José Vouillamoz may be one of the few people in the world to have drunk over 600 different wine grape varieties. His scope as an ampelographer is truly global, however, his native Swiss heart is still in the wine regions where he grew up. Cépages Suisses is his literary contribution to the viticultural heritage of Switzerland and the great variety of its native varieties.
Originally published in French, this book offers an in-depth insight into the deep-rooted history of Swiss wine – starting from the Roman period right up until today. Before launching into the grape variety descriptions, Vouillamoz also explains a bit of the magic behind the scenes, detailing how you perform a DNA test on a vine and why it is important, or what it is indicative of.
The different grape varieties are tracked through the major history periods of Swiss wine and analysed in their current form – simultaneously as vines, grapes and the resulting wine in the glass. It is in the wine descriptions for each grape variety that you notice Vouillamoz is not just a knowledgeable and precise botanist, but a fully-fledged wine geek. His passion comes through in each detailed description, in an appealingly bookish way.
For those who aren’t au fait with ampelography, there is a handy family tree for each grape variety and an ever-present map of Switzerland to help the reader locate the regional strongholds. Photos and illustrations of grape bunches make this feel like a true family album of Swiss wine, which includes native varieties (or ‘patrimonial’, as Vouillamoz refers to them) through to crosses and hybrids.
If you are into Swiss wine – or hoping to get into it – this is a quintessential guide to the many diverse grape varieties that Switzerland can lay claim to. And there is no better expert on grapes than Vouillamoz.
Reviewed by Amanda Barnes
José Vouillamoz’s book, Cépages Suisses, is available from Favre.
Find out more about José Vouillamoz’s publications on his website.