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

Sauvignon blanc

One of the classic grapes of France, Sauvignon blanc is planted in most wine regions of the world. It produces a wide range of wine styles.

Johannisberg

Second in white wines of Valais (after Fendant). The name Johannisberg is only used in Valais; the rest of French-speaking Switzerland call it Gros Rhin. The grape used to make Johannisberg is the Grüner Sylvaner. The origin of the grape is not clear. On the one hand it strongly resembles the Roman Apianisien (loved by bees) grape, as described by Pliny the Elder in his “Historia naturalis”, on the other hand, its more likely birthplace is in Romanian Transylvania.

Gouais Blanc

A promiscuous grape. Not good for much, but with a long, long line of descendents, including the noble Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Possibly from Croatia, it’s called Heunisch Weiss in Central Europe.

The name Gouais is comes from ‘gou’, which is a scornful word from old French referring to its standing as the grape of the peasants. Very prevalent in the Ile-de-France and in the Champagne during the Middle Ages and perhaps brought into Valais by the descendants of the Ligurians.

Acidic and with little residual sugar, it’s primarily used to blend with low acidic wine to give it a bit of liveliness. Ampelographic studies in the old vineyards of Oberwallis have found a red Gwäss with the same characteristics as the white Gwäss. Almost abandoned, it survives in Haut-Valais hiding under the alias of Gwäss, thanks to Mr. Josef-Marie Chanton, http://www.chanton.ch/home.html

Drink wine, and you will sleep well. Sleep well and you will not sin. Avoid sin, and you will be saved. Ergo, drink wine and be saved.

Medieval German Saying

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

Fine Swiss Wine

Discover Switzerland’s odd grapes, small producers, and eclectic tastes