Gerald’s (Besse) twelve labours

Cave Gérald & Patricia Besse, Martigny-Les Rappes, Valais, Suisse

By Laurent Probst | July 16, 2011 


There is something of the Greek hero Hercules in Gerald Besse, because both will take on more than one challenge. Those kinds of men have an uncommon energy.

Gerald Besse and his wife Patricia created a winery twenty-five years ago, out of a garage for the first vintage, which has become a reference in Valais. Since then so much work has been accomplished! The estate owns 18 hectares of terraced vineyards. These terraces require an incredible amount of work. We are talking about nearly 1,500 annual working hours for a hectare of terraced vineyards against 500 or 600 hours for a mechanized vineyard in the plain. Gerald Besse and his team have become experts to at dismantling and reassembling these dry stone walls as soon as they show a little belly, which is a sign of weakening. The work is usually performed late in the fall and in the heart of the winter.

Local “terroir” wines
While the estate’s wine list includes a large number of grapes (more than fifteen), Gerald Besse believes strongly making wine in relation to its terroir. This is still quite rare in Valais where most wineries communicate on varietal wines.
The estate produces three different terroir wines with its gamay, from the Martigny vineyards located in the Rhone river’s elbow which has granite soils particularly suited to this variety, and Chasselas also produced in three terroir wines. In both cases, these wines are  affordable and absolutely commendable.

Varietal wines
But what would the Valais be without its grapes? And the great success of this winery is the indigenous varietal wine: the (Petite) Arvine! This emblematic grape of Valais is planted on the estate at a fairly large scale: more than one hectare (there are only 165 in the region). The winemaker fights to produce a dry wine with great finesse. A late harvest wine from the same grape is also produced and the finesse is never overwhelmed by the power, and where the grape’s aromatic freshness is maintained. One can say the same about the other varietal wines, which all have an excellent quality level.

Well “bread” wines.
Whether local terroir wines or varietal wines, there is also room for aging wines in oak barrels. All of the wines aged in oak barrels are listed under the collection named "Serpentine".  The cornalin, another indigenous variety, is very typical with a beautiful structure and potential as well as the syrah, which unlike the cornalin, is also exists as wine grown in tank. I will not list them all, but I will mention one last remarkable wine, the marsanne (hermitage). This Rhone grape variety produces wonderful wines in the local Valais terroir.

Gerald Besse, joined by the new generation, pampers its vines with great love and care since his grandfather planted some of the older grapes in 1955. In recent years, in order to accentuate the freshness and richness of their wines, the estate decided to waive off the second (malolactic) fermentation. The result is a line of particularly elegant wines, which will age well. Thanks to this the estate has joined the “Swiss Wines Memory” association, whose purpose is to demonstrate the aging potential of the finest Swiss wines.