Vineyards in the Sky
Domaine de Beudon, Valais, Switzerland
Imagine a slice of paradise 700 meters high in the Swiss Alps...
The arrival of the latest release from Domaine de Beudon couldn’t have come sooner. But first, you must know the story behind these incredible wines and what it is that makes them stand out for their quality and personality. Produced in tiny quantities these wines very rarely make it out of Switzerland...
Spanning across a 6-hectare estate floating high in the sky, watching over the Swiss Town of Fully - like a full, contented potbelly. At 700-meters-high, Domaine de Beudon is only reachable by cable car. Home to the greatest diversity of butterflies in Switzerland, this magical place benefits from a Mediterranean microclimate and is drenched in sunlight, thanks to its south-facing aspect. Pomegranate, almond, apple, pear and olive trees grow alongside the vines. The biodiversity here is teaming with life.
“From up here, the view of the mountains is magnificent - but what really hits you as you walk through the vines is a unique smell of aromatics made up of oregano and thyme that fill the air. There’s always something incredible to see, and if we listen, it’s the sound of the birds."
The vines have to fight to live because they grow on a huge rock, with a bit of soil, in very challenging climatic conditions - hot, dry, frost - the vine has to fight to survive and from this comes grapes that have outstanding quality. It’s the opposite of industrial agriculture. Biodynamic viticulture, low-quantity harvests, indigenous yeasts and non-filtration guarantee us the intrinsic quality of these wines.New Arrivals
Jacques & Marion
Son of a winemaker, Jacques Granges spent his childhood dreaming of a life on the limestone outcrop looking up from the valley floor of Fully - his hometown. 2021 marks 50 years since the then 25-year-old quit his PhD in agronomy at the prestigious Zurich polytechnic soon after realising that the chemicals that were condoned in modern agriculture were toxic and damaging to the microorganisms in the soil.
While Marion spent her childhood growing up with regular visits to her home from Rudolf Steiner - the Austrian philosopher and founder of biodynamic agriculture - a friend of Marion’s father, his influence led Marion to study biodynamic agriculture and later to her influential position at the botanical gardens of Geneva. It was on this very bus journey to Geneva that she met Jacques, and together they plotted their plans to become Switzerland’s first biodynamic winemakers.
Sadly, after over 40 years of working alongside one another gently cultivating and nurturing the lands of Beudon, Jacques passed away in 2016 from a fatal fall in the vineyard. But today his wife and lifelong collaborator Marion continues to fly the flag out in the vineyards every day alongside her daughter Severine. At 73-years-old, Marion tells us that she will not die before the whole of the Valais appellation has been converted to biodynamics or at least to organic farming.
“When I came to Beudon, I saw that using synthetic fertilizers in an extremely unique and sensitive environment was like bringing an elephant into a china shop.” said Jacques.
Working with Nature
Domaine de Beudon has been certified as biodynamic since 1992. Marion and Jacques have dedicated their lives to testing new ways of vinifying grapes and working in harmony with nature. As is seen with the release of the cuvée L'Orage made only in 2019 and 2015.
'L'Orage' translates to 'storm' aptly named after the terrible hailstorm of the summer of 2015 and 2019. "Destruction awaited us, but the grapes spared were harvested for this special cuvée which will inevitably remain unique. A blend of Pinot, Gamay, Diolinoir and Gamaret, survivors of L'orage is a unique and very successful blend that we highly recommend. Although we're hoping it doesn't happen too often!"
Severine explains the concept of an agricultural domain as a living organism in nature. "Each place is unique by its soil, its microclimate, and its natural environment. This forms an organic whole. Biodynamic practices aim to strengthen the unity of this organism. Therefore, it is impossible to apply simple agronomic recipes that are valid at all times and in all places. We adapt to the conditions of the place while paying attention to cosmic influences. We need to broaden our horizons and study everything as a whole. It's about observing the vines and looking at what she needs while consulting the biodynamic calendar - not just the lunar calendar. The work that we do on the fruit, the vine training, and in the cellar, we do on fruit or flower days. It's like when we make bread; we do this on fruit and flower days - if we try to make the starter on leaf day, the bread will stay flat and won't rise and will be less digestible."
"The vines are extremely receptive to all cosmic rhythms – solar, day, night, year, lunar, planetary, etc. Unlike animals and humans, with whom these rhythms are more internalised in physiological functions."
Severine explains how the use of Valerian 507 - a biodynamic preparation - which is used as an infusion of Valeriana Officinalis - a perennial flower that is made up as a herbal tea and sprayed on the vines to help mitigate the late spring frost in May when daytime temperatures reach 16-19 degrees and the night time temperatures drop dramatically.
"In conventional winemaking, there's nothing that can be done to protect grapes against frost. With biodynamics, we can help the vine become more resistant to the cold by spraying the vines with Valerian 507 before and after the frost, and we have had excellent results. In some cases, when the temperature has dropped below -5 degrees, we still spray with Valerian and have found that the plant reproduced new shoots next to the dead ones. We then harvest these grapes two weeks later. This tends to increase the yield the following year and helps the plant pull itself out of shock. The conservation of these extraordinary natural resources in this privileged corner of the world requires very gentle agriculture in harmony with nature: this is why we have chosen biodynamics which we practice with enthusiasm."
"We don't need to buy products; nature makes everything available to us.
But pharmaceuticals cannot make money this way so they criticise biodynamics."
Pied de Cuve & Ageing
Severine explains the importance of using indigenous yeast. This process is known as 'Pied de Cuve' and the purpose is to cultivate wild yeast from the grape skins and the vineyard so that these naturally occurring yeasts can be used in fermentation.
"I always like to make the comparison with bread and wine - bread can be made with commercial yeast that we buy from a shop - like a standard baguette, and it will rise. With Commercial yeast in winemaking, you can choose different yeasts that enhance flavours such as raspberry and vanilla. We prefer to take a small number of grapes, that we press with our feet one week before the harvest. This is the winemaking equivalent of a sourdough starter."
In the cellar, there is a long process of evolution in stainless steel tanks, never any oak. The process is monitored very closely, taking an ‘intervene as little as possible, as much as necessary’ approach to give the wine time to nourish itself. "We often see changes around March time, with a slow fermentation on the lees, which continues in bottle. This allows for an evolution towards a beautiful and harmonious complexity and wines that age for much longer," explains Severine.
"Pied de Cuve is the winemaking equivalent of a sourdough starter."
As the women in the Granges-Faiss family continue Jacques' legacy, they tell me that their mission is to "meet the most demanding of consumers health and well-being requirements. We will continue to put all our energy into cultivating the land in the healthiest way possible."
The latest release is the 2019 vintage - the wines are always released with age, and with time the wines develop in complexity. Sadly, hailstorms in August destroyed a big proportion of the crop, so clay treatments were carried out to dry out the damaged grapes.
"We checked each bunch by hand and removed the damaged grapes, one by one. It took us one hour to do one box of grapes. But as it is a very special plot where we make very rare wines, we wouldn't let them go to waste. Of course, it wasn't financially viable. Obviously, this really isn't advantageous, and we haven't passed on this cost to the customer; otherwise, it would become too expensive!"
Vinification for white wines starts on the mountain slopes, the grapes are pressed and the juice pours down a funnel to the cellar for fermentation. The reds go directly in tanks, and the entire tanks are brought down on cable cars for fermentation. No wood is used on any of the wines.
To find out more about this fascinating and wondrous place, watch this beautiful short film narrated by Jaques Granges. Beudon - La Terre, L'homme et la Vigne.
For a more detailed version of the story, we recommend the subtitled Swiss TV program that follows the Granges-Faiss family's life for one year, up high in Domaine de Beudon.
Swiss Wine & Cheese
Severine recommends a platter of Swiss Alpine cheese - known as fromage d'alpage Suisse, made from the milk cows and sheep that spend the summer on the mountain pastures with an old Riesling X Sylvaner or the Fendant.
"It's just the most delicious combination - ever so simple and so delicious!"
Words by Sarah Jones