Jura, an incredible fusion of vineyard sites and grape varieties
By Jean-Paul Burias, posted on 03 February 2022
Jura is one of only a handful of French wine regions where virtually all the grape varieties are native, except for Pinot noir and Chardonnay from its prestigious neighbour Burgundy. This perfect match between vineyard sites and grape varieties is the region’s trump card for consumers looking for quality, naturalness and subtle authenticity…
The landscape reveals a small enclave of just 2,000 hectares wedged within a strip of land 6 kilometres wide and 80 kilometres long, along the Revermont plateaus. Admittedly, Jura is not France’s largest wine region by acreage. But its four appellations – L'Étoile, Côtes-du-Jura, Arbois, Château-Chalon – and its three product appellations Macvin, Crémant and Marc du Jura feature among the flagships of France’s wine proposition. Here, local grape varieties such as Savagnin, which according to the 2020 database accounts for 25% of vineyard area, Poulsard (11%) and Trousseau (8%), grow alongside Pinot Noir (11%), first recorded in the region in the 15th century, and of course Chardonnay, which now accounts for 43% of the crop, having travelled from nearby Burgundy in the 19th century; the remaining varieties account for 2%. The region embraces a wide range of products including still white and red wines, sparkling wines, Macvin, ‘vin jaune’ and ‘vin de paille’. “Though small in terms of footprint, it has made a name for itself for the typicality of its vineyard sites, its production methods and the products themselves”, explains Olivier Badoureaux, director of the Jura wine marketing board (CIVJ) since 3 November 2020. “It attracts both new winegrowers and large groups looking to invest. ‘Vin Jaune’ has left a major stamp on its identity. However, this Jura speciality in fact only represents a small percentage of sales. Our challenge is therefore to help people discover the other wines”. The region has focused on organic wines for several years, and it boasts unique weather patterns and exceptional vineyard sites which fuse in their own distinctive way with the different grape varieties. From a production perspective, Chardonnay-based whites lead the way, particularly due to the growing success of Crémant du Jura, which is becoming a significant market driver for the region both in France and abroad. Savagnin and the region’s novel, elegant reds also take pride of place.
Fruitière Vinicole de Voiteur: majestic white wines
The board of the Fruitière Vinicole meets out in the vineyards
Quality knows no boundaries. Between Switzerland and Burgundy, vines grown by the Fruitière Vinicole de Voiteur are blessed with outstanding sites. Located on marly slopes near the lower foothills of Jura, this quality-focused co-operative markets 385,000 bottles annually. Created in 1956, it has around 60 members farming 75 hectares, 23 of which are planted to Savagnin. “We produce mostly white wines, which account for 90% of sales, a third of them made from Savagnin”, says Bertrand Delannay, the co-op’s director. “Despite limited volumes, the reds have successfully carved out a place for themselves because of their authentic, meritorious grape varieties that yield light, fruity wines”. Some of the whites follow a floral theme, with tank maturation to foster finesse and freshness. The other whites from vines planted on marl are matured in barrels under a veil of yeast that produces an oxidative style. The winegrowers are driven by extremely high standards. They have made a pledge to farming organically and following High Environmental Value (HVE) and Terra Vitis schemes, paying particular attention to harvest dates and winemaking and maturation techniques. Although global warming has had little impact on harvesting, the main challenge is repeated spring frosts in 2017, 2019 and 2021, which have had a significant effect on production volumes. “Our major assets are undoubtedly our exceptional vineyard sites and our traditional maturation methods which lend the wines their distinctive typicity”, says Delannay. “On the flipside, this typicity can sometimes take consumers aback. But the success of our wines stems from their originality and their comprehensive, varied range, underpinned by the region’s positive image”. At the co-operative, the whites are the most popular, particularly the highly distinctive, barrel-aged, floral Chardonnay Côtes-du-Jura. In fact, the trend in export markets clearly favours floral wines combining freshness and finesse, both the whites and the reds.
Domaine Jacques Tissot: Jura’s reliable choice
Nathalie Tissot, her father Jacques who founded the estate, and her brother Philippe.
As it approaches its 60th anniversary, Domaine Jacques Tissot continues to reap awards with remarkable regularity, and more importantly, new accolades in prestigious competitions. This family estate is a Jura benchmark and it was created in 1962 by Jacques Tissot, who chose to continue farming a block of land inherited from his father. After developing and improving the estate with his wife Michelle, he left it to his two children, Nathalie and Philippe Tissot, to continue his work, drawing on their expertise and dynamism. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Jura grape varieties are the mainstay of this 30-hectare estate spread over the Arbois and Côtes-du-Jura appellations. The estate is currently switching over to HVE (High Environmental Value) certification. For several years now, investments have been made in new equipment for tillage in order to keep the use of plant protection products to a minimum. The weather is causing its own issues and indecision over harvest choices. “We don't have much hindsight about the global warming that has occurred over the last few years and its possible impact on our wines, in particular on alcohol content”, says Nathalie Tissot. “Conversely, we are witnessing more and more frequent frosts and heavy rainfall. These exceptional and startling events are similar to patterns that occurred in the 1950s”. The issue has to be factored into requirements for vineyard management, harvesting and the winemaking process, with conditions constantly changing. “Exports represent 15% of our volumes”, points out Philippe Tissot. “The market is tending to grow because customers are beginning to get to know and enjoy our region’s wines. International consumption has changed with sustained demand for Chardonnay and in particular for gourmet-style wines matured in barrels”. In addition to the Crémants, which are a runaway success, the local grape varieties Savagnin, Poulsard and Trousseau are the linchpins of a comprehensive range – complemented by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir - that captures all the unique features and subtleties of Jura’s vineyards.
Domaine Jean-Luc Mouillard: a flair for winegrowing
Jean-Luc Mouillard in the cellars.
Thirty years down the line, Jean-Luc Mouillard can measure how far he has come. His work in the vineyards and his expertise have taken his business and the Jura grape varieties to new heights. In 1991, he created his own estate after graduating with an agricultural diploma in viticulture and oenology and studying for a year in the heart of Burgundy’s legendary vineyards in Beaune. “My flair for winegrowing was passed on to me by my parents who were also co-operative winegrowers and farmers in Jura”, he recounts. “Over the years, the farm grew and moved to Mantry, a village in the heart of Revermont”. Now one of the region’s benchmark growers, he manages 11 hectares of vines spread over the three appellations Château-Chalon, L'Etoile and Côtes-du-Jura along with Macvin and Crémant du Jura, with his wife Annie and son Mathieu. Currently converting over to organic, the estate boasts 16th-century cellars and successfully blends tradition and modernity in its 2005-built winery and since 2013 a storage building. Its mosaic of vineyard sites with their clay, marl and limestone ridge soils is farmed with every other row planted to grass to limit overproduction and avoid compaction. “We make Crémants, floral or traditional whites, dry reds, ‘vins jaunes’, ‘vin de paille’ and a mistelle, Macvin”, explains Mathieu Mouillard. “Consumers can get confused over the different floral or traditional winemaking methods used for the whites, which requires a lot of explanation from the winegrower”. The local grape varieties leave a lasting impression. The estate has two Savagnin labels, a Tradition and a ‘ouillé’ (or topped up) style called Le Curieux, which offers another approach to this celebrated grape variety. The Trousseau is made in stainless steel tanks to retain its true authenticity. “We don't produce much Poulsard”, explains Jean-Luc Mouillard. “The only exceptions are the ‘vin de paille’, a blend of Poulsard, Chardonnay and Savagnin, and the Rubis label, a red wine blended from 50% Pinot noir, 30% Trousseau and 20% Poulsard”. These wines show strong character and can be enjoyed on any occasion, especially with a good meal. Novel, elegant and tannic, they align with a consumer trend squarely focusing on discovery and quality. And export markets, particularly Sweden, Japan and the United States, are all-set to grow.
In a rapidly changing and increasingly international marketplace, Jura wines are successfully making major inroads. Exports are on the increase, representing 15% of sales in the last marketing campaign from 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2021. This development is underpinned by incremental progress in vineyard management and winemaking techniques, but also by global warming which allows certain grape varieties like Poulsard to ripen more effortlessly. With typicity and diversity as its main calling cards, the region’s wine industry has managed to rein in cellar door prices and align them with quality. Chardonnay promotes enjoyable, powerful white wines delivering a wide range of floral aromas. Savagnin, the region’s distinctive flagship grape, beguiles with its beautiful yellow colour and offers complex and relatively powerful wines that can be blended with Chardonnay. For the reds, Poulsard is pivotal in producing delicate, fruity wines with beautiful aromatic complexity that become richer with age and can be matured for 4 to 8 years. With its deep red hue, Trousseau adds cherry notes and light spices to produce powerful, tannic wines that Pinot noir can counterbalance. Originating in Burgundy, Pinot noir develops an extensive array of aromatics for producing wines that combine power, intensity, finesse and elegance depending on the different vineyard sites. Obviously, the region’s limited acreage and the harshness of the Jura climate limit output. But the subtle combination of typical vineyard sites and quality grape varieties usher in the ultimate taste experience for consumers who have now become enthusiasts worldwide.
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