Although it still barely registers on the radar of most American wine drinkers, Switzerland is a viticultural world unto itself, with a diversity of terroirs and a richness of winegrowing history every bit as deep as its better-known European neighbors. We have steadily plied our trade in this Alpine wonderland over the past 15 years, beginning with a quartet in the Valais and expanding into the nearby Vaud in early 2022.
While we weren’t actively prospecting at the time, we received a hearty recommendation this past winter from our longtime partner Sandrine Caloz. One of the most respected growers in the entire country, Sandrine is a deeply earnest and serious person, and her word carries great weight with us. Our hopes, then, already ran high as we entered our first rendezvous with her friend Alexandre Delétraz. It only took a few pours for us to realize that we had stepped into something really thrilling, and after we had finished our extensive tasting and cellar visit, we knew we had obtained not only a new grower, but a newfound understanding of the heights Swiss wine can achieve.
Delétraz possesses a golden combination of intellect, sensitivity, and humility, and he is blessed with holdings in one of Switzerland’s most fascinating cantons: the commune of Fully, in the Valais’ westernmost reaches. Fully represents the only gneiss mother-rock to be found in the country, and its sandy, acidic topsoil contains little clay and no limestone. Furthermore, its eye-poppingly vertiginous slopes prevent the possibility of any type of mechanization—thus making chemical-free farming like Alexandre practices a Herculean feat of labor.
Alexandre’s ability to render wines of sublime minerality and scintillating energy will resonate with any aficionado of great European wine.
Established in 2008, Alexandre’s Cave des Amandiers comprises 8.5 total hectares: 70% in his home canton of Fully, with 15% in the loess and limestone soils of Saillon, and 15% in nearby Leytron’s decomposed schist. As is often the case in these small Alpine hamlets, Cave des Amandiers’ holdings encompass a plethora of individual parcels—here, over 200 plots with over 70 different landowners. The winery itself is situated within a protected national park in Fully, with 3 hectares of vines and 3 hectares of Alpine forest—a fittingly dramatic visual backdrop for such kinetic wines. Alexandre farms these near-vertical slopes completely organically and completely manually; such winegrowing in Fully requires not only savoir-faire but significant bravery and athleticism.
Delétraz’s cellar work is precise but low-tech. Fermentations proceed spontaneously for all his wines; malolactic fermentations do not take place but nor are they purposely blocked; he employs varying proportions of whole-clusters based on grape variety and vintage; and his aging room houses barriques, demi-muids, foudres, and tanks of steel and cement, none of which he uses by rote. Alexandre is sparing with both new oak and with sulfur, never adding the latter until well after fermentations are complete.
While his grape varieties may be largely unfamiliar to non-Swiss audiences, Alexandre’s ability to render wines of sublime minerality and scintillating energy will resonate with any aficionado of great European wine. Here, one feels the marriage of lifted elegance with granitic profundity that characterizes the platonic ideal of the Alps. These are wines which viscerally communicate stone, earth, flower, and fruit, with a clarity and precision which can be nearly disorienting. Furthermore, they prompt real physiological engagement: a sharp intake of breath from their clean, soaring aromatics; an involuntary salivation from their salty brightness; a rush of adrenaline at their sheer drive and persistence on the palate.