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Valais is Switzerland’s largest wine region, located in the Southwest portion of the country. The terrain is marked by dramatic Alpine peaks, with vineyard sites nestled into very steep locales. The vineyards are mainly concentrated between the areas of Martigny and Leuk. The highest vineyard in Europe, Visperterminen at 1100 meters, is located here.
Growing conditions are excellent. The elevation of the vineyard sites ensures excellent sun exposure. The mountains create a rain shelter, and the southerly, warm “föhn” winds help boost grapes with late ripening tendencies to pull through the harvest season. Summers are hot, sunny and dry, with outside irrigation necessary. Wooden canals called “bisses” are often situated to deliver spring water and melting snow runoff from the mountains. Winters can be cold and snowy, but rarely prone to deadly spring frost.
One of the distinguishing features of Valais wines is the increasing number of independent producers. Some work together as a cooperative, but many are branching out to produce and market their own wines.
The dominant grape in Valais is Pinot Noir for reds and Chasselas (Fendant) for whites. Other popular white grapes are Amigné, Rèze (both of these first planted by the Romans), Muscat, Savagnin Blanc (Heida), Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris (Malvoisie), Chardonnay, Riesling and Sylvaner. Gamay and the Gamay hybrids Garanoir and Gamaret find their way into many wines. Marsanne and Syrah from the Rhône are also popular choices. Valais is known for a few rare indigenous red varietals such as Humagne Rouge, Doilinoir (Diolly and Pinot Noir), Cornalin, and Durize.
Wines are produced in a number of styles from dry whites, reds, rosés and sparkling. Due to the long ripening season, there are also some excellent late harvest dessert wines produced in the Alsace and German style.
There are approximately 125 appellations found within the Valais. There are five wines that are considered the Valais Grand Crus: Fully, Conthey, Vetrox, Saint-Leonard, and Salgesch. Even though these are not well known outside of Switzerland, their distinction gives rise to the idea of Valais becoming a more internationally successful region to look out for. ~Amanda Schuster
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