Posts Tagged With: Savagnin

Only one word to describe the 2013 vintage

You won’t usually hear wine public relations or marketing people use the word ‘catastrophe’ either in English or French, but I am beginning to wonder whether the meaning is subtly different in contemporary French. In the past few weeks I have heard the word used by the smallest and the largest, and by both the most insular and the most worldly of Jura producers to describe the 2013 vintage. They are usually pretty honest with me, but this seems extreme.

Saint Vernier

Saint Vernier, patron saint of Jura vignerons, must have taken time off in 2013 ©Wink Lorch

‘Cata’ is short for ‘catastrophe’, and when pronounced in French either ‘CaTa’ or ‘catastroff’ with the emphasis on the ‘stroff’ it comes over with some impact. This shocking word was used by Stéphane Tissot when I spoke to him on his mobile phone on his last day of harvest this year on 14 October. Then last Monday I heard it several times from organic producers, both established and relatively new, in Paris for Le Nez dans le Vert trade tasting, even though they all wore a brave little smile. Then I spoke on the phone to the director of the large négociant Maison du Vigneron (part of Grands Chais de France) and tentatively asked about the harvest, couching it with ‘I know quantity is low and it hasn’t been easy, but how was….?’ And yet again ‘catastrophe’ was the answer. To be fair, a few bright souls gamely admitted that Jura was at least lucky to be spared the horrific hail storms that nearby Burgundy suffered. So, what went wrong?

A shortage?
This is not about quality but about quantity. As debates continue in the world of wine about a worldwide shortage of wine (is there or isn’t there?), amongst the most successful producers of the Jura wine world there will be a shortage of certain wines, no doubt. There have now been two seriously small harvests in a row, 2012 and 2013, which for some producers added together hardly equate to a normal harvest level. The 2011 vintage was generous, 2010 not very big, and so it goes on, with vintages more and more like a yo-yo in terms of quantity.

A very late spring
The winter 2012-2013 was long with unusual amounts of snow and spring was slow to start. At first producers were upbeat as they knew that this meant less risk of dangerous spring frost. However, when the cold continued into May, they began to get worried as the vines were hardly starting to grow. Towards the end of that month it was not only still wet, but seriously cold for the time of year.

And then the Savagnin ‘did a runner’!

I was perplexed when vignerons with a wry smile told me ‘les Savagnins ont filé’ as although I vaguely understood the verb ‘filer’ I did not know the expression ‘filer à l’Anglaise’ and I just could not relate it to vines. It turns out that ‘filer à l’Anglaise’ means the same as ‘to take French leave’ or to do a runner. Before actual flowering, the small clusters that had formed on many Savagnin vines simply fell off because of the cold. It also happened to a lesser extent with some Poulsard and Trousseau vines. Some Savagnin vines were left with no flower clusters at all (so no grapes) and others with just one or two remaining. Just a few protected or warmer vineyards escaped the problem completely.

Poulsard Jura

A reasonable crop of Poulsard at Domaine Lambert’s vineyard in Toulouse-le-Château ©Brett Jones

Eventually flowering began at the end of June/early July depending on variety, about four weeks later than in most recent years, but the weather was still not very kind and there was much coulure, and as in 2012 once again it was worst for Poulsard. With the low quantity, producers were resigned to keeping their fingers crossed that at least there would be good summer weather, and indeed there was warmth and sunshine for almost two months in July and August. Upbeat, the growers did not mind a little rain in early September, as that gives the vines a drink and increases the volumes a little, but they did need more ripening time, forecasting harvest would be spread along the whole of October.

Fête du Biou in Pupillin

The mid-September rainy Fête du Biou procession in Pupillin ©Brett Jones

Very hasty harvest
The ban de vendanges (the permission to start picking) was set for 23 September for grapes for Crémant, and a week later for still wines. Most good producers were prepared to sit it out for much longer, but then bad weather was forecast. The whole harvest was stop-start, dodging not just rain showers, but heavy downpours at times. Suddenly grey rot started appearing and looked ready to become rampant. The vignerons rushed to get the grapes in as quickly as possible, even the Savagnins that are usually hardy enough to be left for much longer had to be brought in rapidly. Most finished picking by 12 October or soon after, and of course they had to be selective too, but there was so little quantity to pick, at least they could do it quickly.

Vin de Paille

Only a very few boxes of grapes were drying for Vin de Paille at Domaine Bourdy ©Brett Jones

The final tally is usually given as an average yield per hectare. An average yield for the co-operatives and large producers would be 55-60 hectolitres per hectare (hl/ha), sometimes more than this for those who pick a lot of grapes for Crémant du Jura where yields may be higher. Both the  Fruitière des Vignerons d’Arbois (co-operative) and the Maison du Vigneron averaged somewhere between 30 and 35hl/ha taking into account Crémant. As for most of the organic and other producers who aim to achieve more flavour concentration through lower yields, practicing shorter pruning and bud-rubbing, they ended up with between 10 and 25hl/ha but most were well below 20hl/ha.

Quality is fine, just hardly any wine
Because there was relatively little mildew this year, the quality has ended up as fairly good overall – most producers are saying it was better for reds, but Chardonnay suffered with some rot, and there was so little Savagnin it hardly counts (5hl/ha for some vineyards).

Especially for the many small, quality-minded young producers who have set up in the past five years, this situation is really hard. Many have found keen customers both at home and on export markets eager to buy their wines, but they now can offer no follow-on for certain cuvées. It has to be said that this is exacerbated by the current Jura trend to offer a huge range of cuvées (several producers have upwards of 20 different wines even owning just 5ha of vineyards or less), but that is part of the joy of Jura.

There is absolutely nothing they can do except make the best quality wines they can manage, and hope that financially they can make it through the next few months. Nature usually regularizes things and after particularly small vintages, the vine is ready to produce a bumper crop the following year. Many vignerons thought that this would be the case after the small 2012 vintage, but in fact 2013 was worse – they simply cannot afford to have another poor vintage in terms of quantity, or indeed quality. To avoid an even bigger catastrophe we have to all think positive thoughts for 2014.

Categories: News | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

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.

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

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.

Categories: Jura wine education, News | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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