A natural cross of Pinot and Gouais Blanc, Gamay probably originated in Burgundy (F) where it was first recorded (and banned...) in 1395. Its ancestry means it is a full-sibling of Chardonnay, Aligoté, Melon and other less well known varieties, so it's easy to understand how for a long time it was confused with Pinot Noir, particularly in French-speaking Switzerland, where both were referred to as Dôle. Its name comes from the village of Gamay near Saint-Aubin in the Côte d'Or (Burgundy).
An early variety which is prone to disease, its yield must be carefully managed on overly rich soils. In Switzerland, where an ancient biotype of it known as Plant Robert is found in Lavaux, it's an important variety which produces wines with notes of cherry and peony.