September 27, 2010. A morning of exploration in the ville of Rolle. Blue skies. Wooly white clouds. Stupendous views of Lac Léman and the French Alps. The glimmering blue lake beckoned, and a leisurely 10-minute stroll from my brother’s apartment led me to the marina. Meandering down an inviting pedestrian pathway that stretched along the shores of the crystal-clear water, I walked past colorful flowers, park benches and the occasional native English speaker. In the near distance I spotted one of Rolle’s grand remnants of the past—the Château de Rolle. Built in the 13th century by one of the princes of Savoy, this quiet castle sits proudly on the edge of the lake. Now closed to the public, this irregular shaped château, made of local chalky rock, lies just off the main drag in “downtown” Rolle on the Grand Rue.
Shops and restaurants line this street and further exploration led me to much-needed food: Confiserie Chet Moret Pâtisserie. This all-in-one bakery and café is the popular hangout for the legendary avant-garde French filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard. I didn’t spot him, but took away a scrumptious pretzel shaped sandwich lightly stuffed with sliced ham, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and a citrus mayo dressing. One of the most affordable lunches in Switzerland, the sandwich didn’t cost more than the equivalent of $5 US dollars. I meandered back to the castle with my late morning meal and relaxed on a bench where I could watch the sailboats and swans grace the water. I felt a sense of contentment with my quiet yet spectacular surroundings and enjoyed the sun while it lasted.
But the weather is fickle in this part of the world. A bit later the skies turned a bit ominous and threatened rain. That didn’t stop me from taking my brother up on his offer to transport me along the 22-mile drive that stretches from Nyon to Lausanne—the Route du Vignoble—to marvel at the steep-sloping vineyards that swathe the hillsides in green. We drove most of this stunning route, stopping several times along the way to snap photos and revel in the striking views as we drove higher into the Jura Mountains. Quaint villages such as Luin and Mont-sur-Rolle (which also serve as wine appellations) dotted the hillsides amongst the vines; grapes grew wherever the eyes cold see. In fact, there were so many grapes, they were giving them away...almost for free.
Raisin en self-service. Who could resist stopping at a pick-your-own wine grape stand smack in the middle of the glorious La Côte wine-growing region of Switzerland? We couldn’t. We snatched a plastic bag and pair of scissors at the self-service kiosk and headed to the symmetrical green rows of lush, ripe vines. We determined the grapes to be of the Chasselas varietal (one of the most widely grown in the region), deep yellow in color and rose-tinged. We snipped until our bag was full, then set our juicy plump fruit on the kiosk’s scale. At 3 Swiss Francs per kilo, we made our calculation and deposited the appropriate coins in the caisse. Sweet find.
Although we spotted many winery signs along the drive, most were not open for tastings during the week (many tasting rooms open only for Friday and Saturday evenings), so we decided to head for a wine shop in downtown Rolle. We discovered La Côte des Vins, located at Grand Rue, 23, which is owned by a charming gentleman, Laurent Royer. He specializes in carrying wines from the French speaking regions of Switzerland, including the La Côte, Valais, and Lavaux regions. He opened a bottle of Chasselas, Raymond Monnard & Fils Réserve du Vieux Toit 2009, appellation Mont-sur-Rolle. Laurent referred to this popular varietal as—vin soif—wine you drink when you’re thirsty. This everyday drinking wine, meant to be consumed during the same year it’s produced (hence the screw top cap), is popular among the Swiss to serve as an aperitif when friends stop by. It pairs well with lighter cheeses such as Gruyère (think fondue) and washes down well with the regional “filette perche” (lake fish).
Laurent was a wealth of information for us (yes, he speaks English!) and when we tasted the Chasselas he confirmed that the slight effervescence on our tongues was indeed from the high acidity of these grapes. I noted a light golden hue with hints of orange on the nose and tasted soft hints of butter, orange, lemon—and a whisp of what can only be described as whiskey. This dry white left a slightly bitter citrus finish and the alcohol content came in at a whopping 11.8%. My brother and I enjoyed this everyday drinking wine very much and Laurent informed us that 2009 was a beautiful vintage in Switzerland because of the high number of sunny days.
I didn’t know how many truly sunny days lay ahead of me for the remainder of my trip—but regardless, I had one thing on my mind: More grapes. More wine. More adventure.
The honor system.