Grape 101: The Completer Grapes

Why the Switzerland indigenous grape is making a comeback

Completer is a wine grape that is an indigenous cultivar from Eastern Switzerland. These vines in the area of Malans in the Rhine Valley of Switzerland were known as far back as 765. However, the name completer is first thought to have appeared in 1321 where the name is found in a document from the Cathedral Chapter of the Cathedral of Chur. The last evening prayer in the Catholic Church is called Completarium (Complete). After this prayer the early monks in this area drank a white wine. This wine was high in acid and high in sugar and made like sherry with prolonged aging in barrels. This wine became known as completer. Today completer is known by several names including "malanserrebe," which translated means "the variety of Malans." The vineyard "Halde" in Malans is on the steep cliff in the background with pinot gris vineyards in the foreground. "Halde" means steep hillside. This is the only such steep vineyard in Malans and completer vines have grown here for more than 1,000 years. The vineyard is therefore also called "Completerhalde."

At one point, completer vines became nearly extinct as demand for the old style sherry like wine declined. Today plantings are increasing, but are still minuscule with only 5 acres of completer vines under cultivation in the entire country. It is now made in the style of a dry white wine. At Domaine Donatsch, one of the most highly regarded wineries in Switzerland, Martin Donatsch, the winemaker, and his father, Thomas, feel that the potential for completer is as good as chardonnay. And they believe that the wine is capable of aging for decades with increasing complexity developing over time. (If you would like to read a more detailed and scientific explanation of completer, you can read more here.) 

I recently visited Donatsch Winery in Malans, Switzerland and tasted some wonderful wines (I will have an article on that visit soon). But it was completer that was really unique. I had never heard of the grape or the wine, much less tasted it, before my visit. So I was taken completely by surprise.

Domaine Donatsch Completer

Today Domaine Donatsch has just more than an acre of completer vines. Completer vines historically existed on their property (now in the fifth generation of ownership), but were taken out by Martin’s grandfather in 1947 and then replanted in 1993 and 1997. Production in recent vintages has varied between 1,200-1,800 bottles. The goal today is to increase production to 5,000-6,000 bottles per year through production from young vines and increased plantings.

I have now tasted three different vintages of Domaine Donatsch Completer. Completer is very unique with great structure, flavor, and balance. To me, completer is like a cross between aligoté, chardonnay, pinot gris, and riesling. Completer has the backbone of aligoté, some of the flavors and structure of chardonnay, some of the floral complexities of pinot gris, and the fruit and bright minerality of a great riesling. 

Click here for tasting notes on the most recent vintages of Domaine Donatsch Completer.

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