Genuine Valais grape varieties

Madeleine and Jean-Yves Mabillard-Fuchs at work in their cellar in Venthône

The Valais brand stands for quality, authenticity and sophistication. The Heida wine made by Madeleine and Jean-Yves Mabillard-Fuchs is one of several that have joined this prestigious label.

Already as a student, Madeleine Mabillard-Fuchs worked in the vineyards to earn pocket money. She has always wanted to be a winemaker: “It’s a state of mind, a way of being, and quite simply the best profession in the world,” she says. Together with her husband, Jean-Yves, Madeleine has been taking care of the wine estate that bears their name since 1993. Previously, she worked as an independent winemaker, having trained at the School of Viticulture and Enology in Changins.

The mash in the wooden vat, here from Syrah grapes. It consists of pulp, skins, grape seeds and juice, Valais, Switzerland.

Today, the couple cultivate 3.5 hectares of vineyards between Sierre and Venthône, following the principles of integrated production. They use only organic substances as fertiliser and allow grass to grow between the vines. They do not pull out the vegetation that grows naturally, but cut it when it reaches a certain height. “Valais enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine a year,” says Madeleine, “and rain is rare. So you have to make sure that the precious water is not used up too much by other plants to the detriment of the vines.”

Madeleine stirs in the mash. Then the grapes are pressed and the pomace, the residue, is separated from the grape must, Valais, Switzerland.

The two winemakers have decided to have one of their wines, their Heida, certified by the Valais brand. “We are starting off initially with one plot to gain experience,” Madeleine says. The rules laid down by the Valais brand are particularly strict. The label aims to promote organic and sustainable methods of winemaking: it forbids the use of all herbicides, for example, and includes measures to promote biodiversity. It also focuses primarily on traditional local grape varieties.

Most vineyards in Valais are located on slopes, and many are supported by dry-stone walls. Maintaining these ancient structures is a painstaking and onerous task; however, they make an important contribution to biodiversity, so every effort is made to conserve them. The work on the vines themselves is also much more laborious on steep slopes: another factor that must be taken into consideration.

Madeleine and Jean-Yves Mabillard-Fuchs at work in their cellar in Venthône

About 20 different winemakers with vineyards of all sizes have undertaken to meet the specifications laid down by the label and undergo regular checks. “Consumers place great importance on ethical, environmental and social standards,” say the people in charge of the Valais brand. “We have to show that in Switzerland’s leading winegrowing region, where about 50 different grape varieties flourish, these principles are taken seriously.” Madeleine and Jean-Yves Mabillard-Fuchs also produce various other wines rated highly by connoisseurs. For their entry into the world of the Valais brand, however, they opted for their Heida: available since May 2020.

The entire vineyard is managed according to the principles of integrated production, Valais, Switzerland.

Photographer: Sedrik Nemeth Published: April 2021

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