Chasselas Class in the Lavaux Vineyards

Chasselas - Vigneron Puidoux - Monsier MonnierOn a bright morning high on a hill above Lake Léman, winemaker Bernard Monnier has one eye on the sky and another on the glass in his hand.

It had rained hard the night before here in Puidoux, within Canton Vaud's famous Lavaux vineyards. But the early morning clouds have given way to blue sky coloring the lake and steep hillside of leafy vines almost ready for harvest.

In front of a tiny shed shaded by a bower of vines, Monsieur Monnier from is sharing one of his finest wines, Dézaley-Marsens De La Tour Grand Cru, (CHF 24) with our small group of travel writers.

Chasselas - Vigneron Puidoux - Monsier MonnierAs we sip, M. Monnier points out bruised leaves and some shriveled grapes, evidence of an insect infestation from this season. But today, surrounded by the vineyards his family has cultivated for three generations, and holding up a glass of his delicious Chasselas, he is optimistic.

These steep hillsides on the north side of Lake Léman are famous for their wines made primarily from Chasselas grapes. That is partly because this terroir (a wine-making term that includes the soil, topography and local weather) is ideally situated to get lots of sun.

Monsieur Monnier uses the monorail to take a couple cases of wine to our tasting. During the harvest, the machine carries grapes up to the road:

Chasselas - Vigneron Puidoux - Monsier MonnierIn fact, says Monsieur Monnier, they have "three suns" in Lavaux: First, the sun itself. Second, the light and warmth reflected off the lake and third, the warmth gathered then released by the stone walls separating the terraces.

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M. Monnier tries to be retired, but finds it hard to stay away from the vineyards. "As a boy, I hated to prune," he says (in French). "Now, it is my favorite thing to do." He says he takes joy in cutting a leaf here and there to expose a bunch of grapes to the sun.

Sometimes, he still comes to this little shed just to contemplate the past and the future while sipping a glass of his wine. But it is not unusual for his old friends to spot his car here and appear for a spontaneous "tasting." He is happy to see them and share the fruits of his labors.

Merci beaucoup to the kind Montreux Riviera Tourism team for arranging and hosting our trip!

Bill Harby and Marie-France Robert

Bill Harby is an award-winning magazine and online writer, editor, photographer and editorial consultant. His wife and reporting/translating partner Marie-France Robert and he have homes in Neuchâtel and Geneva, and in Volcano village on Hawai‘i island.
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