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Has Verbier’s après-ski scene finally grown up?

October 21, 2022

Knowing that I will later have to grapple ½rith one of the longer wine lists in the Alps, I seek advice during a chance encounter at more than 3,300m. A sprightly local is among a small gathering of ski tourers just below the summit of the Rosablanche which rises above the glaciers beyond the Swiss resort of Verbier.

“I make wine in the valley ” says Yvan Roduit after introducing himself while I eat a sandwich. He gestures north towards the Rhone, which flow through the canton of Valais before running through Lake Geneva into France. Like me, Roduit is out in glorious sunshine in search of good snow more than a week after the last fall. Separately, we are hilting on our touring skis, after dropping down the backside of Verbier’s famous Mont Fort. Over precariously exposed rock, we continued on foot to the summit of Rosablanche itself, where mountains rise to the east towards the shark-tooth peaks of the Matterhorn and Dent Blanche.

Roduit, who is nearly 70, owns Rodeline, a small Swiss winery. I tell him I’ve come to Verbier to write about a new members’ club called 67 Pall Mall, a monument to Bacchus and an outpost for a London club of the same name. “Ah ye le club!” Roduit says. “My wine is there.” He recommends his Marsanne, a variety synonymous with the stony, south-facing vineyards of the northern Rhone. Only half-joking, he also asks me not to write about it. “I don’t want to have to make any more,’ he says.

Swiss wines are grown in small quantities and almost exclusively for domestic consumption. (Only about 1 per cent is exported.) And they are a preoccupation at 67, as Verbier’s newest drinking spot is known. Later, on the club’s members-only first floor, which radiates from a marble bar in an array of blush-pink velvets and parquet head sommelier Lucy Meza Ortega pours me a glass of Roduit’s Marsanne. The 2011 vintage is one of 1,000 Swiss wines on the list here, which runs to 3,ooo wines in total. The rustic yet crisply sophisticated white provides the second thrill of the day. I ask for a top-up.

The man behind 67 is no stranger to Switzerland or its wines. “They’re such a hidden gem,” says Grant Ashton a former partner in a London hedge fund. In 2015, he turned a grand old Lutyens-designed bank in the capital into 67 Pall Mall, a kind of Soho House for oenophiles with a hint of modern Mayfair. Within weeks, he had a waiting list and plans for a gentle expansion.

Ashton 55, who has opened a third outpost in Singapore (others are due to follow in Burgundy, Bordeaux, Napa and beyond), started skiing in Verbier in the early 1990s as a young bond trader. Back then the resort was famous for its cheerful chalets, where mainly Brits guzzled dirt-cheap wine supplied in one­-litre flagons.

At first, Ashton was on a budget and stayed in cheap digs way below town. “I think the reason my wife married me was because I used to carry her kit up to the lift every morning,” he says. His and Verbier’s fortunes have changed a bit since then.

The winter of 2007-2008 was seen by many as a turning point. Among several big openings were Richard Branson’s palatial chalet and the minimalist Hotel Nevai above the legendary Farm Club. Less successful was Coco a members’ club owned jointly by a London recruitment tycoon and a Swiss footballer. It had gold-leaf walls and £4,30o sharing cocktails, served in ice troughs carved in the form of Swiss chalets.

Burned by the 2008 crash Coco quickly melted into a pool of its own excess. Verbier is a graveyard of such enterprises targeting the capricious upper end of the market. But the momentum stuck even as entrepreneurs came and went (Coco was very briefly revived as Public by Prince Harry s mate Guy Pelly). The arrival, in 2013, of the W hotel confirmed the resort s spot on the piste map of the global rich.

In 2017 Tom Etridge a London gastropub pioneer opened the Vie Montagne members’ club on the site of the old Hotel Rosalp (between Verbier’s Place Centrale and the Medran lift), where the renowned Swiss chef Roland Pierroz used to serve scallop cassoulet in little copper pots. It too foundered and the owners struck a deal with Ashton to turn the place into the new 67.

Ashton opened last December with modest expectations. ‘I was planning to ship over £200,ooo worth of wine and that would do for the season but it didn’t really work out that way,” he tells me. After several top-ups, 67 tripled that initial estimate in its first winter, and by early March more than 500 people had paid £2,000 a year to become members.

The modest ground-floor entrance opens on to the cosy Bar à Vin, where non-members can kick back around the roaring fire with posh sausage rolls or steak tartare with frites and something from a condensed wine list (bottles including a local Pinot Noir from Pierre-Elie Carron, start at SFr50). Stairs lead up to the sprawling clubroom where my glass of Marsanne serves as an apéritif. Scandi and Swiss families gather to eat. A group of ruddy British expats prop up the bar. Dressed in sequins and feathers for Mardi Gras they brim with post-pandemic cheer. The club feels like it has been here for years.

Meza Ortega arrives with the iPad-borne wine list, which is dizzyingly long. She’ll happily take control and in n1 case pairs a delicious golden Israeli Chardonnay from the Domaine du Castel with my perch starter, and then a 2015 pren1ier cru Pinot Noir from Domaine Arlaud with fillet of beef from Switzerland’s Val d’Hérens. There’s a delicate South African dessert wine from the Klein Constantia estate and, to round things off a 20- ear-old Fonseca tawny port.

If Coco marked the peak of Verbier s popularity among the Cristal-spraying Euro jetset, 67 perhaps signals a more grown-up evolution. It follows the Experimental Chalet, a hip-yet-laid-back hotel from the barmen behind the Experimental Cocktail Club in Paris which opened in 2019, replacing the flasher Nevai.

Ashton is confident that he can succeed where brash arrivistes have failed. The pandemic helped swell Verbier’s community of residents. A British teacher opened the town’s second international school only last year. “Pall Mall is another step in the direction we’re going here,” adds Marcus Bratter, an Australian ski bum and pot-washer-turned-Verbier hotelier and restaurateur.

Bratter, whose properties include the luxury Cordée des Alpes, where I am staying, started out here as a plucky wine supplier, launching his Macbirch company in the 1980s as a pipeline for chalet plonk. “I used to go to these tastings where nothing was worth more than two francs a litre and I’d choose the least-bad wines to sell to my customers,” he says. The flagons were sealed with beer bottle tops.

The Australian, whose wine shop remains a Verbier institution (you won’t find much on a budget at Macbirch these days), is impressed with the approach and professionalism of 67. “Most other people come here thinking it will be easy to do business in a ski resort, but don’t know what they’re doing and fall over,” he says.

Roduit was happily rising above it all on his day off on the Rosablanche, although he was keen to see whether “le club” orders more wine this winter.
“Maybe I will sell more, but not too many” he said. First it was time to ski. He disappeared, while I finished my sandwich. Then, after a life-affirming descent in fresh snow into the Printse valley, past the Cleusons dam, I worked my way back towards Verbier in search of refreshment.

Glacial retreat notwithstanding, the resort’s only truly consistent amenity remains some of the best mountains for skiing anywhere. The town, meanwhile, has for almost 20 years shifted largely on the whims and fortunes of the loud and the rich. In 67 Pall Mall, Verbier may have found an address that quietly succeeds.

Simon Usbourne for the Financial Times.  See original article Has Verbier’s après-ski scene finally grown up?


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