Did you know that around 97% of the wines produced in Switzerland are drank locally? Virtually none are left for exports.
Hence when I heard that Mythopia is exported to Australia, the UK or the US, so you'll rarely find any around here in Switzerland, I was intrigued. What was so special about Mythopia for it to be so desirable? And more importantly, if they are indeed that good, why on earth didn't we keep them for ourselves in Switzerland?!
Everything made sense when I first bumped into one at a party organized by fellow natural freaks in Lausanne. I distinctly remember the first sip of Disobedience I had, mostly because this had nothing to do with any Chasselas I have had before. In Valais, the "Fendant" - that’s how they call it here - is such low-brow kind of wine, good enough to rinse away a greasy cheese fondue, quite light in taste, slightly carbonated and with a bittersweet finish. Some winemakers produce very great ones of course, but they've always that very shy kind of personality; Disobedience on the contrary is anything but shy, or as my friend Seung put it, it’s “Chasselas gone wild and flashing everyone at a rock concert”! Almost a year of skin maceration before pressing gives it an intense structure, a golden hue and intense nose of bitter almond, confit orange skin, caramel, dried fruits and dried flowers, with round wooden notes on the palate, tangerine and almond and marked tannins.
A wine I could have sipped on for ever...
OK; I'd tasted the wine and understood part of the myth. Now I had to meet the winemaker and see the vineyards, where the magic happens. Few weeks later, when my friend Gian offered to organize a visit, I did not think twice. Next thing I know, after finally finding our way to the estate, we're wandering in the vineyard, admiring the beautiful scenery and listening to Hans-Peter's story.
Back in 2004, he settled in Ayent with his wife Romaine, in the heart of the Swiss Alps with a desire to start an organic farming project - to prove the effects of biodiversity and organic practices on the quality of the farmed products. In his own words, "we wanted to show that better work in the field made for better products, but there are no tasting panels for bread, so we didn't grow wheat; we grew vines because wine is a great way to display quality, if it wasn't for that really we could have planted anything! Even bananas!", gladly enough, he stuck to vines.
Hence, there he was, reintroducing the eco-system in his vineyards; first things first, pulling out half of the vines to let the remaining ones breath and make some space. Then, introducing new species of plants, flowers, fruit trees and vegetables, both planting the seeds and letting the nature do its magic. A couple beehives and a few hedges for the birds to nest were added to let it all happen. "It's all about finding the right equilibrium between doing and letting it be done."
As a result, now in 2017, specialists have inventoried no less than 64 species of butterfly living in the vineyard, that's more than half of all species found in Switzerland! Talk about a rich eco-system!
It's been about an hour that we wander in this marvelous vineyard, which feels more like a garden, tasting sweet and juicy tomatoes, peppery mint leaves, crazy fresh wild berries and a few grapes here and there when we make our way back to the cellar to finally try the wines!
After some ten minutes in the cellar, Hans-Peter comes back with a couple boxes under his arms and starts displaying bottles on the table, next to fantastic hand-blown artisan glasses that just perfectly fit his philosophy. I need to scratch my eyes to believe what I'm now seeing, there, right in front of me are standing no less than nine different cuvees, whites, reds, some I'd heard of, some I didn't even know existed, some back vintages… I'm like a kid in a candy shop!
With Mythopia, each wine has a story, the name, the winemaking method, the aging… take Disobedience for instance, for this wine, Hans-Peter did it all disobeying the usual "rules", every step of the way, hence the name. Finito? Drink it, enjoy it and let's not talk about it, OK?
Tasting each of those wines was a revelation. Wild Geboren (Born wild), a Chasselas with one whole year of carbonic maceration and four years in larch barrels, bottled unfiltered, just blew my mind. This wine feels like a walk in the forest on a sunny autumn day, you get the pine needles smell, the freshness and the energy of the trees and that vibrant ray of the sun on your cold cheeks. The second you smell it you know you're in for something different, new and surprising, something pretty wild indeed but an experience you're not about to forget.
The reds are just as fantastic, reminding me of wines I’ve tasted before, be that as it may, some of the best Burgundian Pinots! The tannins are silky, the fruit is dark, they're juicy and generous wines you remember. You want to smell their delicate perfume, take a gentle sip and admire their color while swirling them in your glass. We left them breathing in the glass for a few minutes while disserting on the benefits of long aging and micro-oxygenation in used barrels before returning to them to find they’ve opened up to show even more vibrance and energy.
Here I am, in the tiniest village in the Swiss Alps surrounded by more butterflies than living souls and all I can think of is “My friends in Vosne-Romanée better watch out!”.