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Jura Wines: A Primer & an Upcoming Travel Film…

Jura Wines Stéphane Tissot

Jura wines are sommelier favourites around the globe. Yet, this tranquil corner of eastern France between Burgundy and the Swiss border is one of the smallest of French wine regions. In fact, it represents less than one percent of French wine, in terms of total vineyard acreage. 

Since my days in Burgundy, I have been a great admirer of fine Jura wines and have watched the region’s rise to (wine bar) fame with growing interest. This past summer, I decided that it was time to investigate and took a camera crew along to document my adventures.

Stay tuned for my Jura wine travel documentary coming out soon. Follow me on Instagram for more.

A Fascinating History

The Jura has some pretty impressive claims to fame. The Jurassic period, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, was named after the Jura mountains. It was here that layers of limestone rock from the period were first identified.

The Jura was also home to renowned French chemist Louis Pasteur, who we can thank for the rabies vaccine, but also for his ground-breaking experiments on microbial fermentation, carried out on Jura wines in Arbois. Pasteur’s work propelled the winemaking world forward.

Alongside its impressive diversity of French wine styles, the Jura also prides itself on its gastronomic delights. Comté and Morbier cheeses, Bresse chicken, and Montbéliard sausages are just a few of its highlights.

Prime Terroir

The vineyards stretch across a narrow 80-kilometre undulating expanse in the foothills of the Jura mountains, in an area called the Revermont. While many lump Jura wines in a high-altitude, “mountain wine” category with Savoie, Jura vineyards rarely surpass 400 metres in altitude.

The Vineyards of Château Chalon

Over the course of the Mesozoic era, loose clay and limestone rock deposits accumulated, forming the major subsoil of the Jura. Today, the range of marl (lime-rich, clay, and silt mudstone soils), clay, and limestone soils, alongside the numerous vineyard orientations, and altitudes allows for multiple grape varieties to thrive here.

The Jura has a largely continental climate with cold, often damp winters and warm, dry summers. Spring frosts, hail, mildew, and rot can all wreak havoc on the vineyards as the 2021 growing season unfortunately displayed. This is a challenging place to grow grapes.

Despite this, the Jura is one of the most organic wine regions of France. Almost a quarter of the region’s vineyards are certified organic or biodynamic, and the number is increasing steadily. Natural winemaking has also taken hold strongly in the Jura, with an abundance of high-quality examples of low intervention Jura wines.

Jura Wines: Diverse & Distinctive Styles

The multiplicity of grapes and winemaking practices is a major part of what makes Jura wines so fascinating.

Dry white Jura wines from Chardonnay and Savagnin grapes are made in ouillé and non ouillé styles. Ouillé refers to the process of topping up wine barrels to avoid oxidative reactions. Ouillé white wines are often referred to as Les Floraux locally for their floral, fruity appeal.

The more traditional white winemaking method for Jura wines is to deliberately abstain from topping up barrels, allowing subtle oxidation to occur and a layer of yeast for form; a technique called sous voile. This process brings savoury, nutty, exotic spice flavours to the wines that increase in potency the longer wines are aged. The most famous of sous voile Jura wines is the region’s iconic Vin Jaune.

Rosé and red Jura wines are produced from native varieties, Poulsard and Trousseau, as well as Pinot Noir. The Jura also makes excellent Crémant du Jura, Vin de Paille (straw wine), grape brandy called Marc du Jura, and a liqueur wine called MacVin du Jura.

Jura Wines: The Appellations of Origin

The Jura has seven appellations, or AOCs, for its wines – four are geographic and three are related to specific Jura wine styles.

Map credit: Comité Interprofessionnel des vins du Jura

Arbois is the most historic, and among the largest, of Jura wine geographic appellations. It was one of the very first French wine regions to achieve AOC status back in 1936. All styles of Jura wines are made here but the area’s red wines are particularly prized. The sheltered slopes of Arbois’ best vineyards produce more than two-thirds of the Jura’s red wines.

The Côtes du Jura is the region’s other large appellation. It is a region-wide, covering the area north of Arbois all the way to the Jura’s southern vineyard limits. Like Arbois, all Jura wines styles can be produced from Côtes du Jura AOC vineyards. Chardonnay – which accounts for over 40% of the Jura’s plantings – covers much of the southern Côtes du Jura slopes. 

Château-Chalon is the smallest area, with approximately 60 hectares of vineyards, but it is hugely significant. It is the birthplace of Vin Jaune. The appellation is named for its picturesque medieval village, which is perched atop the hillside vineyards. Vin Jaune, which is made exclusively from the Savagnin grape, is the only wine produced here.

The Étoile appellation is also diminutive in size but highly prized for its limestone soils and its racy, mineral-driven Chardonnay wines.

Among the style-related appellations for Jura wines, Crémant du Jura is the most prolific. These elegant, traditional method sparkling wines make up a quarter of the region’s wine sales.

Making a Jura Wines Movie!

My tour through Jura wine country included visits to three of its top-quality estates. At Domaine André and Mireille Tissot near Arbois, I caught up with Stéphane Tissot to discuss biodynamics and the rise of single vineyard Jura wines.

In Château-Chalon, I learned the secrets of Vin Jaune production from the master himself, Laurent Macle of Domaine Jean Macle. I also checked in on the younger generation at Domaine Baud in the Côtes du Jura town of Le Vernois, to taste some bubblies.

Drinking crémant with Clémentine & Bastien Baud

Of course, no tasting of Jura wines is complete without the right food pairings. Luckily, the Jura is home to Meilleur Ouvrier de France, sommelier Philippe Troussard. He took me on a tour of the Arbois market to chat classic and modern Jura wine pairings.

The Jura Wine Tasting Report

To get a larger sense of Jura wines, I also dropped in to the Vins du Jura wine trade association for a regional overview blind tasting. While sampling over 90 recent vintage sparkling, dry whites, and red wines, Vins du Jura director Olivier Badoureaux updated me on all things Jura wines.

A detailed Jura wines tasting report with all my top-rated Jura wines is also coming out soon. Jura wine lovers, watch this space, or watch for updates on Instagram.

Final Thoughts on Jura Wines

The ravages of Phylloxera, two world wars, and the Jura’s somewhat remote location took a toll on production. The vineyards that once spanned 20,000 hectares now make up a mere tenth of that area.

The demanding grape growing conditions here are not for the faint of heart. Violent frosts, hail, and extremes of temperature are more commonplace now as the effects of climate change become increasingly apparent.

The 2021 growing season was particularly hard hit. Laurent Macle showed me the gaping hole where an entire, terraced parcel of his Château Chalon vineyards was washed away by heavy July flooding. Producers across the region estimated 50 to 85% crop losses, notably in organically farmed sites.

Despite these hardships, the passion and ambition of the Jura’s best growers is unmistakable. Their unwavering commitment to sustainable grape growing, low interventionist winemaking, and high-quality wine overall has led to a rapid rise in global demand.

While we can expect to see lower export levels given the small harvest, Jura wines are most definitely worth seeking out. For my palate, they are among the most distinctive and exciting wines on the market today

Tasting old vintages with Domaine Macle

*** This Jura Wines article was originally written for Good Food Revolution. Want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits.? Check out their excellent website. ***

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TASTING THE WINES OF DOMAINE LA SOUFRANDIÈRE

wines of domaine la Soufrandière

The wines of Domaine la Soufrandière are among the most arresting Chardonnays Burgundy has to offer. The six hectare estate is located in Vinzelles, in the oft under-rated Mâconnais wine-producing region. It is the property of the uber-talented Bret Brothers, Jean-Philippe and Jean-Guillaume.

The Vineyards of Domaine la Soufrandière

Originally purchased by their grandfather back in 1947, Jean-Philippe and Jean-Guillaume took up the reins in the year 2000. Having followed the trajectory of their mentor, Jean-Marie Guffens, the brothers were determined to prove that high-quality, ageworthy wines could be made in their Vinzelles vineyards.

To achieve this aim, they immediately set about dissecting their vineyards into terroir-specific plots and began the conversion process to organic and biodynamic farming. At the time, these methods were little practiced in the region. The brothers therefore headed north, to study under Dominique Lafon. By 2006, the wines of Domaine de la Soufrandière were certified both AB (organic) and Demeter (biodynamics).

Today, the estate consists of four hectares (ha) of Pouilly-Vinzelles climat “Les Quarts”, just over one-half a ha of Pouilly-Vinzelles climat “Les Longeays”, and one ha of Mâcon-Vinzelles “Le Clos de Grand-Père”. In 2016, the Bret brothers also took over the management of an additional five ha of Saint-Véran and Pouilly-Fuissé vineyards.

Vineyards range from thirty-three to eighty years in age and are predominantly planted on east and south-east facing slopes.

The Wines of Domaine la Soufrandière

In recent years, the brothers have been progressively lowering sulphur levels in their wines. “We are not extremists” explained Jean-Philippe Bret, at a recent virtual tasting. “If we feel the wine requires a sulphur addition, we will do it”. It is a question of terroir and timing for the brothers.

“Certain terroirs – cooler sites, with healthy, biodiverse soils – handle low sulphur levels better than other areas” according to Jean-Philippe. The brothers wait as late as possible in the winemaking process to ensure the added sulphur remains in its free, active state. Their “Zen” cuvées see no more than 20 milligram/ litre (mg/l) of sulphur additions at bottling, while others tend to sit at a 40 – 60mg/l.

The Bret brothers use gentle, low intervention winemaking methods. The grapes are delicately pressed and allowed to clarify naturally. Wild yeasts are used for fermentation and ageing occurs in seasoned oak barrels. The wines of Domaine la Soufrandière are often categorized as natural wine; a concept the brothers quietly espouse, with reasoned adherence.

What’s next for the wines of Domaine la Soufrandière and Bret Brothers? This question made Jean-Philippe smile. The brothers have a wealth of exciting projects on the go. In the vineyards they are experimenting with different green manures. They are also exploring the use of milk and whey to replace sulphur sprays.

In the cellars, new wine styles are in development. Watch out for an extra-brut, delicately sparkling “Bret Nat” coming soon. Another potential newcomer is a skin contact white, macerated six to eight days before pressing.

The 2018 Vintage of Domaine La Soufrandière

While our discussion was a fascinating one, the goal of the meeting was to taste a trio of top 2018 wines of Domaine la Soufrandière. The vintage was “very hot and dry” explained Jean-Philippe. This led to worries of heavy, overly rich wines reminiscent of 2009. Thankfully this is not the case. The 2018s, while ripe and generously proportioned, retain a fresh, wonderfully vibrant character.

La Soufrandière Saint Véran “Cuvée La Combe Desroches” 2018 – 93pts. PW

The La Combe Desroches plot is located near Vergisson, exposed north, giving a very fresh, mineral-driven style of Chardonnay. Two-thirds of the blend are fermented and aged in tank, while the remaining one-third is matured in seasoned barrels.

Initially discreet. Reveals aromas of ripe lemon, pear, and white blossoms, with underlying hints of wet stone and honeycomb, upon aeration. The palate is zesty and taut, deepening on the mid-palate with  juicy citrus and orchard fruit flavours. The finish is electric, with an attractive hint of grapefruit pith bitterness.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($47.50)

La Soufrandière Pouilly-Fuissé Climat « En Chatenay » 2018 – 96pts. LW

This east-facing vineyard at the foot of the Roche de Vergisson planted on red soils of Jurassic limestone that  bring “tension and texture” to the wines, according to Jean-Philippe.

Intense, highly complex aromas of yellow apple, brioche, and white blossoms, laced with flinty nuances, leap from the glass. The palate is intially nervy, with mouthwatering acidity bringing lovely balance to the full-bodied, textural palate. Flavours of tart citrus, buttered brioche, and savoury undertones linger on the vibrant, ultra-long finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($70.25; also available in magnums)

La Soufrandière Pouilly-Vinzelles Climat « Les Quarts » 2018 – 94pts. LW

This is one of the historic sites for the wines of Domaine la Soufrandière. The Les Quarts vineyard is located at the top of a south-east facing slope of active limestone and clay soils. The vines are among the oldest of the estate, at forty-five to eighty years in age.

Initally restrained, with a mounting symphony of yellow fruits, raw honey, buttered popcorn, and earthy, white mushroom notes developing within minutes of pouring. Racy acidity gives way to an expansive, concentrated mid-palate bursting with bright fruit and savoury flavours. Finishes on a slightly oxidative note, with subtle nutty, crab apple nuances underlying flinty nuances.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($77.25)

What does VW, PW, LW mean in my scores for the wines of Domaine la Soufrandière? Check out my wine scoring system.

Education Reviews Wines

THE TROUBLE WITH NATURAL WINE FANATICS…

natural wine fanatics

I live in a city awash with natural wine fanatics. I am a little less ardent in my appreciation. That is not to say there aren’t scores of natural wines that I like. There are. I found a whole lot to love at the Raw Wine show in Montréal last week.

The natural wine movement has done a lot for the world of wine. It has encouraged wineries of all sizes and doctrines to re-think their winemaking methods and decrease the quantity of potentially unnecessary additives. It has pushed the boundaries of experimentation in the vineyards and cellar. It has created new wine styles, offering consumers greater vinous choice. And it has yielded some fabulous, passionate advocates that do a great job educating wine lovers.

Unfortunately, it has also spawned a generation of natural wine fanatics; a breed of super fans that range from tiresomely vocal enthusiasts to closed minded zealots.

…the judgmental attitude of die-hard natural wine fanatics is doing a disservice to the entire natural wine movement.

Psychologist Jeremy Sherman, PhD describes fanatics as “…people who indulge in a heady, intoxicating and toxic concoction of self-affirming, know-it-all confidence that they have unique access to absolute truths, truths so perfect that they have to impose them on everyone.” It is exactly this mentality that makes me wary each time I enter a natural wine heavy establishment.

In my opinion, the judgmental attitude of die-hard natural wine fanatics is doing a disservice to the entire natural wine movement – alienating, rather than welcoming, potential new consumers.  In some quarters, there is almost a school yard mentality at play. Drinkers of anything other than natural wines are looked down on like kids on a playground wearing unfashionable clothes.

I remember being in a Parisian wine bar eight years ago politely listening to the sommelier expounding his theories on the superiority of natural wines. He insisted on choosing our wines  for us all night long. We made the appropriate noises, nodded, smiled, and on our way out, understanding that we were in the wine trade, he asked where we worked. We named the winery. His look of disgust was almost farcical. And he said, his words dripping with disdain, “Oh, I’ve heard of them. They’re conventional“.

…drinkers of anything other than natural wines are looked down on like kids on a playground wearing unfashionable clothes.

The urge natural wine fanatics feel to evangelize is frankly just irritating. If I dare to admit not liking a certain natural wine, I don’t want to listen to a super fan arguing with me, or rhapsodizing about the winemaker’s vision. This will not change my mind, or make the wine taste better.

Of course I prefer to drink wines that are made in an ethical, sustainable manner. A winemaker who sees themselves as a custodian of their vineyards for future generations is one I can get behind. Especially if said winemaker’s values extent to how they treat their staff, and their community. If that wine also happens to be made using only natural yeasts, with no additives, or maybe just a drop of sulphur at bottling, so much the better.

However, I will not suffer through a skin contact white with tannins so bitter they make my taste buds weep. I won’t marvel over a murky, gamey rosé. And, I refuse to drink a wine that tastes more like beer or cider. If I wanted beer or cider, I’d order it. Sure, the producer might have a compelling winemaking philosophy…but you can’t drink ideology. Or at least I can’t.

Sure, the producer might have a compelling winemaking philosophy…but you can’t drink ideology. 

To me, the world of wine is so marvellous because of its diversity of styles and flavour profiles. There is truly a wine out there for every budget and every palate. Opinion formers in the wine trade – sommeliers, wine merchants, wine writers, educators, etc. – have a vital role to play today in teaching consumers about the importance of supporting wineries working sustainably in their vineyards and cellars. However, we are there to act as guides, not dictators.

Why can’t we just drink and let drink?

Speaking of which…let’s get to the wines. A handful of the producers that really impressed me at Raw Wine Montréal and various other recent tastings of natural or low interventionist winemakers include:

Bret Brothers & La Soufrandière, biodynamic producers from the Maconnais region of Burgundy. Incredibly precise, mineral, textured whites.

Pearl Morissette, minimal interventionist winemakers from  the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario. Beautifully nuanced Chardonnay, Riesling & Cabernet Franc.

Domaine Frédéric Brouca, passionate producer of old vine wines on the Schist soils of Faugères. Lovely, pure Cinsault and bold, yet balanced Mourvèdre-Syrah blends.

Domaine aux Moines, organic producers currently undergoing biodynamic conversion. Racy, elegant Savennières.

Château Maris, a biodynamic, sulpher-avoiding producer  in Minervois-la-Livinière (who doesn’t choose to label himself a natural wine maker). Textured, expansive Grenache Gris and bold, fragrant Syrah.

Domaine Mann, an organic producer from Alsace. Lovely crémant, aromatic, layered Pinot Gris, and long-lived Riesling.

Reyneke, producer of organic and biodynamic wines from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Vibrant Chenin Blanc and rich, concentrated Syrah.