Schuler History

Bringing Quality to Your Table since 1694

Imagine: When our ancestors first brought wine to Switzerland from Italy over the Gotthard Pass back in the late 17th century, Louis XIV ruled over France, and China, in the years of the early Qing Dynasty, finally entered a peaceful time after long years of war and chaos, leading to the High-Qing period under the reigns of Kangxi and Qianlong. Since then, wine has continued to keep pace with the times, leaving its mark in the chronicles of world history and in bittersweet diary entries. The power of wine is – and will continue to be – in its origin. Whenever we add a wine to our collection, we do so as a family of winegrowers and wine sellers with over 300 years of experience. You can feel secure knowing that we understand its origin and can vouch for its authenticity and quality – generation after generation.

The Founders

Records show that Jakob Castell first arrived in Schwyz from the Val d'Aosta in 1686, where he payed the "Tolerierter" (seasonal worker) tax, which was customary at the time. In 1694 the tax doubled, and Castell became a "Jahrgelter" or year-round resident. Thus began the history of the Castell and Schuler trading company, the Schuler wine store of today.

Castell (d. 1728) came from Gressoney in the Lys Valley, a valley adjacent to the Val d'Aosta, which got its name from the Lyskamm, one of the mountains of the Monte Rosa massif, and which 500 years earlier had been settled by a German-speaking Alemannic people known as the Walser. He was, like many others from this valley, also known as the Krämertal, a traveling merchant, a fabric seller who in the winter months would leave his ancestral home, journeying far away from his family to sell his wares in places like Schwyz.

At the time, new residents of Schwyz with full rights were assigned to the Muotathal district and forced to a pay a buyer's fee of 1400 gulden and donate a robe to every parrish in the Old Land of Schwyz along with two frocks to the Mother Parish. His son, local governor Johann Jakob Castell I (d. 1776), and grandson, Judge Johann Jakob Castell II (1738-1811) developed the business even further.

Two Major Promoters

The two major promoters of the present-day company at that time were salt director Johann Jakob Castell III (1760-1822), son of the judge, and his son-in-law, Josef Anton Schuler-Castell (1775-1850), the two of whom founded the company and, in addition to fabric selling, went into the wine, cheese and banking businesses as well.

Josef Anton Schuler was a descendant of Hans Schuler from Ernen in Valais, who had settled in Rothenthurm around 1500. He belonged to the town council and was an emissary and salt director. The company supplied uniforms and bailiff robes to the government, habits to convents, and fine, stylish fabrics purchased in Switzerland, France, England, Germany and Eastern Europe to the rich. Castell and Schuler also sold cheese, wine, spices and even chocolate; the best at the time came from Spain. They also built a network of selling posts, with locations in Bellinzona, Magadino, Intra on Lake Maggiore and Milan.

Wine Versus Cheese

Between 1816 and 1820, the company stopped selling fabric. The textile industry had fallen into crisis and no one in the family wanted to stay in the business. However, the main reason behind the decision was likely the rapid growth of the new endeavors taken on by Johann Jakob Castell and his son-in-law Josef Anton Schuler in 1800: cheese, wine and banking.
Castell and Schuler bought alp cheese in Schwyz, Obwalden and Nidwalden, sometimes in Upper Valais and Entlebuch as well, transported it over the Gotthard pass and sold it in markets in northern Italy.

For a time, the most popular of these was Muotathal alp cheese. The Engelberg Abbey became an important partner in the cheese business. The abbot supplied not only monastery cheese, but he would also buy cheese from the lay brothers who had been set free at the time of the French invasion and sell it to exporters Castell and Schuler. The French occupation brought extreme poverty to Switzerland, and cheese exports were a source of much-needed income.

Despite political turmoil, the rise of the Helvetic Republic, mediation, Napoleonic wars and the Continental System, the cheese trade continued. Every year, 17,000 blocks were exported, 6,000 of them from Engelberg. Although the cheese was of the sbrinz variety, once packaged for transport it became known as "Spalenkäse" or "Spalen cheese." Six blocks of cheese were packed inside each "Spalen," or wooden drum, with two Spalen making up the side loads for each pack animal. On the return trip, carriages and pack animals carried back wine, rice, chestnuts, spirits, honey, salami, poultry and other goods to the north.

Transport Routes

In the back-and-forth trade with Italy, goods were transported by boat on Lake Maggiore (Intra and Magadino were important transfer points) and then brought by horse-drawn carriage to Faido, where they were loaded onto pack animals. The goods were then reloaded again onto carriages in Amsteg and again onto cargo boats in Flüelen. The trip lasted no more than five days. Mail service was fast, too, with letters from Italy typically arriving just one day later. Transport was made easier with the construction of the first motor vehicle road over the Gotthard Pass in 1830 and then with by the opening of the Axenstrasse in 1865. Goods were transported year-round, except for a few days in winter.

Turmoil in the 19th Century

The company was later headed by councilman Theodor Castell (1799-1870), who primarily resided in Intra, his brother-in-law Anton Schuler-Castell (1775-1850) and Schuler-Castell's sons, salt director Anton Schuler-Benziger (1814-1875) and canton and education councilman Meinrad Schuler (1828-1884).

In the famine of 1817, the company was able to supply the region of Schwyz upon urgent request from the government with "rice and fruits" (i.e., grains) from Italy. The necessary capital had to be advanced and was provided by a bank in Zurich.

The construction of the Gotthard railway (1872-1884) and the death of Anton Schuler-Benziger in 1875 brought a reduction in these expanded activities. The company's warehouses and offices in Bellinzona, Magadino and Intra had become less important and were shut down, as was the entire cheese business after several years of consecutive losses.

The Banking Business

The company entered the banking business by offering checking accounts. Castell and Schuler didn't have gold coins brought over the mountains, as had long been the custom. Rather, they ran a cash cycle in which the earnings from cheese sales were used to buy Italian products and, in Schwyz, revenue from wine, rice, etc., was used to buy cheese. Both from Schwyz as well as from the Lombard capital of Milan, home to the subsidiary Castelli-Borgo Caratti & Co., the company later become involved in gold trading, currency trading, money transfers for domestic military personnel and private households as well as credit card transactions.

In 1802/1803, the company financed the mission of emissary Dr. Karl Zay to the Consulta negotiations in Paris on behalf of the canton and managed the fund for the Sonderbund War of 1847. The money business was heavily expanded by Anton Schuler-Benziger, which eventually lead to the founding of a bank in Schwyz by brothers Anton and Theodor Schuler, sons of Anton Schuler-Benziger. After the death of Anton Schuler-Trucchi (1853-1910), the bank was taken over by his brother Theodor Schuler-Henggeler (1855-1936) and later sold to Schweizerische Genossenschaftsbank St. Gallen. After World War II, Genossenschaftsbank St. Gallen was taken over by the Swiss Bank Association.

The Wine Business Grows

In the first few years after the turn of the century, the wine business became increasingly important, presumably after Josef Anton Schuler-Castell (1775-1850) decided to enter the business once and for all. The primary source region remained northern Italy (Piedmont, Lombardy, Gattinara, etc.; the company once owned its own vineyard on the southern bank of Lake Maggiore, which was later sold after an estate division); however, the company soon began to sell wines from France (Bordeaux, Narbonne, Tain, Mâcon, etc.), the German Rhineland and Breisgau (Markgräfler) and Hungary (Tokayer) as well.

The number of suppliers in western and eastern Switzerland and in the southern canton of Ticino was especially high. The volume of wine imported over the Gotthard skyrocketed, going from 20,000 liters in 1807 to 82,000 liters in 1820/1821. The wines were sold throughout central Switzerland to local distributors, innkeepers and even monasteries and private individuals.

The wine business, like the banking business, continued under the hands of brothers Anton and Theodor Schuler. In 1893 they built a large winery in Seewen near the new Gotthard train station. A branch location was opened in 1891 in Lucerne, followed by the acquisition of a cellar building on Kesselgasse in Lucerne in 1895. After the death of Anton Schuler in 1919, Theodor Schuler took control of the banking business. The wine business was taken over by Theodor Schuler-Real (1881-1954), son of Anton Schuler.

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