Notes From Abroad:
As the weekend approached
recently, Emily Forster ’12, who is spending her Junior
Year Abroad in Geneva, and her friends knew just what to
do: a train trip to the countryside to sample the local
spirits. Despite their early ambivalence, they eventually
had an experience to remember.
By Emily Forster
The train careens precariously
along a Swiss mountainside, taking corners like a pro, but
tilting with the threat of toppling over the edge at any
moment. I adjust my sunglasses to appreciate the spectacular
landscape—miles of hillside vineyards stretching to the shores
of sparkling Lac Leman far below. Above, the jagged Swiss
Alps, their snow-capped peaks reaching into the clear sky.
I’ve lived in Switzerland for only a few months, but this
incredible scenery will never cease to take my breath away.
Emily Forster ’12
(on right) poses with her friend Ali (a fellow JYA-Geneva
student, from Wellesley) atop Mont Saléve, Geneva
The Alps stretch to
the sky in Montreaux. "This incredible scenery will
never cease to take my breath away," says Forster.
I feel a hand on my shoulder
and look up to see my friend, Ali, and her flat-mate, Lola,
getting ready to disembark. As the train slows I notice another
friend, Sarah, waiting for us.
It’s Friday, and we are all on a mission. The previous
week, Ali stumbled upon a Web site for a vineyard in this
Swiss region of Vevey-Montreaux that offers free wine tasting—every
When we find our destination,
my first instinct is to walk straight back to the train station.
This is not a vineyard. This is no more than a shop. A cramped
little shop with a disturbing lack of customers. Only an
elderly and despondent barman stands at the back, cleaning
a glass behind a humble wooden bar.
Reluctantly, we venture
The barman perks up as we enter,
and shuffles to the front, motioning for us to take a seat.
We arrange ourselves around a small wooden table, looking
anxiously around, woefully unaware of wine-tasting etiquette.
Should we ask for a bottle? Where are
cracks a smile then disappears briefly. He reappears with
a newly opened bottle of red wine. Panic strikes. How
much does that wine cost? If he opens a new bottle, do we
have to pay for it? He approaches our table speaking the magic
words, “c'est gratuit” (“It’s free”).
We relax as he splashes a taste into Lola’s glass. A few
smiles—“merci, merci”—and we are on our way to becoming regular
customers of this fine establishment.
For half an hour we
sit around our table commenting on what our college-seasoned
palates judge to be quality local wine. Then another gentleman
appears from behind the bar motioning for us to follow him.
We are led to a large red barn behind the shop. At the entrance,
up on a platform, sits a group of boys and men ranging from
about age 12 to 80. One stands and gestures for us to join
They help us on to the platform
as a large blue tractor rumbles out from behind the barn,
towing a trailer carrying four vats filled with the most
beautiful grapes I have ever seen.
As we gape in paralyzing
admiration at the deep purple fruit, the lanky 12-year-old
climbs onto the platform and hooks one of the vats to a crane.
The crane lifts the container into the air, tipping it so
that the thousands of perfect, vine-ripened grapes tumble
into the roaring maw of a grinding machine.
We are mesmerized,
but more than that, we want to
taste those grapes. Our host, detecting the obvious longing
on our faces, reaches into the machine and hands us a perfectly
formed bunch, their elliptical shapes glistening in the setting
sun, each so deeply purple they’re nearly black. With reverence,
we pluck and taste the fruit. The flavor is pure, unadulterated
grape, with a warm, earthy taste. They taste like the air
around us. They taste like Switzerland.
As the sun disappears
behind the towering Alps, we hurry inside to buy some wine
from our barman.
Bottles in hand, we wave goodbye
to our exceptional hosts and head back to the station, gratified
with the knowledge that, particularly in Switzerland, things
are often not what they at first seem.