by Michael Cervin

If I mention Switzerland, you’re apt to picture skiing the Alps, hot cocoa served by a pig-tailed young lass, or that goofy Ricola commercial. What you don’t think about is Swiss wine. Pause. Do a double take: Swiss…what? Yes, the Swiss have made wine since the Romans showed up, though less than two percent of it is ever exported. The Swiss consume almost all of their own wine, so to find this coveted substance, one needs to find Switzerland—which just so happens to be one of my favorite countries to visit.

One of the wineries I had a chance to visit while in Switzerland was the Vignoble Cousin Winery located in the village of Concise near the shore of Lake Neuchatel, about an hour east of Geneva. Guy Cousin has taken the reins of the family business from his father and represents the new demographic of Swiss-winemaker. Guy’s father was a traditional winemaker, using many of the indigenous grapes grown in Switzerland to make hearty but fairly flat wines. In addition to being young and handsome, Guy, is the breath of fresh air that the old family winery needed; he created a new style of wine, indicative of the changing market in which wines that are bright, fresh, higher in alcohol and fruit are in high-demand.

Guy Cousin explaining his winemaking technique

For his efforts, he’s gaining new fans and younger supporters and will likely cause the world to reconsider Swiss wines. Perhaps the most remarkable wines he makes these days are his Cuvee Manoe and the Gaya Reserve. The Cuvee Manoe, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Blanc, is a viscous dessert wine with notes of mango and honey, whereas the Gaya Reserve, a blend of Gamaret, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is a spicy, smoky red wine with a nice acidity.

The Lavaux wine region is a steep, terraced shoreline dotted with a patchwork of vineyard blocks located between the cities of Lausanne and Montreux on Lake Geneva. There you will find the best-known wine region in Switzerland, which now doubles as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off this thousand-year-old geographic wonder. Over time, the hillsides were carved out and old stone walls were erected to demarcate various vineyards. The steep incline of the vineyards on the hillsides necessitates that grapes be hand-harvested, and the walls must be repaired each year lest they tumble into the lake.


Terraced Vineyards of Lavaux

Though Lavaux gets a blanket of snow in the winter, the summers are warm enough that the sun reflects heat off the lake, aiding vine growth. The stone walls store that heat and release it during the night. The main wine here is Chasselas, which is made from a simple white grape with a mild acidity. It is ideally paired with the local cheese fondue. Other Swiss wines include the familiar Pinot Noir, and Syrah, along with some “funky” varieties like Kerner, Plant Robert, and Gamaret. These are deep, rustic red wines which lack the finesse of a Merlot, but carry a pronounced pepper note and rough hewn texture. Besides, you’ll never find these in the States.

The newly opened Vinorama is the single best spot to sample the wines of the region. There are about 20 wines available for tasting at any given time, and about 250 bottles of wine for purchase. The average bottle is priced at about 20 USD—quite a deal for such an excellent product. Some of the best I recently tasted came from Dezaley, and St. Saphorin, two producers that are creating deep, rich, and flavorful wines. If you’re visiting Lake Geneva, check it out. You’ll park near the lake, and then amble through a tunnel under the street to access the blocky-grey building that is now sitting on the former site of a mill that was previously in operation since the 15th century!

The Exterior of Vinorama

Once inside, you can peruse the main room which is filled with wines of the area, or you can trek upstairs for partial views of the lake. If you want to make it an educational experience, you can proceed downstairs for a 22-minute, well-produced film that chronicles the life of a Swiss winemaker.

You can purchase a flight of three Chassleas for 12 Swiss Francs (they do not operate on the Euro), about the equivalent of $12 U.S. That might seem steep, but it’s on par with a Napa Valley tasting. Whites, reds and dessert wine selections rotate every 1 to 2 weeks and Vinorama is open Wednesday through Sunday.

The Main Room of Vinorama

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About Michael

Michael Cervin has been writing about the wine industry for over a decade from his home in Santa Barbara, California. His publications include Decanter, Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast, The Tasting Panel, Wine & Dine, Wine Country This Week, Santa Barbara Magazine,, and more than 60 other publications. He is the restaurant critic and travel writer for the Santa Barbara News-Press. His wine and food judging experience has included The Best of Vinho Verde in Portugal, the Monterey Wine Competition, the California Central Coast Wine Challenge, The Taste of Rum Festival in Puerto Rico, the Firestone Chef’s Challenge (with celebrity chef, Bradley Ogden), the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, the Paso Robles Winemaker’s Cook-Off, and many other competitions. Michael is the author of the Moon travel-guide Santa Barbara & the Central Coast and is a co-author of the Moon wine travel-guide, Moon California Wine Country, to be released in April 2011. His first book, Generous Fiction was released in 2009. Check out his wine, food, and travel photo-blog: and

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Michael’s latest book will hit bookstore shelves nationwide on October 26, 2010. The Moon handbook, Santa Barbara & The Central Coast, “is the most comprehensive travel book to date covering Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara wine country, as well as Ventura and Ojai in Ventura County, Morro Bay, Cambria, San Luis Obispo, and Paso Robles,” says Cervin.

The book details the best area wineries, choice places to eat and stay, and things to see and do from the usual (Mission Santa Barbara, Morro Rock, Hearst Castle) to the unusual (Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, the Frog Wall in Santa Barbara, Ojai’s Pink Moment, and Morro Bay’s Black Hill).