How Switzerland’s Grand Dame Hotels Are Reviving Their Underground Wine Traditions 

Courtesy Grand Hotel Kronenhof

The Upper Engadine Valley—and a 170-year-old wine shop that saved a storied hotel from two world wars—is a destination for lovers of wine and history. 

There are speakeasies and then there is the Grand Hotel Kronenhof’s wine cellar. Tucked below an ancient oak staircase accessible by passing through the hotel’s kitchen, the liquid treasure trove-turned-private-event-space is where après-ski (or après-hike) aperitifs are served with a side of storytelling.


Courtesy Grand Hotel Kronenhof

After all, the Veltliner wine shop, first established in 1867, has long been credited for helping the hotel survive the First and Second World Wars. During these crisis years, when very few guests were visiting the alpine town of Pontresina, the rustic barrels of local wine provided a safe source of income that allowed the hotel to power through the slump. The scene changed dramatically in the years to follow, when neighboring town St. Moritz played host to the Olympic Winter Games in 1928 and 1948, solidifying the Upper Engadine‘s position as a winter retreat for the jet-set crowd. 


Courtesy Grand Hotel Kronenhof

Today, the hotel’s journey through the decades is evident in its neo-baroque dining hall decorated with frescos by Bernese artist Otto Haberer, salons filled with Eames furniture, and a cigar lounge recently revamped by French interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon. In the basement, a retro Swiss bowling alley can be reserved for private parties, where Raclette (a traditional grill-your-own cheese, meat, and veggies experience) is just as much fun as striking out. 

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This year, however, as Europe’s tourism industry slogs through one of it’s most challenging periods yet due to the pandemic, the Kronenhof has once again returned to its wine roots. Teaming up with Kulm Hotel in St. Moritz, the two historic properties have set forth to share one of the region’s best-kept secrets: Swiss wine.


Gia Giovanoli/Courtesy Kulm Hotel

While Switzerland’s most famous exports, cheese and chocolate, have long stolen the spotlight, wine production in Switzerland has existed since the Roman era. Its output is virtually unknown internationally due to the fact that the Swiss drink nearly all the wine they make. According to the Swiss Observatory for the Wine Market (OSMV), only 1% of Swiss wine is exported outside of the country.

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And yet, Switzerland is home to some of the world’s most fascinating vineyards—from the world’s smallest vineyard, Les Amis de Farinet, owned by the Dalai Lama himself and made up of just three vines, to Europe’s highest-altitude vineyards in Visperterminen. At the latter, the rare Heida grape variety, which flourishes at altitudes of up to 3,500 feet, attracts adventurous hikers who take the “Heida trail” for a hard-earned taste of Switzerland’s alpine viticulture. 


Jean-Pierre Clatot/Getty Images

Aware of the wine traditions on their own soil, and within their own walls, Grand Hotel Kronenhof and Kulm Hotel decided to exclusively bottle two of their own Swiss house wines in collaboration with Davaz winery. Two wines were selected: a multi-layered chardonnay graba, which sommelier Alessandro Coli recommends as the perfect match for the wild seabass served at the Kronenhof’s own restaurant, Kronenstübli, and a Pinot Noir Uris Reserve du Patron. With pinot noir representing 30% of Switzerland’s total wine production, it was a clear choice for the hotel’s house Swiss red. Spicy yet earthy, the pinot pairs perfectly with the game and truffle dishes served at The K by Tim Raue, The Kulm Hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, which comes with a St. Moritz pedigree. 


Courtesy Kulm Hotel

As the story goes, it was within the Kulm Hotel’s walls that winter tourism in Europe was born, and the first après-ski wines were likely poured—by way of a legendary bet. It all started in 1864 when hotelier Johannes Badrutt first raved about the winters in St. Moritz to four Englishmen who regularly visited Switzerland in the summer but felt that the winters would be too harsh to enjoy. Badrutt suggested that the four should visit in December, and if they did not love it, he would reimburse their travel expenses. The four Englishmen returned and stayed until Easter. Badrutt won his bet, and winter tourism in the region was launched.

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Today, the vestiges of these winter sports and wine pioneers lives on in the Grand Hotel Kronenhof’s cellar, where vintage wooden skis and mountaineering equipment hang from the walls like artifacts. Here, Switzerland has a dignified spot alongside the bottles from Italy and France. With a bit of imagination, you can picture Lorenz Gredig, founder of the wine cellar, selling his precious Veltliner wines—and perhaps sharing a glass or two—with the patrons who passed through during the war. Today, rustic oak barrels have been transformed into tables for private gatherings, where “viva!” (“cheers” in Rumantsch, the regional language) is triumphantly bellowed with every toast. In times of celebration and crisis, wine remains the great connector.