Jura culture

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

Stéphane Tissot stars in Jura travelogue

Among Jura wine aficionados, Stéphane Tissot needs no introduction: his wines can be found all over New York City, San Francisco, and considering that we are talking about the tiny Jura wine region, they are fairly widely available elsewhere in the USA, in Canada, Australia and even these days on a few lists in London.

Stéphane in his tasting room ©Brett Jones

Stéphane in his tasting room ©Brett Jones

Running Jura’s largest biodynamic wine estate and exporting 40% of his production – a high proportion for Jura – Stéphane still needs to nurture his French clients buying the 60% and he is proud to do so.

Recently Stéphane’s fame will have broadened in France with his appearance in a beautifully produced edition of the France 3 TV documentary programme Des Racines et des Ailes (literally translated as ‘Roots and Wings’), which explored many aspects of Jura life. The programme opens in Arbois with the TV crew joining Stéphane and his team for the harvest of grapes destined for drying to make Vin de Paille. It shows how the grapes are painstakingly laid on straw in wooden cartons, which are then stacked up in an attic; the film then moves on to follow Stéphane’s role in the wonderful Biou festival in Arbois.

The multi-faceted attractions of the Jura
The 1 hour 45 minute programme is really well worth watching for anyone who understands a little French, as the filming gives a real taste of what makes the French Jura region so interesting. There are various stories including a look at forestry and the making of shingle roof tiles; how a beautiful Palladian villa built in the middle of Jura’s woodland is being painstakingly restored as a luxury B&B; a traditional transhumance procession down the mountain (called the désalpe); extreme diving in one of Jura’s large lakes; a wild animal and bird rescue centre and hospital; the rescue of an old steam train, and husky driving in the mountains.Hirsinger chocs

Local culinary delights feature too. Stéphane reappears with the crew to meet one of his local friends, the wonderful Arbois chocolatier, Edouard Hirsinger. The film explores the way he makes some of his chocolates using locally grown absinthe among many other flavours, and shows the fascinating museum Edouard has created with his father. Together with a group of others, they partake in the traditional and painstaking way of making marrons glacés, ready for Christmas. And Stéphane has friends in high places too, specifically at a Comté cheese ageing specialist, who ages thousands of cheeses at Fort Les Rousses, high in the mountains. A fascinating discussion ensues, with a 3-year-old cheese being likened to a 50-year-old wine.

Where innovation and tradition meet
I loved watching Stéphane’s pride and enthusiasm in visiting and learning from other Jura artisans. Stéphane is a joiner and participator in his region, even if in his winemaking he pushes the boundaries and limits of what is deemed traditional (something that doesn’t always win him local friends), his heart and determination is always in the right place.

In March this year I spent a couple of hours with Stéphane together with Sophie Barrett of New York City’s Chambers Street Wines. As always with Stéphane, we had a rapid but illuminating tasting learning new things all the time. Stéphane produces 35 wines, a huge range for a modest estate and here is one Jura producer where I can’t select a particular style at which he excels as there is simply too much that is good in so many styles. Here I will just touch on the beginning and end of our mini-marathon tasting.

Crémant du Jura BBFIn his sparkling Crémant du Jura range, I love his BBF – a Blanc de Blancs from 100% Chardonnay aged for nine months in fût (Burgundian 228-litre barrels). He also served us 2010 Indigène where he uses indigenous yeast even for the 2nd fermentation in bottle. He bottles the base wine blend (50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 5% each of Trousseau and Poulsard) with a few centilitres of Vin de Paille that is undergoing fermentation. The Vin de Paille grapes are pressed early in the year and the juice or must takes several months to ferment; bottling of the Crémant takes place in around April so the timing is perfect. The final wine is Extra Brut and is very fine, full of fruit with a creamy character.

For many years, Stéphane has made two or more sweet wines, made as Vin de Paille, but not allowed to be labelled as such. Instead they are moût de raisin partiellement fermenté issu de raisin passerillés, which translates as ‘partially fermented grape juice from dried grapes’. Spirale is the name of the main cuvée and the 2007 we tasted was from 60% Savagnin with 20% Poulsard and 20% Chardonnay (each vintage varies in composition), and it had a residual sugar of 300grams per litre but only 8% alcohol. It is beautifully balanced and on the basis of previous vintages I’ve tasted will age supremely well. Jura wine law requires a minimum alcohol of 14% hence why the wine is not able to be labelled Vin de Paille. A second sweet wine we tasted was PMG 2007 with a whopping 450g/litre of sugar and around 6% alcohol – it will take a few years for the luscious sweetness to calm down.

Collaboration between local artisans
The Des Racines et des Ailes programme continues with the pressing of Stéphane’s Vin de Paille, when his father André (the estate is still named Domaine André et Mireille Tissot) joins him. I’ve always been impressed how André encouraged and supported his son Stéphane and his wife Bénédicte in following their ideas for the estate that André with his wife Mireille had painstakingly built up over the years.

The end of the documentary sees the chocolatier Edouard Hirsinger learning to drive a husky team in the mountains and being taken to see a herd of bison – another chance to get in touch with the nature of the Jura region that both he and Stéphane value so much.

Amazingly, the whole of this edition of Des Racines et Des Ailes is currently available on YouTube, I presume legally – so here it is. Great practice for your French if you are not a native speaker, and if you do not understand the language, you will still enjoy the images.

Wishing you a Happy New Year and a Jura-filled 2013, certainly I expect my year to be Jura-focussed and hope that this time next year I will have something to show for it.

Categories: Jura culture, Producers | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Celebrating Louis Pasteur in Arbois

Louis Pasteur statue in ArboisThe famous scientist Louis Pasteur was born in the Jura town of Dole, and grew up in Arbois, something acknowledged in both towns through the naming of their public buildings and streets. As an educated French man it was inevitable that he would love wine, and indeed much of his research revolved around wine, leading him to comment that “wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.”

This year the illustrious French Academy of Sciences is marking 150 years since Louis Pasteur was elected to the academy just ahead of his 40th birthday on 8th December 1862. The election acknowledged his remarkable work that began in the field of crystallography, and continued with his studies of microbiology, and was much inspired by his research into wine and vinegar.Louis Pasteur house and museum Arbois

In September, the academy launched the Fondation Maison de Pasteur whose aims include encouraging childrens’ education in the sciences, and campaigning for Pasteur’s body of research to be classified by UNESCO. This weekend (14th and 15th December) in Arbois, together with the Maison de Pasteur in Arbois, the academy launches a project to create a scientific heritage interpretation centre, named Terre de Louis Pasteur. In part to encourage donations and legacies, the Arbois event Louis Pasteur dans sa Vigne includes a series of lectures by members of the academy, visits to Pasteur’s original vineyard and cellar, and a tasting of the wine made in the tiny vineyard.

Pasteur is known by most for his pioneering work on vaccines and his explanations surrounding germs, leading of course to the stabilization process that became known in his honour as pasteurization. The contribution he made to health today is huge, and much of it was influenced by his work in and around Arbois, in particular studying the local vines and wines between 1860 and 1864, which led to his published work, Etudes sur le Vin. It was through this work that Pasteur was able to prove that microbes were naturally occurring in the atmosphere.

Pasteur’s Vineyard – Clos de Rosières
The family of Louis Pasteur owned vines and made wine non-commercially for their own use as did all families in the region at this time. In 1878 Pasteur bought his own vineyard on a site named Rosières on the edge of Arbois, near Montigny-les-Arsures and built a laboratory there too. In 1892 three years before his death he was able to extend the vineyard to nearly half a hectare (just over an acre) and around this time it would have been re-planted with phylloxera-tolerant grafted vines.

By 1942 the vineyard was all but abandoned, and with permission of Pasteur’s descendants and local official bodies, the prominent wine producer Henri Maire took over the running of the vineyard and re-planted it. Since 1992 it has been owned, along with the house of Pasteur and his laboratory, by the Academy of Sciences, but the Henri Maire company continues to manage the vineyard and make the wine. It has all five of the Jura grape varieties co-planted there and around 2,000 bottles of a blended wine are made. If anyone reading this is able to attend the weekend’s events and taste this wine, please do add a comment to this post with your impressions on the wine!

“A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world.” is another quote attributed to Pasteur.

Notwithstanding this, in case anyone was wondering what happened to my project of writing a book on the wine region, then let me assure you that the plans are laid and I shall be focusing on writing and checking details on the ground for the first half of next year. With the help of some experienced photographers, editors and designers I plan to see this book through in 2013 with the aim of launching it in early 2014. The book will include profiles of  Louis Pasteur and Henri Maire (who died in 2003), both hugely important in the history of Jura wines. Early next year, watch out for a Kickstarter project to raise some funds, this can also be considered as a campaign to encourage advanced purchase of the book and to give me the incentive to finish it on time.

Below is a video of the harvest at Clos de Rosières in 2009, with some science students from the local Collège de Pasteur who have reproduced some of Pasteur’s experiments on the vines. Featured with the students are Marie-Christine Tarby, daughter of Henri Maire, and Roger Gibey, retired scientist and local historian who has written about Pasteur’s work on the local wines, and who also features in my story of the 1774 Arbois wine.

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

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