Swiss Wine Regions

The Föhn

Schiltorn, SwitzerlandA Föhn is a weather phenomenon that influences the climate throughout Europe and in Switzerland makes it possible to grow grape varieties in regions that would otherwise be inhospitable.

The Föhn is a dry wind that blows down the leeward slopes of mountains. The word Föhn is a generic German term originally just applied to winds in the European Alps, but Föhn is now used for all similar winds such as the Chinook in the U.S. Rockies.

A Föhn can last less than an hour or for several days, and is reputed to cause headaches and make people act odder that usual. This is called "Föhnkrankheit" (Föhn-sickness). Causation is as yet unconfirmed. However, a study at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München has found suicide and accident rates increased by 10 percent during Föhn periods in Central Europe.

The Föhn is caused when moist air flows up the windward side of a mountain. As it gains altitude the air pressure decreases, the temperature lowers, clouds form, and finally it rains. It reaches its lowest temperature as it crests the peak.

On the leeward side of the mountain the now dry wind drops and warms as it compresses because of the increasing air pressure. The temperature can be significantly higher than at the same altitude on the other side of the mountain, and the change can be dramatic: the Föhn can raise temperatures by as much as 30C (54F) in just hours. Central Europe's climate is warmer, thanks to the effects of the Föhn.

The Wine Grapes of Switzerland

Completer

Completer is probably the same grape as Lafnetscha from Haut-Valais. It is a rare indigenous vine to the Gräubunden area. Used in the Valais and Grisons regions to make aromatic wine blends with some aging ability.

Freisamer

The Freisamer plays more of a role in Graubünden but has a small presence in a few other cantons. It’s a hybrid of Silvaner x Pinot gris, developed in Freiburg in the Breisgau region. A temperamental grape that puts great demands on the type of soil and location—do I hear you say “terroir”?—it’s been trying to make a name for itself since the sixties but hasn’t really taken off.

Chardonnay

A vigorous and adaptable vine from Burgundy, Chardonnay grows pretty much everywhere that wine is made. Although production is not so high in Switzerland, award-winning wines have come out of Geneva, Valais and Neuchâtel.

He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long.

Martin Luther

Swiss Alps, cows, wine bottle and large clock face in Bern, Switzerland

Fine Swiss Wine

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