During a visit to the Haute-Savoie region of France for a wedding last weekend, we took the opportunity to head east to the Valais to visit a couple of our vignerons and check in on the progress of the vines. The weather couldn’t have been better, with clear skies and temperatures in the high 70s. This is hardly surprising, as the Valais is one of the driest regions in Europe, meaning they almost never have problems in the vineyard with hail or rot from excessive moisture.
We arrived at the domaine belonging to Marc-Henri and Fabienne Cottagnoud, a great husband-and-wife team where Marc-Henri handles the vineyard work, while Fabienne manages the cellar. We started with a walk through a vineyard planted to Pinot Noir on the valley floor (Pinot does better at the slightly lower altitude), which showed fruit that was just coming into maturity. You can see from the photo below how the bunches are a mix of light and darker shades of purple, with the occasional green grape as well. Marc-Henri expects the harvest to begin at the end of September, then run through late October as each variety comes to full maturity at different times.
A short but scenic drive up the base of the mountain to another group of vineyards showed us some of the problems faced in 2013, which stem mainly from a cool start to the season. Relatively late budding and a cold snap during the crucial flowering of the vines led to smaller than normal grapes, which is evident in the adjacent photo of an Amigne bunch. The fruit itself is healthy and Marc-Henri believes that 2013 will be a good year qualitatively, however the yields will certainly be lower than average.
The quick trip was a rare treat to visit the vineyards towards the end of their growing season, and it was the first time I have had the pleasure of seeing the Valais looking vibrant and green, in contrast to the browns and greys of the late winter. The day ended with a terrific dinner at Auberge Les Bisses in Planchouet (above Nendaz), a town about half an hour straight up a mountain just south of Vetroz, where the dishes included local mushrooms, lamb from a pasture adjacent to the restaurant, and a traditional fondue. Serge Roh provided the red for the evening, which was a muscular Cornalin, who’s tannin and sauvage fruit paired perfectly with the meats. Our table included, from left to right: Serge Roh, Anne Cottagnoud (Marc-Henri’s sister), Fabienne, Alexandra (my wife), me, and Marc-Henri.
All in all a successful day, and I gain a great understanding and appreciation for the people, culture and wines of the region with each visit. As we move into the fall season and begin thinking about heartier foods like gourds, stews and herb-rubbed meats, I will certainly be keeping the wines of the Valais on the menu at home.