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.
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.
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.
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.