Producers

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.

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

Unique London tasting of old vintages from Caves Bourdy

Contrary to what outsiders may think, for most wine writers and sommeliers, it’s a rare thing to be able to taste wines that are older than we are, and it’s always an exciting occasion. So, when Jean-François Bourdy with importer Richard Dudley Craig presented a range of Côtes du Jura and Château-Chalon vintages back to 1937 to taste in a small room of a mews house in Notting Hill, London, there was a hushed silence and sense of incredulity among some.

Bourdy wine cellar in Jura

Old tonneaux in Bourdy’s cellar ©Brett Jones

This tasting last month was a first for the UK, and a first for Europe, beyond France I believe. Caves Jean Bourdy already has quite a reputation in North America since offering a line-up of 40 old vintages to a mix of trade and consumers organised by the importer Garagiste. And, a huge tasting of 120 wines from this producer’s stock of old vintages also was staged in Besançon, France in 2006, organized by sommelier Christophe Menozzi, and attended among other professionals and grands amateurs (amateur wine connoisseurs) by sommelier Olivier Poels for the Revue de Vin de France and by fine wine collector and fan of the Jura, François Audouze.

Caves Jean Bourdy, in the pretty village of Arlay just north of Lons-le-Saunier, is today run by the 14th generation of the Bourdy family, Jean-François, in charge of sales, and his brother Jean-Philippe, in charge of the winemaking and the vineyards. As well as their extraordinary collection of old vintages, built up on a systematic basis since the end of the 19th century, the Bourdys continue to make wine today from 10 hectares including 0.5 hectares in Château-Chalon. In my relatively limited tasting experience of their wines, I have noted a distinct improvement in the past few years, and wonder very much if this has to do with their work in the vineyards which have been managed biodynamically since 2006 (certified 2010).

How to taste a range of Jura wines
The London tasting included a range of Bourdy’s current releases and then a selection of old vintages with four reds, four whites and six Château-Chalons, most of them re-labelled and many re-corked. We started the tasting with an excellent Crémant du Jura (pure Chardonnay) and finished with a Vin de Paille and Macvin. I decided to follow the Jura way of tasting in-between these extremes, which is based on the logic that Jura reds are light with low tannin levels, and therefore it’s logical to start with these, and then follow with non-oxidative whites, finishing with the oxidative whites. Here is an overview of what we tasted.

The Reds – 2007 back to 1953
Caves Bourdy Côtes du Jura reds are always a blend of the three Jura varieties, Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir with roughly equal amounts. The wines are aged for at least three years in old oak tonneaux – mainly 50-60 year old 600-800l demi-muids casks that need to be topped up usually only once during the first year. The current vintage is 2007, a vintage that I tasted first last year soon after bottling and enjoyed its mineral and fruit characteristics then; in the cold light of a London morning, it tasted very dry, but the smokey red fruit nose lifted it and it showed an acidity built to age and work well with charcuterie.

Old vintages of Jura reds

The four old reds were 1997, 1983, 1967 and 1953. I enjoyed the rusticity of the very delicate 1997; the 1983 was too volatile; the 1967 was my definite favourite with a mature red fruit and fungal nose, and still great length and fruit on the palate. Jean-François told me it was a very difficult vintage, and was very hard when young, but it has aged beautifully. The 1953 still showed some red colour behind the browning and had a slightly sweetish character, which I found odd. Tasting a leftover of a second bottle opened for the tasting on the following day over lunch I enjoyed it more, but it is still an oddity. But, how many other light reds can last 60 years and more?

 The Whites – 2007 back to 1937
Bourdy’s Côte du Jura whites are pure Chardonnay, when nothing is noted on the label – somewhat confusing to many and there is no back label (Why? Well, it’s the traditional Jura way, I guess, not something I really endorse). Again these wines are aged in old tonneaux as the red is, for at least three years. This was the first time I had tasted the current 2007 release and I enjoyed it more than the 2006 I had tasted a year ago. It showed good spicy yellow fruit with typical fresh acidity on the palate backed up by spicy apricots and good intensity and length.

Old vintages of Jura whites

The four old whites were 1993, 1973, 1955 and 1937. With the exception of the 1973, which I found strangely out of balance (Jean-François said it was simply in a phase that showed extremely high  acidity and volatile esters on the nose, and that it would come around), I adored the other three whites. The 1993 showed minerality on the nose with still ripe, intense fruit on the palate; the mid-amber 1955 had very good fruit/acid balance; and the orangey-amber 1937 was extraordinary, not nutty as one might expect, but almost jammy and creamy, with fabulous length. I think it may have been even better than the 1947 white I had the chance to share with Christophe Menozzi last year.

Vins Jaune and Château-Chalon: 2004 back to 1937
All Bourdy’s Savagnin grapes whether grown in Arlay or Château-Chalon start off life destined to be a Vin Jaune, but along the way some barrels have to be withdrawn as they won’t last the 6-year course, and these are released early as Côtes du Jura Savagnin (and labelled as such), a wine not, Jean-François said, destined for long ageing in bottle. The current 2007 release was tasting well with distinct lemony acidity and spicy minerals on the nose.  The current release Côtes du Jura Vin Jaune 2004 was a pale golden-yellow with light spiced curried notes on the nose, even some peat character, with an elegant, light and fine balanced palate. The Château-Chalon 2004 was even paler and very different on the nose, much more mineral and tasting tangy as well as stony on the palate. The Bourdys are very keen to make their Vins Jaunes in a light, elegant style without high alcohol levels, and both these wines were marked 13% though the Château-Chalon seemed a touch higher.

Old vintages of Château-Chalon

The opportunity to taste six old vintages of Bourdy’s Château-Chalon was a real treat, and seeing the progression of vintages, fascinating. The wines shown were: 1996 – so developed compared to 2004, the mineral, curry and cream had kicked in on the nose, and the palate was tremendous, still a baby too; 1976 – perhaps at a mid-stage, not young, not mature and still showing very high acidity; 1969 – darkening in colour and showing a fascinating orangey nose together with minerals and gorgeous balance between rounded, creamy fruit and high acidity on the palate; 1954 – seemed younger, lighter and elegant with a lovely fruit character and finish; 1945 – the only one where the balance wasn’t quite right for me; finally 1937 – at 75 years old showing a nose of crystallized fruit and minerals following through on the delicious palate, a complete revelation.

Jean-François Bourdy Jura

Jean-François Bourdy in his old cellar ©Brett Jones

Some repeats at lunch the following day
I was happy to join Richard and Jean-François for lunch at Medlar Restaurant the next day, a very tasty lunch too in relaxed atmosphere with impeccable service. This fairly new restaurant down at the western end of King’s Road has just won a Michelin star. As mentioned above, we re-tasted a bottle of 1953 red, which had been opened the previous afternoon, but better than that was the chance to drink a glass of the Château-Chalon 1969 that had been open 20 hours by this time – it tasted even better than on the previous day.

For reports of earlier tastings mentioned above, see Joshua Greene’s report in Wines & Spirits on the Garagiste tasting, and if you read French, then delve into François Audouze’s tasting notes of the 2006 tasting of 120 Bourdy wines – the reds, the whites and the Vins Jaunes and Château-Chalons (in which Audouze recommends caviar with the 1969 Château-Chalon!).

My thanks to Jean-François Bourdy and to Richard Dudley Craig of Dudley Craig Wines, who has small stocks of all these old vintages in the UK, as well as the current releases.

Categories: Events and Tastings, Producers | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Celebrations, commiserations and rumours before harvest

On the first Sunday of September for as long as anyone in Arbois can remember, the local vignerons put on their Sunday best, and the whole town comes out to witness a glorious procession and church service honouring the harvest to come. The festival, named La Fête du Biou, is the focus for a weekend of events in the town.

Arbois vignerons create the Biou ©Brett Jones

There is something deeply moving and beautiful about the Biou festival, and this year, we were able to witness the biou itself being prepared on the Saturday afternoon. The biou is a gigantic ‘bunch’ of grapes, harking back to the biblical Eshcol carried by the Israelites returning from Canaan, ‘the Promised Land’. It is carefully put together by the local vignerons and their helpers, using perfect bunches of white and black grapes that are almost ready to harvest, and then decorated with flowers.

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From procession to aperitif
The procession of the biou, weighing nearly 90kg (200 pounds) carried by four strong wine producers, is led by two young violinists and accompanied by wine-growers young and old, leaving from La Maison de Vercel (the old wine-growing family famous for its collection of 1774 Arbois wine), passing through the middle of the town, and down to the church of St-Just, past several wine producers shops and the famous Hotel-Restaurant Jean-Paul Jeunet.

Chef Jean-Paul Jeunet and his staff come out with all of Arbois to watch the Biou procession ©Brett Jones

In the church a service takes place, blessing the biou, which ends up being hung above the altar as thanks to God for the harvest to come. The town is looking into the possibility of applying for the Biou festival to be classified by UNESCO.

In Eglise St-Just ©Brett Jones

After the church ceremony, a further, more recently established procession takes place of local Arbois dignitaries, firemen and marching bands culminating in a wreath, also made up of bunches of grapes, being placed on the War Memorial. Once this is through there is a mad dash by all of the town to reach the tables where wines are served as a free aperitif by the Arbois wine producers.

The weekend’s events include a funfair, art shows, guided tours of the town and a wonderful exhibition of wild mushrooms, meticulously presented, labelled and categorised (deadly, poisonous, ordinary or edible) by the local mycological (mushroom) society. More than 100 species are gathered in local woodlands over the previous two days.

Small and challenging harvest in prospect
On our short visit to the Jura we were dodging rain showers, and when we visited Benoit Badoz in Poligny, we were unable to visit his vineyards. Benoit affirmed that, as in Burgundy, it has been a very difficult summer here, with bad weather around flowering time, and repeated attacks of mildew. As everyone it seems, Benoit had to spray his vineyards on more occasions than usual this year. Apart from being down 10% in crop levels, the worry now is that rot might develop before the grapes are ready to harvest.

A brief chat with Stéphane Tissot, whilst he was helping to build the biou, confirmed the story of lower crops (in his case down 25%) but he was typically up-beat about quality prospects. “La vie est belle?” is always Stéphane’s question – life is wonderful, of course, and Stéphane is always the optimist.

Sommelier Christophe Menozzi and Writer Wink Lorch

The writer with sommelier Christophe Menozzi ©Brett Jones

For a more independent viewpoint I turned to Christophe Menozzi, sommelier for the Château de Germigney restaurant, who we met for a civilized coffee on the terrace of the château after he had worked Sunday lunchtime service there. We, incidentally, had eaten a less expensive, tasty meal at the lovely Germigney-owned Bistrot de Port Lesney followed by a walk around the delightful village.

Christophe described harvest prospects as “un catastrophe” and reported that unusually for Jura both downy mildew (peronospera) and powdery mildew (oidium) had been widespread. Jacques Puffeney, always one to compare back to previous vintages, shared with Christophe that the last vintage like this was back in 1958 – not good news. Everyone agreed Poulsard (or Ploussard) is the worst hit variety.

The harvest is due to start in the next few days – here’s hoping for good weather to come, so that later-ripening varieties at least can enjoy some more sunshine. Good luck to everyone.

And finally: Is there love in the vineyards of Pupillin?
We stayed in one of the chambres d’hôtes in the wine village of Pupillin, just next to Arbois, and enjoyed a splendid treat of a meal out at Restaurant Jean-Paul Jeunet. We rarely eat at 2-star Michelins and this meal lived up to everything it should have in terms of food, presentation and service, and without too much pomposity as befits the Jura region. After discussion with sommelier Alain Guillou, we drank the Savagnin 2008 from Arbois grower Domaine de la Tournelle. which matched our dishes perfectly.

The vines of Pupillin love Philippe Bornard  but will he find his true love? ©Philippe Trias, Le Progrès

On our second night, paying 1/7th of the price of dinner at Jeunet, we relished the simple food, plentiful Pupillin wine and company of other guests at the table d’hôte dinner served at Le Pom’ Paille where we were staying. Discussion turned to Pupillin wine producer Philippe Bornard, separated from his wife a few years ago, and who is currently one of the contenders of the reality French TV Show L’Amour est dans le Pré where single farmers looking for a mate try to get matched up. After a couple of appearances, with two ladies in the running for his affections, it appears the little village of Pupillin (population 250) is being besieged by women wanting a glimpse of Philippe’s home turf or even the man himself. Rumour has it that he’s keeping his options open, but enjoying the show…. It’s great publicity for the beautiful Jura landscape.

The Biou procession begins – Stéphane Tissot is one of the porters ©Brett Jones

As ever, forty-eight hours in the Jura was full of interest, meeting lovely people generous with their time, and eating and drinking well of course. But most of all it was the Fête du Biou which was the highlight, even having seen it three times before, the atmosphere and the dedication to keeping up this tradition by the local vignerons never fails to move me.

Categories: Producers, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

International Jura Wine News for Summer 2012

Having been a little silent recently, I’m finding it hard to believe how much noise has been generated about Jura wines in the English-speaking press in the past couple of months. Twitter is all abuzz about Jura wines in several languages, including English, and I see increasing blog posts mentioning a Jura wine or two. So, here is my news round-up of what’s happening, with an international slant.

Dole is located an easy distance to the north of the wine region ©Wine Travel Guides

Cambridge – Dole Air link
A small airline named Danube Wings has launched various services to the Jura airport of Dole, just north of Arbois and the wine area. Most notably, from this Friday 27 July until 24 August, Danube Wings will operate a flight from Cambridge airport (recently re-opened for international passenger traffic and reached by train from London in an hour) on Fridays and Mondays to and from Dole. What is particularly interesting is that the checked baggage allowance includes 15kg PLUS four bottles of wine. I asked the PR how this worked, and apparently as long as the bottles are packed in a normal wine box from the shop or winery you buy it from, they will be handled carefully at each end.

I wonder if this wine baggage allowance is a first anywhere in the world, and I also wonder whether the system really will work without breakages. Good news for all, if so. The flight timings are ideal either for a long weekend break, or even a long week break instead, when more wineries will be open to welcome you. I just hope it’s successful enough for them to consider running the flights for a longer period during the year. My travel guides give details of other ways to reach the Jura wine region.

Jacques Puffeney, who celebrates his 50th vintage in 2012, one of the very best Jura vignerons ©Wink Lorch

Tasting reports from Schildknecht and Robinson
Writer David Schildknecht, one of Robert Parker’s team of contributors to The Wine Advocate and eRobertParker has written his first extensive report on the wines of the Jura, following visits to 17 estates last November. His report, available only to magazine or website subscribers, is very comprehensive indeed and, unsurprisingly, enthusiastic too, with very positive comments about the future for this region. He rated 244 wines on the usual 100-point scale, with wines rated ‘outstanding’ – above 90 points – reached by one or more wines from almost all the producers visited, including most of the names sold in the USA. The highest marks were mostly awarded to Vins Jaunes and Vins de Pailles, but Jean-François Ganevat scored very highly with his Chardonnays, although tasted pre-bottling. The highest scoring Ganevat wine was his Chardonnay Cuvée Les Grandes Teppes Vieilles Vignes, which is from vines planted in 1919 – it is a cuvée that I’ve tasted over the years, and I’m very glad that Schildknecht found it as gorgeous as I know it to be. Stéphane Tissot’s Clos du Curon Chardonnay also received 94 points.

Jancis Robinson admitted to me that she had last been to the Jura right at the start of her career, a few decades ago, and that was only to visit Henri Maire. So, I was pleased that she planned a return en route to Alsace back in June. Spending only 24 hours there, on my advice she visited Stéphane Tissot and Jacques Puffeney, and you will see the report in her article in the FT and on her site. She wrote extensive tasting notes too, but these are only available to access by Purple Pages members – on these she detailed a full range of wines from Tissot, Puffeney, and Les Chais du Vieux Bourg (at whose Les Jardins sur Glantine B&B in Poligny she stayed), as well as a few wines tasted at the RAW Fair from Domaine Pignier and Domaine La Pinte.

Jura at the Olympics!
The selection of wines for the London Olympics includes a Côtes du Jura Savagnin Les Sarres 2007 from the excellent producer Jean Rijckaert, based in Burgundy but owning vines in Jura. Although I haven’t tasted this vintage, I have tasted previous Savagnins from Rijckaert and it’s important to note that it is a Savagnin ouillé – meaning topped-up non-oxidative Savagnin. It is likely to taste dry, full, with lovely lemony and mineral freshness to balance. How lucky are the corporate visitors who manage to drink this whilst watching a great sporting event.

Fizz and Chips?
And last but not least, the Pierre Michel Crémant du Jura, made by Maison du Vigneron, part of the Grand Chais de France group and the largest producer of Crémant in the Jura, has won – wait for it – The What Food, What Wine Fish and Chips Fizz and Chips trophy …. A Chardonnay sparkling wine made – as all Crémants – in the Traditional method, it is available in the UK at ALDI for just £6.99. Fizzing value, it has to be said.

Categories: News, Producers, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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