Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces
A witness to ancient history
Vines have been planted here as early as the 11th century on narrow terraces supported by stonewalls. Since then, generations of winegrowers have cultivated this exceptional mosaic with great care. The cultural landscape consisting of fourteen villages is a remarkable reflection of how the area was able to thrive thanks to a well-balanced interaction between the local people 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.
• There are said to be three suns at Lavaux: the sun in the sky, another reflected in the lake, and a third which heats the stone walls during the day, which then emanate the warmth at night.