Chasselas Forever—Une Histoire de Cépage—A Film By Florian Burion (Octuor Films—2016)
Filmmaker Florian Burion’s new documentary Chasselas Forever mashes-up the best elements of travelogue, National Geographic, the History Channel and a TV detective series into one beautifully and lovingly presented tribute. It turns out the mysterious grape chasselas is worthy of a starring role.
What could possibly go wrong with a camera commissioned to film the gorgeous Lavaux landscape? Nothing really, but it doesn’t end there. As magical as the famed postcard vistas are, they are rendered even more beautiful when witnessed on a micro scale—close-up, time-lapse images of buds bursting and leaves unfolding—reminding us that this is a centuries-old continuum that still contains mysteries.
Apropos one mystery, the main theme threading its way through the film, is the search for the origin of chasselas—both its home and its parents. From the discredited theory that it migrated to Western Europe from the Near or Middle East, to the rejected alternative that it was introduced into Switzerland from the Loire Valley via Cahors, we are led on an exploration to learn the real source of this ancient cultivar.
Our guides on this journey are a cast of passionate and obviously geeky experts: an archivist digging through ancient public records to measure the economic and social impact of chasselas on the Vaud region; a researcher discussing its propensity to mutate into different clones—more than two hundred of them in fact—and the effects these have on wine quality; or an ampelographer examining the peculiarities of the cultivar and how to identify its presence in the vineyards; and finally several iconic winemakers affirming its reputation as a vin de terroir and the subtle coaxing needed to express its full potential.
These bits of fragmented physical and historical evidence are assembled by Dr. José Vouillamoz, a geneticist and chasselas whisperer, who then layers over all a series of conclusive genetic tests. First, the genetic attributes of over more than 500 cultivars are evaluated and plotted on a grid corresponding to the known location of origin and the genetic profile of each. Chasselas ends up sharing the most attributes with cultivars from Western Europe thus eliminating the Near and Middle East as candidates for its ancestral home. Support for this evidence is found in another graph that reveals a tight clustering of chasselas clones in the canton of Vaud. The density of clonal populations is strong and direct evidence of origin. The net result and the ultimate conclusion of the film is that chasselas is native to the Lake Geneva basin and its spiritual home is the conglomerate rock vineyards known collectively as Lavaux.
As entertainment Chasselas Forever satisfies on every level. The beauty of its imagery, the brevity of its presentation, the charm of its actors, and the strength of its message. It is both a paean to the grape and its landscape and a summation of the science brought to bear on its behalf. It suggests to us that it is not enough just to know the history of chasselas but demands that our knowledge be used to preserve its future. It is clearly a labor of love for its players and a call to arms for everyone else: this is a grape and a wine to celebrate and preserve. In the immortal words of the environmentalist John E. Lewis: “If not us, then who?”
To view a trailer or to purchase the DVD visit: chasselasforever.ch