About the producer
Due to the limited volumes made here, the valley remains largely unknown – but Switzerland may just be one of the world’s last undiscovered regions for fine wine production.
While Bündner Herrschaft has been home to Pinot Noir since the 15th century, Donatsch – now in the hands of the fifth generation, Martin Donatsch – has pioneered the quality revolution in the region.
Thomas Donatsch (Martin’s father) was the first to – then illegally – plant Chardonnay in 1975, the first in the country to produce traditional method sparkling wine, the first to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, and the first to introduce French barriques to Switzerland, influenced by his vigneron friend André Noblet, the winemaker at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti from 1945 to 1986. In fact André Noblet was instrumental in Donatsch’s approach to winemaking, donating his first oak barriques, previously used to hold DRC’s La Tâche.
The winery specialises in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well the native variety Completer, a unique white wine grape that is picked very late yet retains extraordinarily high acidity. Today the winery is managed by Thomas’s son Martin Donatsch.
In the vineyard
While the resulting wines are similar in profile to those of Burgundy, there are some important differences in the region’s climate.
The altitude (500 to 700 metres above sea-level) sees the vines flower a week later than is typical in Burgundy, yet picking dates are three to four weeks later. This provides a much longer growing season, allowing for complex flavours and aromas to develop in the grapes. Despite the altitude, the grapes reach good levels of ripeness thanks to the warm, dry wind – known locally as a “foehn”, that sweeps through the valley.
Unlike Burgundy, autumns here are dry, so there is rarely pressure to pick before rain arrives, allowing for additional hang-time. The altitude keeps the acidity high, offsetting the naturally slightly higher alcohol (typically around 14%), meaning the wines never feel overly alcoholic.
In the winery
The Chardonnay and Completer varieties are both barrel fermented in French oak barrels and aged on their lees for 12 months. The Pinot Noir is also aged entirely in French barriques – predominantly from the esteemed cooper François Frères.
The Pinot Noir and Chardonnays are separated into three individual cuvées – Tradition, Passion and Unique. Each of these represent the equivalent of Burgundy’s village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines.
The Tradition sees no new oak, the Passion has 30% new oak and the Unique is matured in up to 100% new oak. In total, just 35,000 bottles are made each year.