Fendant, the emblem of a time and place
Fendant is a particular type of Chasselas whose berries split (se fendre in French) when they are pressed between the fingers – the opposite of the type known as Giclet, whose berries burst (gicler in French).
Fendant is found in the Valais region of Chablais, in the Evouettes vineyards, before the 18th century. In Sembrancher, between 1763 and 1830, viticulture pioneer Joseph-François Luder provides instructions for how to make “a sweet wine like Muscat, Fendant, Rèze or Ervine or Malvoisie.” Local legend has it that General Maurice de Courten, a soldier under Louis XV of France, introduced the first Chasselas plants to Sierre during the second half of the 18th century. One of the king’s gardeners came from Versailles to show how to grow it!
Starting in 1848 Fendant drives the commercial development of Valais wineries; it is subject to active marketing, to the point where it replaces old native varieties. Starting in 1936, Valais producers fought to protect this appellation, sought after by producers in Geneva and canton Vaud. Valais Fendant received its protective appellation in 1966.
Despite the successful revival of native specialty grapes, Fendant remains the king of Valais white wines. Its vines cover more than one-third of the canton’s grape-growing surface area.
Sources: Histoire de la Vigne et du Vin en Valais, «Trente ans de tribulations pour protéger les appellations Dôle, Johannisberg et Fendant», by Sabine Carruzzo historian; «Comment le Chasselas et le Pinot sont arrivés en Valais», José Vouillamoz, ampelographer.