1850-1918: the rapid rise of grape and wine trade
The development of commercial trade in grapes and wine in Valais began as a result of the Sonderbund civil war in 1847. The lands taken from the Church were bought by wealthy Valais families and investors from canton Vaud; they founded the first viticulture businesses in Valais. Grape varieties planted and cultivation methods evolved. The state actively encouraged agricultural progress, including growing grapes. The first correction of the Rhone river and the building of the rail line at the start of the 1860s offered the possibility of enlarging the growing area and reaching new markets. Viticulture very quickly became the most important branch of Valais agriculture.
1918-1950: big changes
The first half of the 20th century is, for viticulture, a rich and dynamic period. After the arrival of phylloxera in 1916, the vineyards were rebuilt in a few decades. The grape varieties planted and the viticulture techniques used changed profoundly. A major economic crisis in the 1920s that forced wine producers and wine businesses to organize themselves is behind the creation of cooperative winery Provins. The federal government also played a growing role in the wine industry. Training became more professional. The area given over to growing grapes was enlarged, so much so that Valais became the largest wine-producing area in the country in 1957, with 3,550 hectares.
1950-1991: tensions rise over quantity vs quality
The second half of the 20th century was characterized by an increasingly structured organization to produce and sell wine. The constitutional basis for a federal viticulture policy that was protectionist was created at the legislative level. The growing area for wine grapes in Valais continued to increase steadily, reaching 5,200 hectares by 1980. Production became industrialized. Harvests paid off and the world of grape growing knew a period of prosperity. Emphasis on yields often overrode consideration for the quality of wines, however. During the 1980s Valais, like other wine-producing regions, suffered a serious problem of over-production, with major consequences for regulations and quality.
1991 to our time: the AOC years
AOCs (appellation d’origine contrôlée) were born during the major over-production crisis of the 1980s. They came into use in Valais in 1992. Quality became a central focus as policies governing imports were liberalized and competition grew. By the start of the 21st century the focus had shifted. The goals of Valais policy covering viticulture included re-evaluating native grape varieties. Terroirs were attributed greater importance, value was placed on saving the heritage that is the countryside and sustainable development in viticulture became a priority at the start of the 21st century.