A good drop – or two …
A feast for the eyes and the palate: a trip on the Glacier Express offers both. While the Albula Valley and the Rhine Gorge whiz past the panoramic windows, all sorts of delicacies are being served up inside. Including a glass of good red wine or a bubbly sparkling wine – from the region of course.
Just before you get to Fläsch, the road turns off to the right and a building resembling a stately home appears, surrounded by vines: the wine-growing estate Davaz. This is where Andrea Davaz lives and works. The wine-grower and wine technologist is also President of von Salis AG, an association of wine growers and dealers. If you’ve ever been on the Glacier Express and treated yourself to a glass of wine, you probably enjoyed a classic beverage from Davaz or one of his comrades: the wine list in the famous observation-car train features three 'von Salis' and one 'Davaz' wine. Including the house red on the Glacier Express, the striking 'Glacier Express Pinot Noir' from von Salis.
«I’m very happy in the role of a wine-grower.»Andrea Davaz
Learning the hard way
The two brothers Andrea and Johannes inherited the Davaz estate in 1990 from their parents who had already realised that the future of their land was in wine and not in agriculture. Very interested in vines and wine, the two brothers trained not only as wine-growers and coopers, but also as engineers of oenology: "We know our business from the very first vine to the very last drop in the filled bottle," says Andrea Davaz. But they soon started outgrowing the estate and bought themselves a larger playing area: an estate in Tuscany, together with 40,000 filled wine bottles. "We just managed to sell 1,400 bottles – falling somewhat short of our goal," remembers Davaz. "We realised we had no idea about selling wine and founded our own wine shop in 1994, von Salis AG, as a sort of practice ground." More than 20 years later, there are 20 employees working for von Salis in Landquart and it is now the market leader in the area. Incidentally, the estate in Tuscany is still being run successfully today by Johannes Davaz
«For good wine, you have to work carefully and very hard.»Irene Grünenfelder
Sparkling wine from Graubünden
Irene Grünenfelder is another successful wine-grower. Her wines are also sold by von Salis. Her one-woman-band operation – the Eichholz estate – is between the Davaz estate and the von Salis wine shop in Jenins. This is where Irene Grünenfelder has been tending her vines, particularly Pinot Noir, for around 20 years now. She got her estate by sheer chance, she explains: "I was a primary school teacher and journalist at the local daily newspaper "Tagblatt". If I hadn’t met my husband, I would never have even dreamed of becoming a wine-grower." In 1993, she took over the farm that had belonged to her parents-in-law, planted vines on virgin soil and from then on exercised herself in wine growing – just two years later Irene Grünenfelder was pressing her first wine. Today, people talk of her wines far and wide. Her secret? "An understanding of the plants and pressing is certainly important. And you have to work long and hard every day and take good care of the vines!" Grünenfelder, from Graubünden, effectively carries out the work all by herself. In the summer and during the harvest, she does have helpers though. Otherwise, it would be an impossible task. "And when the work outside is finished, there is still all the paperwork to start in the evening. It’s more than 100 per cent. But I wouldn’t swap it to go back to my old job." And that is good news for lovers of wines from Graubünden and for RhB which sells sparkling wine from the Eichholz estate on the Glacier Express. Grünenfelder’s 'crémant', consisting of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, is produced in the classic style: "The second fermentation lasts several months and takes place in the bottle – as is the case with champagne."
The business bears fruit
But it is not just good wine and sparkling wine that need plenty of time; the road to success usually requires a lot of patience, too. A lot of hard work went into building up the von Salis company. They invested for 15 years and hardly ever earned any money, says Andrea Davaz. Today, he is pleased that he can dedicate most of his time back on his own estate growing wine thanks to new CEO Daniel Hürbi and appreciates the advantages von Salis enjoys as number one: "We are the first port of call for wine-growers from Graubünden and receive grapes from around 80 wine-growers in the area. These are then made into wine and sold under the 'von Salis' label." Their greatest advantage is that they are still actually wine-growers themselves.
That promotes trust. "We work mostly with smaller wine-growers. You hang on to suppliers like that – larger ones are quick to change to Coop if sales one year are not quite what they had expected." Various wine-growers from the rest of Switzerland and around 60 wine-growers from all over the world are part of the 'von Salis' range. And the company’s portfolio thus has a lot to be proud of: customers can choose from Riesling- Silvaner, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Blanc de Noir and Pinot Noir. One of them is the 'Glacier Express Pinot Noir', a wine with a hint of red berries and cherries, a warm structure, soft tannins and a long, fruity finish. Graubünden is said to be the Pinot-Noir terroir of Switzerland, according to Davaz: the area is warm, but not too hot, and has cool nights in autumn – something that is important for the quality of the thinskinned Pinot Noir grape. And quality is the top priority: because when passengers see the highlights of the canton rush past the windows of the Glacier Express, only the very best of local produce is good enough.