In an ironic twist of fate, the largest of the roughly 200 vineyards in Lavaux belongs to the neighbouring canton of Fribourg. The Domaine des Faverges, originally cultivated by Catholic monks, found itself isolated in Protestant Vaud when, during the 1847 Sonderbund War, Fribourg and several other Catholic cantons briefly resisted incorporation into the Swiss Confederation. “Like many things in Switzerland, it was a small war,” says Gérald Vallélian, who manages the vineyard today. While the war ended with minimal violence, the Jesuits who had backed the rebellion were asked to leave, and the monks who cultivated the Domaine were given a few hours to vacate the premises.
Nevertheless, the land and its precious vines remained in Fribourg hands. The Domaine, which occupies 15 hectares overlooking the lake, produces a wide variety of exquisite white Chasselas wines. Roughly 30% of the production consists of red wines from Pinot Noir and Syrah grapes. The wine is aged in giant oak casks dating back to the 1870s. The aging process produces a special microoxydation. Vallélian, who is mayor of a nearby village, is currently exploring the advantages of a more biologically natural production, which he says produces a gentler taste, although smaller volumes. The amazing diversity of the Domaine’s production – it turns out some 140,000 bottles a year – makes it difficult to know which bottle to choose. “It is not a question of quality,” says Vallélian. “It is really one of taste.”