Switzerland’s second most important winegrowing canton is regarded as the stronghold of Chasselas. Whether on the spectacular terraced slopes (such as Lavaux) or the distant hills (such as La Côte) by Lake Geneva, its sheer class is obvious. In recent years, the vintners have also created a furore with high-quality specialities.
The Romans laid the foundations of viticulture by Lake Geneva, but under the ruling Burgundians of the Middle Ages it experienced its first heyday. Burgundian Cistercian monks played a pivotal role, being the first to start terracing the steep slopes by the lake and planting vineyards. After Vaud was conquered by the Bernese, the ecclesiastical estates passed into the hands of the new landlords. Some 50 Châteaux and historic estates are still engaged in viticulture. The once-in-a-generation Fête des Vignerons in Vevey, which has been held since the end of the 18th century, plays a key role in Swiss viticulture. In 1995 an AOC designation was introduced in Vaud, which also defines a number of Grand Cru estates. The terraced vineyards of the Dézaley estate were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.
Winegrowing in Vaud is split into six sub-regions. La Côte has the most vineyards in terms of surface area (2,020 hectares), and stretches 45 kilometres along the lake, from Lausanne to the border with the canton of Geneva. Lavaux (821 hectares), which stretches from Lausanne to Montreux, includes the spectacularly steep estates of the Dézaley appellation. The Chablais vineyards stretch from Villeneuve by Lake Geneva to the Rhône valley and Bex, up to the border with the canton of Valais. The soils are varied, ranging from the predominant moraine soils (La Côte and Lavaux) to the screes of Chablais.
Over 80% of the vineyards in Vaud benefit from the mild climate of Lake Geneva. Rainfall increases slightly moving from the west (Nyon) towards the Alps (Montreux). Sunshine averages 1,800 hours a year, compared with a maximum annual rainfall of 1,100 millimetres per square metre.
Star billing clearly goes to Chasselas, which has a stylistic diversity ranging from lighter wines (La Côte, Bonvillars) to the complex terroir-driven wines in Lavaux. Of the red varieties, Pinot noir and Gamay produce elegant, drinkable red wines. The main specialities are Gamaret, Garanoir, Chardonnay, and Pinot gris.