Even though very recent, in some ways the intensive year of research visits and writing that I undertook to prepare the Jura Wine book seem long ago and the region far away as I write from Auckland where I’m based for a few months.
However, there are several distinct highlights that don’t leave me – watching vigneron Benoît Royer and his beautiful mare Kigali working hard ploughing his old Poulsard vineyard in Mesnay is one of them. Benoît’s kindness in allowing us to come along and photograph the two of them at very short notice during our photo shoot for the book was typical of the man.
This latest extract from the book features Benoît’s Domaine de la Cybelline, a tiny organic estate whose wines seem to crop up in the most unexpected places, including on the spectacular wine list of one of the world’s most famous restaurants, Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. Producers like Benoît are part of what makes the Jura a big deal as I explained in a recent piece for the on-line magazine Wine Searcher, for whom I am temporarily working as Acting Editor.
‘Allez ma belle, marche, marche . . .’ (‘Come on, walk on, my lovely . . .’). The words that Benoît Royer says to encourage his Comtois mare Kigali while ploughing the vineyards seem to echo from another age, when horses were routinely used to work the vineyards. Today Benoît and Kigali work his tiny, steep, densely planted old Poulsard vineyard in Mesnay as well as a couple of other vineyards, usually close-planted, including Claude Buchot’s in Maynal. This is just one of several jobs that Benoît does, along with teaching biology and viticulture on the organic wine production course at the Lons college and running his very small wine estate.
Benoît originally wanted to be a veterinary surgeon, but ended up studying oenology at Dijon. From Arbois, his parents were not involved in wine, although his uncles had vineyards. After work experience in Burgundy Benoît worked for five years at Domaine de la Pinte before setting up on his own. He took on old vineyards in Mesnay and Molamboz in AOC Arbois and a younger one in Buvilly, classified AOC Côtes du Jura, starting conversion to organics right away, and later took on a parcel in Poligny to plant.
Over the few years he has made wine in the small cellar under his house yields have fluctuated wildly, often being too low to be economic, partly because some vineyards, mostly those with younger vines, previously chemically managed, did not convert easily to organics. Benoît has now relinquished the Buvilly vineyards so that he can manage the estate better on his own.
Most of his wines are blends and in recent years there have been various cuvées from different blends and plots. He is a skilful and thoughtful winemaker and results are deliciously simple and elegant in style. Reds are usually made using punch-downs in stainless steel, some small oak ageing, and judicious amounts of SO2.
The whites start off in tank and then move into oak, mostly topped up, though he has dabbled with sous voile when he has enough volume and in 2005 he made a Vin Jaune. He makes both white Macvin and red Macvin (the latter not every year) and stresses the importance of ageing longer than the minimum time in oak as well as using juice from good ripe fruit.
With his wines on some of the best restaurant wine lists in Scandinavia, Benoît’s estate epitomizes the ‘small is beautiful’ approach, and now, with an even smaller domaine, life should get easier for him.
Domaine de la Cibellyne
1 Rue Bernarde, 39600 Mesnay
Tel: 03 84 66 29 71
Contact: Benoît Royer
Vineyards: 2ha (1.2ha white, 0.8ha red)
Visits: No tasting room, but visits welcomed by appointment
I shall be visiting the Jura again in early September, leading a trip for generous Kickstarter supporters, so will try to report from there on harvest prospects. Immediately after I will be attending the Louis Roederer Wine Writing Awards award ceremony in London before returning to Auckland for a further six months.