|Switzerland - Lavaux|
For millenniums, the slopes facing Lake Geneva and the Alps were overgrown and uncultivated until man transformed them into vineyards. This land bursting with sunshine has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since June 2007. Its majestic harmony is eye-catching and captures the imagination. In order to grow terraced wines on these steep slopes for centuries, man had to show great patience and willpower.
From 11th Century, Lavaux continuously took form thanks to donations made to the Bishops of Lausanne.
The strong presence of monks rendered the deforestation and excavation work in the area considerably more dynamic. The monks soon realised they would need to rely on local workforces to maintain the vineyards. A winegrower takes on several roles at once; he is transporter, labourer, miner, craftsman, cooper and cellar-man. He must also continue to farm to increase his income.
The vine survived the Reformation thanks to the new authorities in Bern comprehending the importance of winegrowing and for which they set up a specialist governing body in 1706: “The Chamber of Wines”.
The Vaud Revolution in 1798 led to many changes: some properties are nationalised then quickly sold back, Lavaux is split into two districts and parishes are dispersed to create municipalities.
From the second half of the 19th Century, winegrowers had to adapt their methods of cultivation: mildew, powdery mildew and phylloxera, a destructive aphid, continuously attacked the vines. These diseases, originated from the United States, forced the winegrowers to treat their vines with sulphate.
In the face of an international winegrowing crisis resulting from overproduction, mass importation of cheap foreign wines and soaring production costs, winegrowers pleaded for support from cantonal and federal authorities. In response, these authorities took control of policies on viticulture, outlined various laws and decrees and greatly intervened through the introduction of insurance, import quotas and subsidies.
At the end of the 19th Century, urbanisation and industrialisation in Lausanne to the West and Vevey to the East put pressure on the Lavaux area and its vineyards. This movement was the catalyst for the initiative launched by Franz Weber requesting that, from 1977, the protection of Lavaux should appear in the Constitution of the Canton of Vaud.
This demonstrates the challenges the winegrowers have had to face over the past two centuries; not only have
ecological cultivation methods had to be implemented since the end of the 1970s, but nowadays they must continuously question whether wine-growing remains a sustainable activity.
The breaks in the slope are what shape the upper limits of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lavaux. This required settlement of a defined territory. The protected area in Lavaux is split into two sections: a central zone (the one submitted to UNESCO) and a “buffer zone” which surrounds it.
Facing the lake and the Alps, the central zone spreads over two districts: Lavaux-Oron and Riviera-Pays- d’Enhaut. The territory extends over 10 municipalities: Lutry, Bourg-en-Lavaux (which includes the ex- municipalities of Cully, Epesses, Grandvaux, Riex and Villette), Chexbres, Puidoux, Rivaz, Saint-Saphorin, Chardonne, Corseaux, Corsier-sur-Vevey and Jongny.
The limits of the central zone are naturally drawn by Lake Geneva to the South, the forests and break in the slope to the North, hilly Lutry to the West and Vevey to the East. The area comprises of vines, winegrowing villages and a few forest-covered areas in the southern part. The “buffer zone” then surrounds and completes the central zone. This area boasts vines, woods and pastures which reiterate that winegrowers were also previously farmers.
Four or five time each Century, Vevey welcomes the Festival of winegrowers. The entire population joins together in song, dance to celebrate their love for life, their homeland, their roots and their hope of a better future. It is divided into four seasons symbolised by mythological divinities (Bacchus, god of vineyards and wine, Ceres, goddess of agriculture and Summer, Pales, goddess of pastures, shepherds and Spring). The instalments would become increasingly innovative, important and attended. The latest Festival attracted around 16,000 people at every one of the 15 shows. The festival is a not-to-be-missed event on the calendars of the wine industry’s stakeholders, the local community and international visitors alike. Nowadays thousands of volunteers, organisers and choirs take part in the celebrations.
Lavaux forms a landscape where nature and human beings are in perfect symbiosis. Mankind lives harmoniously within the given environment, relying primarily on the rocky banks then building stonewalls elsewhere.
Temperatures are influenced by the lake (which engenders relatively mild Winters and nights). Thanks to its gradient and south-west orientation, Lavaux is partly protected from the northern winds and benefits from a lot of sunlight. The area benefits from the “triple sun” effect: the rays from the sky, the rays reflected from the lake and, lastly, the nightly release of heat captured in the vineyard walls during the day.
The Unesco World Heritage vineyards of Lavaux spread across 702 hectares separated into seven areas of production. Beauty of Lavaux is entirely bound to the existence of the vineyards.
« Take me to the vineyards of Lavaux
Wanna see the mountains where the waters flow »
Prince, in his song « Lavaux »