The Circle of Wine Writers: Our trip to the SWISS WINE FAIR 2017
Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 8:30PM
Linda Johnson-Bell

THIS was a press trip with a difference: we were treated to an elegant gamut of gastronomic, scenic, cultural and viticultural splendours. For some, this was an introduction to Swiss wines, whilst for others, it was the opportunity to dig deeper into a region long-appreciated. There were a few major themes that we were encouraged to take away with us.

Firstly, that their wines continue to suffer from a lack of international exposure due to low production and small export figures. But with the warming climate, increased plantings may help towards solving that problem. 

Second, that they are posturing themselves as the next Rhone Valley and are making great strides with their Syrah (which were gorgeous).  As one producer put it to us “Forgot France, the Rhone River starts here.”

Thirdly, that they are also pinning their bets on Merlot as the star of the show in Ticino, which personally, I think is missing a trick. They were some of the most structured and interesting Merlots any of us had ever had, but we all fell in love with their whites, both international and indigenous varieties. All were crisp, clean, complex, low-yield, personable and Swiss. Merlot, as original as their interpretation was, will still always be the “sugar” in the Bordeaux recipe for me - it will never be a great mono-cépage. Even Petrus was always 20% Cabernet Franc until the market forces shaped by the American critics dominated the scene with their preference for sweeter, hotter wines and the quantity of Cabernet Franc was gradually decreased to nothing. Petrus has only been 100% Merlot since 2010. I feel that the Merlot is not a grape worthy of their enormous wine-making talent, experience and terroirs. Interestingly, when I collated our collective Top Ten wines, our favourite red variety was the Pinot Nero, followed by Syrah…


And this leads us onto the last point that was high-lighted during the trip: the effect of climate change. While it is allowing greater maturation for the white varieties, the reds are already suffering. When Paolo Basso, and many others, tell us that they won’t be able to grow Pinot Nero in ten years, where does that leave Merlot? It's next in line. Already, many of the Merlot in Ticino we tasted were on the verge of being unbalanced and dominated by alcohol. I got a bit tired of feigning, politely, to producers, “Wow, its 15.5 ABV and yet still so fresh and acidic. So balanced!” Perhaps this makes their Syrah initiative that much more viable.

Annoyingly, the irrigation debate is already raging in Switzerland. With the increasing temperatures many winemakers are starting to irrigate, despite having dry-farmed since the inception of their vineyards. When I challenged them on this, pointing out that they are lucky to be going into this warming climate with deep root systems, healthy soils and the resulting low yields – so why spoil it? – I was told that it was too hot to not! Yet, a greater majority of winemakers told me, scathingly, that their colleagues who irrigate only do so out of laziness and greed – that they want to increase their yields now that legislation is getting more lax. Apparently, there are some who are thrilled to be able to adopt more New World practices that will allow them to compete on a more international level.

This never-ending debate over quality vs quantity saddened me – especially to hear it rage in this tranquil alpine paradise. But I was bolstered by the fact that this seemed to be the minority view amongst those I interviewed. And, more importantly, I was bolstered by the fact that the overwhelming message we brought home, and I think I can speak for the others, was one of passion, excellence and an inescapable frisson of excitement for their future.


Article originally appeared on The Wine Lady & The Wine and Climate Change Institute (
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