Valais, Switzerland

Valais is a one of 26 cantons (member states) of Switzerland, wedged in the southwestern corner of the country in the heart of the Alps. It is home to the famed pyramid-shaped Matterhorn mountain, countless Alpine ski resorts, and a very passionate winegrower named Marie-Thérèse Chappaz. Viticulture has a long history in the area – vine cultivation was referenced in writings from the 11th century – and by the beginning of the 14th century, the wine grapes of Petite Arvine, Humagne Blanche, Rèze and Cornalin were documented.  Domaine Marie-Thérèse Chappaz is located in the village of Fully, a picturesque mountain landscape of chestnut forests, vibrant vegetation and Chappaz’s terraced vineyards.

Marie-Thérèse was not destined to be a winegrower. At the age of 17, her father offered her a vineyard as a gift. She was torn. Marie-Thérèse had dreamed of becoming a midwife and traveling the world. After an internship at the local hospital where she did not appreciate the atmosphere or the hierarchical system, she decided to accept the vineyard on the condition that she alone would tend the vines.  She did a one-year viticulture internship at the Biollaz cellar, and then completed the Advanced Course in Viticulture and Oenology at the well-known wine school in Changins. For the next six years she worked in the caves at Changins while caring for her own vines. These formative years lay the foundation for her life as a vigneronne in Valais.

While vine growing was a Chappaz family tradition, Marie-Thérèse was the first to estate bottle. 1988 was her first vintage, and 1989 marked the birth of Marie-Thérèse’s daughter Pranvera in July and the founding of the winery in September. She grew the domaine from 1.5 hectares in 1989 to today’s 10 hectares of historic vineyards planted to indigenous and international grapes including Chasselas, Petite Arvine, Pagan, Gamaret, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Hermitage, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Gamay and Pinot Noir.

Since the beginning, Marie-Thérèse has maintained a deep dedication to achieving the fullest expression of grape and terroir, always respecting the unique characteristics of each site and vintage. She believes healthy soils are the key to translating terroir. With that in mind, interventions and inputs are minimal.  No synthetic products or fertilizers are used – only herbal teas, homemade composts and other organic/biodynamic preparations. Copper is sprayed sparingly – less than 3 kilos per hectare – along with natural sulfur from the mines. This commitment to purity is carried through to the cellar where wines ferment with indigenous yeast, no sugar or enzymes are added, and sulfur is used only when deemed necessary.

Also, after an eye-opening visit in 1997 to Domaine Chapoutier in Tain l'Hermitage, Marie-Thérèse began incorporating biodynamic practices in the vineyards. Since 2003, the entire estate has been farmed biodynamically and today, is Demeter certified. Biodiversity is at the heart of Marie-Thérèse's approach. Wild vegetation such as herbs and grasses are encouraged in the vines. In her view, a weed is only a weed if it exists in bare soils, unaccompanied by other plants. Additionally, she planted fruit trees to increase the diversity of the vineyard ecosystem. Peach, mirabelle, plum, olive, fig, almond and quince trees attract birds like Hoopoe and Goldfinch (what's more joyous than the discovery of a bird's nest in the vines?), and the flowers from these fruit and nut trees are used to make her herbal teas. Marie-Thérèse Chappaz has nurtured this dynamic landscape, and it responds in kind with its generous beauty and bounty. In her words, "Biodynamic agriculture will not solve all the evils of the earth, but it is truly an agriculture of the future and an agriculture that will heal the Earth."