hidden europe 50

The Swiss Factor: From Chexbres to the Black Sea

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The winery at Shabo in Ukraine traces its history back to Swiss settlers who arrived in the region in 1822 (photo © hidden europe).


Wines from the Shabo region of southern Ukraine often combine typical Black Sea region grapes (such as Saperavi) with grape types well known in western Europe. No surprise, perhaps, as it was Swiss vintners who helped found the wine industry in this area which was historically part of Bessarabia.

A number of pretty lanes contour through the vineyards around the village of Chexbres. From these little roads there are on good days fine views across Lake Geneva to the Mont Blanc massif. This is a blessed corner of Switzerland — so blessed in fact that it seems inconceivable that anyone with a good living here would ever consider moving elsewhere. But over ten days in early November, the community of Chexbres recalls a curious episode in the history of the Lavaux Vineyard region when a number of families did indeed leave.

For a few days, there will be a touch of the East in Chexbres with Orthodox choirs, the sound of the balalaika and Russian dancers. Banners and posters will proclaim Du Léman à la mer Noire (from Lake Geneva to the Black Sea), a reminder that this affluent wine region on the north shore of Lake Geneva has a historic link with Bessarabia.

Travelling through Bessarabia this spring, we visited the area where the Swiss settlers from Lake Geneva made their new homes. The small town of Shabo (Шабо) is in a region of Bessarabia known as the Budjak. This is the only part of the territory of modern Ukraine which lies west of the River Dniester, and communication links between this fragment of the country and Ukraine proper are not good.

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