As the season changes into Spring, wine drinkers in Switzerland become curiously happy and a little anxious as the days tick by. That’s because with the changing of the seasons comes the opening of the country’s wineries.
Many people won’t mark Switzerland down as a major wine producer and that’s because it’s not. Its total annual output is about 10% of the French region of Bordeaux. The Swiss don’t really like to share their produce as only a tiny amount (around 2%) is exported. The Swiss drink wine with the best of them however, and consume on average around 38 litres per person every year.
The traditional ‘caves ouvertes’, or open caves, are probably culpable for much of that consumption alone. They are an annual chance for winemakers to show off their talents and for avid drinkers to admire them. During this time the otherwise small, nondescript yet somewhat charming villages of the Swiss wine regions come alive with tourists and locals alike. In the German speaking cantons the occasion is known as offene keller.
For the price of a glass (usually around 15CHF, but this can vary) you can ‘taste’ as many varieties of wine as you can handle, and you even get to keep the glass as a nice souvenir. There are plenty of different wines to choose from as what Switzerland lacks in quantity it makes up in variety. Over 200 different vines are grown across the country, with 40 of them not found anywhere else in the world.
Being small in size, Switzerland’s wine making industry is also quite often a family affair, so the wineries maintain that old-timey rustic feel that adds a little extra charm. Many have working demonstrations of the wine making process, or have old rickety machinery on show.
In most places there will also be an opportunity to grab some food along the way, like the traditional Swiss-French dish of raclette. To make your trip between wineries easier and to reduce walking related accidents, many villages have shuttle buses that run regularly. Just remember to keep hold of your glass.
Almost everywhere you find vineyards in 20 of the 26 cantons, you’ll find caves ouvertes, although when they are open is usually staggered through May and June. So if you have the stomach and the stamina, you can turn the Spring and early Summer into a wine tasting marathon.