Where the “Prince of Valais” reigns

The valley is sun-drenched and flooded with light. All along the Rhône from Sierre to Martigny, one fruit reigns supreme amongst the apples and pears – the apricot, the prince of the Valais orchards. Aline Défayes is devoted to its service.

Long brown hair falls over her shoulders, her eyelashes are lined with mascara, her slender hands are well-manicured. This young lady could pass for a hotel receptionist. But Aline Défayes has chosen a different career. To the pride of her father and bewilderment of her mother, she has taken over the company business and now cultivates apricots, Williams pears, grapes and, above all, apples on 15 hectares of land in Saillon and Leytron.

Wide variety of fruit and vegetables

Both dedicated and open-minded, Aline Défayes is constantly on the go. Between the fruit trees, running the office, being an active member of associations and teaching at the Cantonal Agricultural College in Châteauneuf, she has little free time. But it is all worthwhile. “The nicest and at the same time most frustrating aspect of being a fruit producer is watching how nature develops, and seeing the end result.” Despite its Mediterranean climate and 300 days of sunshine a year, the sensitive apricots in particular are at the mercy of the weather gods. “If there’s rain or hail shortly before harvest time, then the whole crop could be lost.” Apricots are grown on a total of some 670 hectares of land in Valais – that’s equivalent to the area of 940 football pitches. Diversification is the key to minimising risk. A great many varieties of fruit and vegetables thrive in the Valais soil, from asparagus to strawberries, leaving barely any gaps in the harvest calendar. Apricots are followed by pears, apples and grapes in autumn.

Valais apricots = innovation

The cultivation of new varieties of apricot has been encouraged since the 1990s. Widening the diversity, from early to late-ripening apricots, was intended to boost production. At present, the canton’s apricot producers grow around 70 different varieties in addition to the traditional Luizet. And the harvest period now lasts almost three months – from June until the end of August. Valais now produces almost half of all apricots consumed in Switzerland and promotes regional consumption. As a symbol of how innovative Valais can be, the apricot was crowned the “prince” of the local orchards. Early July is when the Valais apricot season is officially launched in seven towns and cities in the French and German-speaking parts of the country. Because 96% of Swiss apricots come from Valais.

Abricotine AOP, the Valais apricot brandy, is made of 90% of Luizet apricots.
Abricotine AOP, the Valais apricot brandy, is made of 90% of Luizet apricots.

The Valais brand stands for quality

Freshly picked, well-formed, vibrant in colour, sweet and juicy is how we like them. To ensure the apricots meet the high quality standards expected by consumers, the small fruits are thinned out in spring and care is taken to find the perfect time for harvesting. “Our apricots can be bought from Swiss retailers within one to two days, fresh from the tree,” Aline Défayes explains. The origin, freshness and quality of the fruit delivers the “stamp of trust” enjoyed by the Valais brand. Its standards are well regulated and compliance with them is regularly verified.

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