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The Lavaux is a region is in the canton of Vaud. It was developed mostly by monks about 800 years ago, the vineyards of Lavaux can be traced back to the 11th century. The villages are strung together by miles of stonewalls along steep hills with magnificent views of Lake Geneva. The small ancient villages and the terraced vineyards are reminiscent of another time. The stonewalls create a micro-climate storing the warmth of the sun during the day, radiating warm throughout the vineyards during the night hours. In the Dézaley the surface area of the vertical stonewalls is larger then the land area. Lavaux is mainly known for its white wines. The main wine grape variety grown here is the Chasselas. It is a full, dry and fruity white wine. The villages of Chexbres, Cully, Epesses, Forel, Grandvaux, Lutry, Puidoux, Riex, Rivaz, Saint-Saphorin, Savigny, Treytorrens and Villette makeup the “Route du Vin”. Stone houses grouped along the route, with panoramic views of the lake quietly stand watch over their precious vineyards. Under cantonal law, the vineyards of the Lavaux are protected from development. In July 2007, the Lavaux was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“Le Caveau des Vignerons” are open on various days of the week for the convenience of guests and wine connoisseurs. Here in the ambiance of a Caveau you can taste the wines of the Lavaux accompanied with local dried meats and cheeses. Visitors can walk from village to village along service roads, stopping to enjoy an apéro at one of the many restaurants and café’s along the route.
Having lived in Cully for several years, I enjoyed a daily walk through the vineyards and made it my duty to watch over the growth of the grapes. The peace that blankets the vineyards as the grapes mature was always amazing to me. It is as though they are being attended to by angles whispering encouragement and gentle nurturing. However living in this wine growing region, I know the effort that goes into the vineyards. As we sat in the afternoons at the “Au Major Duval” restaurant” where many of the locals meet, we listened to endless discussions about how the weather is effecting the maturing of the grapes, what the Oechsli degree (sugar content) is or might be, and when the harvesting should start. The tedious job of pruning and testing, harvesting and finally making the wine is what a vinter’s life is about.
The harvest starts late September to the beginning of October. The atmosphere is animated as many pickers arrive to work the vendange. The grapes are carried down steep hills on temporary rails set up to carry carts full of grapes down to small trucks. Crushing machines are setup outside of the wineries and the grapes are dumped and crushed with the juices filling large stainless steel vats for the first stages of the fermentation within hours. When this difficult work is completed the pickers set off fireworks and jump into Lake Geneva to celebrate.
Every year approximately 40,000 music lovers enjoy the Cully Jazz Festival held at the end of March for 9 days. Professional and armature artists from all over perform in an environment with a unique ambiance. Sessions are held in the Caveaus are free. Buy a bottle of the festival selected wine and enjoy the best of jazz throughout the village visiting each caveau. Events in a festival tent installed in the park, at the Salle Davel and in the Church require tickets.
There are a number of local restaurants and hotels in the area. I have only listed a few of the more well know establishments.
Au Major Davel, Place d’armes 8,1096 Cully. Tel: +41-21 799 94 94: Fax: +41-21 799 37 82. www.hotelaumajordavel.ch
Bernadette and Rolf Messmer own “Au Major Davel”. The small hotel and restaurant offers its guests superb views of the lake and the hills of the Savoie on the French side of Lake Geneva from every room. The 12 rooms were renovated a few years ago and the restaurant opens onto the park along the lake. In the summer the Messmers offer Jazz one evening a week in the open air in front of the restaurant.
As you enjoy your meal you watch the steamboats slowly float to the dock to drop off or pick up visitors traveling among the villages around the lake. We spent many evenings after being away on business enjoying dinner and wine of the region at Au Major Davel. As we looked out at the lights blinking on hills around the lake, the sky full of stars we were happy to be back in paradise.
At the “Raisin” Chef Hasler and his team are well respected in the world of gastronomy. The hotel is a member of the Relais & Chateaux and has hosted many famous guests. It was built in the 14th and 15th century and is equipped with all the comforts and a beautiful decor. The wine list, including the wines of the Dézaley, selection of spirits and a Cigars list await their guests. Located in the center of the village, it is within a short walking distance to the lake. Log on to their web page for more information.
While living in Cully, (Lavaux) Switzerland, I shopped at the farmers market in Vevey. There I noticed bottles of dark syrup for sale. A vendor explained that this deep brown/purple syrup was made from grapes and is used in the preparation of fruit tarts. This is a wine-growing region with many small vintners. During the vendange (harvest) I would see mounds of grape skins stacked along the side of the wineries. I thought they were to be discarded. Not so, with such an important product every last part of the grape is made into wonderful surprises, such as Grappa or Raisinée au Vincuit. The mystery of this syrup is of course dependant on the type of grapes used. You will find a different flavor in each wine-growing region, so it is worth it to buy a bottle wherever you find it. The syrup can be sprinkled over cakes or ice cream, or mix it with fruit to be baked in tarts and glazes for meats or fish.
In the French part of Switzerland it is called Raisinée au Vincuit.
It is also made from very ripe fruits when the sugar is most concentrated. It is a reduction of fruit juices and pulp or skins until the liquid becomes thick and syrupy, the consistency of honey. It can also be made from pears or apples or as in Italy figs and raisins.
In Italy it is called mosto cotto or vino cotto, and it is also called sabe. Sugar was so expensive and grapes grow all over Italy, that they made the syrup and used it to replace sugar. It is used in the preparation of desserts, or whenever a sweetener is needed. As in Switzerland, it is sprinkled over cheese, breads and cakes or ricotta, yogurt or cookies. Mosto cotto not only adds sweetness but an exotic flavor.
You will not find grape syrup on your grocery store shelves, but if you happen to find it on a visit to a vineyard region, buy a bottle and keep it in a cool place. A supplier in the US of Vino Cotto is http://www.vinocotto.us/
I have experimented with Raisinée au Vincuit in fruit tarts and love it especially mixed with plums in the tart recipe below. Serve it with a little sweetened ricotta or crème fraîche.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 410ºF oven for 30 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
2 cups all purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1/4 cup ice cold water or less
2 pounds plums cut in half, stones removed
1/4 cup Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
1 1/2 cup Raisinée au Vincuit (grape syrup)
1 tablespoon Grappa
Prepare the piecrust by mixing the butter, flour and salt in a food processor. Add in the egg yolk and a tablespoon of Raisinée au Vincuit. Add about 1/4th cup or less of ice water and form a ball. Cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Remove it from the refrigerator and roll out the piecrust and put it into a false bottom tart pan or tart-baking dish.
Wash the plums and cut them in half removing the stones. Prepare the filling mixture in a bowl. Place the plumbs in the filling mixture and toss them gently. Layer the plumbs overlapping them in the baked tart shell.
Place it in a pre-heated oven at 410ºF for 20 – 30 minutes.
Remove the tart from the oven and brush the plums with the glaze while it is hot.
Allow the tart to cool and serve it with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream or Crème fraîche on the side.
NOTE: The dough can be made a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator.
NOTE: Fruit tarts should be eaten the day they are made, as they don’t store well.
NOTE: You can substitute Raisinée au Vincuit with Current Jelly.