Marilen Muff & Alain Schwarzenbach

Schwarzenbach Weinbau,  Zürichsee, Switzerland

A winemaker's life between lake and vineyard.

What are your favourite times of the year?

Marilen Muff: This is definitely autumn. Especially if we have had a nice year and the luck to harvest beautiful grapes. Especially here at the lake we have the problem that it rains often in the time just before the harvest. This is of course especially tricky for our Räuschling grapes with the thin skin. All the more reason to be happy when everything goes well. Autumn is an intensive time when the work of a whole year becomes visible. At that time there is a fine smell of fresh grape juice in the cellar, you suddenly make progress and the team is then full of friends. It is also a time when we are able to implement much of what we have developed over the year.

Marilen Muff

The winegrowing couple Alain Schwarzenbach and Marilen Muff have been running the Schwarzenbach winery since 2016. Marilen Muff realised during her studies that the everyday life of an architect did not quite suit her. Therefore she was looking for a new challenge and found it on an alpine pasture with a farmer who also had vines. This was the beginning of her passion for grapes. As part of her training as a winemaker, she came to the Schwarzenbachs' farm in 2013 and found her vocation here.

But there are beautiful moments throughout the entire vintage year. For example, when it snows in winter - which does not happen too often here at the lake - and the vines sink into the snow. Or when in spring everything turns yellow from the many dandelions between the rows and everything starts to grow.

Keyword flora and fauna: who else romps about in your vineyard besides the winegrowers and helpers?

We do not have any animals ourselves. However, in winter a shepherd comes with his sheep. Then you can tell the little balls of wool hanging from the vines that the sheep were there. And the goats of our neighbour sometimes visit the vineyard. Often we let them stay between the vines after the harvest, because they especially like the leaves of the vines.

Alain Schwarzenbach

Alain Schwarzenbach is the fifth Schwarzenbach to press at the Meilen winery. Growing up by the lake, he is closely connected to life by the water and the people who shape it.

We have already considered whether we should keep animals ourselves. There are, for example, sheep that are very suitable and that you can let graze in the vineyard all year round because they are not grown large and therefore cannot reach the grapes and vine leaves. The problem is that we have many individual plots and it is a great effort to move the animals from one plot to another. Without this difficulty, we would probably already have animals.

Have you ever observed wild animals?

As we do not live directly at the edge of the forest, we have rather less wild animals in the vineyard. Accordingly, we do not have to deal with damage. But every now and then a badger comes along. And there are many birds. A kestrel lives in one of the higher situated plots. This year he had six young ones. Lizards are also numerous, because there are many stones and dry stone walls in our vines. This is of course a paradise for the small reptiles. Most recently we also have bees. A friend puts his colonies in our vines and we get honey from him.

What does the Schwarzenbach family do when they are not on the vines and managing the company?

(laughs) Then we fall onto the sofa and stay there. For Alain, the lake is definitely a big theme in his free time, he likes to spend his time on the water. I love the mountains and I love hiking. Besides, we both love to cook, also for friends. Sociability is also important to us privately. At the moment, however, these activities have to take a back seat. With our two small children there is not much time and energy left for anything else besides the work for the winegrowing. Leisure time is currently already strongly influenced by family life. In concrete terms this means less water sports and excursions into the mountains, but more playing with the children.

You are also involved in associations.

Yes, but we have also had to put our involvement in associations on hold recently. However, our commitment to Swiss wine, especially to the Lake Zurich wine region, will remain as far as we can. This is particularly close to our hearts. We are strongly committed to ensuring that Lake Zurich is better perceived as a wine region.

It is also important to us that we can produce a good wine with what we have here. We don't want to force anything that doesn't really belong here at the lake.

Do you ever have doubts about what you do every day?

No. On the whole, there is no doubt about what we do. We love our work. Butwe always try to do something new and of course not everything always works out. For me, for example, this was the experiment with spontaneous fermentation. I wanted to work with this method because I was convinced that it would allow our terroir to be even better expressed in wine. But after initial tests and comparisons, it was clear that we would definitely achieve better results with our conventional method. Therefore we had to refrain from spontaneous fermentation - even if it would have fitted perfectly into our concept and philosophy.

How do you organise your work in the vineyard and during pressing?

We are mechanically very well set up. Since we have terrace construction and direct construction, we need different machines. For us, technology is not something that is negatively affected. We like to work with modern technical equipment both in the vines and in the cellar. As long as we do not have any qualitative losses, we use the appropriate tools. This allows us to work more efficiently. Since we also do without herbicides, we are dependent on good machinery. Otherwise it would be impossible to get rid of all the grass.

It is of course already the case that handicraft is considered an important quality feature in Switzerland. This is quite different in other countries. In Switzerland, a great deal of work is still done by hand, while in certain regions abroad, harvesting with a harvesting machine is standard practice, without being considered detrimental to quality, sales or brand. What we do 100% by hand is the grape harvest. But this also has to do with the fact that we can sort out according to our wishes right away.

That certainly needs many hands.

Yes, not only because of the quantity of grapes, but also because the harvest in autumn has to take place almost everywhere at the same time. We need additional helpers in addition to our regular employees. These are often retired people who enjoy working in the vineyards. If you calculate this work, then that is an additional 100% work place throughout the year.

What do you pay attention to during the winemaking process?

It is important to us that we can produce a good wine with what we have here. We don't want to force anything that doesn't really belong here at the lake. For example, it would never occur to us to create an Australian wine style. The climate here is cool and this is reflected in our wines.

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