Junge Schweiz Neue Winzer is a professional association of young (and new) Swiss winemakers dedicated to the free exchange of ideas and shared experiences. It also serves as support group (because change is never easy), promotional arm and globally-attuned tasting panel. While real change is often slow to take hold in Switzerland, it can be hastened along by the youthful exuberance of a group like this. Their willingness to experiment is a pleasure to witness and the early successes are encouraging. This kind of network is crucial to the development of the next generation’s knowledge and critical thinking and I’m glad to see it flourish.
At this tasting I even discovered a niche within a niche—the Swiss version of the Gang of Four. Anne-Claire Schott, Etienne Javet, Fabrice Simonet, and the already established Christian Vessaz of Cru de l’Hôpital are not only copains they collaborate as winemaking “free thinkers”. Each works biodynamically with a shared philosophy of minimal intervention in the cellar. I get the sense that this select group is not just dabbling in natural wine but wholly devoted to it. They are clearly pushing the boundaries of Swiss wine and that’s a good thing.
Of the twenty or so winery representatives in attendance, I highlight my favorites below. One other thing, it’s always a pleasure to visit the beautiful city of Lucerne with its fabulous lakefront and dramatic view of the Alps. It doesn’t get much better than this postcard-come-to life.
The Players and the Wines
Johann-Baptista von Tscharner (Weinbau von Tscharner, Reichenau, Graubünden) — One of the great things about the Old World is the continuity of generations in a single place. Johann-Baptista is descended from a long line of jurists and politicians emanating from the Rheintal region of Graubünden. It’s mind-boggling how deep the roots run here.
The von Tscharner family lives and works in the historic Schloss Reichenau, an 18th-century castle situated at the confluence of the upper and lower Rhine before it enters Chur, Graubünden’s capital and reputed to be Switzerland’s oldest city. This venerable residence was once owned by an ancestor, also named Johann-Baptista, before it was lost during the French invasion of Switzerland and its war against Austria in the 19th-century. Johann-Baptista’s father, the colorful Gian-Battista von Tscharner, regained possession in 1976 and is the current majordomo.
The family’s vineyards are limited in size but spread throughout the area with a presence in Maienfeld, Jenins, Chur and Felsberg. Look for Johann-Baptista to smooth out some of the rough edges sometimes found in his father’s wines, which are, nevertheless, some of the most highly prized in Switzerland.
2017 Pinot Blanc/Chardonnay, “Maienfelder”, Graubünden: (Stainless steel; field-blend from Maienfeld; no malo-lactic) Pale straw in color. Honeysuckle bouquet with some delicate, understated tropical notes. Very clean and fresh. Lovely flavor of almonds, sweet lemons and cream. Surprisingly rich and impeccably dry with a lingering floral finish. Very nice.
2013 Blauburgunder, “Mariafeld—Jeninser”, Graubünden: (three years in used wood; one year in bottle before release; Mariafeld clone of Pinot Noir) Delicate ruby in color with a bit of aging. Idiosyncratic nose of tomato leaf, dried leaves, summer thicket and tangy mixed berries. On the palate there is velvety blackberry fruit and good saturation but also a distinctly tannic cloak. The tannins are a bit brutal at the moment. Needs time or a thick steak.
2015 Blauburgunder, “Johann-Baptista—Churer”, Graubünden: (The counterpoint to Johann’s father’s famous “Gian-Battista” cuvée) Cloudy ruby in color. Opens with notes of olive, black pepper and spicy green elements. In contrast to the above, this one is elegant and layered with cherry and mixed berry fruit, sweet spices and lively acids. The tannins are well in check. This is really lovely and shows off the warmth of the vintage in a balanced way.
Patrick Adank (Weingut Familie Hansruedi Adank, Fläsch, Graubünden) — Patrick may be the youngest of the Junge Winzer but he is no less worldly than his colleagues when it comes to knowledge of the world’s best wines. His Instagram feed is stuffed with special bottles sourced from many of the greatest names, some of whom he’s worked for. He is full of ideas, both in terms of farming and in the cellar, but his real passion is for sparkling wine. He has worked at the cult Champagne house Bérêche & Fils in Ludes, which may be an indication of how high he’s aiming. He’s a very impressive young man who clearly loves everything about wine.
NV Blanc de Noir, Brut, Graubünden: (Three vintage blend; two years on the yeast; three grams dosage) Very pale straw in color. Wild strawberry on the nose with some prickly CO² and a pleasant matchstick reduction. Delicate on the palate with wild strawberry, raspberry and biscuity flavors. Lively froth and pleasantly tangy acids. This is a flavorful Blanc de Noir that displays a lot of finesse. As he develops a “library” of older vintages look for his sparking wines to gain complexity.
2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Graubünden: Medium straw in color. Herbal nose of fresh tobacco, grass and orange/lemon zest. Lemon sorbet flavors with fresh marjoram accents. Lemony finish with some grapefruit and lingering herbs. Clean and citrusy rather than overtly varietal. I like this.
2016 Pinot Noir, “Barrique”, Graubünden: (Dijon clones; 25% new oak; 30% whole cluster) Bright ruby in color. I always find Adank’s Pinots to be highly spicy with verdant elements overlaying deep cherry and raspberry aromas. I also like the fact that the house is getting a grip on the oak, which has sometimes been too pronounced. This is medium-weight with sweet cherry and raspberry flavors of the macerated kind with a pleasant orange zest counterpoint. Still youthful but drinks well now. A very good effort.
Alain Schwarzenbach (Schwarzenbach Weinbau, Meilen, Zürich) — Alain has chosen to continue with his family’s study of the finicky and rare Swiss grape, Räuschling. It’s been a family obsession since Alain’s grandfather refused to give up on it even when its popularity plummeted in the middle of the last century. It’s a very difficult variety to get right but its potential to transcend the over-planted and overrated Muller-Thurgau (Riesling x Sylvaner) as the signature white grape of Deutschschweiz is a warming thought.
Räuschling has an amazing capacity to age. The Schwarzenbach’s are known to break out examples from the late 19th-century when they want to prove the point. Interestingly, the family in collaboration with a private company has marketed a strain of yeast reclaimed and resuscitated from a bottle of the 1895 vintage. It is apparently quite useful in ultra-high acid circumstances.
2018 Räuschling, “Seehalden—Meilener”, Zürich: (Stainless steel; no malo-lactic) Pale yellow in color. Lovely aroma of orange zest and herbs. Appetizing flavors of spice and bergamot. Very fresh and lively. This variety is usually high in acid but in this hot vintage it displays some flesh and forward fruity qualities. Finishes crisp.
Anne-Claire Schott (Schott Weine, Twann, Bern) — The Anne-Claire Schott label is an extension of the family’s Schott Weine portfolio. It encompasses the offerings known as Aroma der Landschaft (Scent of the Landscape) which represent her commitment to biodynamics and minimal intervention winemaking. The three wines on display showcase a diversity of styles with a singular, uncompromising vision.
Her degree in art history is put to good use as she attempts to bridge the gap between art and wine. Her job, as she sees it, is to curate/create art/wine with the same motivation as the artist—to elicit an intellectual/emotional response from the drinker. Her wine labels play a part too. They are designed by the local artist Ulrich Studer who is best known for dramatic landscape installations. Her Aroma der Landschaft theme fits the mold as she recreates the local landscape within the realm of scent and flavor.
She’s not the first winemaker I’ve met who fancies herself the artist. As is the case with the others I know, the results are always interesting and thoughtful.
2017 “Blanc”, Bielersee: (Field-blend of six varieties; concrete egg-fermented) Pale straw, the color of tears. Delicate sweet pea scent is summer in a glass. The palate is medium-weight but saturated with lemony flavor. This is clean, crisp and elegant with a lingering floral finish. Not unlike a Friuli blend with an extra bit of Swiss delicacy.
2017 Pinot Gris, “Orange”, Bielersee: Cloudy, orange/rose in color and quite vibrant. Such an interesting nose—initial aromas of wild raspberry, tarragon and dried tobacco segue into orange zest and latex. Flavors are Earl Grey tea-like with a corresponding bitterness but also great length. Chewy and dry but with a cascading finish. I love this style for certain varieties and Pinot Gris is one of them. A wine of contemplation.
2017 Pinot Noir, “Mon Vieux”, Bielersee: (No sulfur) Slightly cloudy ruby in color. This is a touch reductive with a wet concrete aroma that expands into wild strawberry and summer hedges. The watchword is wild. The flavors too are untamed with raspberry, wild strawberry and tangy acids. I want to say there are some volatile notes but they are not obvious via scent, only in texture. Gets better the more it is exposed to air. Grippy tannins to finish. I kind of wanted to sit around with this bottle to watch it grow. A fascinating drink.
Marylène Bovard-Chervet (Château de Praz, Praz, Fribourg) — The Chervet family is long-entrenched along the shores of Lac Morat in the Trois Lacs District of Switzerland. Marylène and her husband, Louis Bovard, share the duties and vision of this signature domaine. Theirs is a return to tradition including the traditional way of bottling sur lie, or directly from the barrel.
One of their seminal wines is a Gewürztraminer which is sourced from 40-58 year old vines. The Chervet family was the first to bring Gewürztraminer vines from Alsace more than sixty years ago. Today, Traminer, as it’s locally known, is a signature grape with its own cahier des charges assembled by a local association of adherents. The main distinguishing feature is that it must always be fermented to dryness.
2017 Chasselas, “Réserve Blanche”, Vully: Medium straw in color. This is an herbal, stony Chasselas that has a pronounced lees streak. Bottled sur lie (see above), it is an unctuous mouthful of pear-like fruit with a stony, slightly salty, but pleasantly bitter edge. This is very impressive. From a specific parcel of old vines in Haut-Vully with a high clay content.
2017 Gewürztraminer, Vin de Pays Suisse: Medium straw in color. A delicate Gewürztraminer with some orange zest and rose perfume. On the palate there is a bit of orange sorbet with some haunting floral notes and the requisite Traminer bitterness. Delicate and juicily fruity, this one whispers — flowers and spice.
Etienne Javet (Javet & Javet, Lugnorre, Fribourg) — “Il est grand temps de faire moins” (It’s high time to do less) is the signature theme of this small family winery in the heart of Vully and it tells you all you need to know about it’s winemaker, Etienne Javet.
Javet & Javet has been on my radar since Christian Vessaz recommended I visit them a couple of years ago. My bad. My only excuse is that Vully is somewhat difficult to access and just about the sleepiest place I’ve ever visited. There’s literally one bus that leaves every hour on the hour from the nearest train station.
For these reasons alone, it’s a great place to make wine without constant tourist traffic and annoying distractions. It’s also the reason why the wines from Vully are seldom seen and not well known. More’s the pity.
2016 Chasselas, “Or du Temps”, Vully: (Skin contact Chasselas—three week fermentation in barrique) A bit reductive to open but then waves of marzipan, smoked bacon and apples. Beautiful suede-like texture with flavors of pear, peach and apple. Salty finish with some light tannins. I’ve said it before, skin contact Chasselas can be a revelation and I’m glad to see some young winemakers dabble with it in this way.
2016 Pinot Noir, “Mur—Aime Terre”, Vully: (From the village of Mur which is literally the wall that separates Vaud from Fribourg—AOC Vully lies in both cantons) Slightly cloudy ruby in color. Spicy wild cherries with fresh green elements. A bit reductive, too. The palate is rich, ripe, fresh and grippy with a walnut skin astringency and some cherry crème. Its natural wine demeanor is best expressed in its absolutely crackling finish.
2014 Gamaret/Merlot, “Sans Titre”, Vully: (Made from semi-dried grapes) This is deep garnet in color and opaque. There is no mistaking the powerfully scented nose as anything but blackberry, but its jam-like with oak. There is super saturation and concentration on the palate with a velvety, macerated fruit quality. Finishes with a powerful alcoholic presence and the barest tang. As appassimento wines go, this is one I could enjoy.
Fabrice Simonet (Le Petit Château, Motiêr, Fribourg) — Strong evidence that the Swiss mainstream is warming to alternative winemaking is the fact that Fabrice and his brother, Stéphane, were named co-Rookies of the Year by Gault-Millau in its annual guide to the 125 best wineries in Switzerland.
While I would call his Chardonnay more mainstream than not, it’s with the other, lesser known varieties that he shows off his promising skills. Like Traminer, Freiburger has a cahier des charges that specifies certain conditions be met before granted the AOC. Fabrice’s is both textbook and different at the same time. That’s brilliance.
2016 Chardonnay, “Les Cutres”, Vully: (parcel at 550 meters elevation) Yellow gold in color. Super lithe aromatics of pear, creamy oak, butter and a lactic laciness. The palate is a bit underweight for the seriousness of the élèvage but it’s clean and bright with some lactic complexity. I would like to see a bit more texture and weight but overall this is very solid.
2018 Freiburger, Vully: (synonym: Freisamer; Pinot Gris x Sylvaner; one-third stainless steel-, two-thirds concrete egg-fermented) Pale straw in color. Apple blossoms and spicy apples on the nose. Sharp, penetrating and focused. Yellow plums and green apples on the palate with some sweet spices. Finishes crisp but with a bit of heat from the 14.5 alcohol. Such an interesting wine.
2016 Diolinoir, Vully: (20% whole bunch, long and slow ferment in open barrel, fifteen months in oak) Dark garnet with black flecks. Slightly sweaty, reduced nose but gingerbread and chamois leather beneath. The palate brings forth black fruit and tar, or rubber with a tannic bite. Surprising amount of finesse on such a big frame—like a bear in a tutu dancing on tiptoes.
Martin Porret (Les Vins Porret, Cortaillod, Neuchâtel) — One thing I like about Martin, aside from his excellent wines, is that he’s not defensive. When he asked me to evaluate his 2017 Chardonnay, “Élevé en Barrique” (heavy handed use of oak to the point of fatigue) he listened and a bit sheepishly admitted he felt the same way.
That impressed me. Thankfully I found nothing to criticize about his two Pinots and his excellent 2018 Chasselas “Non Filtré” tasted earlier in Neuchâtel. (See: Neuchâtel Non Filtré). Martin’s Pinots are often overlooked when the discussion turns to Neuchâtel and its most famous proponents of the variety.
2017 Pinot Noir, Cortaillod, Neuchâtel: Pretty ruby in color. Sweet cherry crème nose with some fresh green notes. Impressive precision, very clean, herbs and cherries, grippy and pleasantly bitter. A really well made basic Pinot Noir that offers great value at 17 CHF.
2017 Pinot Noir, “Cuvée Elisa—Non Égrappé”, Cortaillod, Neuchâtel: (30 year-old vines, high density parcel made only in years when stems are mature) Ruby/garnet in color. Fresh, sweet nose verging on black fruit or meaty, macerated cherries. Nice herbal counterpoint. Palate is rich and sweet but still restrained with persistent acids and a structural grippiness. Gives a lot now but still holding some in reserve. Aged in large ovals, no barriques
Sandrine Caloz (Cave Caloz, Miège, Valais) — Sandrine is an old (young) favorite of mine since I wrote her up two years ago. I’m an even bigger fan today. Her family’s wines are quite often the first experience Americans have with Swiss wine thanks to the nationwide reach of Neal Rosenthal, their American importer. And Neal knows a good thing when he sees it.
Sandrine’s wines may not be the most complex but they are always lively, fresh and delicious. She works organically from some of the most interesting sites near her home in the village of Miège, near Sierre—most particularly the Les Bernunes slope.
She is also doing some of her own thing now that she is fully in charge of the winery. Her no sulfur-added Cuvée Sélène (Cabernet Franc/Diolinoir/Gamaret blend) was one of the standout wines I tasted last year. That wine alone confirms her natural wine chops.
2018 Petite Arvine, “Les Clives”, Valais: Pale straw in color. Lovely honeysuckle and freesia aromas with herbs and mandarin. Lemon zest on the palate with a touch of bitterness and minerals. Clean and linear. Nice acids and very balanced on the light side of things. Fragrant lemon finish. Bottled only two weeks before.
2018 Païen, “Les Bernunes”, Valais: Straw colored. Lemon Drop cocktail aroma with some butter and fresh green herbs. More fat and weight than above, almost unctuous, with lemon and chervil. Lots of length and salinity to the finish. More savory than fruity. This is very good.
2017 Humagne Rouge, “Les Bernunes”, Valais: Vibrant crimson in color. Wild raspberries with a bit of lavender and a green streak. Wild fruit flavors (almost rustic but never crude) with crisp, mouthwatering acids, herbs and fresh tobacco leaf. Really interesting gravelly texture with red fruit confit and a long, lingering, perfumed finish. Excellent.