Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces
A winegrowing culture that goes back generations
Vineyard terraces were created on the steep slopes of Lake Geneva under the direction of the monks as early as the 11th century. Since then, generations of winegrowers have cherished and taken care of this unique landscape. They benefit from the abundance of the “three suns” here: the sun itself, its rays reflected by the lake, and the warmth stored in the walls of the vineyards. The wine estate extends across 40 kilometres and is one of the largest winegrowing areas in Switzerland. With its 14 villages, it reflects the cultural landscape in an impressive way, and this has developed thanks to the balanced interplay between the residents and the environment. Cultural Heritage since 2007.
The Lavaux slope was carved-out by the Rhone glacier, which at its peak some 25,000 years ago, stretched as far as Lyons. As it retreated, it left behind not only one of the biggest lakes in Europe but also moraines which produced the fertile soil of the hilly contours of Lake Geneva. The terrain left by a retreating glacier is usually colonized gradually by plant life. About 2,000 years ago the Lavaux landscape consisted of shrubs and forests through which passed streams feeding into the lake. The remaining outcrops of forest at the top of the hill, which hide the watershed between the North Sea and the Mediterranean, are a reminder of this earlier landscape. At the beginning of the expansion of the Roman Empire, the area not only served as a direct link between Italy, Gaul and Western Germany but, thanks to its mild climate, as an ideal place to cultivate the vine. The first vineyard terraces – today they number more than 10,000 – were created much later, in the 12th century, by Benedictine and Cistercian monks, whose legendary perseverance was probably decisive for this complex and painstaking job. The delicious fruit of their labour was not reserved only for the serving of mass: so prized was the wine of Lavaux that it contributed greatly to the coffers of the Lord Bishop of Lausanne. In the year 1397 a full quarter of the Bishop’s revenues derived from Lavaux.
The conquest of Vaud by the Bernese in 1536 and the introduction of the Protestant Reformation brought new owners, but the vineyards prospered even more and continued to do so after the rout of the Bernese and the creation of the canton of Vaud in 1803.
Did you know?
• If lined up all together, the wine terraces in Lavaux would stretch from Bern to Frankfurt, a distance of 400 km.
• The chief grape variety in the region is the Chasselas, creating a wine that is suffused with dry and fruity aromas.
• Some winegrowing families have been cultivating their estates for more than 20 generations.