Starting today around two or three times a month I will post an excerpt from the Jura Wine Book, often with a small addendum. I will include illustrations too that are either used in the book, or from the photo shoot that I did with Mick Rock of Cephas. All images are fully copyrighted of course, as is the text.
If you have not yet bought the book, I hope this might encourage you to do so – you can find stockists and comments about the book on the new Jura Wine book page.
Domaine de la Renardière – Pupillin, Arbois
He might be running between commitments, but Jean-Michel always offers a twinkly smile together with a straight answer to any question. More than anyone in Pupillin, Jean-Michel has been as much involved in the ‘mother appellation’ Arbois as he has in his own village. AOC Arbois syndicate president for many years, I’ve seen him carrying the Biou in Arbois; he was president of the Percée festival in Arbois in 2011; and he always turns up to greet the media with a regional hat firmly on his head. Somehow, between supporting his village, region and even the young and up-and-coming producers in the appellation, he finds time to produce a consistently lively and eminently drinkable range of wines. Jean-Michel’s stated aim in his brochure is to ‘make music from the mosaic of soils below our feet’, but the imprint on his labels is of a hand – his own, representing the importance of hand-harvesting, lending a hand and much more.
Quite rightly, the vineyards are the focus for Jean-Michel. Growing up in Pupillin (distantly related to the other Petit family in the village) with parents and grandparents who farmed vines and took their grapes to the cooperative, he returned after five years of wine studies and work experience around the world of wine to create his own estate with his wife Laurence. He took over his family’s 2ha of vines and accumulated other vineyards little by little, in various parcels on the different terroirs within Pupillin. He has always believed in working the soil and using only organic fertilizer and, after years working in lutte raisonnée, he made the move to start organic certification in 2012, although he had been using biodynamic preparations 500 and 501 on some of his plots for a couple of years.
The small winery lies on both sides of one of Pupillin’s side roads with an amusing and distinctive colourful mural showing several generations of the family adorning one side. Jean-Michel’s winemaking has always been thoughtful – vinifying the grapes from each plot apart, fermentation using indigenous yeast, and little use of other standard winery interventions. Apart from for Ploussard, he is not likely to go down the no sulphur route, yet he told me that, as with most producers, today he uses around a third of the amount of SO2 than when he started making wine 20 years ago.
All styles of whites and reds are matured in wood of varying sizes. Reds, including Ploussard, are aged in large foudres – his is the example from this village that I have always found to be one of the most accessible. Yet it is his clear-cut topped-up whites that really sing, starting with the tangy and lemony Savagnin ouillé Les Terrasses, which comes from a steep south-facing terraced plot. From the mid-2000s Jean-Michel has made two Chardonnay cuvées that show the Jura terroir character well – Jurassique is from plots with more limestone and the more profound Les Vianderies is from older vines in a gravelly vineyard with marl below – the latter is aged in both 500-litre and 228-litre barrels.
In his quiet way Jean-Michel has experimented with his range without extending it dramatically as some wineries do, keeping to a modest (for the Jura) 14 different wines. A late-harvest white blend of two-thirds Chardonnay and one-third Savagnin was once called Vendange Oublié (‘Forgotten Harvest’ – as it literally was the first time it was made) and has morphed into Les Oubliées, as the labelling fraud squad did not like the original name. The wine is made only in good years and, though usually dry, can be rather over-rich for my taste, but with plenty of intensity of flavour. The usual range of specialities from Crémant through to Vin Jaune, Paille and Macvin are made but account for only a quarter of production, including the Pétillant Naturel called Le Pet de Léo. This was first made by son Léo at 14 years old from a Ploussard vineyard planted in 1993, the year of his birth. Léo has studied wine production at Mâcon and is continuing his education in marketing at Suze-la-Rousse, so this estate should be in safe hands in the future.
Domaine de la Renardière exports account for about a third of sales, but it is the combination of a well-deserved string of medals in French wine competitions and mentions in guides, with a very open and educational approach to welcoming customers at the estate, that keeps his regular French customers returning. For several years each Saturday in June Jean-Michel and Laurence have conducted vineyard tours, followed by a tasting and lunch, an innovative approach for the Jura and something that has helped build up their loyal following. I sincerely hope that they throw a big party to celebrate the quarter-century of their domaine, which is a huge credit to the Arbois-Pupillin appellation, a valeur sûre or safe bet, as they say in France.
Domaine de la Renardière
Rue du Chardonnay, 39600 Pupillin
Tel: 03 84 66 25 10
Contact: Jean-Michel Petit
Vineyards: 6.8ha (2.4ha Chardonnay, 1.3ha Savagnin, 1.7ha Ploussard (Poulsard), 0.7ha Trousseau, 0.7ha Pinot Noir)
Visits: Tasting room, visits welcomed by appointment
Jean-Michel has been promising to publish his own website for some time!
The wines are imported into the UK by Enotria UK and at their trade tasting in February 2014 Brett Jones recorded a short interview with Jean-Michel Petit. Some of the range is available from The Wine Society.
In New York Domaine de la Renardière wines are sold in the Wine Library and at Zachys, among other places. Please feel free to add other stockists in the comments.