Switzerland's largest wine-producing canton has tremendous quality potential. With varying terroirs and elevations along the Rhône, well over 20 grape varieties have the perfect conditions to mature. Long-established varieties such as Petite Arvine, Heida, Amigne, Cornalin or Humagne are particularly cherished.
Even before Celtic tribes settled in Valais in around 600 BC, vines grew here. Yet the first wines were probably pressed by the Romans. Not until the 4th century, when Christianity was becoming widespread, did the importance of viticulture also increase. The monasteries played a key role in this. From the mid-14th century, plagues and climate cooling pushed many farmers to emigrate. The big renaissance did not begin until 1960, when the railway arrived in Valais. At the same time, the old, hard-to-cultivate varieties were replaced with new plants such as Chasselas, Pinot noir and Silvaner. Valais’ wine sector reached its peak in terms of output in 1983, after which point the vintners switched to a quality-driven strategy. In 1990 the controlled designation of origin AOC was introduced and various municipalities went on to be given the right to the “Grand Cru” appellation.
A distance of 80 kilometres lies between the mountain village of Visperterminen, the stronghold of Heida wines, and the Rhône bend at Martigny. According to the AOC rules, up to 49 varieties are permitted to grow at varying elevations of 450 to 1,100 metres above sea level, and on many different types of soil (granite, loess, chalk, gravel). The main band of vineyards is on the right-hand bank of the Rhône, where 85% of Valais wines are grown.
Lying in the heart of the Alps, sheltered from the rain by the mountains, the vines of Valais grow in a steppe-like climate heavily influenced by the warm foehn wind. With 2,100 hours of sunshine each year and annual precipitation of less than 600 millimetres per square metre, the conditions for winegrowing are perfect.
Minerally and fresh Chasselas, expressive Pinot noir and elegant Cuvées (the best-known of which is Dôle) set the tone. More and more top wines are being pressed from specialities such as Heida, Petite Arvine, Amigne, Humagne, Cornalin and Syrah.
Pinot noir (1714 hectares), Chasselas (1081 hectares) and Gamay (726 hectares) dominate; Petite Arvine (150 hectares), Syrah (157 hectares), Humagne Rouge (125 hectares) and Cornalin (115 hectares) are on the up.