When you explore the urban sprawl of Zürich it’s hard to imagine that in 1881 the hills were draped with vines and the local wine industry was in the midst of unprecedented prosperity. From 1851 to 1881 the canton’s vineyards expanded by one-third and revenue per hectare peaked at 29,000 CHF in today’s currency. That’s a startling number. And while Zürich was a close second to Vaud in the number of vines, it was unsurpassed in profitability.
Back then varieties such as Gutedel (Chasselas), Completer, Räuschling, Elbling, Gwäss, Bondola and Pinot Noir flourished and the wines made from this diverse group were eagerly consumed by a growing middle class. It all seemed so perfect.
Until it all went bad.
Beginning in the mid-1880’s weather related phenomena and a mini “ice age” cut yields in half. Worse, the twin scourges of phylloxera and powdery mildew arrived from America to do their evil work. Industrial expansion put upward pressure on land and labor prices and profitability vanished. The border states to the north — Baden and Würtemmberg, once a reliable export market — were walled off by tariffs as part of German unification. Meanwhile, cheap imports from Italy arrived with the opening of the trans-alpine railroad.
As a result of this series of disasters Zürich’s vineyards shrank from 5,285 hectares in 1881 to 914 in 1950. Vineyards within the city limits fared even worse. They fell from 400 in 1881 to zero in 1942. That’s when the last vine in the newly annexed suburb of Hönng was grubbed up, all but signaling the death of the city’s wine industry. The best sites — those with the best views — were sold to developers and, gradually, the hillsides became part of the sprawl.
Fortunately, Zürich did not lack for visionaries. Two prominent families, the Zweifels and the Landolts, saw the future and did something about it.
Paul Zweifel, mayor of Höngg and great-grandfather to the current generation, shrewdly orchestrated the city’s purchase of several derelict vineyards to preserve as open space. He left it to his son, Heinrich, and family friend, Emil Landolt, a former mayor of Zürich, to initiate the renewal.
The first project was begun in 1968 at Chillesteig, the iconic vineyard that spreads beneath the landmark Alte Kirche. Bit by bit, over the next fifty years, much of the purchased land was replanted.
Much of this effort is symbolic, of course, as the constraints of real estate demand. These are tiny vineyards and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but pride is a powerful motivator and history a great teacher. The wineries of Zürich, as few as they are, are determined to make up for lost time. Things are beginning to stir.
The Wineries of Zürich Stadt
In Zürich all wine roads lead to Regensdorferstrasse. That’s where Zweifel 1898 operates the only winemaking facility within city limits. Those who are fans of the ubiquitous Swiss potato chip brand Zweifel will be delighted to learn there is a line of wine from the same family. Brothers Urs and Walter Zweifel are now reasserting their family’s earlier roots in wine by exploiting the foresight of their great-grandfather.
Their refurbished winery is now a state of the art facility with enough capacity to process nearly all of the grapes grown in Zürich. That’s right, the Landolt’s and the Wegmann’s make their wine at Zweifel. Didn’t I say all roads lead to Regensdorferstrasse?
The family also brings in grapes from leased vineyards throughout the canton and they operate a retail shop with wines from around the world. Recently, they celebrated the opening of their weinbeiz — their take on a Viennese heuriger — where house wines can be sampled with plates of simple food.
While the Zweifel wines are not yet among the best in Switzerland they do show promise and the family is not without ambition and resources.
With a history that dates back to 1834 it may surprise some that Landolt has no winery of its own, yet it controls the greatest portion of the city’s vineyards — 5.4 hectares. Recently, the family relegated the management of its vineyards to former employee Nikola Zeljkovich (Rebwerk) with an agreement to purchase all of the crop.
The family also sources from 6.8 hectares of vines dispersed throughout the canton. Most of the Zürich Stadt origin wines are bottled without vineyard designation, but two are bottled as single-vineyard origin — a Riesling x Sylvaner “Bürgli-Enge” and a Gewürztraminer “Burghalde”.
There is a tasting room and meeting facility at its city-center vineyard in the Enge quarter. All wines are made at the Zweifel facility in Höngg and display some of the same characteristics. In other words, they are a bit shy and unassertive.
This is a venerable family business that is adored by the local community. Orchard fruit, berries and vegetables are sold at their farmer’s market-style shop (hofladen) in Höngg near the Frankental vineyard. The Wegmann’s tend to their own vineyards. which include Frankental, Eggbühl and Waid. The wines are made at the Zweifel facility and are vineyard-designated with the Höngger nomenclature most prominently displayed. The Stadt Zürich connection is relegated to a coat-of-arms.
Businesses like this are a real throwback and a joy to visit.
Gutsbetrieb Juchhof (Zürich Stadt)
Gutsbetrieb Juchhof (Good Farm Juchhof) is an umbrella group that tends the city’s vineyards and farms not otherwise leased to outside entities. At Chillesteig there is a dedicated viticulturist, winemaker and several workers who manage sales and a tasting room. There are frequent public demonstrations and tours with an emphasis on the city’s commitment to open space and green initiatives.
Partial funding for the vineyard’s activities, apart from the sale of its wines, includes an ongoing program of replanting. For an annual fee a new vine is planted in the name of the donor and a few bottles of wine are offered as part of the deal. The program has proven effective in both fund-raising and increased awareness of Zürich’s urban wine heritage.
The Vineyards of Zürich (14.32 hectares)
Höngg (District 10)
Chillesteig (1968 — 3.2 hectares owned by the city of Zürich)
Chillesteig is the grande dame of Zürich’s urban vineyards. Not only was it the first to be replanted in 1968 but it was one of the most important in its day with a privileged position beneath the Alte Kirche. Today, it’s one of the city’s crown jewels and a tribute to its commitment to biodiversity and the green initiative known as Grün Stadt Zürich.
Chillesteig is managed by Gutsbetrieb Juchhof which is a city funded entity tasked with caring for city-owned farms. Its charter includes sustainability as one of its pillars and since 2018 Chillesteig has been certified organic by BioSuisse.
This charming vineyard overlooking the Europabrücke (see header photo) is planted to Pinot Noir, Müller-Thurgau (Riesling x Sylvaner), Räuschling, Pinot Gris, Prior and Cabernet Dorsa. The wines are made off-site in Ellikon an der Thur at the facilities of Paul Gasser.
The city’s best wines, labeled with the Zürcher Stadtwein nomenclature, include a fine sparkling wine known as Züri Perle and a fresh, slightly soft Räuschling.
Klingen (1986 — .5 hectares owned by the city of Zürich)
Klingen is leased and managed by the Zweifel family. According to a tithing letter from the nearby Wettingen monastery the vines at Klingen were registered as early as 1440 under the Zweifel name. That’s a long association. It is located just above the Winzerstrasse just 500 meters from Chillesteig and the Zweifel winery. Today it’s a thin sliver of vineyard — one can assume it was much grander in its day — reclaimed from a shameful spell as a gravel pit. It’s planted to Pinot Noir and hybrid varieties.
Riedhof (1986 — 1.5 hectares owned by the city of Zürich)
Riedhof is located less than a kilometer from Chillesteig in the middle of an urban farm belt that shares Klingen’s ignominy as a former gravel pit. Despite its proximity to the extensive orchards and truck farm of Daniel and Zarina Wegmann the plot is managed by the Zweifel family. Their devotion to sustainable farming means that a breed of Scandinavian sheep can be spotted chomping weeds in the vineyards from time to time. Riedhof is planted to Pinot Noir and Riesling x Sylvaner (Müller-Thurgau).
Eggbühl (1982 — .8 hectare owned by Daniel Wegmann)
Eggbühl is the smallest of two vineyards owned by the Wegmann family, prominent fruit growers in Höngg. It is planted to Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The grapes are processed at the facilities of the Zweifel family.
Frankental (2012 — 1.9 hectares owned by Daniel Wegmann)
Frankental is the largest, and newest, of the two vineyards owned by the Wegmann family. It’s located across the road from Riedhof and is planted to Pinot Noir, Gamaret and Riesling x Sylvaner.
Waid (2004 — .05 hectare managed by Daniel Wegmann and owned by the city of Zürich)
At 545 meters, Waid is the highest vineyard in the city. It is planted exclusively to the hybrid variety Regent. It is blended with Pinot Noir from Frankental at the Zweifel winery and sold exclusively at the restaurant Die Waid which is adjacent to the vineyard.
Chranz (2008 — .04 hectare owned by the city of Zürich)
Chranz is an ancient vineyard site located adjacent to Höngg’s oldest building, the Rebbauernhaus zum Chranz, now the museum of local history. It is mostly a demonstration vineyard but its grapes are used in the Zürich Stadt wines. It is planted to the hybrid varieties Prior and Cabernet Cortis.
Enge (District 2)
Bürgli (1974 — .3 hectares privately owned)
After a spell at the FIFA Museum a stroll through the neighborhood might bring you face to face with a most unlikely sight. A tiny jewel-like vineyard perched on a gently sloping hillside. This is Landolt’s Bürgli vineyard and the only thing like it on the left-bank of the Zürichsee. Back in the day, even the left bank, north-facing hillsides were covered in vines.
As small and unimposing as it is, Landolt operates its tasting room and events center adjacent to it. It makes for a wonderful venue for meetings and organized tastings with a distinctly non-urban feel.
Bürgli is managed by Rebwerk and is planted 100% to Riesling x Sylvaner.
Hottingen (District 7)
Sonnenberg (1985 — 1.37 hectares owned by the city of Zürich)
Sonnenberg lies on a hillside overlooking the Zürichsee in a residential neighborhood near the Dolder Grand Hotel. It is part of the sloping Adlisberg mountain which is a popular green space for local residents. This is an excellent example of the unusual foresight required to protect a vineyard from development in an otherwise very expensive neighborhood.
It is planted to Pinot Noir and managed by Rebwerk with the entire crop sold to the Landolts.
Weinegg (District 8)
Burghalde (1986 — 4.06 hectares partly private/partly city of Zürich owned)
This vineyard located below the University Psychiatric Hospital and near several large city cemeteries was acquired in two stages by the Landolt family. The first 1.7 hectares was leased from the city before the remaining 2.3 hectares were secured from private owners.
The sloping vineyards overlook the Zürichsee on the right bank about a kilometer from Sonnenberg. It is managed by Rebwerk and planted to Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Kerner, Räuschling, Merlot, Zweigelt and Riesling x Sylvaner.