Growth in the depths of winter!

Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, 2011


Tinguely Fountain, Paris, France

Tinguely Fountain, Basel, Switzerland

The Paris creation, located just outside the Pompidou (the French modern art museum) fits perfectly; it was a bit more of a contrast against the gorgeous, Gothic background of a cathedral in Basel.

Although every winetasting experience is different, you know what to expect when you enter a tasting room; you’ll get glasses, and the person behind the counter will pour you 1-2 ounces of their flight of wines, which is generally between 4 and 10 different wines, and give you a brief description of each one, sometimes the history behind the vineyard or winemaker. Last summer, however, some friends and I discovered that this formula does not apply overseas. We had an experience winetasting in Switzerland that will rival any and all for years to come.

There are few days off when you work at the Caux Summer Conferences, so two of my friends and I planned meticulously for weeks so that we could coordinate this voyage. We took the train from our mountain village over to Vevey, a lakeside town several miles away, where we picked up the funicular, a train that moves vertically up the mountain. (As opposed to the zig-zag that one takes to Caux.) Funiculars are computer operated, and we hadn’t realized that you push the button for your stop, so we actually missed our destination, Chardonne, the first time around. We eventually got there, however, and found ourselves in a tiny, rustic town, which conjured images of Hansel and Gretel, or maybe medieval knights and princesses.

Despite it’s size, Chardonne is home to some 15 or so wineries, and plays host to the family-owned bakeries and dairies that one expects in Switzerland.

Unsure how to proceed, we wandered cautiously at first, before working up the courage to knock on a door. Finally, a local woman took pity on us and dropped us off at a winery. The winemaker himself answered, but was busy, so let his 17-year old daughter take us through the tasting.  I’m not sure how many bottles she opened, but between our broken French and her rough English, we managed to work our way through quite a few, learning a bit about the history of the village and the deep ancestry that unites most of the winemaking families. She sent us off with a bottle of wine, though didn’t let us pay for the tastings, and we found our way to a second winery, La Bacchanale. 

There wasn’t a clear front door at La Bacchanale, but we could hear voices from the garage, so we knocked there. The two men, the winemaker and his friend, were not as enthusiastic to share with us at first, but quickly engaged when we expressed interest in their wine. They spoke even less English, but somehow we all managed to communicate. More of their friends joined, someone’s wife and toddler, and quickly our brief tasting turned into a party. Out of nowhere, the clouds opened up and one of those intense summer lightning storms began; we were stuck, and there was nothing to be done but open more wine. Before we knew it, we found that we had been there for hours. As quickly as the storm began, it ended, and we decided it was time for dinner. Our hosts promised to take us to dinner and the Montreux Jazz Festival if we would buy them beer once there, a deal we couldn’t turn down.

Dinner was at one of those local restaurants where they pour wine before water, and the host and waitstaff know everyone in town. The American, Canadian and Lebanese girls stuck out like sore thumbs.

After a bizarre yet delicious meal (smoked salmon with potatoes and onions), we made our way back to Montreux, where our hosts would not let us leave without several bottles of their wine, and indeed seemed insulted when we attempted to pay them.

All in all, this experience was the highlight of the trip. You would be unable to replicate this experience anywhere due to sheer luck and randomness, the combination of bizarre weather and incredible hospitality. More than anything, the kindness and generosity of the winemakers was overwhelming. The wines themselves were spectacular, but the experience was made by their eagerness to share their craft and passion.