Images of Jura

In praise of Château-Chalon

Last month on my very last full research visit in preparation for the book, I spent most of the time around Château-Chalon, visiting producers there and in Ménétru-le-Vignoble, Névy-sur-Seille, Voiteur and Le Vernois. Only 20 minutes south of Arbois, this is in many ways another world, where Savagnin and oxidative wines reign supreme, born of the classic, steep grey marl vineyards below the limestone cliffs of the historic hilltop village of Château-Chalon.

vine conservatory

Vine conservatory below Château-Chalon ©Brett Jones

As well as visiting producers, we were able to sneak in behind the fancy metal doorway to the baby vine conservatory looked after by Gaël Delorme of the Société du Viticulture du Jura. Here, around 50 vine varieties are grown, including not only various versions of Jura’s big five, but all the obscure varieties Gaël has been able to find over the past ten years that were once grown in the region. This include rarities such as Enfariné, Argan, Gueuche Noir and Poulsard Blanc, some of which make their way in tiny quantities into blends made by a few producers. You will have to wait for the book to know more.

We also took a look at the wonderful educational museum of la Maison de la Haute Seille in the middle of the village. If you understand French it’s well worth spending an hour there to look at the interactive displays explaining the geology of the place, as well as history and much more. There is also a beautiful garden with one of the many spectacular Château-Chalon viewpoints over towards the Bresse plain.

sweetbreads

Sweetbreads and girolles in a lemon confit jus

In between both of our birthdays we treated ourselves to a meal at the Restauarant Hostellerie St-Germain d’Arlay that I hadn’t eaten at for some time, and has recently had a makeover, although still with the same owners, the Tupins. It was a really excellent meal, the restaurant is worthy of a Michelin star, but for now doesn’t have one, which is probably good for prices. The dilemma of what to drink was ever-present, but after an aperitif of elegant Crémant from Michel Gahier, we decided on a great value Ganevat Cuvée Oregane 2010 – his Savagnin/Chardonnay blend. I rarely get to drink Ganevat, and on visits to him it’s usually a barrel rather than bottle tasting, so this was the ideal opportunity to relax with a bottle and good food – lovely purity of ripe yellow fruits dominated.

Back in Château-Chalon, when we were there in mid-September the Savagnin grapes were a long way from ready, although the very low crop, caused by problems earlier in the year with cold and rain before and during flowering, means that with the September sunshine they can ripen quicker. Château-Chalon is the only AOC in France to have three quality control examinations – once at the vines before harvest, once as wine in vat and a final one after the requisite years of barrel ageing under the veil, before bottling in its special Château-Chalon-engraved clavelin.

Château-Chalon vineyards

View up to the vineyards and village of Château-Chalon from Névy-sur-Seille ©Brett Jones

The inspection committee toured the vineyards of Château-Chalon, checking the grapes for ripeness and health, yesterday 3rd October and have declared the vintage suitable for making the AOC in 2013 (not as in 2001 last time it was rejected). Picking may begin next Wednesday 9th October, though I expect many will wait longer if the weather permits. With the pressure of writing and the distance from my home, I could not attend the inspection, so instead celebrated with a glass of delicious, delicate and elegant Domaine De Lahaye Château-Chalon 2005 from Guillaume Tissot of Névy sur Seille – open over two weeks and just hitting its best!

Do take a look at the old news reel video of Harvest in Château-Chalon 1968 for a taste of nostalgia and the romance of harvest. And then you might like to view my offering, shot from above the village of Névy-sur-Seille and showing all the vineyards of the four villages eligible for AOC Château-Chalon, which also include Ménétru-le-Vignoble and Domblans.

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Categories: Images of Jura, Jura culture, News | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Learning about Comté cheese

Comté cheese ageingAs part of preparations for the Jura wine book, on our visits to the region earlier this year we were not only eating the local cheeses as we always do, but learning about them too. Of course, we started with the most important cheese, Comté made only in the Franche-Comté region, of which the Jura department is one part.

To watch them make the cheese Brett and I made a visit to a fruitière in Plasne, a village on the Premier Plateau (the first plateau) above the Jura town of Poligny, considered the capital of Comté. Then later we went further up the mountain for an hour to visit the magnificent ageing cellars of the famous cheese merchant Marcel Petite.

A few fast facts:

  • Comté was first documented in the 12th Century
  • Farmers often had only one cow, so the milk was delivered to a fruitière, one of the earliest forms of cooperative
  • Only unpasteurized milk from Montbéliarde and French Simmental cows is allowed
  • There are over 3,000 family farms supplying milk to one of their local fruitières
  • To make each meule (wheel of cheese) weighing 40kg you need 450 litres of milk
  • The fruitière makes cheese every day under the control of a maître fromager (master cheese-maker). Although machines are used it can never be an automated process as it has to be strictly controlled.
  • The region has 15 caves d’affinage (maturing cellars)
  • The cheese must be aged for at least four months and may be aged for 18 months or occasionally longer
  • Comté became AOC in 1958 and then Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) in 1996.
  • Comté accounts for the largest volume of AOP cheese in France.

Saving more details for the book, I’m instead sharing with you some photographs taken by my partner Brett and a few short explanations. Are you hungry yet?

Montbéliarde cows and vines

Many parts of the Jura wine region have scattered vineyards with pastures in-between. In the summer months you sometimes see the distinctive tan and white Montbéliarde cows grazing there. The photo above was taken in Lavigny in the Côtes du Jura just north of Lons-le-Saunier.

Fruitière à Comté

The various fruitières all share this distinctive signpost and most have shops and sometimes visiting facilities too.

Fort St-Antoine

Up at 1100m (3500 feet) in the forest of the Haut-Doubs near the ski resort Métabief is the amazing old military fort Saint Antoine, which today houses Marcel Petite’s cheese ageing facility. The combination of high altitude and caves buried far below the earth allows for ideal ageing conditions. You can take a tour around the fort by appointment.

Comté ageing

The so-called ‘cathedral’ of Comté has a series of galleries stretching along 300m in which the cheese is stacked and aged. At any one time there will be around 100,000 wheels of cheese.

Comté cheese-maker

Machines are used to turn each cheese regularly (see video below). The cheese cellar-master periodically checks each one taking it out and tapping it with a type of hammer, listening to the sound each cheese makes, which indicates whether there are any holes. He may also taste it by inserting a special tool to take a sample. The skills needed are not so different from those a winemaker needs, and indeed Comté ageing is every bit as technical and mysterious as Vin Jaune ageing. Above, photographer Mick Rock captures the cheese cellar-master taking out a cheese to check it.

Comté is not the only important cheese from the Franche-Comté region, there is also Bleu de Gex and Morbier, as well as the seasonal Mont d’Or. We have our work cut out learning and writing about these cheeses. Below are Comté, Morbier (behind) and Bleu de Gex, photographed by Mick Rock of Cephas Picture library, who specializes in wine, food and travel.

Franche-Comté cheeses

The short video below shows the fabulous contraption that turns and washes each cheese. Thank you again to Brett!

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Categories: Franche Comté food, Images of Jura | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Weather hazards for Jura vignerons and a photographer

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.

Côtes du Jura

Preparing to shoot the Côtes du Jura vineyards above Le Vernois ©Wink Lorch

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.

Tour du Curon vineyard

Vines still small in Stéphane Tissot’s Tour de Curon vineyard above Arbois. ©Wink Lorch

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…

l'Etoile vineyards

Mick Rock gets the angle for a special geological feature above l’Etoile ©Wink Lorch

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.

Preparing for sunset in the vineyards of Château-Chalon ©Wink Lorch

Preparing for sunset in the vineyards of Château-Chalon ©Wink Lorch

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.

Cellar photos were important too - here shooting the voile in Vin Jaune 2006 at Domaine la Pinte ©Wink Lorch

Shooting the voile in Vin Jaune at Domaine la Pinte ©Wink Lorch

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.

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Château Chalon 1983

Château-Chalon 1983 Domaine Macle

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.

Jean-Berthet-Bondet

Jean-Berthet-Bondet poses in his Château-Chalon cellar ©Wink Lorch

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.

Categories: Images of Jura, News | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Snow in Arbois

Last weekend’s Percée du Vin Jaune took place in Voiteur in mixed weather, but with 35-40,000 people attending, everyone was pleased the festival went off well in the usual great atmosphere. The only down side was that the star bottle of the auction, the 1864 Château-Chalon did not receive its reserve price of 10,000€.

Percée du Vin Jaune decorationFor me this delightful event was in particular an opportunity to taste a range of wines put on for the press group, most notably Vins Jaunes from 2004, 2005 and the most recently launched vintage 2006. In brief the 2005s really shone with their fabulous acidity to balance wonderful intensity and flavours, sthe fact that they have now had up to a year in bottle. However, I’m learning that the differences in vintage characteristics in Vins Jaune are not nearly as marked as for the other wines of the region. Despite a difficult vintage overall, the 2006 Vins Jaunes that have been released (many don’t release the latest vintage till much later in the year) are showing well, with plenty of typicity.

Snowfall photo opportunity!
So, I’ve stayed on for a week to visit various producers of all types and sizes some who I’ve visited before but not for a while, and others new to me. I’m also meeting key people in the region to discuss various aspects of the Jura wine region and its history, all of which I need for the Jura book-to-come, the first ever in English. Work has started in earnest.

Chapel at Arbois

Arbois and the Hermitage Chapel ©Wink Lorch

Meantime, snow has descended on and off during the week, with an unexpectedly large fall in the wine region last night. Contrary to popular belief, the altitude of the vineyards in the Jura is not much higher than those in Burgundy or Alsace, rarely above 350 meters so having around 8cm of snow in the vineyards is unusual. In Arbois I had a break between visits at a time when the snow had slowed down and the cloud lifted, though the sun didn’t really make an appearance, so I headed in my 4WD car up to a remote viewpoint called the Belvédère de la Chapelle de l’Hermitage.

Arbois in snow

The town of Arbois from the Hermitage Chapel belvedere ©Wink Lorch

After lunch I had an appointment with a relatively new and promising producer, André-Jean Morin, who previously delivered his grapes to the Fruitière Vinicole d’Arbois, the local cooperative. His Domaine de la Touraize wines are worth looking out for – I shall write more later.

Old Jura vine

Possibly the oldest vine in Arbois – Chardonnay planted in 1914 ©Wink Lorch

But, before we tasted and settled down to getting to know each other, I asked him to show me his vineyards, especially if they had a good view. “The best view in Arbois,” AJ (pronounced Ah-Gee) boasted taking me to some vineyards just above the cemetery. He also pointed out what he believes to be the oldest vines in Arbois – Chardonnay from 1914. These do not belong to him but he does have Chardonnay vines planted in the next plot from the 1950s – his father and grand-father were vignerons.

Arbois vines in the snow

Arbois viewed from above Domaine de la Touraize vineyards ©Wink Lorch

As I need to prepare for another day of visits, I will leave you with this image snapped in the middle of the town of Arbois.

Arbois Place Centrale

The lion fountain in Place de la Liberté, Arbois ©Wink Lorch

Categories: Images of Jura | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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