Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2010-11-15
Situated on the northern shore of Lake Geneva between Lausanne and Vevey-Montreux, the Lavaux terraced vineyards are a place of outstanding beauty classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. We met with local winemaker, Louis Bovard, who produces a lively and spicy grand cru Chasselas.
This barren, rocky hillside was deserted for thousands of years until the creation of a trade route linking Italy with England gave the area some semblance of life. 12th century Cistercian monks from the abbeys of Hautcrêt and Montheron began the massive task of clearing land that led to the development of the first walled terraces for vineyard cultivation. The monks’ knowledge to create these Lavaux vineyards originally came from Burgundy in France.
Fragmented into numerous climates,or plots, the vineyards grow on residual glacier terrain, rich in moraine, and rapidly became the land of choice for Chasselas, a grape variety with a thick skin capable of resisting humidity from the lake, the cold of the night and the heat of the sun. The Grand Cru Dézaley vineyard, which now covers 53 hectares between the villages of Epesse and Rivaz, is a human work of art worth seeing. You can come and admire it by taking the small cliff road either on foot or by bike.
Known as charmus, some of the tiny terraces rise so steeply above the lake that they can only be harvested by extremely athletic individuals with no fear for heights! Here, the grapes enjoy an exceptional amount of sun enhanced by reflection from the lake. The resulting Chasselas possess characteristic qualities of depth, complexity and silkiness. Over time, they express notes of honey, lime, peach and hazelnut resembling the Grand Marsanne wines of the Rhone Valley.
The best place to go and discover these great Chasselas wines is the vineyard of one of the most representative and committed of Lavaux winegrowers – Louis Bovard. His family estate has been established in the village of Cully for several centuries, yet, far from resting on his laurels, Bovard has proven to be an enthusiastic advocate of the often underestimated Chasselas and has even created a 3000m² “conservatory” for it near Rivaz. This is because Chasselas is not just ‘one’ but numerous varieties, a multitude of ‘clones’ cultivated by past winemakers and which have largely disappeared in favour of the most prolific plant with the clinical name of RAC 6.
In a few years time, however, the old varieties of Chasselas - Fendant roux, vert de la Côte, giclet, blanchette and bois rouges - preserved in the conservatory, will produce a more complex and subtle wine and the plants will be specifically adapted for each region of Lavaux.
For Louis Bovard, the future of Chasselas lies in returning to the origins and striving for the right level of acidity: “Abandoning the chemical fertilisers and opting for biodynamic methods have given my wines extra freshness. Chasselas should be bright, lightly effervescent and sometimes a little smoky and can be enjoyed at any time of the day.”
Domaine Louis Bovard in Cully
For a stay or simply to have lunch in the heart of the Lavaux vineyards I recommend Auberge de la gare in Grandvaux. Five charming rooms, delicious seasonal cooking focusing on fish from the lake and a pretty terrace overlooking the lake and the French Alps.