Saturday, 20 May 2017

A visit to Valentin Blattner, private grape breeder, Soyhieres, Switzerland

We have visited the main German grape breeding institutes in Germany, Geisenheim, Geilweilerhof and Freiburg-im-Breisgau and even the Agricultural Research Station of Cornell University at Geneva, NY. These forays have always been fascinating for us. As well as the oportunity sometimes to taste micro-vinifications of the grapes bred there we have been able to buy a few vines for our little experimantal vineyard in England. If chemicals are to be outlawed as is the trend, these resistant 'No-Spray' varieties may be very important in the future.

As well as the great institutions there are some private grape breeders, none so prominent as Valentin Blattner in Soyhieres, just on the border of French and German-speaking Switzerland, 40km southwest of Basel.

His goal is unique. As well as breeding varieties that are resistant, he aims for them to be so productive and maintainance-free that they require only 20 hours work a year for 20 tonnes of fruit per hectare. He calls this the 20:20 vineyard and Stephen Skelton MW reports on a Blattner vineyard near Beziers (Domaine La Colombette) which 'receives no pesticide applications, is machine harvested and 'while not quite 20-tonnes per hectare, crops very well and produces very acceptable wine.'

We have encountered his Cabernet Jura and Cabernet Cortis previously and have read with interest how his varieties have been taken up in both the West and East of Canada as well as in Switzerland, France and other countries including Thailand where there are two harvests per year.

Taking advantage of a business trip to Basel and Neuchatel, we requested an appointment with Mr. Blattner who received us most kindly and arranged for us to obtain a few vines from his partner nursery not far from Soyhieres - Pepinieres Borioli of Bevaix.

Valentin is one of the kindliest and most charming people you can meet. What is it about Grape Breeders and indeed most people in the wine world? Perhaps it is the long gestation required to produce wine and the even longer one to breed grapes. That takes decades of patient nurture. The people reflect this care and patience,

At Domaine Blattner, a charming farmhouse set in a truly magical valley parallel to a much busier and less attactive one bearing the trunk road from Basel to Biel and on to Neuchatel.

Valentin has his greenhouse, his reception area for customers and tours and his home as well as his vineyards. Our conversation started with a discussion of what language to speak. Valentin told us there are 5 or 6 dialects of Swiss German so not everyone understands eachother even here. Valentin switches effortlessly between one of these, Hochdeutsch, French and English although he dispels the impression that all his compatriots do so. Asking him about why you can buy wine from French-speaking Switzerland in Zurich but not vice-versa he explained that the German-speaking Swiss typically go to the French-speaking part to perfect their French and acquire a taste for the wines of the Valais. The French-speaking Swiss are more reluctant to learn German and on this visit, we found that in Basel at least fewer people spoke English or even French that we remembered for the past. Was this a trend?

Domaine Blattner is all very unpretentious and the en-suite greenhouse allows one to see the tiny plants growing from seed which will eventually come up for selection.

each seedling is a different variety

Valentin tried to explain the grape breeding process but our degree of ignorance was such that we would have taken his whole day if we had wanted to understand even vaguely what is involved.

picked from the mature vine in the background this is the female part of the flower with the male parts removed.

Suffice it to say it is a complicated as well as lengthy process and an ongoing one in which new varieties are constantly trialed in an effort to improve on the old ones.

the day of our visit was rainy and cool. The previous day, it had snowed, Valentin told us; something almost unprecedented at the end of April. Worse than hail apparently. We hope the vines of Domaine Blattner have not been too badly damaged.

Mergat is a tom cat - the symbol of the surrounding area

We left Valentin with two bottles of his 'Mergats' wine, one from his white variety 'Ravel' and the other from his famous Cabernet Jura variety. Soyhieres is indeed in the Jura, not far from the more familar French Jura.

Pepinieres Borioli, Bevaix

On to Pepinieres Borioli at Bevaix who do the grafting of Valentin's vines.

There we bought three each of

VB 32-07 Ravel (white)
VB 08-02 (white) descended from Viognier

VB 5-02 Cabernet Jura (red)
VB 5-A-100 (red) from Cabernet Foch and Cabernet Amarensis

These were planted back home soon after. Perhaps the first Blattner vines in the UK? We'll report in a few years' time.

Here is a list of some of Valentin's varieties. These are listed in the Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC) published by Geilweilerhof and drawn from 130 institutions in 45 countries.

VB 11-11-89-12    RIESEL                    Riesling x ?  1989                                           W                        VB 11-A-140                                          Vitis Interspecific Crossing                            W
VB 26-4                                                  Vitis Interspecific Crossing                             R
VB 32-7                                                   1998                                                               W
VB 5-02                 CABERNET JURA Vitis Vinifera Linné Subsp Vinifera                R
                                                                 Cab. S + Fungus resistant variety
VB 86-03               RESELLE                 Vitis Interspecific Crossing                            W
                                                                 Bacchus + Seyval Blanc
VB 86-06               BIRSTALER MUSKAT  Vitis Interspecific Crossing                     W
                                                                  Seyval + Bacchus, 1998
VB 91-26-05          CABERNET COLONJES  Vitis Vinifera Linné Subsp Vinifera     R
                                                                  Cab. S +Fungus resistant variety
VB 91-26-01         CABERNET BLANC  Vitis Vinifera Linné Subsp Vinifera            W
                                                                   Cab. S +Fungus resistant variety,1991
VB 91-26-19         PINOTIN                   Pinot Noir + Fungus resistant variety             R
VB 91-26-29                                            Cab. S + ?                                                       R
VB 91-26-04         CABERNET NOIR   Cab. S + ?                                                       R
VB 91-26-05         CABERNET COLONJES  Vitis interspecific crossing. Cab, S + ?  R
VB CAL 1-15                                           Vitis interspecific crossing.                            R
VB CAL 1-20                                           Vitis interspecific crossing.                            R
VB CAL 1-23                                           Vitis interspecific crossing.                            W
VB CAL 1-31                                           Vitis interspecific crossing.                            R
VB CAL 1-36                                           Vitis interspecific crossing.                            R
VB CAL 1-22                                           Vitis interspecific crossing.                            R
VB CAL 5-12                                           Vitis interspecific crossing.                            W
VB CAL 6-4                                             Sauvignon + Riesling + ?                               W


1 comment:

Ben Jaspers said...

Guten Tag Herr Blattner. Gerne möchte ich fút unser Verein der Weinmacher Entre Les Collines in die Niederlande 12 st. Riesl bestellen. Ist dass bei ihnen möglich? Wir haben einige Abstecher bekommen von einen befeundeten Winzer aber möchten mit guten Unterstamm füt Löss Erde. Der/ die Riesel macht schöne Trauben. Öchsle im Moment 1085.
Ben Jaspers Wein Coördinator ELC