Sauvignon Blanc, Réserve de la Commune de Cologny 2016, Domaine de la Vigne Blanche, Geneva
Anyone who follows these pages knows that I’m not a fan of sauvignon blanc from Switzerland. It makes no sense to me that Swiss winemakers bother with it when there is so much great sauvignon available from places that specialize in it and do a great job. Admittedly, its foothold is tenuous here—165 hectares or 1.1% of the Swiss vignobles—but it seems as though everyone has one. Most of which is weak, innocuous and not particularly expressive of variety or place. A better plan, it seems to me, would be to plant and perfect native varieties, or even some non-natives if we must, with a record of success and a growing demand.
Now please don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating for Louis Bovard to grub up his sauvignon vines—his Buxus is a favorite of mine—only that it takes his level of commitment to achieve an equally compelling or pleasingly distinctive result. I just don’t find that commitment in most Swiss sauvignons.
With all of that as background, it is both a surprise and a delight to find a Swiss sauvignon blanc worth drinking. Domaine de la Vigne Blanche, operated by the Meylan family, offers one. It’s a distinctive, attractively priced example from my very own backyard. Shame on me. I have enjoyed their fruity, floral gamay for a while now but was unfamiliar with their white offerings.
The Meylan vineyards consist of four parcels dispersed throughout the Geneva suburbs of the rive gauche. They cover seven of the roughly forty hectares of farmland they own or manage. Their vineyards are supplemented by an additional twenty hectares devoted to grains and seed plants for the production of oil and ten hectares of native grasses as a nod to biodiversity. All of it is surrounded by the estates of wealthy Geneva bankers, Eastern European oligarchs and international business moguls.
The oldest parcel, located just outside the Geneva city limits within the posh confines of Cologny, is known as the home vineyard. For those who know their geography and the peculiarities of luxury real estate that’s like having vines in Bel-Air outside L.A. or in Potomac outside of D.C. That’s some valuable land for fruit growing. One can only guess at the number of developer enquiries they’ve resisted and the strength of commitment needed to resist them.
The other family holdings are slightly farther afield. The La Tour Pressy parcel, located in equally tony Vandoeuvres, is planted on enough land to support at least four luxury homes. La Cardamone, in the neighboring commune of Choulex, is slightly more rural and probably safe from further development. At least for now.
Most interesting of all is the Réserve de la Cummune de Cologny parcel which is owned by the commune of Cologny and leased to the Meylans. This tiny parcel (1.3 hectares) is a true urban vineyard. It is located above the lake, across the street from the Golf Club de Genève, and next door to the Swiss offices of the World Economic Forum. It is home to the sauvignon blanc used for this cuvée.
Only 13% of the commune’s surface area is devoted to agriculture. This historically low figure established a line in the sand for city father’s who have vowed to protect what’s left. I am reminded of the efforts to forestall the demise of one of California’s great urban farms, Fairview Gardens, in Goleta, just outside of Santa Barbara, which is preserved as agricultural land through a non-profit conservancy. Solutions such as these are protecting open spaces and agricultural land from the onslaught of urban development. Thank goodness for them.
The Wine: Straw yellow in color. This one opens with assertive herbal and grassy aromas that are typical of cool climate sauvignon blanc. Lots of savory freshness here. What happens next is telling. With air a subtle undercurrent of not quite tropical but ripe fruit elements emerge. Real peachy notes with blackcurrant leaf and passion fruit make their presence felt without becoming dominant. Not as assertive as New Zealand, as electric as Sancerre or as tutti-frutti as California—but with elements of each, no one thing dominating. I guess that’s the definition of balance. The palate is seamless with all elements present and accounted for. After a day open in the fridge the wine remained fresh if not even more peachy. The stated 14.4% alcohol suggests full ripeness but never makes itself known. Really delicious stuff.