Producers

Domaine Chevassu-Fassenet

The number of vigneronnes or women winegrowers in the Jura is small, but they are all strong characters who have built up great respect for their wines. Managing her 4.5ha of vineyards from vine to sales as many do here, the last thing Marie-Pierre Chevassu-Fassenet, a mother of three girls, has time for is to build a website, hence you may not have come across her or her estate’s wines. But both are well worth getting to know.

In this next excerpt from the Jura Wine book (check out the latest reviews!) read about Marie-Pierre, who is based in the most traditional part of the Jura wine region, the appellation of Château-Chalon. Her Château-Chalon (or technically that made by her father, but bottled by her) is offered by the glass in Raymond Blanc’s prestigious Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons restaurant near Oxford.

A typical stone marker showing the vineyards of Domaine Chevassu-Fassenet in the AOC vineyards of Château-Chalon ©Mick Rock/Cephas

A typical stone marker showing the vineyards of Domaine Chevassu-Fassenet in Menétru-le-Vignoble, part of the AOC Château-Chalon © Mick Rock/Cephas

Les Granges-Bernard is a wonderful old Jurassien farm surrounded by pastures on the plateau behind Menétru, and it is here that Marie-Pierre Chevassu-Fassenet was brought up with her three sisters. Her mother Marie came from a family of vignerons and her father Denis farmed mainly cows. He took on some vineyards in the 1980s and, as all his daughters enjoyed helping, he expanded the business and started making and selling wine. Marie-Pierre chose a career in wine and after wine studies in Beaune and an oenology degree at Dijon she worked in New Zealand, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Champagne before returning to work in the Jura for several years as cellar manager at La Maison du Vigneron [the largest négociant in the Jura]. She took over the wine estate in 2008, whilst one of her sisters runs the farm.

Marie-Pierre Chevassu-Fassenet

Marie-Pierre outside the farmhouse Les Granges Bernard © Brett Jones

Marie-Pierre’s husband, Cédric Fassenet, is a theatre director in Lons, but helps with tastings, and Marie-Pierre continues to receive help from her parents. However, she is very keen to keep the estate small, in particular so that she can take care of the vineyards personally, and everything is worked in a sustainable way. Marie-Pierre manually hoes 3ha of the vineyards but explains that, due to erosion of the steep slopes, there are some parcels in Château-Chalon where it is simply impossible to work without herbicide. She uses systemic treatments early and late in the season but is a keen member of the local group working in lutte raisonnée towards Terra Vitis certification. The atmospheric cellars at the farm are full of old wood from large foudres down to fûts and feuillettes.

The biggest change that Marie-Pierre has made since taking over has been with the two reds, which she makes in a resolutely modern Jura way, with careful sorting at harvest during the manual destemming and filling the tanks with carbon dioxide to avoid using SO2 at harvest. There is no oak ageing. The resulting Pinot Noir (I have not tasted the Poulsard) is deliciously full of fruit, with a touch of CO2 gas that disappears with some aeration. Whites are no less carefully thought out, but this time resolutely traditional, never topping up, yet for the excellent Chardonnay, aged in foudres or demi-muids, there is only a hint of the oxidative character: the process simply brings out the minerality of the marl soil.

The Savagnins, which come from En Beaumont, are aged in three locations: a small amount in a loft, another small part in a semi-underground cellar, and three-quarters underground, meaning, as is classic for Château-Chalon, less temperature variation during ageing, aiming at finesse and elegance. The Château-Chalons since 1999 have been blended and bottled by Marie-Pierre, but of course were vinified by her father Denis until 2008. There is, however, a Savagnin 2008 already released and I sense from this there will be changes, with Marie-Pierre bringing out even more elegance and finesse in these wines, which need plenty of time open to show their best. A delicious Vin de Paille made from Chardonnay, Savagnin and Poulsard and a Chardonnay Macvin are very good too. This is a fine estate in excellent hands.

The UK importer for Domaine Chevassu is Les Caves de Pyrène and the wine is exported in small quantities to other countries too.

clavelin Château-Chalon

A clavelin of Château-Chalon from Domaine Chevassu © Mick Rock/Cephas

Domaine Chevassu-Fassenet
Les Granges Bernard, 39210 Menétru-le-Vignoble
Tel: 03 84 48 17 50
Email: mpchevassu@yahoo.fr
Contact: Marie-Pierre Chevassu-Fassenet
Established: 1980
Vineyards: 4.5ha (80% Chardonnay and Savagnin, 20% Poulsard and Pinot Noir)
Visits: No tasting room, but visits welcomed by appointment

 

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Domaine Jean-Louis Tissot

As I write, last minute preparations are taking place for the second annual official Wines of Jura trade tasting in London, which takes place tomorrow. Twenty producers will be present each showing six wines on their tables. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon I host a masterclass giving an introduction to the wines of the region. And, at 1pm we will be celebrating the Jura wine book with a taste of four rather special Crémants du Jura.

The great thing about this Jura trade and press tasting is that even though several producers have agents already, it is the producers themselves who come over to present their wines for tasting. The profile that follows is of one of these producers who has not yet found an agent and is my second excerpt from the book. Based in Montigny, this is the least well-known Tissot domaine, run today by Jean-Christophe and his sister Valérie Tissot, whose parents Jean-Louis and Françoise founded the domaine. The two women of the estate – Françoise and her daughter Valérie, who speaks English, will be at the tasting. Valérie is also president of next year’s Percée du Vin Jaune, which takes place in the village of Montigny on Saturday 31 January and Sunday 1 February.

Domaine Jean-Louis Tissot –
Montigny-les-Arsures, Arbois

Domaine Jean-Louis Tissot

Valérie and Jean-Christophe outside the house in Les Arsures ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Sister and brother, bubbly Valérie and shy Jean-Christophe Tissot run this estate, but their retired parents Françoise and Jean-Louis lend them a willing hand, Françoise helping out with tastings and Jean-Louis in the vineyard – for them, retirement is theoretical. Françoise Masson from the hamlet of Vauxelles, between Arbois and Montigny, married Jean-Louis Tissot from Montigny (2km away) in 1965; she had two grandparents closely connected with the wine business. On her father’s side, Albert Masson ran a service making sparkling wines for vignerons, important even back in the early 20th century. On her mother’s side, Albert Piroutet was one of the founders of the Arbois Fruitière and among those who worked hard for Arbois to obtain the AOC in 1936. Françoise’s father also joined the cooperative and she inherited his vines to pool with the 1.6ha that Jean-Louis inherited from his father Maurice Tissot. In the early years Jean-Louis was part of the Fruitière too, but after planting 8ha of vines in 1990 they decided to start producing their own wines.

Valérie studied wine production at Mâcon-Davayé and Jean-Christophe at Beaune. Today Valérie runs the commercial side of the business and Jean-Christophe makes the wine and is in charge of the vineyards together with their father Jean-Louis. They own various parcels around Montigny, including a few hectares in Les Bruyères with its heavy marl ideal for Poulsard and Savagnin. The vines are grassed down every other row, using herbicide only under the vine rows, and managed on lutte raisonnée lines with one full-time employee and three seasonal workers. Harvest is partly by hand and partly by machine and a small quantity of grapes is sold to the Cellier de Tiercelines négociant. Originally the wine was made and matured in Vauxelles, but in the early 2000s they bought a large house in Les Arsures, where Jean-Louis and Françoise moved together with Jean-Christophe. They installed a winery in the outbuildings with a ventilated loft area to dry Vin de Paille grapes and to age barrels for Vin Jaune, although most of the wine ageing remains in Vauxelles.

Vin Jaune ageing

Valérie & Jean-Christophe Tissot with the barrels of Vin Jaune they age in a loft area. ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Winemaking is simple and traditional. Reds are vinified in cement tank and, in the case of Trousseau and the Rouge Tradition (one-third each of Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir), aged in foudres. These reds in good years can be juicy and sappy, traditionally structured with those earthy tannins that are unexpected after the very pale colour of the wines. The Trousseau ages particularly well. There are two Chardonnays. The main cuvée is aged in tank and foudres, providing an excellent example of simple Arbois appley, mineral Chardonnay, needing a little time to emerge, and the Cuvée Jean-Christophe is partly aged in oak barrels; this is less successful. All Savagnin is aged for potential Vin Jaune and some withdrawn for a Reserve blend of 40% together with the classic Chardonnay, and some for a Savagnin. These are both decent examples, but the Vin Jaune shines as a very oxidative, nutty Arbois style with a touch of elegance.

This branch of the Tissot family may be less visible than the others, but the domaine is well worth seeking out for good-value, true-to-type wines produced by a family of real ambassadors for Arbois and its wines. So far they have not exported, selling directly to consumers and through wholesalers in France.

Domaine Jean-Louis Tissot
Vauxelles, 39600 Montigny-les-Arsures
Tel: 03 84 66 13 08
Email: valerie.tissot@wanadoo.fr
Web: domaine-jeanlouis-tissot.com
Contact: Valérie Tissot
Established: 1976 (vineyards 1965)
Vineyards: 17ha (6ha Chardonnay, 4ha Savagnin, 4.5ha Poulsard, 2ha Trousseau, 0.5ha Pinot Noir)

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Domaine de la Renardière (Jean-Michel Petit)

Starting today around two or three times a month I will post an excerpt from the Jura Wine Book, often with a small addendum. I will include illustrations too that are either used in the book, or from the photo shoot that I did with Mick Rock of Cephas. All images are fully copyrighted of course, as is the text.

If you have not yet bought the book, I hope this might encourage you to do so – you can find stockists and comments about the book on the new Jura Wine book page.

Domaine de la Renardière – Pupillin, Arbois

Jean-Michel Petit Pupillin

The mural outside Domaine de la Renardière in Pupillin shows Jean-Michel and his wife Laurence. ©Mick Rock/Cephas

He might be running between commitments, but Jean-Michel always offers a twinkly smile together with a straight answer to any question. More than anyone in Pupillin, Jean-Michel has been as much involved in the ‘mother appellation’ Arbois as he has in his own village. AOC Arbois syndicate president for many years, I’ve seen him carrying the Biou in Arbois; he was president of the Percée festival in Arbois in 2011; and he always turns up to greet the media with a regional hat firmly on his head. Somehow, between supporting his village, region and even the young and up-and-coming producers in the appellation, he finds time to produce a consistently lively and eminently drinkable range of wines. Jean-Michel’s stated aim in his brochure is to ‘make music from the mosaic of soils below our feet’, but the imprint on his labels is of a hand – his own, representing the importance of hand-harvesting, lending a hand and much more.

Quite rightly, the vineyards are the focus for Jean-Michel. Growing up in Pupillin (distantly related to the other Petit family in the village) with parents and grandparents who farmed vines and took their grapes to the cooperative, he returned after five years of wine studies and work experience around the world of wine to create his own estate with his wife Laurence. He took over his family’s 2ha of vines and accumulated other vineyards little by little, in various parcels on the different terroirs within Pupillin. He has always believed in working the soil and using only organic fertilizer and, after years working in lutte raisonnée, he made the move to start organic certification in 2012, although he had been using biodynamic preparations 500 and 501 on some of his plots for a couple of years.

The small winery lies on both sides of one of Pupillin’s side roads with an amusing and distinctive colourful mural showing several generations of the family adorning one side. Jean-Michel’s winemaking has always been thoughtful – vinifying the grapes from each plot apart, fermentation using indigenous yeast, and little use of other standard winery interventions. Apart from for Ploussard, he is not likely to go down the no sulphur route, yet he told me that, as with most producers, today he uses around a third of the amount of SO2 than when he started making wine 20 years ago.

Domaine de la Renardière Pupillin

Jean-Michel Petit in front of some of his foudres ©Mick Rock/Cephas

All styles of whites and reds are matured in wood of varying sizes. Reds, including Ploussard, are aged in large foudres – his is the example from this village that I have always found to be one of the most accessible. Yet it is his clear-cut topped-up whites that really sing, starting with the tangy and lemony Savagnin ouillé Les Terrasses, which comes from a steep south-facing terraced plot. From the mid-2000s Jean-Michel has made two Chardonnay cuvées that show the Jura terroir character well – Jurassique is from plots with more limestone and the more profound Les Vianderies is from older vines in a gravelly vineyard with marl below – the latter is aged in both 500-litre and 228-litre barrels.

In his quiet way Jean-Michel has experimented with his range without extending it dramatically as some wineries do, keeping to a modest (for the Jura) 14 different wines. A late-harvest white blend of two-thirds Chardonnay and one-third Savagnin was once called Vendange Oublié (‘Forgotten Harvest’ – as it literally was the first time it was made) and has morphed into Les Oubliées, as the labelling fraud squad did not like the original name. The wine is made only in good years and, though usually dry, can be rather over-rich for my taste, but with plenty of intensity of flavour. The usual range of specialities from Crémant through to Vin Jaune, Paille and Macvin are made but account for only a quarter of production, including the Pétillant Naturel called Le Pet de Léo. This was first made by son Léo at 14 years old from a Ploussard vineyard planted in 1993, the year of his birth. Léo has studied wine production at Mâcon and is continuing his education in marketing at Suze-la-Rousse, so this estate should be in safe hands in the future.

Domaine de la Renardière exports account for about a third of sales, but it is the combination of a well-deserved string of medals in French wine competitions and mentions in guides, with a very open and educational approach to welcoming customers at the estate, that keeps his regular French customers returning. For several years each Saturday in June Jean-Michel and Laurence have conducted vineyard tours, followed by a tasting and lunch, an innovative approach for the Jura and something that has helped build up their loyal following. I sincerely hope that they throw a big party to celebrate the quarter-century of their domaine, which is a huge credit to the Arbois-Pupillin appellation, a valeur sûre or safe bet, as they say in France.

Domaine de la Renardière sign ©Mick RockDomaine de la Renardière
Rue du Chardonnay, 39600 Pupillin
Tel: 03 84 66 25 10
Email: renardiere@libertysurf.fr
Contact: Jean-Michel Petit
Established: 1990
Certification: Ecocert
Vineyards: 6.8ha (2.4ha Chardonnay, 1.3ha Savagnin, 1.7ha Ploussard (Poulsard), 0.7ha Trousseau, 0.7ha Pinot Noir)
Visits: Tasting room, visits welcomed by appointment

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Jean-Michel has been promising to publish his own website for some time!

The wines are imported into the UK by Enotria UK and at their trade tasting in February 2014 Brett Jones recorded a short interview with Jean-Michel Petit. Some of the range is available from The Wine Society.

In New York Domaine de la Renardière wines are sold in the Wine Library and at Zachys, among other places. Please feel free to add other stockists in the comments.

 

 

 

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Domaine Labet, a family affair

I’ve long had a soft spot for the Labet family of Rotalier in the area south of Lons-le-Saunier, known as the Sud Revermont. Not only for them, but for their superbly crafted Chardonnays, tangy Savagnin Ouillé, classic Vins Jaunes and interesting Vin de Pailles. Since my first visit more than ten years ago, eldest son Julien has been on the scene, but now he and his siblings call the shots.

Jura Labet

Domaine Labet courtyard in the sleepy village of Rotalier ©Brett Jones

“Nous sommes en pleine effervescence!” Julien told me excitedly on the phone when I made the appointment to visit in January. I could understand the sense of fizzing (their Crémants can be excellent too), but my dictionary gives the correct translation of “We are buzzing”. The big change is that Alain and Josie Labet have officially retired at the end of last year, handing the reins over to Julien, his sister Charline (a trained oenologist, as is Julien) and brother Romain (whose focus is the vineyards). A new Domaine Labet is born.

Succession is rarely easy (more on some of the issues faced by other Jura estates soon), but there never seemed any doubt that the three children of Alain and Josie would follow these thoughtful vignerons into the family business.

Yet with Alain and Julien there were always two alpha males at play, locking horns over the family lunch or in the cellar. This, despite the fact that in their different approaches both men share an utter dedication and passion for preserving the ecology of the vineyards and making wines that both uphold Jura traditions, but can appeal to a market beyond the region. Julien is excited and keen to move on together with his sister and brother.

Respect for the vineyards
When I first met Alain Labet and visited his vineyards in and around the village of Rotalier, he explained that in the 1970s he had farmed the vineyards completely organically, along with Pierre Overnoy he was a pioneer at that time but, just as with Jean Macle of Château-Chalon, the work and risks became too much – he didn’t want to lose a crop. However, just like Jean, Alain worked the minimum possible with chemicals, and was very respectful of the local environment. Julien explained on this visit that his father would use herbicide under the vines because “he didn’t want to spend all his time on a tractor”. Many of the vineyards are on the typical local marl (a clay-limestone mix), that can be very heavy to work, but is prized vineyard terroir here.

Labet tasting room

Terroir and trappings in Labet’s tasting room ©Brett Jones

When Julien took on three hectares of vines for his own personal estate in 2003 he gradually converted them to organics, later applying for certification which he received from Ecocert in 2010. These three hectares are now incorporated into the new Domaine Labet, and the siblings have embarked on an organic certification programme for the whole domaine, the main work to be done is to replace the use of herbicide with a mechanical weeding method. The estate has quite a large proportion of old vines of 50 plus years, and for the very old vines that are planted at high densities they intend to use a horse to work them. The family has recently purchased another plot of nearly a hectare bringing the total to nearly 13 hectares, reds form just a small part, around two hectares.

Labet Jura

Rare photo of Alain and Julien in their cellar ©CharlesNealSelections.com

Thoughtful winemaking
Julien Labet took over the winemaking in 1997, initially working side by side with his father, he had previously worked both in Burgundy and in South Africa and was keen to introduce new or fairly new barrels for fermentation and ageing of the Chardonnays in particular, at the time something quite radical in the Jura. He explained to me that at this time the wines were usually a natural 13% alcohol and that the barrel element helped fill out the middle palate giving ‘gras’ as the French call it, meaning ‘fatness’ or richness. With climate warming they now regularly achieve 14-14.5% alcohol and Julien finds that he does not want so much new oak element now, and plans to move gradually to bigger oak, demi-muids (300 – 600l) and large foudres (15 hectolitres). The latter help maintain freshness and what Julien termed in French ‘tension’.

One of the differences between the two ranges of wines that that the family has produced over the past few vintages – the Domaine Labet range, overseen by Alain, and Domaine Julien Labet or Les Vins de Julien – were that the latter were often sulphur free with Julien attending certain natural wine fairs to promote his wines. In the future sibling-run Domaine Labet, there will be two ranges – a classic one retaining for now the existing label in particular for regular, long-term customers, and a ‘natural’ range, no doubt with interesting labels as Julien himself has used – zero sulphur if possible.

Julien Labet wines

Julien’s arty zero sulphur wines lined up ©Brett Jones

I found Julien’s attitude to the use of sulphur dioxide in winemaking refreshingly frank and sensible. And, although Charline wasn’t there on my visit, I tasted with her at last year’s “Le Nez dans Le Vert” organic wine fair, and the two work comfortably side-by-side with the same approach. Pre-bottling the domaine wines will have a small dose of SO2 added routinely, a safety measure for their customers’ sake. However, the domaine’s future ‘natural’ range will have no SO2 unless as happens with some wines it is necessary to prevent oxidation.

They use natural yeasts for all the wines, and they are no longer pumped, instead they use gravity and a mixture of compressed carbon dioxide with nitrogen to protect the wine in the hoses. In my experience of tasting with Julien, he loves the reductive approach, something that is almost essential for no or lower sulphur wine production, even if it can cause some notes in the wines that not everyone enjoys.

Selecting the favourites
In all, with the estate wines and Julien’s own wines in the past few years there have been about 30 different labels made from the 12 hectares, and there are no plans to reduce this range. It was Alain who pioneered making ouillé or topped up, rather than oxidative or traditional (in the Jura sense) Chardonnay in 1992, with what is today one of their biggest volume wines, Fleur de Chardonnay, at the time in foudres. The other big volume wine is the simple Chardonnay Cuvée Fleurs from a blend of five parcels with vines of different ages. The 2011 was tasting delicious with lovely floral and mineral characteristics along with apples on the palate. As often on previous tastings, my favourite Chardonnays were from the plot named Les Varrons planted with 65+ year old massal selection vines. I enjoyed both Julien’s no sulphur version from 2010, from very late picked grapes giving an almost sweet yellow fruit character (high in alcohol at over 14.5%), but with fresh acidity and spice to balance, and the domaine version from the same year, which was a touch more balanced with a mineral, stony character. We also tasted the domaine 2008 Les Varrons showing greater complexity and very exotic. Julien’s Fleur de Savagnin 2010 mainly from the well-known En Chalasse plot, was fabulous with a smoky lemon character on the nose leading to a ripe but tangy taste, almost like eating a fresh Meyer lemon (a taste I acquired on a visit to California). The grapes had 5 – 10% botrytis that would have accounted for that extra richness.

Jura Domaine Labet

The tasting room at Domaine Labet ©Brett Jones

Our tasting of oxidative wines included Chardonnay Cuvée du Hasard (meaning ‘chance cuvée’). It has taken me many years to appreciate oxidative Chardonnay in particular, but I loved the 2008 Hasard from 60+ year old vines. A blend from different barrels, it is aged under a veil of yeast (as in Vin Jaune) for around three years. The result is an amazing intense aroma of cooked fruit and nuts with an equally intense palate, balanced by spices. The 2005 Vin Jaune was good and the Labets consider their Jaunes ready to drink when bottled, this is achieved with ageing mainly in warm conditions on a higher level of the cellar.

Julien Labet

Julien, relaxed in the garden

Onto sweet wines and we tasted a lovely 2010 late-harvest Savagnin Grains Fauves from grapes that were on the turn towards noble rot. Just two barrels were made and it has a delicious balance of nearly 15% alcohol with 12 g/l of sugar giving a lovely honeyed nose and sweetish intensity. I also really enjoyed Julien’s La Paille Perdue 2007 though whether the local authorities allow Julien to continue naming it this is in question as they don’t like the fact that he uses the word ‘Paille’ in the name. This is a non-official Vin de Paille and ironically Julien is amongst the very few to dry the grapes on straw (‘paille’ in French), in fact on organic straw in wooden boxes for around six months in the attic. Not officially approved because it is only 11.9% alcohol instead of the minimum 14% and correspondingly sweeter than usual with 169g of sugar. Usually their Vin de Paille (whether official or not) has around 70-75% Chardonnay, 20-25% Savagnin and a touch of Poulsard. However, in 2007 the mix was 55% Savagnin and 40% Chardonnay. A fabulously unctuous wine with honeyed spices.

We did not taste the Crémants or reds in a formal manner on this visit, but with a quickly put together lunch from the ever-hospitable Labets I really enjoyed a 100% Chardonnay Crémant made Extra Brut, and a pleasant, juicy no-SO2 Trousseau 2011, though so light that I mistook it for a Poulsard (whoops, but it was after a big tasting of whites!) – Julien pointed out that it was rounder and smoother than Poulsard. A few weeks later over the Percée weekend Julien’s superb Pinot Noir Les Varrons 2009 was a highlight for me, tasted in the press office.

My admiration for this estate only continues with the new generation taking over. My thanks to Alain and Josie for both the domaine and the new generation you nurtured so well.

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