Visiting Lake Geneva’s Lavaux Wine Region

Lavaux’s majestic vineyards are sculpted into the steep hillside like the rice terraces of Bali. Many of the stone walls that hem in the rows of vineyards were first created by monks. The perfect introduction to the beauty of Lavaux is aboard the circa-1910 paddle steamer, La Suisse, preferably on one of their gourmet cruises for lunch. Heading east from Lausanne to Montreux, the hillside is awash in vines surrounding small villages and centuries-old villas. 

After dining on leg of lamb or cod paired with wild mushrooms, washed down with the Lavaux wine, the cruise lets you off at the magical Chateau de Chillon. This impressive castle on the rock dates as far back as the mid-12th century, when it became the home of the Count of Savoy. But it was the British poet, Lord Byron, who made the chateau famous by penning his poem “The Prisoner of Chillon” in 1816. Byron writes about the Geneva monk, Francois de Bonivard, who was imprisoned in the dungeon of the castle for six years from 1530 to 1536. You can still see the pole de Bonivard was chained to as well as Byron’s name, which the poet inscribed into another nearby pole. Byron’s poem was so popular that it inspired a slew of writers and artists to make the trip to Chateau de Chillon, including Henry James and Eugene Delacroix. 
Yet, to truly appreciate the Lavaux wine region and realize why it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you have to walk from small village to village in the region. Yesterday, we took the train to Cully, where we met the 5th-generation winemaker Melanie Weber. Remarkably, Melanie creates each of her vintages in the bottom two floors of her 4-story home in the middle of the community. She was just getting ready for the annual harvest when we walked in and tried her 2012 Chenalette, a white wine made from the Lavaux’s most popular grape, Chasselas. The wine was crisp, with hints of apples and pears, perfect for a warm autumn day. 
Then we strolled on narrow concrete paths through the vineyards, watching workers cut the grapes off the vines by hand. Within 15 minutes of heading uphill, we were in the charming village of Epesses, at the heart of this winemaking region. Follow the vineyards down the steep slopes and you’re staring in awe at Lake Geneva and the jagged peaks of the Alps that stand on the opposite shores. Your eyes, however, don’t need to drift too far to capture the beauty. Around every bend is another enchanting stone house with terra cotta roof, home to the more than 20 winemakers who live in Epesses. We had one of my favorite meals of the trip at Auberge du Vigneron on an outdoor terrace with glorious views of the Lavaux. Sipping wine made from the surrounding vines and dining on risotto with wild mushrooms is as good as it gets.