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Mythopia

There is an enigmatic & multifaceted personality to the vines of Valais. On one hand we have a thriving wine industry and stunning, popular destination for tourists who come to view the soaring mountains, to see the swathes of vines weaving across the slopes, and the sheer majesty and beauty of this alpine part of the Rhône valley, and on the other hand, like a lot of ancient wine growing regions that have evolved in to big-name and/or big-business wine centres (think Burgundy or Bordeaux) environmentally speaking speaking theres a ‘bit’ of a problem, those picturesque vineyards roll across largely over-worked soils, soils that have been sprayed, compacted and denuded of any other natural vegetation over generations. Their beauty goes hand in hand with the ecological hostility of commercial monocultural farming, and the effects are plain to see and feel. The valais is both one of the driest and the wettest parts of Switzerland, the mountain peaks see rains and snows that pour and melt across the upper slopes, and yet the lower central part of the valley experiences baking heat and periods of drought….the soils grow hard and mean without the moisturising aid of cover crops and when those rains come and the water begins to race and slide down the slopes, it runs over the cooked, dry earth without being absorbed and year after year the floods in the valley below worsen, in 2019 flooding in Switzerland had reached a 10 year high and yet up on the slopes, the silvery lines of irrigation pipes snake their way across the faces of the mountains, to feel the soils and the vines that can’t feed themselves.

In 2004 Hans-Peter and Romaine Schmidt stepped into this world,  and took over their parcels on the slopes of Arbaz, just to the west of Ayent (Domaine de Cherouche). The vineyards and land holdings of Mythopia have come a long way from the over worked, long-abused vineyards that they had once been, and it is now a domaine that is a dedicated to the research and practice of farming and living harmoniously and sustainably with nature, whilst also promoting and implementing many kinds of regenerative agricultural practices. Hans-Peter worked for many years for an organisation working with industrial-scaled organic farming. It was here that he created the Ithaca foundation, and after splitting away from the ‘parent’ company to further personalise and grow the institute, he turned the fields of Mythopia into a kind of test site for the land sciences that he had been promoting and implementing across the globe, to quote their website: “In 2009 the Mythopia vineyard assumed the role of the research centre for the Ithaka Foundation and its Institute for Carbon Intelligence. Bridging the gap between theory and practice, methods and strategies have been developed for an ecological and economically sustainable viniculture. In addition the vineyard plays a major role in researching agricultural methods having a positive influence on the climate and biodiversity.”

Independence, freedom of farming, thought and expression seem to be key factors at Mythopia, in 2013 H-P stopped labelling under the AOC, or denoting organic certification on the label (unless requested), to enable him to move to his own rhythm for vinification as well as farming. Even earlier he had changed the name of his cuvée ’Selection’ to ‘Disobedience’ (in 2009) to reflect that the wine that he was producing went against what was considered to be the ‘correct’ wine of the day.

Hans-Peter is not a man who dabbles, and aside from his far-reaching and globally impactful international projects, at Mythopia they are whole-heartedly committed to the object of bringing about better, sustainable agricultural practices for farming food and grapes. The vines of mostly pinot noir, fendant, other local varietals and more experimental disease resistant Swiss hybrids, are surrounded and interspersed by dense vegetation, cover crops, swaying grains, grasses, herbs and flowers. Grown on cancerous schist, at altitudes of up to 900m there are no chemicals used to treat the vines, but rather natural solutions gleaned from the land and from the community, e.g. raw milk is mixed with fermented grape leaves to spray when fertiliser is needed, but in general no fertilisers are needed, due to the considered selection and planting of companion crops that each in their turn provide all of the nutrients and minerals required for heathy vines to flourish. The life of the estate is undeniable, the vineyards are also home to endangered species of lizards, bee hotels, birds of many feathers - and, as with Valais neighbours Domaine de Beudon, a vibrant community of butterflies. The wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts, are never fined or filtered, and have nothing added at any stage to preserve the pure and unadulterated message and energy of the ancient mountains on which they are grown.