This year will be my 4th Caves Ouvertes in the canton of Geneva. Here are some tips to help newbies get the most out of what is arguably the best day of the year to be in Geneva.
For the complete beginner, Caves Ouvertes is the annual opening of (almost) all wineries in the Geneva canton of Switzerland. This gives you the chance to try an enormous variety of local wines for free. Most places open between 9-10am and close around 5pm. My top tips for getting the most out of your day are:
- Glass (for drinking) – The small size wine glass, normally branded with the logo of Caves Ouvertes for the year will set you back about 5 CHF. I have almost enough of them to use at dinner parties. Provided you can get it home in one piece it’s a great souvenir.
- Transportation (for yourself) – Most of the caves (at least in the Satigny/Dardagny region) aren’t far apart. You can get out to the vineyards from Geneva on the local train from Cornavin. When you’ve arrived you can walk between a few of the caves, or alternatively TPG runs a fairly comprehensive shuttle bus service, which might even be free. However since it’s an immensely popular event the shuttle busses often get full to capacity (especially with people heading in to Dardagny at the end of the day), so you might have to wait a very long time. Like many veterans of caves ouvertes, my prefered means of transport is cycling. Obviously you should take care not to cycle dangerously if under the influence of a large quantity of wine.
- Transportation (for your purchases) – I normally take a large rucksack with me to accommodate my purchases throughout the day. If you’re a real big spender and happen to live in Switzerland most places will deliver a case or more to your door for free after the event. If you’re only interested in buying the odd bottle you will have to be prepared to carry it around. Also make sure that your chosen luggage has a safe compartment where you can store your glass for those rare moment when you’re not drinking out of it.
- Things to bring – In addition to a large rucksack to store your wine, I can recommend bringing a couple of bottles of water (to stave off dehydration, especially if you’re cycling), some sun cream (on the off-chance it isn’t raining), a waterproof (on the off-chance it isn’t sunny) and a fleece for the dual purpose of insulating the bottles against each other and insulating you if it gets cold in the evening. The fleece will also come in handy for drying off your glass in between caves.
- What to buy? I’m a big fan of using Caves Ouvertes to stock up on local produce. I’ve had difficulty locating the Cave de Geneve Bacarat Grand Cru in the supermarket (NB this is the top of the range Bacarat, I definitely recommend it), only the regular stuff seems to be on the shelf in the Coop. Chasselas is the entry-level white wine for the region, which can be extremely refreshing when served chilled on a hot summer afternoon. A few caves (such Domaine de la Clé de Sol in Chouilly) specialise in rare varieties of grapes that are no longer mainstream in neighbouring France following the great wine blight of the 19th century. There are also some interesting sweet white wines to be tasted, including the Schreube which is a very distinct sweet white. In the red wine selection most caves offer Gamay as the entry-level bottle, which I find to be slightly watery for my tastes. My recommendation for red wine is the Gamaret, which has a much stronger taste, higher tannin content and goes very well indeed with beef. Another recommendation if you’re planning to buy wine is to bring cash (Swiss Francs of course), since paying buy card can take a while when the caves are busy. Another note for buying wine is that normally you’ll have to go to the desk to pay, where they will then give you a receipt which you take to the depot (normally next door or across the courtyard) to get your wine.
- Where to go? I normally start off from around CERN and head towards Dardagny, via Chouilly, Peissy and Satigny. One day I’d like to go to the other side of the lake, I’ve heard rumours that it’s also very good, especially if you have a bike since the caves are farther apart. Dardagny becomes something of a party town with live music and food stands in the main street. Domaine des trois etoiles in Satigny normally has a good live band as well as great views over the city from the vineyards. Here is a link to an excellent google map with the positions of all the caves in the Geneva region.
- What to eat? A hard day of wine tasting calls for some serious nourishment. Most places will provide something for you to eat as you taste, ranging from literally a few crumbs of bread in some places to a gourmet selection of cheese and charcuterie in others. Prices for food also vary from free all the way to expensive. A lot of caves also have food stalls with home-made fayre, or if you’re in one of the larger towns there will probably be plenty of food market stalls to choose from.
- And finally, if you’re had a superb day wine tasting don’t forget to drink plenty of water before going to bed!