World Champions: Gantenbein, Bündner Herrschaft, Switzerland
Martha and Daniel Gantenbein still do all the work.
© StockFood | Hans-Peter Siffert
Hardly any bottle of Swiss wine makes it beyond the borders of the Swiss Confederation. Especially not in relevant quantities. The production of Swiss winegrowers is too small and it is too easy to sell on the domestic market. If bottles do make it abroad, they are true rarities - and the protagonists of the Swiss wine landscape are correspondingly unknown in the surrounding neighbouring countries. One name, however, has long been familiar to wine lovers abroad and - if one is honest - is still the only one from the Swiss wine world that is known to many: Gantenbein.
A Lone Beacon
The small winery in the village of Fläsch in the Bündner Herrschaft in the canton of Graubünden, founded and run by Martha and Daniel Gantenbein, made a name for itself early on with its wines from the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape varieties. It was one of the first wineries in Switzerland to attract any attention at all from critics abroad. As a result, not only the Gantenbeins, but the entire Bündner Herrschaft became the epitome of top Swiss wines.
The two produce only one wine per variety. Limiting themselves and focusing on the best of the best is their concept, and they accept the great economic risk. The six hectares that the couple currently cultivates are planted with the aforementioned Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varieties - as well as Riesling.
Riesling and Friends
Gantenbein's rare Riesling is a declaration of love for this great white grape variety and also for its country of origin, Germany, with which they are closely linked through many winemaker friendships. "Ernie Loosen is a very good friend, we have known him since he started on the Mosel," says Daniel Gantenbein.
The Gantenbeins also had a long-time buddy in Austria: Alois Kracher, who died in 2007, once described the Gantenbein winery as "the most beautiful small winery in the world". Constantly looking beyond the horizon and engaging with the great wines and winemakers of the world is one of the secrets of the winemaking couple's success. This calls for a certain internationality and openness to other ideas and people.
This far-sightedness was certainly still a novelty in Switzerland at the time when the Gantenbeins started making wine. Just like the absolute commitment to the highest quality. "One is to strive for the best, the other is to meet good people who support you," Daniel Gantenbein reports. Both succeeded impressively in the case of the two Graubünden natives.
Affordable but rare
Together, Martha and Daniel Gantenbein began in 1980 to cultivate vines belonging to Martha's father, who was the largest vineyard owner in Fläsch at the time. The idea was to start their own business and shape life according to their own needs and desires - no matter in which area. "We simply wanted to become independent," Martha Gantenbein recounts. "I could hardly stand working as an employee. As a woman, there was no chance of a managerial position." The young couple quickly emancipated themselves from Martha Gantenbein's father and founded their own winery in 1982. "There we were. With 7000 bottles of wine and not a single customer," Daniel Gantenbein recalls of times past. Because today, even in Switzerland, Gantenbein wines are hard to come by and are only given out by the distribution partners to very good customers in small quotas.
Opening a bottle of Gantenbein is thus not something you do every day. But if you now think that the wines of the couple must be barely affordable, you are mistaken. A bottle of Gantenbein Pinot costs about 162 francs, a bottle of Chardonnay about 215 francs. By international standards, this is quite modest - just as the Gantenbeins themselves are.
"When we started, we had practically nothing and had to learn to make do with the means at hand. It was always about what was most important at the time, never about all the beautiful things we could afford," Martha Gantenbein says. This minimalist realism can also be found in the wines of the two, which, thanks to the meticulous, extremely analytical and above all self-critical approach to the winemaking process, are unique worldwide and have driven an entire country forward. Daniel Gantenbein adds: "We are still not done improving. Making good wine better takes a lot of intuition and time." And fortunately, the Gantenbeins have enough of both.