Around two months ago, specialist wine photographer Mick Rock of Cephas Picture Library, who I asked to shoot pictures for my Jura Wine book if the Kickstarter project succeeded, agreed to put aside a mutually-convenient two week period to spend with me in the Jura. The end of May and early June seemed an ideal time, with long days, the vines in full leaf, a time when vignerons mainly stay put in the region and a good chance of fine weather. We weren’t to know then that winter was still going to be hanging on so long.
In early April, I learned that after a very hard winter, the vines were around three weeks behind the recent average development for that time of year, but producers were upbeat. Being late at that time of year is not a problem, in fact it can be beneficial as there is less risk of spring frost being a problem. A partial catch-up usually happens. Yet rain continued to drench the region through April and May, and the only blessing was that low temperatures persisted, meaning that mildew could not take hold properly.
When Mick and his wife Annie, together with my partner Brett and I arrived in Arbois on the last Sunday in May just one full day of sun was forecast for the first week of our visit. Throughout that first week I juggled with my appointments, so that we could be outside shooting landscape pictures (Mick’s absolute speciality) whenever the sun was out, especially if it was early morning or late afternoon. One thing you have to remember when travelling with a photographer – the light is almost never perfect, it could always be that much better…
Our second week was better, but short. We had thought the weather would turn to sunshine last Sunday, but in vain we waited in our gîte for the sun to come out. Eventually it appeared suddenly in early evening, and Mick and I rushed into his truck to tour the Château-Chalon vineyards and shoot what we could in gorgeous light for three hours before a late supper. Monday was a challenge though, starting out perfectly, the wind picked up and blew in high cloud, making the blue sky turn grey.
The next two and half days were fabulous and we rushed to get the maximum done, revelling in the beautiful Jura landscape. Meantime for our vignerons, prospects were finally looking up too. There had been a sense of desperation about them during our first week. The vines with just a few leaves (challenging for pictures sometimes), were not growing at all, and harbouring mildew spores too. The ground was still sodden and it was hard to even drive a tractor into the vineyards. Every time an improvement in the weather was forecast, it didn’t materialize.
Finally, the first week of June was perfect, at last putting a smile on the vignerons’ faces, and they were patient with our visits to photograph them, as long as we were brief… They needed to be in the vineyards – spraying, working the soil, bud-rubbing, even planting – all activities that should have been done long ago. The next hurdle will be the flowering period.
Some Savagnin and Poulsard vines have already suffered from the cold, with the potential bunches falling off even pre-flowering – a very premature green harvest as one vigneron put it. After a small, but high quality vintage in 2012, reasonable quantities are vital for 2013. For that to happen it is essential that the flowering takes place in dry, fine weather. Several optimistic growers talked about 1983, from which vintage Laurent Macle kindly gave me the chance to try the superb Château Chalon from the domaine. In that year it rained non-stop until the end of June, and then it was fine till harvest, and all turned out well.
Somehow our photo shoot went really well: the final tally included more than 25 portraits of vignerons, vineyard landscape shots, soil profiles, cellar pictures of all kinds, cheese ageing, food shops in Arbois, Château-Chalon photos, and at just 24 hours notice, a horse… Watch below for a taste of our magical experience of seeing the wonderful Comtoise mare Kigali working closely with owner Benoît Royer of Domaine de la Cibellyne in Mesnay near Arbois ploughing a densely planted old, steep vineyard of Poulsard.
Thank you Kigali, Benoît and all those who helped us in the Jura these past two weeks. And we will be keeping our fingers crossed for better weather during the next few months.