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Brothers keep Swiss mountains in high spirits

Depopulation threatens the future of Switzerland's picturesque mountain villages, but three brothers are trying to keep theirs alive by capturing its essence in a bottle.

Brothers keep Swiss mountains in high spirits
Mountains are in Switzerland's DNA. Image by Jörg Vieli from Pixabay

In the one-road hamlet of Souboz, nearly 900 metres (2,950 feet) up in the Jura mountains, the nature-loving Gyger brothers distill whatever they forage, such as gentian roots and juniper, in a bid to sustain the local economy.

Switzerland is trying to stave off the slow-motion extinction of its remote communities as young people move to the cities for jobs and opportunities.

Thanks to a grant from the Swiss Mountain Aid foundation, the Gygers were able transform their grandfather’s old home into the Gagygnole distillery,
turning professional a couple of years ago.

The name comes from eldest brother Gaetan’s nickname Gagy, and gnole — French slang for a drop of the hard stuff.

On the ground floor of an old farmhouse, the scent of coriander and juniper berries hangs in the air, while warmth emanates from the 2.5-metre-high copper still in which Gaetan distills gin over a wood fire.

“This production site has been in our lives since we were very young. We really have roots anchored in our village,” he told AFP.
 An agronomist by training, Gaetan, now 30, had studied in Geneva.

“We didn’t want to set up in the city,” he said, despite the bigger potential client base.

 Mountains in Swiss DNA

The brothers’ choice is a rare one in Switzerland.

The mountains cover 70 percent of the country, but three-quarters of the population lives on the plain between the Juras in the north and the Alps in
the south and east.

Geneva, Lausanne, Bern and Zurich all lie in the area of relatively flat terrain between the two mountain ranges.

The mountain villages are emptying, their grocery stores are closing and, as in Souboz, the schools are shutting, too, as the population gradually
shifts ever more towards the lower-lying towns and cities.

The population of Souboz has dropped from 135 in 2012 to 85 last year.

Faced with the slow-motion exodus, some villages are trying everything they can to reverse the tide, including financial incentives to attract newcomers,
such as offering empty houses for a symbolic sum of one Swiss franc.

READ MORE: ‘Impossible’: Why Switzerland’s one franc homes are too good to be true

And Swiss Mountain Aid provides funding to hundreds of entrepreneurs, such as the Gyger brothers, to bring jobs and business to the hills.

The mountains are “part of our genes, our DNA”, but “if we want to keep the mountains alive, there must be people”, said the foundation’s chairman Willy Gehriger. “We act like the spark,” he explained.

Established in 1943 to help lift mountain dwellers out of poverty, the privately-funded foundation mainly supported farmers initially — but broadened its scope around a dozen years ago. Now it helps small businesses, installs Wi-Fi, pays for computer courses and funds the transformation of dilapidated listed buildings into tourist accommodation.

Gehriger said the agricultural sector alone was no longer enough to keep the mountains thriving.

 Message in a bottle

 Dressed in baseball caps and t-shirts and armed with an iPad, the Gygers are far from the stocky, rustic, grumpy stereotype of mountain men.They are on a mission to repopulate Souboz and revive the economy in the local Juras.

“We’re aware of doing something good for Souboz. Our mountain regions have enormous potential. They’re really something that we Swiss should be proud of,” said middle brother Luca, 27.

Their gamble has paid off as the family business has a handful of employees and occasionally takes on local artisans and farmers to help bottle up the
brothers’ original gin, whisky and vodka recipes.

Last year, they produced 18,000 bottles of spirits.

Gagygnole’s eaux de vie are sold in 200 shops around Switzerland and one of their concoctions was voted the best gin in the country last year — while the brothers’ gin fondue is also a hit.

The Gygers think it is still too early to consider exporting.

“We always refused because it was difficult in terms of logistics, but why not… as long as it goes with our philosophy,” said 26-year-old Tim.
 

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CULTURE

These are the most (and least) trusted professions in Switzerland

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker don’t figure among the professions the Swiss people find most trustworthy. But these others do.

These are the most (and least) trusted professions in Switzerland

You may think the Swiss trust their bankers more than anyone else in the world. But if you believe that, you are wrong.

A new survey by Moneyland.ch, a Swiss consumer website, found that only 20 percent of study participants find bankers trustworthy.

On the other hand, the most trusted professionals in Switzerland (by 74 percent of respondents) are firefighters, followed by nurses (66 percent), doctors (64 percent), and pilots (63 percent).

An interesting pattern is emerging here: the Swiss put most trust in those who have the control of our lives and health.

Other professionals that are trusted by 50-plus percent of respondents are pharmacists, public transport drivers, police officers, farmers, and cooks — again, those who are responsible, in one way or another, for our health and safety.

The flipside: the least trusted are…

Bankers, as mentioned before, along with financial advisors, are fairly low in the trust ranking, the latter being seen as trustworthy by only 18 percent of study participants.

But they don’t fare as badly as other professionals.

For instance, only 14 percent of respondents trust their politicians, and even fewer put their faith in advertising professionals.

Speaking of faith, merely 22 percent trust members of clergy, which is compatible with data showing that an increasing number of people are no longer attending church.

Some other interesting findings…

Only 12 percent of the population trust Swiss football players (after all, they haven’t yet won any championships). More than that, however, 22 percent, trust journalists.

‘We don’t like France, Germany or Italy’: How linguistic diversity unites Swiss football fans

That is not a lot, but at least we fare better than footballers.

You can see the full study here.

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