The villages of Switzerland’s Bündner Herrschaft have been famous since medieval times for the quality of their wine – and since 1982 Martha and Daniel Gantenbein have been writing their own wine history, after taking over some family vineyards on the edge of the village of Fläsch. They began by uprooting the existing vines and replacing them with selected Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones from Burgundy. They also planted a little Riesling. Then they proceeded to fine-tune their wines. As with most winemakers working with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Burgundy is their benchmark, while for Riesling it’s the Mosel. The Gantenbeins are well-versed in the poetry of the finest wines from both regions, their palates honed at every opportunity on bottlings from the very top domaines.
Today, the couple run the estate together with just one other employee, and listening to Daniel expound on their operation I’m struck by the close harmony and mutual respect between the two of them, as well as the astounding attention they devote to detail at every stage – from the moment the grape is plucked from the vine and nursed on its way to the cellar. “Martha has green fingers,” beams Daniel. “She shakes each vine by hand several times a year.” Daniel, who trained as an engineer, looks after the architect-designed cellar (first picture), with its “intelligent wall” of bricks angled to filter and refract just the correct degree of light throughout the day; everything is designed with mechanical precision to minimise labour, maximise the use of space and ensure the gentlest possible handling of the wine as it moves through its various stages.
Most producers offer different categories of wine made from the same grape; the quality and price vary according to factors such as where the grapes came from in the vineyards, the age of the vines, the yield and other variables. The Gantenbeins do things differently. All their efforts go into producing just three wines, labelled simply Pinot Noir (SFr61.85, about £48, second picture), Chardonnay (about £48) and Riesling (about £30), with a single quality level – the best. The results have given the wines cult status and placed them firmly (and frustratingly) in the hen’s teeth category. You can’t even fetch up at the cellar hoping to purchase some – visits are strictly by appointment and, in any case, the wines are always sold out at the cellar door. You’ll find them on the wine lists of Switzerland’s top restaurants (Domaine de Châteauvieux, Schloss Schauenstein), or you can buy them through the small network of worldwide distributors listed on their site. Hammersmith-based seller Howard Ripley, for example, currently has some 2014 Pinot Noir at £75 per bottle – but you’ll need to buy a case of six, which is no bad thing.