Martin Donatsch, a great player in the wine field

By Laurent Probst - December 12, 2014 

The first time I visited the Donatsch winery was four years ago with the Swiss Wine Memory Association, I was particularly happy to be back in Malans for the second time to visit this major reference in the Graubünden.
Donatsch is a "success story" particularly the last two generations. In the early seventies, Johann, Martin's father, was at the Romanée Conti Domain in Burgundy as a trainee. When he returned to the Graubünden he had plenty of new ideas and a French oak barrel, which at the time was very uncommon in Switzerland. He also brought with him Chardonnay grapes, which he was the first to plant in the region. At the time the grape was unauthorized by the local authorities but today things have changed and it produces remarkable wines.

Today Martin is passionate about Pinot Noir, he produces three "traditional" wines with this grape and the fourth one is fortified to produce a sweet wine similar to Tawny Port, respecting all the finesse in the grape. Surprisingly Martin did not go to Burgundy for his training years, instead he went to South Africa and Bordeaux. Nevertheless his love for Pinot Noir is unconditional, he confesses his belief that “it is the world’s greatest grape”. Hardworking and talented, he twice won the title of World Champion Producer for Pinot Noir before he had reached his 35th anniversary (the championship result is based on wines produced over 3 consecutive years).

Do not be deterred by his fame in the press or elsewhere. Go and meet this passionate and demanding winemaker.

Beside the winery, the family runs the renowned inn “Zum Ochsen” (The beef) where Martin's parents prepare typical Graubünden dishes. If you visit the place, you must try the "Gerstensuppe" a local pearl barley soup. In the inn you will find an amazing wine collection with the greatest wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy at prices not to be found anywhere else, such as a Volnay 1er Cru 1983 by Jean Boillot for 80 francs. One rule though the wines must be drunk at the inn!

The wine tasting at the cellar demonstrates Martin’s unparalleled expertise. All the wines tasted can be praised. Starting with the humble Riesling-Sylvaner or the Crémant, made from Pinot Gris. The wines aged in barrels are all elegant and in a style I would call modern. The oak is certainly present at the early stage of the vintage; well integrated it brings another dimension to each of the wines. The rare Completer is vinified with art, placing the winery among the three best producers among the dozen Completer producers in the Graubünden.

The Chardonnay is of a remarkable density, without any sweetness. The three Pinot Noirs "Tradition", "Passion" and "Unique", somehow revisit the trilogy of the Burgundy appellations "Village", "1er Cru" and "Grand Cru". This is how Martin straightforwardly presents them.

Ultimately we spent a great time with Martin, a wonderful person who generously gave us some of his time to share his passion