Swiss Wine Regions

Oepfelchammer in Zürich

Oepfelchammer ZurichA hangout for artists and intelligentsia; wine, wisdom, and song has flowed in the ancient oak-paneled Oepfelchammer on the Rindermarkt in Zürich for two hundred years. Nicknamed the “Oeli”, it’s the oldest unchanged wine tavern (Weinstube) in Zürich.

First built in 1357 as a patrician house, the building didn’t see commercial activity until the 17th century, when a bakery was built. Various families operated bakeries there until 1801, when baker Hans Kaspar Denzl got a pub-license and added a wine tavern.

Things first started happening in 1859, when Johann Kaspar Körner took over. A clergyman’s son, Körner was both educated and smart. He brought with him a "Marktgräfler" (still searching for a proper definition), and from then on the name Oepfelchammer spread outside the Zürich city borders.

A certain spirit inhabited the house. Zürich was deeply involved with the Reformation of the Church going on in Europe, and Körner loved debating it’s various themes. The discussions attracted students from the universities of Zürich, and in these young intellectuals Körner had a loyal circle of listeners.

The tavern buzzed with a mix of young and old. Craftsmen, city officials, and artists mingled with the students, including the poet and writer, Gottfried Keller. Throw topics such as religion and politics into the mix, add wine, and the discussions became animated. These were the days before “Polizeistunde” (closing time), and wine-fueled debates went on all night.

After Körner’s death in 1892, the tradition of debate and discourse in the Oepfelchammer was cultivated by professors Stiefel and Ulrich. Young professor Stiefel in particular, lectured not only on German literature, but on wine; having detailed knowledge about the Zürich wine-growing region and its vintages.

In its heyday, between 1894 and 1900, the Oepfelchammer was in the capable hands of Frau Oehninger, the “Studenten-Mutter” (Students’ Mother) as she was kindly dubbed. No matter how boisterous her “brood”, she had a knack for calming the situation.

After the Studenten-Mutter, the Oepfelchammer saw a series of “Tanten” (Aunts). It was Tante Trudy (Gertrud Bütler), who ran the Oepfelchammer from 1906 through 1927, that gave it its old German look, and ushered in “Sängerkrieg” (songster wars). Wine-stoked songs reverberated through oak beams.

The last major shift came in 1933 when a felicitous chef moved in and took up management. Along with his culinary know-how, Franz Wullimann knew his way around a wine cellar, so henceforth the Oepfelchammer could meet the requirements of its more demanding guests.

The Oepfelchammer is crammed with history, and where there’s history; there’s tradition. The wine tavern dates back to the Middle Ages, and in those days walls were thick and rooms small. Today tables and chairs fill all available space, so if you happen to find yourself on an inside seat when you get a WC call, the simplest route to relief is walking over the tables. This is encouraged.

Singing is also encouraged, however, clapping is forbidden. In the Oepfelchammer one shows appreciation by knocking on the table. Just watch that no one steps on your hand.

The ceiling of the Oepfelchammer has several massive oak beams. If you can manage to climb up, shimmy across two beams, and hang upside down while drinking a glass of wine without spilling it, you get to carve your name in the antique oak-paneled walls.

Today the Oepfelchammer is a family business and still offers predominantly fine Swiss cuisine and first-class wines from the Zürich wine region. You can test your fitness (or inebriation) by climbing through the rafters in the wine tavern upstairs, or have a more refined, less vigorous, dining experience in the “Züri-Stüblis” downstairs.

The Wine Grapes of Switzerland

Regent

Regent is a very practical red grape. It matures early, is resistant to disease, needs little protection, and makes a decent wine. Cool.

Garanoir

A new variety (Gamay x Reichensteiner), developed in 1970 at Pully (Vaud), Garanoir ripens early. Can give interesting blends with Gamay, Gamaret or sometimes Pinot Noir.

Pinot blanc

Pinot blanc is a mutation of Pinot Gris. It may have found its way up the Rhône to Valais with any number of mercenaries returning to Switzerland, and today small quantities are cultivated in many Swiss wine regions. When grown in favorable conditions it produces a fruity wine with good acidity.

In vino veritas.

Pliny the Elder

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