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Cycling in Geneva: The countryside wine hunt

Switzerland is arguably the best country for chocolates and cheese, but not many people know that this tiny landlocked mountainous nation also has a thriving wine industry.

Sadly, the excellence of Swiss wines is unbeknown to many, mainly because less than 2% of the country’s wine is ever exported. Swiss wine’s lack of fame is not a question mark on its quality but rather because it is produced mainly for, and consumed happily by, the Swiss themselves. If you want to relish the Swiss nectar, you’ll likely have to fly there. And that’s precisely what I did.

While Switzerland has six wine regions, I decided to explore Geneva, the third largest wine-producing canton in the country, with more than 30 different grape varieties cultivated on one twentieth of its territory. And the best way to discover the wine trail of the Genevan countryside by yourself is on an e-bike.

Starting from the birthplace of the World Wide Web

Catching a tram from Geneva central station at 8:30am, I reached Meyrin in less than 20 minutes, where Gideon, my guide from ebiketour, was waiting.

‘The site where you are standing right now is where the World Wide Web was invented in 1989’, said Gideon as he explained about CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, before briefing me about the bike route.

‘Today we will be cycling 12 miles (20km) in the countryside of Geneva, guarded by Salève mountain in the south and Jura mountains in the north’, he continued, ‘and you’ll come across many vineyards, valleys and villages during your three-hour bike ride.’

The journey through bucolic landscapes

Wearing a fluorescent vest and helmet, I was ready to devour the beauty of the Swiss wines and countryside. We rode for an hour, mainly on a flat serpentine road immersing ourselves in Geneva’s wine trail while appreciating the countryside’s rural heritage. As I pedalled deep into the valley, I noticed the grape harvest season was almost over, and the lush vineyards had changed from vibrant and rich chlorophyll greens into the deep warm oranges, vivid yellows and golden browns of autumn.

At a roundabout, I saw grape harvesters singing and dancing to traditional Swiss songs in a trailer while sipping their Chasselas and Gamay. Sensing my curiosity, Gideon explained that grape harvest season heralds celebratory wine festivals in autumn. This was one tiny display of the mega festivities that unfold throughout the alpine nation, the biggest of which is a three-day festival held in Neuchâtel at the end of September. Another prominent festival is ‘Fête des Vignerons’, the Winegrowers’ Festival held (supposedly) once in a generation at Vevey since 1797.

Inhaling the crisp alpine air and soaking in the beauty all around, I forgot whether I was in Switzerland or France as all the signs, village nomenclature and even building architecture were quintessentially French. Silently cruising on the trafficless road, we crossed the villages of Bourdigny Dessous, Bourdigny-Dessus and Choully of the Satigny municipality before arriving at our first pit stop – Domaine Les Perrières.

Domaine Les Perrières – Peissy

Panaromaic view of the Peissy vineyards. Credit: Domaine Les Perrières

The handbrakes came into action as soon as we reached the cellar of Domaine Les Perrières, an award-winning winery tucked away in the picturesque village of Peissy opposite the iconic bell tower of a thousand-year-old chapel. Tracing its origins back to 1794, the Les Perrières winery is today run by the eighth generation of the Rochaix family.

The molassic and clay soils and the region’s mild climate contribute to the estate’s fruit-forward wines made using 17 different grape varieties, said commercial director Frederic Rochaix. The incredibly aromatic Sauvignon Blanc and the indigenous Swiss variety Gamaret were my highlights. The apple juices were equally delicious.

Re-energized, we continued our journey. The landscape wore several outfits on the way – from beautiful sunflower meadows to golden vineries to giant cedars. We passed through hilltop hamlets of La Tuilière, Essertines and Malval before stopping at another family-run winery in the region.

Domaine du Centaure – Dardagny

Wine tasting at Domaine du Centaure

They say the best view comes after the hardest climb; in my case, the treat was the wine. After trudging an uphill road, we reached Domaine du Centaure in the wine-growing village of Dardagny. We were welcomed with a broad range of wines to try, while learning about the significant role played by the Ramu family in the history of the Swiss wine industry since pre-1602.

The neutral, easy-to-drink Les Danaïdes Chasselas and the classy, supple Cuisse de Jupiter were certainly memorable for me. We also had the pleasure of exploring the food pairing potential of Swiss wine.

After enjoying a sensory wine-tasting journey, it was time to bid goodbye – but with an aim to return soon.

The cycle route

The short and primarily flat 12 miles (20 km) ride from Meyrin to Satigny, which I took, was a relatively easy route for cyclists of all abilities, according to Gideon. There are innumerable country cellars and farm shops along the way for people to casually stop by.

Although Geneva is just a stone’s throw away, oenophiles can sleep at hotels and B&Bs in Meyrin, Satigny, Russin or Dardagny. Domaine de Châteauvieux in Satigny is renowned for its idyllic setting in a vineyard and its two-star Michelin restaurant.

Practical tips

How to book: For a bike tour with wine tasting, contact ebiketour. For wine tasting only, contact the wineries direct (see above).
Best time to visit: March to October, when the weather is mild and dry. A particularly good time is late July to early August when vineyards are in full bloom.
Itinerary add-ons: CERN, Allondon Nature Reserve and Verbois dam.
Other wine tastings: Domaine Dugerdil, Cave de Stephane Gros and many more.
Restaurants: Domaine de Châteauvieux, Café de Peney and Vignoble Doré.

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