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Swiss Wine History – The Beginning

The story of Swiss wine like elsewhere in Europe, began in Switzerland by three not worthy events:

– Romain Invasion
– Monks and their activities
– The arrival of parasites (phylloxera, mildiou, oidium)

Wine with the Lacustrine

Swiss Wine

Lacustre was a city built on the side of a lake and most likely existed around and before the age of bronze. It is believed but no concrete evidence exists that vineyards existed in such cities that would pre-date the arrival of the Romans. Around Saint-Blaise (situated on lake Neuchâtel) remnants of grape seeds where found dating back to the Neolithic era (3000 to 1800 B.C.). This discovery provides a hint of evidence that indicates there was a presence of vineyards during that era and that know how existed on how to press the grapes. Questions around this discovery still loom with whether or not the vines were wild or whether the vines were indeed being cultivated.

The Arrival of the Romans

Swiss WineThe legions of Julius Caesar during the 1 century B.c. brought seeds and planted vineyards North of the Alps that lay the foundations for modern vineyards that still exist today in Switzerland and are the foundations of modern Swiss Wine. In the modern day Canton of the Valais many of the oldest grape varieties that are grown such as Petite Arvine, Amigne, and Reze all have latin roots. Even certain commonly used terms such as vingeron (wine-grower) (vinitor), and wine (vinum) all have latin origins. Based on discovery of archaeological sites the following regions had vineyards planted by the Romans: Canton of Ticino, Canton of the Valais, outlining areas of Lac Geneva (Leman) and on the lake side area of Neuchatel, Bienne, Zurich and Constance, Argovie, Schaffhouse and the Rhein Valley.


The Monks Contribution

Barbaric invasions led to the collapse of the Roman Empire and devastate vineyards across Europe. The coming of Christianity as a main stream religion in Europe leads to a renaissance in Swiss wine making given how central wine is to an important Christian ritual. Monks played a pivotal role as a work force in restoring much of the damage caused to Western Europe’s vineyards and plant new crops. It is not until the end of the Middle ages that a great many private land owners begin to cultivate wine commercially.

Swiss Wine Making During The 16th Century

Swiss Wine PassIn the 16th century Switzerland burgeoning population had acquired a taste for Swiss wine which drove up demand leading to a boom in wine making. Private enterprises seeing the financial opportunity began to produce new varieties. Wine making was strongly encouraged in Switzerland has it had become an important part of Swiss culture and of the economy to such a point that a bad year could drastically lead to reduction in the overall quality of life for the general population.

What did Swiss wine taste like during the 16th century? It was dry, harsh and acidic. Not exactly a “Grand Cru” quality wine at the time. Private estates were continuously trying to improve upon their fermentation methodology/crop production and looking for ways to improve the wine’s taste appeal. During the fermentation process they tried adding honey, spices and other various ingredients.  It took until 1579 for wine making to take a leap forward with the aid of a scientific journal from Zurich. The journal indicated that wine could be soften by adding a mix of water, salt, oats, wheat and butter. This also meant that the wine could be preserved for longer.



Swiss Wine History – The Beginning author
Sean Duncombe
Owner of swisswineimports.com
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