09/2023: An ideal blend of innovation and tradition, excellently protected by high-quality glass containers: these attributes have turned the Alpine wines from Maison Gilliard into popular ambassadors for their homeland. Brands such as Dôle des Monts and Fendant Les Murettes enjoy success at both regional and national levels – and they are also served in Swiss embassies and to passengers on Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS).
The canton of Valais could well be described as the quintessence of Switzerland: it boasts many famous ‘four-thousander’ peaks – including, of course, the iconic Matterhorn – as well as the immense Aletsch glacier, and the enchanting Rhône valley. Sion, the canton’s capital, is home to Maison Gilliard – a winery steeped in tradition which nowadays offers over 50 different wines from 22 grape varieties: white, rosé and red, ranging from sweet to dry, and including single-varietal and blended products.
There could be no better symbol for the exposed location and unusual origin of these wines than the dry-stone walls of the Clos de Cochetta vineyard. Between 1860 and 1904, Cistercian monks laboured long and hard to build them under conditions that would be unimaginable today. The walls offer perfect conditions for the vineyards: they are slanted at the optimal angle to absorb heat during the day, store it and release it again at night – so they prevent frost that could damage the vines. If you were to line up all the stones used to build the walls, they would stretch for a longer distance than the Great Wall of China!
Founded by Edmond Gilliard at Sion back in 1885, the Maison Gilliard winery is one of the oldest in Valais and one of the last that still harvests, ferments, bottles and distributes wines in Sion. Maison Gilliard’s most popular brand is Dôle des Monts – probably the best-known of all Swiss red wines. It was first produced by Edmond Gilliard in 1886. “When our parents were young, this wine was served in Valais at major celebrations such as weddings. Nowadays, we sell it to the other Swiss cantons and we also export it to countries such as China and the USA,” says Grégory Dubuis, Director of Maison Gilliard.
“Around one third of our wines go to large retail chains and convenience stores; we sell another third to the catering trade, and the remaining third goes to private individuals and companies.” The international presence of Maison Gilliard’s wines is also enhanced because they are served in 180 Swiss embassies around the world. Maison Gilliard already achieved nationwide recognition decades ago when its wines were served in the restaurant cars on trains operated by Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), and on board the national airline (known back then as Swissair).
Working together to advance Swiss quality wines
Maison Gilliard resumed its collaboration with Vetropack, the glass packaging manufacturer, in 2021. The partnership has been expanded steadily in the intervening years: “Following a visit to the plant in St-Prex, we decided to opt for Vetropack – and we haven’t been disappointed,” Dubuis continues. “Several factors make this a win-win situation for both Swiss companies: very high quality (with no complaints, burst bottles or suchlike issues thus far); our combined innovative strength and – by no means least – the very close proximity of our sites. Vetropack has its headquarters as well as a production facility in Switzerland – and that was a key criterion in reaching our decision.” Both companies combine a passion for what they do with ambitious sustainability targets. Vetropack actively helps Maison Gilliard to achieve its sustainability goals with locally produced glass packaging that is manufactured efficiently – with an increased share of recycled glass every year.
«With Vetropack by our side, we have the right partner to make sure we can continue offering innovative and sustainable Swiss quality wines in high-grade packaging, at an affordable price.»
Vetropack now supplies the winery with two differently embossed glass containers in standard sizes and two colours (cuvée and feuille-morte), as well as smaller bottles (250 ml) that are served to passengers on SWISS aircraft. “We’re delighted to be back in business above the clouds, because this is how Maison Gilliard gained national recognition more than 40 years ago,” Dubuis points out. “Vetropack’s vigorous support, with their high-quality glass packaging products, has helped us to achieve this. At long last, passengers on board SWISS planes can savour a Swiss red wine again! Dôle des Monts is served on SWISS flights in a 250-ml glass bottle that is larger than the standard. The glass packaging (which is rather unusual on board aircraft) also ensures a good shelf life. The principle here is: the smaller the bottle, the less time the wine will keep. This also makes the 250-ml bottle interesting for other markets – it’s ideal for stocking hotel minibars anywhere in the world, for instance.”
Organic and light wines to attract younger consumers
Nevertheless, innovations and new developments are essential: wine consumption in Switzerland has been declining for several decades, largely due to changed consumption habits among the younger generation. With Porte de Novembre as a mainstay of its portfolio, Maison Gilliard already has a wine that is also attractive to younger consumers. This light, somewhat sweeter carbonated wine with an alcohol content of just nine per cent appeals to a young demographic – and especially to female drinkers. “We haven’t yet made quite as much progress with alcohol-free wine, which is another major trend. The first step here is to advance the development of the process technology so we can create a product with an appealing taste that will hold its own on the market,” Dubuis comments.
Demand is also on the increase for organic wines: the very first ‘Dôle des Monts Bio’ was launched in 2023. Dubuis again: “In 2021, we acquired the Henri Valloton winery. 100 per cent of the wines produced there are grown organically – and of course that’s a key trend as well. But there’s more to sustainability than this: to be more specific, it also involves maintaining and expanding the infrastructure as well as training and retaining valuable staff. In the wine-growing industry, where no two years are the same, know-how and passion are essential to success.”
Development partnership focuses on packaging
In all these respects, Vetropack is a perfect fit for Maison Gilliard: as a pioneer of glass recycling in Switzerland, this glass packaging manufacturer has been actively working to reduce the ecological footprint of all its business activities since 2019. Vetropack’s innovative strength also contributes to the company’s success in boosting sustainability. To this end, Vetropack regularly conducts tests on new product ideas and improvements together with its customers. Experiments are also conducted with screen printing and 3D printing on the bottles, as well as traceability using chips.
Closing words from Grégory Dubuis: “With more than 1,200 producers and over 1,500 wine merchants in Switzerland alone, you have to be on the lookout for every opportunity to stand out from the crowd. With Vetropack by our side, we have the right partner to make sure we can continue offering innovative and sustainable Swiss quality wines in high-grade packaging, at an affordable price.”