First the bad news. I am writing this with a heavy heart, feeling desperately sorry for vignerons all over the Jura wine region, many of whom have been hit with severe frost damage over the past two nights and there is another freezing night to come. My Facebook stream abounds with photos and comments from vignerons who have lost some or all of their potential 2017 crop.
Many people in the region suggest that this is likely to be the worst spring frost since 1991 – conservative estimates are of 45% damage, but it could be worse. What makes this a particular catastrophe is that stocks in the vignerons’ cellars are very low following a string of small vintages since 2011. And, in general, especially for Jura wineries who export, especially those who are organic, sales are booming.
Everyone feared this sort of cold snap following several weeks of extremely warm weather, which gave early bud-break and a big growth spurt too. Until the frost, the vine development was about three weeks earlier than average. The problem is not exclusive to the Jura, but widespread in France and other northerly wine countries. It can only be hoped that nature allows what remains to mature without further catastrophe.
Excellent and varied tasting events
And now to the good news. The 7th edition of Jura’s organic wine fair Le Nez dans le Vert in late March was very well attended once again. At the official opening, joint presidents Stéphane Tissot and Jean-Etienne Pignier said that increasing numbers of Jura estates were converting to organics and that nearly 20% of the vineyard area is now organic or in conversion. Stéphane noted that it takes double the labour force to farm one hectare of organic vineyard compared to conventional and thus organic estates were providing work opportunities. Etienne commented that the Le Nez dans le Vert group of vignerons is very dynamic and helps young organic vignerons get established.
As ever, it was hard to get close to some of the star vignerons for tasting, but by going very early on the morning of the trade day, I managed to taste with Anne and Jean-François Ganevat for the first time in a while. The four whites from the 2014 vintage were pristine, with the magnum of Cuvée Marguerite, the Melon à Queue Rouge showing gorgeous richness combined with vibrancy. I loved the Plein Sud Trousseau 2015 too, although the Pinot Cuvée Julien was too volatile for my taste. With Emmanuel Houillon, I tasted his lovely lemony, 2010 Savagnin (topped-up), which is still in foudres – he plans to bottle some of this later in the year.
Among many other stand-out whites were two Chardonnay 2015s, one from Domaine Berthet-Bondet, made from the vineyards in Passenans that they took over from Domaine Grand, and the other, Les Soupois from Domaine Buronfosse, showing that even in that warm year, if the vines are worked well and the grapes picked at the right point that tangy Jura acidity can still be present. Two Savagnin ouillés from Pascal and Evelyne Clairet shone – the Fleur de Savagnin 2014 was really stony and their new release 2008 Réserve, topped up in barrel for three years and then aged in bottle, was intense and fabulous. I found a bargain Savagnin Ouillé 2012 from Gérard and Christine Villet, perfectly smokey, aged in old foudres for two years, ideal to enjoy over the next few years.
Of the reds I tasted, I fell for several blends (not all AOC) including 2016s (mainly still in tank or barrel) from Domaine Labet the predominantly-Gamay Métis; Alice Bouvot’s Zerlina, which is a Pinot/Trousseau blend; and the Vieux Cépages from Raphaël Monnier (Ratapoil), all almost ready to bottle. A finished 2015 of Domaine Pignier’s Cuvée Léandre was tasting as lovely as ever and I made the discovery of Domaine Buronfosse SE KWA SA (explanation said out loud the name is ‘c’est quoi ça’ means ‘what IS that?’) a 2015 blend of classic and old Jura varieties, which I decided to grab for drinking over the next couple of years, if it lasts that long in my cellar. Finally, the only Crémant I tasted – the bone dry Brut Nature from Champ Divin, was well … divine … and we should have bought some of that too.
Over in Chicago and New York, the atmosphere at the official CIVJ Jura trade tastings was totally different, but every bit as enthusiastic. The room was full of sommeliers and enthusiastic educators in particular, as well as retailers, and it was great to see the Jura vignerons practice their English in relaxed mode away from home. I had only a little opportunity to taste as I was delivering seminars first, then selling books, but I managed to go through almost all the Chardonnays in the room in Chicago, then chose to focus on Trousseau in New York.
The US trade mission producers were mainly (but far from exclusively) the region’s larger ones and it was great to see a really excellent average quality shining through. One new star on the export mission for the first time, was the biodynamic Domaine Ratte – and as I had limited tasting experience with them, I tasted their 2015 range, which showed very well. The evening consumer events were fairly riotous as space was tight, but showed the ongoing enthusiasm for Jura wines in the US. Jura wines are definitely not just a fashion, they have now been around, doing well and growing in the US for almost ten years…
Support the Kickstarter for Jura Wine‘s Companion Volume – Wines of the French Alps
In case you’ve missed the news elsewhere, at last I am working hard on a promised second book: Wines of the French Alps – Savoie, Bugey and beyond.
In New York, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the book, as well as providing the motivation of hundreds of people waiting for it! The campaign is doing well and is nearly 75% funded, but I hope to exceed the target – book costs are always greater than they seem. I would appreciate your support for the campaign, whether by pledging for the book or another reward or sharing the Kickstarter link among your networks. The end date is May 8th, so please act soon.
Thank you and forgive the radio silence while I write this book!