Ten days ago I commented on my surprising discovery of a Staffordshire vineyard. Now I’m back in Switzerland and dazzled by the glorious autumn colours of the Bündner Herrschaften, the Swiss winegrowing region that marks the gateway to Heidiland. Although Heidi is a familiar figure all over the world, she is associated with Alpine pastures and goats rather than with wine. So it often comes as a surprise to tourists when they arrive in Maienfeld, where the Heidi story is set, to find themselves in a village embedded in wineries.
Swiss wines are not widely known outside Switzerland, not because of any inherent defects or deficiencies, but simply because we only produce enough for ourselves. Our vineyards are relatively small and very labour-intensive, so the finished product tends to be more expensive than wines produced on a larger industrial scale in the rest of the viticulture world. However, those few international experts who have made the effort to come over here and sample our Bündner Herrschaften wines will bear out my claim that the best of them compare favourably with many much better known and highly lauded names from other lands.
Blauburgunder dominates, but there are actually 45 varieties of grape grown here, turned into more than 50 different wines, in the warmest wine-growing area in German-speaking Switzerland (mainly due to the Föhn wind, which deserves another post all to itself). We even have a vineyard-hiking trail – advisedly a hiking trail, because by the end of it you will need a chauffeur to drive you home! An excellent excuse for a healthy hike, and one to be repeated several times in order to appreciate fully all the vintages you will be tasting en route.
The wine cellars where the barrels and bottles are kept and tastings take place are known as Torkel, originally meaning a winepress with a huge arm made from the trunk of an oak. This delightful word has given the German language the evocative verb torkeln, meaning to stagger, lurch, stumble, reel or any other gait you can imagine after a session in the Torkel.
My own little excursion over the Rhine into the adjoining canton and the vineyard hiking trail – not for the wine, which should be good this year, but to try and capture some of the magnificence of the autumn palette – was cut short when the battery in my camera suddenly gave up the ghost and I realised my other battery was at home. I had just focussed on an impossibly red staghorn sumac, which appeared to be burning up in the afternoon sun, when the lens of my camera suddenly retreated. Never mind, I managed to get the vineyards and a few trees in autumn dress.