CHAPPAZ Marie-Thérèse Fully, Valais, Switzerland

Passion and creativity create miracles

Marie Thérèse Chappaz (49) from Fully, in the Valais, combines perfectly and in a rare manner the three main criteria of this prize: creativity, innovation and courage.  In 20 years, this exceptionally dedicated winegrower has imposed herself as the reference par excellence of Swiss wines for the quality of her wines. The Wine Advocate, possibly the ultimate reference in this field, gave her 99 out of a 100 for two of her wines. She is also a person of great generosity and authenticity that she combines with a disarming modesty.

 In 1987, at the age of 18, she inherited a vineyard from her father and threw herself, alone and with passion, into the production of quality wine, using a very classical approach, with the exception of what is termed integrated control of predators of vineyards. Her first wine dates from 1988. Like all the winegrowers in her region, she used massive doses of herbicides which were spread by helicopter.

Her Road to Damascus took place in 1997, when she visited a French vineyard in Southern France where she discovered the method pioneered by Rudolph Steiner, biodynamic cultivation. This approach replaces the traditional power-based approach of wine production with an approach which is infinitely more respectful of the soil, based on preparations that are dynamized to reinforce the vine and make it more receptive to the energies of the earth and the heavens.

She has developed an approach enabling her to cultivate her vines without synthetic pesticides or herbicides, using a method applying straw which protects the basis of the plants so as to avoid poisoning the soil with herbicides (which leave many vineyards resembling a lunar landscape.) She also reintroduced horses to till the soil rather than the heavy machinery which compresses the soil.

Her present 26 acres of vineyards produce 25 sorts of different wines. Her wine is produced on the very steepest vineyards in Switzerland.

Marie-Thérèse Chappaz needed an immense courage to embark on her venture, given the fact that on one hand she had an anxious nature and on the other hand she was at that time one of the very rare women active in an area which was totally dominated by men. An addition to that, nearly everyone told her that her biodynamic approach would never work, at least in the vineyards of her region, the canton of Valais. She was even called the “ayatollah” of winegrowing because she dared to try radically new approaches, e.g. refusing to use helicopters to spread pesticides and depending on a method she developed herself and that had never been tested regionally.

For ten lonely years, she had to struggle alone before a few others started imitating her. She also launched her own cellars which was still one more adventure, creating wines of an absolutely exceptional quality using natural yeasts instead of commercial ones. In the early 2000’s, Per-Henrik Manson, a world reference for wines, gave her a notation of 100 on 100 for her wine “La Petite Arvine”.

For the 25th anniversary year of the WWSF Prize for women’s creativity in rural life, we feel it is a privilege for us to nominate this pioneer of a highly original and creative approach to winegrowing, so totally respectful of nature and the environment.   

Her work contributes to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals-Agenda 2030 - Target #12 and #15.