Unique grape varieties, a distinctive USP: Chanton wines

Lucky for us, it’s all in the family. Back in 1944, Oskar Chanton launched a wine enterprise in the community of nearby Visp that would specialize in wines indigenous to that hardy mountain region. When the elder Chanton retired, his son Josef-Marie—known as «Chosy»— took over the helm. And in 2008, he, too, passed over responsibilities for the enterprise to his son, Mario. Now in the third generation, Mario continues the Chanton tradition of growing rare grapes with pioneer drive and commitment.

On an overcast Saturday at the end of July, and at the firm’s modest, but very pleasant showroom on the main access road to Visp, Chosy kindly met with me, my dear friend Mick, and the Musikdorf’s Ernen’s official photographer, Bernard Brand. Credited with having brought several practically extinct grape varieties back to life, Chosy described the investment in «rarities» that set the Chanton offer apart: the Lafnetscha grape first, followed, in the 1980s, by the Himbertscha and Gwäss, then with Eyholzer Red and Plantscher grapes – four more varieties that had almost been lost to history. Their refreshing Petite Arvine and Heida have also gained popularity over the past 15 years, particularly since the canton has shown interest in harnessing consumption of the ubiquitous Fendant. 

While Lafnetscha still enjoys its position as the sole wine actually «born» in the Valais, Chosy explained how scientific analysis has been used to answer questions about grape ancestry. In DNA testing, the two «parents» of his rare wine varieties were definitively determined, and the Gwäss grape was found to be half the profile («one parent») of countless grape varieties around the world. We, in fact, were surrounded in Visp by the dramatic terraced landscape that is the home to the Gwäss, but Chanton also has holdings near the communities of Varen and Leuk. Taken all together, that means harvesting fruit from over 650 hectares of vineyards.

As ecologically-friendly producers, Chanton uses only natural-based fertilizers. That, and certain limitations on annual quantities of each sort produced, have further boosted this Chanton’s reputation as a provider of fine quality. And the Swiss know a good thing when they taste it: some 90% of their wines are consumed right here in the country. It comes as no surprise that Chanton has been appointed the Musikforf Ernen’s official wine supplier.

Finally, at 1,100 meters above sea level, Chanton’s high vineyard near Visperterminen is familiar to many wine connoisseurs today, and its grapes thrive at the highest altitude of any vineyard in all of Switzerland. While rain showers precluded our own visit to the vineyards, there was more than enough to keep us busy at the showroom and degustation table itself. Indeed, the generous welcome we were given there made me sure we would all come back.

Ernen, Monday, 30 July 2018, by Sarah Batschelet

Well worth a visit: Kellerei Chanton, Kantonstrasse 70, CH-3930 Visp