Bündner Röteli: a full-bodied juice
No need to be ashamed if you’ve not (yet) heard of Bündner Röteli! But we can promise you that once you have tasted this spicy, dark red traditional drink, you will love it. It may put you in holiday mood - or make you feel homesick. People who are on their way to the Landwasser Valley and Davos often stop off in Schiers for a glass of Röteli produced by Kindschi Söhne AG.
"My grandfather was a charmer. He went from one farm to the next, wooing all the farm girls. Surreptitiously, he managed to elicit each girl’s secret recipe. And that’s how we created our own secret recipe for Bündner Röteli", says Rico Kindschi with a straight face that reveals the dry humour typical of mountain people. This wine merchant and producer of schnapps, who lives in Davos, is something of a sly old dog when it comes to the ingredients of this fine product, which has recently also found its way into the supermarkets. For centuries, people from Graubünden have enthused about this cherry liqueur, which is actually made from dried cherries.
Who invented it? The Walser folk
Rötelis used to be two a penny. Or, in the words of Rico Kindschi, "They say there are as many Röteli recipes as there are mothers-in-law." Every farmer’s wife in and around Davos, in Prättigau, Domleschg and even the cantonal capital of Chur would prepare her own Röteli. Wherever people drank Röteli, there would be a Walser settlement nearby. This tribe of mountain dwellers, who migrated long ago from the Valais over the passes into Graubünden, invented this amazing drink which later became widespread. Recipes were handed down from family to family and from generation to generation. Basically, Röteli is no more than water, schnapps, dried cherries and seasoning. This fine macerate used to be drunk on New Year’s Eve. "In the old days, the married men would see the old year out. And the bachelors would see the new year in. They would go from one farmhouse to another to wish the occupants good luck and prosperity in the new year, particularly in their stables. Or, more precisely, it gave them a chance to woo the farmers’ daughters. As a reward, they received a sip of Röteli. One sip followed another – as did the (more or less virtuous) wishes they expressed", says Kindschi with a grin. He grew up in Davos Dorf, where Kindschi Söhne AG operated their distillery until 2012. He too used to visit the farmhouses in this manner. He says it was a novel way of dating, long before Internet and Facebook. Thanks to this magic potion, many a friendship or life-partnership was formed.
«The name comes from 'rote Kirschen', which means red cherries.»Rico Kindschi
The best Röteli is well-balanced
"Good Röteli should release a variety of flavour notes onto the palate. No individual spice should predominate. Balance is the name of the game." It is not without a touch of pride that he mentions the 100,000 litres that he produces every year. And his production is on the increase. Davos is clearly the leading centre of production of this liqueur. So, how do you make good Röteli? First, he needs good-quality dried cherries. I beg your pardon? Cherries in Davos, 1,500 metres above sea level, far above the level for fruit-growing? A long time ago, dried cherries (which could be kept a long time) would be transported here on pack animals from Italy and the Orient. Later on, the cherries came from Switzerland. Nowadays, however, he has to order 3-4 tons of cherries from Turkey, because Swiss producers can no longer guarantee that they can deliver sufficient quantities. Each steel tank contains 240 kilograms of cherries and 16 kilograms of spices including cinnamon, vanilla, cloves and cardamom - the other ingredients remain a secret. Then he adds 2,000 litres of fruit schnapps (mostly from apples or pears) with an alcohol content of 40 per cent. The cherries are left to ferment for five months. From time to time, they will be stirred. "The main thing is that the schnapps should release as many flavouring substances as possible, including aromas from the cherry stones, which lend the Röteli its bitter almond flavour." Then the macerated cherries and spices are distilled again. This refined cherry nectar is then diluted with water, brought to the desired 22 per cent volume, filtered, filled and labelled. The Bündner Röteli, with its well-known label on the packaging, is then sent out into the big wide world, for example to Bangkok, where a customer sells typical Swiss specialities, or to the World Economic Forum, where the Röteli is served to participants in glass 'Alp horns'.
People know and love it
"You cannot imagine the emotions that our Röteli arouses. For example, there is the ibex on the new label", says Kindschi. When he and his advertising agent decided to change the picture on the label, some customers were over the moon because now they felt closer to the mountains of Graubünden, while others supposedly detected a change in taste, which was definitely not the case because the recipe has remained unchanged - for generations. Rico Kindschi has worked in the distillery since he was a child. He learned the art of distilling schnapps at the Institute for Fermentation and Biotechnology in Berlin. After that, he worked as a distiller at Volg before he and his brother took over the family business. "We don’t yet know whether a sixth generation will be able to carry on the family business. Although we hope so. This is why we continue to invest in the business", says Kindschi. Like their ancestors with their pack animals, the Kindschis moved down towards the valley in 2012. They relocated to Schiers (also a former Walser settlement). There, you will find his state-of- the-art distillery and sales centre, right opposite the station. And Rico Kindschi commutes to his new workplace on the RhB.