By Giampaolo Zuliani
A landscape that surprises for its beauty and history is to be found in a Swiss Alpine valley, the Valais, which captures the attention of the wine lover visitor also due to the quality of the wines produced in that area. The architect Charles-André Meyer is a passionate and attentive connoisseur of these places and has made himself available to answer some questions about the Valais landscape.
Can you broadly describe the Valais landscape?
In particular, I would like to describe the centre of the Valais, excluding the lateral valleys, which are perpendicular to the course of the Rhone River. I would specifically like to narrow down the description, by excluding those two areas which are different from the central environment, although they belong to the Valais: the upper valley called Goms (Conches in French) which, although very beautiful, consists of a mountainous landscape of medium altitude. The lower part of the valley that goes from Martigny, following a very narrow path, towards Lake Lemano (Lake Geneva), then spreads on to the plain near Chablais. The central Valais valley, therefore, is made up of three distinct and characteristic areas: an alpine plain, two sides, one facing north (the reverse) and the other south (the hillside) and a crown of mountains at the highest point. The plain, where the Rhone flows, is heavily urbanized. In recent years, there was the risk of a concrete urban sprawl that could have transformed the Valais plain into an uninterrupted, complete urban agglomeration. For this reason, restrictions have been applied to avoid development, with an integrated management of the urban environment. This ensures a sustainable territorial planning. The lower portion of the hillside facing south is almost completely covered with vineyards, while the hillside facing north has a lower presence of vineyards. However, the combination of the two sides gives a general impression of a vast area, entirely planted with vines, which covers an area of about 5000 hectares (equivalent to about half of the vineyard area of the Chianti Classico). Above the vineyards, there is the intermediate area with forests, alternated with pastures and chalets. Finally, in the upper parts there are the Alpine mountains with their ski resorts.
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Which are the natural and artificial elements that make up the vineyard landscape?
First of all, it is essential to say that the vineyard landscape is an artificial reality. Within it, there are natural elements such as groves, rock barriers, but the overall ensemble gives the impression of a built landscape. Talking about a built landscape is an oxymoron, since the term landscape refers to unspoilt nature, while the term “built” sometimes means a forceful interference with nature. In Valais, the construction of the landscape was gradually formed by the parchets (parcels) planted in the terraces bordered by dry stone walls. The function of the dry stone walls was designed to create intermediate terraces due to the steepness of the hill. Many look out huts have been built inside these parcels which, in the local terminology, represent small houses (though now habitable) used for the storage of tools. Some of them are really beautiful and show a certain prosperity of the owner, while others are poorer. The presence of the lookout huts strongly definesthe landscape, without which the area would appear lacking in points of reference and structure. All these elements, terraces, dry stone walls, sentry boxes, bisses (canals) for irrigation, paths and lanes have marked the landscape of the region in a very defined mosaic, in part underlining the contour lines, where the insertion of the vineyard was respectful of the hill, while in other parcels, for economic reasons, the hill was completely distorted. The overall ensemble, however, gives us an idea of a complete harmony through a strong sign on the landscape that testifies to the immense work of man over the centuries.
What at are the actions and tools to conserve and enhance landscape?
The Valais Wine Museum, under the direction of Anne-Do Zufferey, does a very important job, enhancing the knowledge of the world of wine and viticulture. The museum itself has designed a very beautiful and interesting educational trail between Sierre and Salgesch. These projects demonstrate great attention to the enhancement of the vineyard landscape. This year, the museum has prepared an exhibition entitled “Vigne et Nature”, which unfortunately had to close due to the coronavirus. Today we can say that the conservation of vineyard landscape is also guaranteed through territorial planning initiatives, where the definition of “protected agricultural area” is established. Uncontrolled building is prevented within this area. Another tool for enhancing the area is the enrolment in the Unesco heritage, which unfortunately has not been completed because we arrived too late, after the Canton of Vaud, where the “vignoble de Lavaux” is inscribed as “dry stone walls” “(2007).
[su_box title=”Who is Taddé alias Charles-Andé Meyer?” style=”noise” box_color=”#5e0230″ title_color=”#fff”]
Born in 1943, in Sion (Valais). Classically trained, he graduated in architecture at the
Polytechnic of Zurich in 1970; the first phase of his professional life is characterized by
many activities and study trips to Switzerland, Scotland and the United States. He completed his training in territorial planning. He has carried out several studies and obtained several achievements on subjects of architectural heritage: he founded an independent studio that was active from 1973 to 1988. He then continued his professional activity as an architect of the city of Sion, up until 2005. He collaborated intensely with the Valais Wine Museum for two works of art: “Guérites, ces cabanes dans les vignes”, 2007 and “Murs de pierres murs de vignes”, 2012. [/su_box]