In many cultures, good wine is an essential component of good hospitality.
As future hospitality managers and entrepreneurs, Les Roches students are taught oenology within their regular curriculum. But it’s among the extracurricular activities where the subject really comes alive.
The highlight of these is WOW (World of Wines) Expo, a public exposition dedicated to one of the industry’s best-kept secrets: Swiss wines. Now in its fourth year, WOW Expo will be held at the Bluche campus on Saturday 13th April 2019.
“Winemakers from across the country bring their produce with them, so visitors get a fantastic opportunity to see and taste great wine, while also having the chance to attend workshops on areas such as food pairing and the latest trends in oenology,” says Les Roches’ Service Instructor Vincenzo Aiosi, who gives vital support and insight to the student organizing team for WOW Expo.
[quote]Many producers also bring along wines to sell; so if anyone likes a particular variety, they should be able to take some home with them.[/quote]
Last year’s WOW Expo (read about it here) featured five of Switzerland’s six wine producing regions. This year the expectation is of a full house, with much of the ground work laid by alumnus (and now Les Roches employee) Miladin Kalajdzic. It’s Miladin who keeps the pot boiling in the gaps between semesters, when no students are around to undertake WOW Expo preparations.
What makes Swiss wines so special?
“We know Switzerland for watches, cheese and chocolate, but not so many people are aware that the country also produces world class wines,” says Vincenzo.
“The main reason for this is that only around two per cent of the production is exported, the rest of Swiss wine is consumed domestically – it’s so good we keep it all for ourselves!”
With limited grape growing space – close to 15,000 hectares compared with almost a million in Spain, by comparison – Swiss producers have, over the past 20 years, consistently opted for quality over quantity. Total production across the six key winemaking regions is around a million hectoliters. In France and Italy that figure is between 45 and 50 million hectolitres.
But what wine it is! Given its quality and under-the-radar status, Swiss wine can stake a claim to be the best you’ve never heard of.
In Les Roches’ home region of Valais, there’s excellent white wine produced from the indigenous grapes Petite Arvine, Amigne and Humagne, alongside the red Cornalin. In the neighboring canton of Vaud can be found UNESCO World Heritage terraced vineyards, where the traditional grape Chasselas is grown.
The country also produces great wine from the Merlot grape, notably in the canton of Ticino, where it is known as ‘the king in Ticino’ and is unusually vinified in a white wine style. Meanwhile, Pinot Noir grape varieties provide an excellent foundation to winemakers in Switzerland’s German-speaking region.
Keeping WOW Expo’s finger on the pulse
While the full WOW 2019 program is still being finalized, Vincenzo hopes it might explore one of the major trends in the industry: the movement towards ‘natural’ wine.
“Natural winemaking rejects the use of sulfur dioxide (used traditionally as a preservative) and selected yeast, explains Vincenzo. “However, unlike the organic or biodynamic wines, natural wine has no set definition in legislation yet, so at present it means different things to different people. We are hoping to set up an expert discussion that will shed more light on the topic – because the future is going towards bio production.”
Developing tomorrow’s sommeliers
As a senior figure within the Swiss Professional Sommelier Association, Vincenzo is also passing on his expertise to future generations through an intensive extracurricular sommelier course, which he teaches on selected weekends. “This earns the students a certification from the Association, which is a useful first step for anyone looking to make a career in this area of the hospitality industry,” he says.
On a more regular basis, the Les Roches Wine Club plays host to leading European producers, who bring their wines to special tasting events held on campus. “The Wine Club has been going for six or seven years and it’s now an established part of campus life,” says Vincenzo. “As the Club’s mentor it delights me that we have such enthusiasm for wine in Les Roches. There’s so much to learn and appreciate within the world of wine.”
Discover last year’s event.