously happy group of Swiss drinkers sat at the table next to ours and the friendliest of them hopped over to ask where we were from. He even offered to take a photograph of us. It’s true – wine can put you in a really good mood! One can also purchase wines from the vinorama, available in all price ranges. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by the banks of Lake Geneva and gazed at its glimmering surface, smooth as a sheet of glass. The white-tipped Alps in the distance were the only clue to the prevalence of snow in this summery land. During a lunch cruise of the lake, we’d enjoy a sweeping view of the terraced vineyards and feel awed that we were actually in their midst only a day ago.
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