The broadly defined term Eastern Switzerland covers around a dozen winegrowing cantons, from Schaffhausen to Basel-Landschaft and Graubünden. The prestige variety they have in common is Pinot noir. White specialities are on the up.
Finds at Roman archaeological sites indicate that winegrowing took place in Eastern Switzerland as early as 2,000 years ago. In the Middle Ages, monasteries and aristocratic houses refined the winegrowing culture. The Completer variety, for instance, was first mentioned in Malans, in the year 926. The Duc de Rohan from Brittany is said to have brought Pinot noir to Graubünden way back during the Thirty Years’ War (1618 to 1648). 150 years ago, wine was cultivated on an area of nearly 13,000 hectares in Eastern Switzerland, outstripping even Western Switzerland. However, following the phylloxera outbreak in the 19th century, only the best vineyards were replanted.
Winegrowing in Eastern Switzerland is concentrated in vineyards on the shores of lakes, in river valleys or on sheltered hillsides where the climate is most favourable. The soils in the vicinity of the Jura are highly calcareous, but elsewhere moraine or chalky loam soil dominates, along with slate and siliceous rock in the cantons of St. Gallen and Graubünden.
In wine terms, Eastern Switzerland is still regarded as a cool climate region, although its wines are turning out more concentrated and full-bodied as global warming progresses. Many vineyards benefit from the balancing effect of lakes and rivers. Warm foehn winds, also called “Traubenkocher” (grape cookers), are a major influence in some regions. The sun shines for an average of 1,500 hours, with annual precipitation of around 1,100 millimetres per square metre.
Pinot noir (ranging from light everyday wines to the top-class Barrique selection) is the star of the show, whilst chief among the white wines are the fresh, fruity Müller-Thurgau; specialities such as Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay or old varieties including Elbling and Räuschling are experiencing a renaissance. Both historically and culturally, Pinot noir is the foundation of winegrowing in Eastern Switzerland, including in Schaffhausen, which is called “Blauburgunderland” (Pinot noir country), and in Graubünden.
The main winegrowing cantons are Schaffhausen (485 hectares), Graubünden (422 hectares), Thurgau (275 hectares) and St. Gallen (220 hectares), but there are also vineyards in Appenzell and the Principality of Liechtenstein.