Geneva, Switzerland

Blame it on the rain

La philosophie du vigneron : l’homme par qui le terroir se fait vin.

Some days you don’t mind the rain.  In any ‘normal’ year it would have been the weekend of the famous Swiss ‘Caves Ouvertes’, when the vineyards open up their cellar doors and one can wander from cellar to cellar, amidst music, gastronomy and other festivities. Each Canton takes a weekend, and this one was programmed to be Geneva’s turn. But this is in times of COVID-19, so the event was cancelled, and the streets were empty. Perhaps just as well, the weather would literally have put a dampener on everything.

Refusing to be beaten, a local initiative was created whereby cellars were encouraged to open their doors every Saturday over a period of several weeks, to offer a sort of ‘caves-ouvertes’ Covid-style, without the crowds, without the fanfare, but with the same passion that so many winemakers have for their craft.

The streets may have been deserted but the caves weren’t, not at Le Domaine les Hutins at least, perched on the outskirts of town in the vineyard suburb of Dardagny. We even had to wait our turn outside, but we had the time. With 15 different grape varieties across red, white, rosé, sticky, bubbly and even an ‘eau de vie’, it pays to not be in too much of a hurry.

 This 20-hectare family-run winery has been in the same family for several generations and over the last few years making the transition to organic and biodynamic wines thanks to the drive of the current winemaker, Emilienne Hutin Zumbach. She has now enjoying experimenting with some ‘natural’ wines. I say ‘natural’ with inverted commas as there is currently no agreed legislation on what that really means, but here it means as little intervention as possible, and, importantly, no added sulfites.

And it really does change the game. To prove it, we tried their (really quite surprising) Savagnin Rose (another name for Gewürztraminer) across a series of styles – the original (organic), the ‘natural’, bottled last year, and the most recent ‘natural’ straight from the tank.

One grape, one method, three completely different wines. The original is all about lychees, they hit you in the mouth and then melt into other fruity and floral flavours for an interesting finish. The ‘naturals’, however, are nothing like it and not too similar to each other either. The lychees are far more subtle, and there’s a touch of something earthy about it. Different, but still really quite enjoyable.

Les Hutins has been in the same family for over 120 years now, and currently run by Émilienne and her son Guillaume.

The grape varieties are some of the old Swiss favourites: garanoir (a cross between gamay and pinot noir), gamaret (cabernet and gamay), chasselas (my favourite), plus some more international ones such as gamay, pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay, pinot blanc, viognier, pinot gris…

We tried too many to mention (or remember!), but most notably the Chardonnay Barrique (ooh so much oak!), the Merlot (very easy going), the Viognier, the Chasselas Bertholier (a classic Chasselas, light and fruity).

I admit we didn’t manage all 15 grape varieties, or all their styles of wine, but it just means a second visit is in order. Perhaps when the sun comes out and we can wander amongst the vines in the charming countryside bordering Geneva. One of the city’s best kept secrets.

Even on a rainy day it’s charming in Dardagny