While stalking the tables of the most recent Mémoire des Vins Suisses tasting in Zürich I overheard some interesting news. It seems that several prestigious, even iconic, Swiss labels will soon be entering the U.S. market, some for the first time.
European Cellars, a prominent American importer headed by Eric Solomon and based in North Carolina, will begin to import the wines of Jean-Pierre Pellegrin, Jacques Tatasciore, Marie-Thérèse Chappaz and Maurice Zufferey. These four are in addition to Louis-Philippe Bovard who is already part of their Swiss portfolio. While small, this elite group represents some of the best Switzerland has to offer.
The news will no doubt anger some Swiss buyers who already find it difficult to procure wine from these producers. No doubt U.S. quantities will be small and perhaps regionally focused. When queried, representatives from European Cellars did not comment.
Eric Solomon made his mark with a prescient commitment to Spanish wine in the early 1990s. He helped to resurrect the ancient but rundown vineyards of Priorat with his enthusiasm and ability to articulate its unique place in the Spanish landscape. He later married its high priestess, Daphne Glorian, owner of the iconic Clos i Terrasses and Clos Erasmus.
Equally fascinating is the news that Raymond Paccot of Domaine La Colombe and Jean-René Germanier begin distribution to the West and East Coasts of the U.S. through micro-importer Schatzi Wines of New York. La Colombe’s terroir-driven wines should provide much needed context for chasselas skeptics who doubt its special ability to translate a sense place. Germanier’s syrah-based Cayas cuvée will please those who like, but cannot afford, Guigal’s Côte-Rôties, which it seeks to emulate.
All of this is not to say that top American restaurants are strangers to Swiss wine. American importer Neal Rosenthal has long supplied the U.S. market with top quality Swiss imports including Cave Caloz of Miège, Cave du Vieux-Moulin, Cave les Ruinettes and Cave des Tilleuls of Vétroz.
Likewise, Robert Chadderdon Selections and now APS Wine & Spirits have long associated with Luc Massy of Epesses and Sacred Thirst Selections, a small boutique importer in San Francisco, honors the memory of Jacques Grange by championing the wines of his beloved Domaine de Beudon.
The spendy, ultra-luxe wines from Weingut Gantenbein are represented by the Loosen Bros. USA and distributed through Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchant in San Francisco.
Even the peripatetic Charles Neal has found time to wander over from his usual Savoie haunts to introduce San Francisco to the chasselas-based St.-Saphorin of Domaine Pierre-Luc Leyvraz.
I believe all of this movement represents a sea-change.
Many in the Swiss wine industry are beginning to look outward for validation. The smart ones are looking to diversify their markets as a form of that validation. Many quite simply need to grow. While there is almost no chance for new land to be made available for planting there are literally thousands and thousands of home-tended vineyards that may be targeted for future accumulation. Cooperatives still control a large share of the domestic market and they absorb the produce from these micro-farms but small producers, like the ones mentioned here, need to keep some of that for themselves. If I was in the business of wine and wanted to grow, then I would start by looking in my own backyard.
A growing international market will demand more quality wine. Some of that should be Swiss.