Jura wine education

Sorting the lady’s Trousseau

The grape name Trousseau usually brings a smile to the face of older people who actually remember the meaning of a lady’s trousseau – a ‘bottom drawer’ or ‘hope chest’ – now disappearing from common use in English. The red grape Trousseau found in Jura may have derived its name from the old French word troussé or trussed, meaning tied up like a chicken, which relates to the shape of the bunch, but as usual these meanings are lost in history.

Trousseau grapes

Old vine Trousseau à la Dame

Trousseau is one of the three main permitted red grapes in the Jura, and although increasing slowly, there are only about 150 hectares planted or less than 8% of the total Jura vineyard. The largest plantings are in the north of the region in the Arbois appellation, especially around Montigny-les-Arsures, though certain vineyard areas in the southern Côtes du Jura have been identified as suitable for plantings too. According to local geologist Michel Campy, Trousseau is a sensitive variety, needing good exposure and preferring clay-gravel soils with fragments of limestone and silica.

The new Wine Grapes book confirms Trousseau comes originally from the Jura region and has a biological parent-child relationship with the white Savagnin variety. It is the same as the Bastardo grape of Portugal (and also grown to a lesser extent in Spain) but no-one knows how it arrived in Iberia – there are over 1,200ha grown in Portugal.

Arbois Les Corvées vineyardTrousseau, the harvest
During a sunny afternoon spent  harvesting in the south-facing vineyard of Les Corvées above Arbois with Pascal Clairet of Domaine de la Tournelle, I learned that Trousseau à la Dame (lady’s Trousseau?) refers to an old selection of particularly loose bunches of Trousseau. We were picking earlier than Pascal might have liked as after the difficult 2012 summer weather, quantity was down (Trousseau is prone to coulure or bad flower set), and he wanted to save what he could before the onset of yet another bout of rain.

Actually, the bunches were in excellent condition and Pascal confirmed a potential of about 12% alcohol, though later this was to be tested by his wife Evelyne who was back at the vinification cellar in the village of St-Cyr-Montmalin a few kilometres way. The pickers brought the grapes down the steep vineyard slope, whose clay soils had already dried out from the previous day’s rain. They dragged the rectangular tubs on convenient metal contraptions and then the tubs were tipped onto a large square tray for manual de-stemming.

Manual de-stemming

Manual de-stemming the Trousseau ©Brett Jones

Also providing a final sorting opportunity, rejecting any rotten berries or leaves inadvertently picked, this wooden manual de-stemming tray was surprisingly efficient. The tray has regular holes drilled in it and sits on top of a large plastic tub that can take 300-400kg of grapes. Standing up on the tractor trailer, I was taught to rub my hands over the bunches, keeping them curved so as not to crush the grapes. It’s a much gentler process than the mechanical de-stemmers that producers have used for several decades, preserving the integrity of the grape. The glistening berries fall into the tub and the stems can be thrown overboard. The result is a tub full of berries that look almost like olives.

Trousseau grape berries

The berries after de-stemming; an occasional Chardonnay vine is mixed up in the vineyard, hence the white berries

Trousseau, the wine
The big tubs of Trousseau grapes were taken back to the winery and bucket by bucket thrown into the top of a fibre-glass tank. There are few fancy machines at Domaine de la Tournelle – my overriding impression was of an immaculately clean winery. It always takes a lot of water to make good wine, and most especially for anyone who – as this winery – uses minimal or no chemical intervention. No SO2 is used here whenever possible and only natural yeasts. The Trousseau will have a few light punch downs (usually with feet!) and then regular pumpovers before being pressed.

Pascal Clairet of Domaine de la Tournelle

Pascal Clairet ©Brett Jones

In looking forward to tasting Trousseau Les Corvées 2012, I have recently drunk the 2010 vintage, slightly cloudy, full of pure juicy red-black fruit with a light structure. I don’t think it’s for long ageing, but may well be proved wrong as so often with Jura reds.

Other good producers of Arbois Trousseau include Stéphane Tissot (Domaine A & M Tissot), Jacques Puffeney, Daniel Dugois (who has several cuvées including one specifically from Trousseau à la Dame, named Damelière), Fréderic Lornet (with the cuvée Trousseau Les Dames that I had previously thought to be a vineyard location), Michel Gahier and Lucien Aviet (Caveau de Bacchus). In Côtes du Jura, Domaine Ganevat, Benoit Badoz and Domaine Pignier can be recommended.

California Postscript
There is one other wine in the world that I know of labelled Trousseau and made in a Jura style and that is Arnot-Roberts Trousseau from California. Arnot-Roberts is a small winery based in Healdsburg, Sonoma County that buys in grapes and has a passion for French-style, restrained wines. They purchase their Trousseau grapes from a grower in Lake County who planted it as Bastardo for a port blend. I tried both 2010 and 2011 back in February this year (both not yet bottled) and was impressed by the delicacy, rusticity and overall Jura-style, despite the extra fruit intensity derived from California sunshine. It’s worth noting that Trousseau Gris is a colour variant that is not grown as far as I know in the Jura, but exists in California, sometimes called ‘Gray Riesling’.

The following video was shot by Cathy Ho, and shows Pierre Overnoy demonstrating and explaining (in French) the manual de-stemming method I tried to describe above, but with the Poulsard/Ploussard variety grown in Pupillin a few kilometres away.

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Savagnin confirmed as a founder grape variety

With the launch of the Wine Grapes book, Jancis Robinson MW has dubbed Jura’s famous white grape Savagnin a ‘founder grape variety’. It has been known for a long time that Savagnin was part of the Traminer family, but the book will reveal much more including not only an array of synonyms for Savagnin, but also that it is the parent of such diverse and much more fashionable grape varieties as Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Grüner Veltliner.

Jura Savagnin grapes

Savagnin Vert and Jaune, harvested October 6th and destined for Domaine Pignier Vin Jaune ©Wink Lorch

Savagnin’s written history in the Jura goes back to at least the 14th century, and it is also called Naturé especially in 18th century texts. Savagnin exists in various colour mutations, the most common of which today are Savagnin Vert and Savagnin Jaune. At harvest with Domaine Pignier earlier this month, Jean-Etienne Pignier explained to me that he likes to grow both Vert (green) and Jaune (yellow) in the vineyards, as the mix adds complexity to the blend, even for Vin Jaune.

In the Jura, Savagnin tends to be planted on the best grey or blue marl soils, often in steep south-facing expositions. It resists disease reasonably well, though as a late ripener may be prone to grey rot, as well as to the more desirable ‘noble’ rot. Some producers, Pignier included, like to have a level of nobly-rotted berries included in harvest, also adding to the complexity of their Vin Jaune. Yields of Savagnin are relatively low and it gives good sugar levels with high balancing acid levels.

Savagnin grapes

With a leaf for identifcation, Savagnin, ready for the press ©Wink Lorch

There are 300-400 hectares of Savagnin grown in the Jura, and it is the only variety allowed for Vin Jaune (including of course, Château-Chalon), so traditionally all Savagnin would start off in the winery being a potential Vin Jaune, with less successful barrels being drawn off during the six years of ageing for making a traditional Savagnin white or to blend with Chardonnay (often labelled Tradition). Because of starting life as a potential Vin Jaune all these wines would be oxidative, giving rise to the common, and arguably erroneous, descriptor for Savagnin as ‘nutty’ in flavour, a flavour that actually has more to do with the oxidative ageing process in unfilled barrels under a veil of yeast than to the grape itself.

Since the 1990s increasing numbers of Jura growers have been making small quantities of so-called Savagnin Ouillé. The French word ‘ouillé’ means ‘topped-up’ and refers to the making of Savagnin wines in what to most regions would be a ‘normal’ white wine making method. Whether aged in tank or barrel, the white wine is protected from oxygen during the ageing process. I have loved many producers’ Savagnin Ouillé wines since I first tasted them around 10 years ago as they show the true flavours of this fascinating grape – in particular a vivid lemon character, but also floral, and often the mineral character that is so typical of Jura, I find can be really harnessed in Savagnin Ouillé.

Some of the good producers making Savagnin Ouillé are in AOC Arbois: Fréderic Lornet (Naturé), Tournelle, Stéphane Tissot (Traminer), Philippe Bornard, Overnoy/Houillon, Renardière, Jacques Tisot (Naturé), Octavin and Ligier; and in AOC Côtes du Jura: Ganevat, Labet, Rijckaert, Badoz, Pignier and Buronfosse.

Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson MW, Julia Harding MW and José Vouillamoz is available to buy with a limited special offer on Jancis’ site or for a similar price you can purchase via my Amazon UK or Amazon US stores (when I will eventually receive a few pennies). I have just received my own weighty copy , in which I expect to find all sorts of fascinating information on all the Jura grape varieties.

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