Back to Lac Leman

It took two trips to Lausanne, Switzerland, to discover my new métier: absentee vintner of Chasselas, a fine, buttery, white Swiss wine from the Lavaux region on the banks of Lac Leman -- which English-speakers call Lake Geneva. 

I came to it through mental acumen, competitive superiority. Never mind the details.

As a long-time travel writer, I have a longer list of places I want to go back to than places I want to visit for the first time. Lausanne was near the top of the list, with its impressive views of the pre-Alps behind and the mountains of Evian, France across the water. I look at the views every day at home in the screensaver photos of two different computers and the background photos on my website and Facebook pages.

My first trip there was in April 2013. It was overcast and unseasonably cold. The vineyards were trying to come out from under winter brown; the mountains were still snow-capped, the gray clouds made the light on the lake flat and mysterious. But the flowers on the lake front promenades were exploding in pink and purple blooms.

I went back last month, July 2014. It was still overcast to the point of rain, languidly humid, achingly beautiful, green as Eden. I walked along the lake for hours, beyond the hotels and the Olympic Museum to where the path is just wide enough for two-way foot traffic, past sun bathers and swimmers, villas and boat docks.

In the evening I returned to the nightclubs in the city’s downtown, which is really uptown in an area they call the Flon after a river that ran there until they covered it over to keep it from flooding. Now it’s a conclave of rehabbed warehouses that throb with techno music from happy hour into the morning.

The Chasselas, the Pinot noir; hot chocolate as thick as hot pudding; fera, a white lake fish that swims twice, according to a local saying: once in the lake and the second time in butter and wine sauce.

Lausanne is headquarters for the International Olympic Committee, but the Olympic Museum was closed for renovations during my last visit. This time it was open. A German journalist there asked me, "Would Americans actually visit the museum?" Well, yes, I thought. There are exhibits of the torches carried, dioramas, photos, uniforms, history. It's worth the time.
Montreux is a short bus ride to the east, and the Montreux Jazz Festival seems to go on all summer long, and that is a fantastic thing. Outside the venues, it's a carnival of colored lights and booths selling everything you want, from food and drink to memento t-shirts.
This year’s performances included Van Morrison, Milky Chance, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Guy, Pharrell Williams and Outkast.
I was given tickets to see Robin Thicke, who I liked better than I expected, the debonair singer playing a baby grand like he was channeling Ray Charles, backed by a spectacular all-Black soul band.
But the opening act, Paloma Faith, blew me away. She's a bleached blonde, working class London girl with a tight dress and a big voice that ranged from baby doll to sultry. She did her genuine best to speak French, and murdered it, but it charmed the audience anyway. She sang Billy Holliday and Van Morrison and Sly and the Family Stone. And the final numbers rocked so hard, I thought the stage would levitate. I never felt such energy in a concert hall. I had tears in my eyes.
Ah, but the wine…
The vineyards at Lavaux are a UNESCO heritage site, and the wines, mostly Chasselas, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot noir and Viognier, are superb. Very little is exported, because the Swiss drink it all themselves. I had hiked here on my last visit, sampled the wines. This time, I sat on my ass on a covered sun deck, drinking Chasselas and watching rainclouds over the lake below.
And that’s where I discovered my new métier. Truth be told, I won a trivia contest. The prize: Three vines in the Lavaux vineyards and a plaque with my name on them next to the vines. And since each vine produces about a bottle of wine per year for four years, I had won three bottles of wine per year for the next four years.
Now when people ask me what I do for a living, I can tell them I'm part owner of a Swiss vineyard.
They won’t know any better.