Dôle, the first blend
Dôle appears in Switzerland for the first time in 1820, thanks to the renowned French-Swiss botanist Augustin Pyramus de Candolle. It is a grape variety of its own, from the area around the city of Dole in the Jura, where Gamay is king.
The first Dôle plants arrived in Valais about 1850, in the Sion family vineyards of a military commander exiled to Jura. Blended with Gamay in the beginning, the name Dôle began to indicate Pinot Noir, then a mix of Pinot Noir and Gamay. But when these two grapes’ own names began to be used, the definition of Dôle shifted again. Gamay was used more and more often.
By the end of the 1950s, the production of red wine exploded, threatening to ruin the quality of Dôle. New rules dictated that the wine could be made only with grapes whose sugar level had reached 83 degrees Oechslé. Inferior grapes were all declassified and used for a new wine, Goron. About this time Dôle became a protected appellation, to be used only in Valais. After several years of dithering, today we have a clear definition: the blend must be at least 51% Pinot Noir and Gamay, with Pinot Noir dominating. It can be completed with other red grape varieties (Syrah, Humagne, Rouge, Cornalin or others) that add to its complexity and confer very personal touches to reflect the terroir and producers.
Sources: Histoire de la Vigne et du Vin en Valais, «Trente ans de tribulations pour protéger les appellations Dôle, Johannisberg et Fendant», par Sabine Carruzzo historian; «Les chemins de la Dôle pour rejoindre le Valais», José Vouillamoz, ampelographer.