The Alpine regions offer a truly unique array of wines. Explore these little-known regions in this month’s wine club. Get ready for an adventure!
2014 Cave Caloz ‘La Mourziere’ - Valais, Switzerland
The Caloz family established their domaine in 1960, setting up their home and cellar in the village of Miege which sits midway between the town of Sierre, at the southern end of the Valais, and the famous ski area of Crans-Montana. Fernand Caloz, father of the current proprietaire, began the arduous process of tending the vines in this mountainous region where the vineyards sit on steep terraces and must be worked by hand. Conrad Caloz, son of Fernand, joined by his wife, Anne-Carole, now manages the affairs of this small family domaine.
The domaine follows a philosophy and system of viticulture known locally as “Production Intégrée”, an approach designed to “protect nature and the environment”. Conrad Caloz is a founding member of Vitival, the governing body of this viticultural movement, since 1989. The rules of this system require the growers to follow a regimen of sustainable practices in the vineyards and the equipment used in the production of the wines is regulated as well, all in the cause of insuring the ongoing vitality of this visually stunning region.
The Petite Arvine is very much a local grape found only in the Valais and on the other side of the mountain in the Italian district of the Valle d’Aosta. Caloz produces a classic example, the Arvine is a full-bodied white with a tendency to show an enticing note of grapefruit zest. Excellent density married to balancing acidity marks the Arvine from “La Mourziere” as a wine worthy of aging.
2015 André et Michel Quenard 'Terres Brunes' - Savoie, France
Michel’s grandfather started the domaine in the 1930s. Though he slowly increased the vineyard holdings, he also sold off most of his wine in bulk. It was not until 1960 that Michel’s father, André, began bottling under their own label. Michel joined the domaine in 1976. Today, he is joined by his two sons, Guillaume and Romain. While they are far from the only Quenards in Chignin, they are certainly the most well-known—perhaps this is due to the severity of their terrain and the quality of wines it produces.
High on the limestone slopes and pruned in the gobelet style of the Beaujolais, these beautifully gnarled old vines eke out a wine with much more finesse and delicacy than the Mondeuse from Chignin. Terres Brunes is a gorgeous effort from the Quenards, a steal for the price, and a welcome addition to their stable of fine alpine wines.
Hand harvested, natural fermentation after pressing. Maceration lasts 12 to 15 days in stainless steel tank. Aged for 11 months, 50% in stainless steel tank, 50% in foudre.
2016 Jean-René Germanier Humagne Rouge - Valais, Switzerland
This estate is one of the oldest Swiss wineries founded in 1886. Urbain Germanier harvested his first vintage in 1896 at Balavaud (a hamlet in the commune of Vértroz) and devoted his life to his vineyards. His three sons, Francis, Paul and Charles later took over and the winery is now in its 3rd generation under the direction of Jean-René Germanier and his nephew Gilles Besse. Gilles Besse was 24 when he was approached by his uncle, who is only 7 years his elder, to join the family winery. At that time, Gilles was a jazz saxophonist in Geneva and had absolutely no knowledge about wine. He rose to the challenge and began studying oenology in the Swiss school of Changins and in 1993, vinified his first wines at the estate, nestled in the heart of the Valais. Together, Gilles and Jean-René have been farming sustainably for nearly twenty years and have ultimately pioneered a qualitative winemaking revolution in Switzerland.
Humagne rouge originated in the Val d'Aosta in Italy, just over the St. Bernard pass from Valais, where it was commercially extinct, but has now been replanted under its original name "cornalin." Humagne rouge is a late ripening variety and the rustic and herbal notes diminish as the grape reaches phenolic maturity, so the choice of a vineyard site is very important. This wine comes from sites in Vétroz, Conthey, and Chamoson with alluvial deposits and glacial moraine sediment. It is a brambly wine with soft tannin and cedar cigar box notes. It's rustic but not rural, polished but not shiny.