SWISS PAGES (8)
WHY NOT FOR CHRISTMAS?
Actually, why not celebrate Christmas with a Swiss wine,
especially if it comes from UNESCO’s World Heritage
site – Lavaux (see details in UN Special No. 666). It is not
every day that UNESCO celebrates a wine-growing area,
and it did so not so much for the wine, but for the
many features that make this site unique.
EVELINA RIOUKHINA, UNECE
Actually, why not celebrate Christmas with a Swiss wine, especially if it comes from a UNESCO World Heritage site – Lavaux (see details in UN Special No. 666). It is not every day that UNESCO celebrates a wine-growing area and it did so not only for the wine, but for the many features that make this site unique. I visited the Lavaux region again to probe these mysteries and not just to collect romantic stories. I really wanted to draw attention to the people living there who for centuries, in fact for almost a millennium already, from generation to generation have been cultivating grapes on these stony terraces and producing one of the most magnificent and refined wines of Switzerland. To be more precise, they produce eight different labels of the wine.
There are eight designations or labels for wine in Lavaux: 1. Lutry, 2. Vilette, 3. Epesse, 4. Calamin Grand Cru, 5. Dézaley Grand Cru, 6. Sant-Saphorin, 7. Chardonne, 8. Vevey-Montreux (see picture).
Of all the designations, Dézaley is perhaps the oldest and the most refined. Honestly, I was intrigued by all the different designations, but especially by what I had heard about Dézaley and its myths. I therefore decided to visit them all and spent three full days around the area. To find Dézaley was not easy, since there is no location physically called Dézaley. From the lake road, at one particular angle only, there is a visible sign “Dézaley”. In that area you can find two abbeys, at least two romantic castles and a variety of picturesque villages. You can see the abbeys from the boat on the lake or (I am told) more easily from a helicopter (not much use to me).
Dézaley’s history goes back to the 12th century
when the Bishop of Lausanne, Guy de
Malagny, gave this no man’s land to Cistercian monks in 1141 so that they could carry
out what proved to be a gigantic task; namely,
to clear and level the land and to build
terraces and steep stone support walls. They
also remodeled the whole area and in short
created the unique and magnificent vineyards
where they worked day and night
cultivating grapes. Thus were created the
historical Clos des Abbays and Clos des
Moines. It is thanks to the hard work of the
monks, century after century, that the grape
was cultivated, and it is from these monks
that the local people learned how to cultivate
the grape and to produce the wine. (Dézaley
and its abbey, by the way, are featured on the
reverse side of the CHF 200 banknote. The
story of this reproduction was published in
the previous issue of UN Special.) Interestingly
enough, Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz
(1878-1947), a leading figure in Swiss literature,
was a native of Dézaley. In “La Beauté
de la Terre”, a work inspired by Lavaux, he
describes the beauty of the region and in particular the area of Dézaley. Many celebrities have visited this place. In 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte, overcome by the beauty of the hanging gardens and the vineyards, left a word there engraved on one of the stones. Today as well, the Tower of Marsens continues to bear witness to the noble origin of the Dézaley “Grand Cru” and to those who work so hard to produce it.
I read somewhere that the Chasselas grape
(this is the main type of grape in Lavaux, although
other types of grape are also cultivated
there) is different in Lavaux from all other
Chasselas and has had its own secrets and
myths for many centuries. Being on the spot,
I gathered all the secrets I could. I will tell you
the biggest one: usually the grape of Lavaux
is called the grape of two suns – one natural
sun and one that is mirrored in and shines reflected
from the lake of Geneva. When I visited
the cellars in Dézaley I demonstrated my knowledge of these natural phenomena but was quickly corrected: “No Madam, we have not two, but three suns here and Dézaley is the wine of three suns.” How come? – What had I missed? And they pointed to those steep, high walls, the famous vertical stone walls of Dézaley, which retain and accumulate the sun during the day to heat the grape overnight. There are many other secrets and myths which I leave for you and for my colleague André Rotach, our trekking chronicler and an admirer of Dézaley, to discover.
Today the number of producers of Dézaley wine is very small. I visited several of them, and spent some time with one of the oldest of the family dynasties (13 generations!), the “Maison Testuz” with its family emblem “Arbalète”.
I am very grateful for the reception they afforded me and my colleagues who accompanied me during this visit. We saw their wine-making process, we were offered winetasting sessions and were told all I wanted to know about the wine of the region. I also wanted to find out as much as possible about the myth of the Barronnie de Dézaley, an association created in 1994 which today has 12 members who each produce their own type of Barronnie de Dézaley. They are united by an oath, rules and their unique goal: to preserve the almost millennium culture, the noble quality and vinification of Chasselas under the designation “Dézaley Grand Cru”. Maison Testuz graciously demonstrated for me the unique collection of all 12 Barronie of Dézaley. According to the Charter, this wine could be bottled only in specially engraved bottles. The Maison Testuz authorized me to publish the oath and a photo of the collection. Of course, I bought their famous Barronnie de Dézaley “Borne” with the family emblem “Arbalète”.
I also bought the highly famed and rare Clos
des Moines and Clos des Abbays (incidentally,
it is not at all possible to buy this wine,
except in limited quantities in Lausanne, and
in Lavaux, only at Maison Testuz). Out of curiosity,
I opened a bottle for my friends on a
recent, very special occasion and they all
were impressed, saying that they had never
tasted anything as good. I can now understand
when I read in the media that many
wine connoisseurs would never give up a
Dézaley for the noblest Grand Cru Bordeaux
Blanc. Now I believe it.
Try any of these wines at least once and why not for Christmas? Even if we usually have Champagne, I assure you that Dézaley is worth its place at the most noble tables for the noblest occasions. Incidentally, there is a superstition that if you taste something for the first time and make a wish, it will certainly come true. You will see, with Dézaley it will certainly come true. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone, and may all your wishes (with Dézaley or not) come true in 2008!
(My special thanks are extended to Maison Testus for receiving me, for all their explanations and demonstrations as well as all the documentation provided for my article. And also all my special Christmas Greetings to them. I hope that many of my readers will greet Christmas and the New Year in with Dézaleyit is really worth it!