Yvonne Stöckli, the sommelier and her great wine book

The Gourmetguide «Gault Millau 2016» recently awarded Yvonne Stöckli the title of best sommelier. She has been committed to Swiss wines for more than 20 years. Portrait of a pioneer.

By Britta Wiegelmann, for Coopzeitung

Most hotels or restaurants have a wine menu, the «Alpenblick» in Wilderswil (Berne) has a wine book. A huge book with an embossed leather cover, handmade by a Swiss bookbinder and how heavy is it? Yvonne (50) laughs. "I don't know, I've never weighed it," she says. "In any case, one does not pick it up lightly with one hand." During her two pregnancies, she was glad when an employee took the position over. The special thing about the wine book is not its weight, but the content. About half of the wines listed are produced in Switzerland. This is Yvonne's passion. This is why she was awarded the title "Sommelier of the Year" in the 2016 edition of the "Gault Millau" restaurant guide. 

Lets' look back. When she was young, Yvonne did not have much in mind. "At 17 or 18, in Morges I helped during the harvest. At that time I did not know that wine would follow me until today", she says. "It was so hard to pick the grapes the whole day that I was soon transferred to the kitchen service from the third harvest day onwards." When she met her future husband, Richard Stöckli, the owner of the "Alpenblick", she had trained and worked as a flight attendant. "The most fond of wine at the time was my husband. But he could not take care of the cellar on top of the kitchen. So I took over. "

Inspiring, not patronizing

24 years later, Yvonne has travelled the Swiss wine landscape. "Our country offers an amazing variety and when you stand in the vineyard and talk to the vintner, you learn a lot." She shares this travel-based knowledge with her guests today. Always unobtrusive, never instructive. "I want to inspire, not to patronize," she says. She experiences her best moments when she manages to surprise a declared skeptic with a Swiss wine. "Many Swiss now choose Italian or Spanish wines. Well, what if I can bring them a local product instead. "

Hand-dug cellar

We descend down into the wine cellar. The staircase is steep; the cellar is narrow and fully equipped with shelves. The bottles pile up under the blanket. "The space was much smaller," she recalls. "Today's volume has been scooped up by my husband along with a kitchen helper. For a whole winter the two have dug here, bucket after bucket of earth and then built the inner walls." The oldest bottle in the collection comes from1947, the largest holds three liters, the most expensive is worth over a thousand francs. But Yvonne Stöckli does seek to break any record. "The true art is to advise guests with different tastes and at every price level." When dinning out with her husband she also likes to be helped by a sommelier at the restaurants she visits. "I'd rather try a wine that I do not know yet," she says.

5 kilos and 555 grams

The "Alpenblick" restaurant is a "Gourmet-stübli", her husband Richard Stöckli was awarded 16 points in the «Gault Millau» and one Michelin star. Such restaurants often offer customers to accompany each course of the menu with another wine. Is this also at Stöcklis? "Oh, no," says Yvonne, "that would overwhelm the palate. I would rather help the guest find two or three wines for a large menu, which he will enjoy over several courses." In addition to the wine cellar, the "Alpenblick" also presents an impressive selection of Swiss cheeses. More than 40 local varieties sit on the trolley, including the cheese of Marianne and Rosa, the two cows of the Stöckli family. And with those cheese our hostess also recommended Swiss wines. "We have, for example, a Port-like wine from the Canton of Aargau, which fits perfectly to cheese," she says. And she admits: "I'd like to fill our wine book exclusively with Swiss wines." When we met the next day, she had weighed the book: 5 kilos 555 grams!