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Valais has over 5,000ha (12,350 acres) under vine on the lower slopes of its surrounding mountains. Starting at 1,000m (3,300ft) above sea level, in some of the highest vineyards in Europe, at Visperterminen, the vineyards follow the young River Rhone until its sharp bend at Martigny. Many of the vineyards are intensively planted some-times with as many as 15,000 per hectare (2.5 acres). Thus the yield per vine may be low, but per hectare it will border on the legal maximum for quality wine.

Valais can be hot and dry; the vineyards around Sierre survive on some 400mm. (16 inches) of rain a year, occasionally helped by a little irrigation. Grapes ripen easily and when harvested there is not much difference in sugar content between those grown at 400m (1,320ft) and those at 800m (2,640ft).

The wines found most widely in Valais are the white Fendant (the local name for the Chasselas grape and its wine, which is at its most alcoholic - and expensive -here) and the red Dole.

Dole is an attractive Valais speciality - a fruity wine with adequate structure, best drunk within three years of the vintage. It is a blend of Pinot Noir and other grapes harvested at the same time, with Pinot Noir playing the major role. There is also a dry white version, Dole Blanche.

Goron is a blend of Valaisan wine from any of the authorized red vine varieties. If it is produced 100% from Pinot Noir or Gamay it can be sold as Pinot Noir Suisse or Gamay Romand.

In the absence of fogs, and therefore with less risk of rot, Pinot Noir is a useful vine for Valais - provided it is not grown in the warmest sites. Clones from Burgundy or Switzerland produce wines with adequate acidity and, therefore, structure - unlike many of the wines of the mid1980s and earlier, which suffered from over-production. Well-trained growers now no longer wait for very high must weights, but harvest when the grapes have 12-13 of potential alcohol and a satisfactory
level of acidity. The result is wine that can develop in bottle over a number of years.

Whether it is better to grow Chardonnay and other recently imported vines or to concentrate on traditional varieties is a philosophical and marketing question to which producers find different answers. Those who favour indigenous varieties have some interesting vines to choose from in Valais. Humagne Rouge (there is also a white version) is an exuberant vine; from a crop not larger than 80hl/ha at the most, the wine can be robust, and concentrated enough to withstand ageing in new wooden casks of about 225 litres (barriques). Its tannic flavour reminds some tasters of Barolo. In a climate almost as warm as that of the northern section of the Cotes du Rhone, the Syrah grape is also grown.

Grapes from the ancient Valaisan white vine varieties, Amigne and Petite Arvine, and the red Cornalin, ripen late -in October. Carefully produced from small yields, they have much character, the white wines tasting rich and fruity. For sweeter and sometimes highly alcoholic wine, Valais has its Malvoisie (the local name for Pinot Gris) - the most expensive of the canton's traditional wines. Production of these specialities is small.

Good producers in Valais include Charles Bonvin, Caves Imesch, Simon Maye, Domaine du Mont d'Or, Rouvinez.

 
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