The Contenders (Arbois Week)

As my latest week in Arbois begins to fade a little from memory, or more realistically how many articles is it reasonable to write on one subject, I thought I’d mention a few producers who I’ve got to know only in the past couple of years, but who seem to be forging a bit of a reputation for themselves, both in the region and internationally.

I should admit straight away that all of the producers mentioned below make “natural wines”, wines with very little intervention and, sometimes, without even the addition of sulphur at bottling. That said, they all share a consistency of quality and, in my experience, reliability, though some of their wines may have required time in a carafe/decanter (and a shake) to get rid of a bit of reduction on opening.

One of the best ways for people in the region to try new producers of wines which are at least organic (either Ecocert Certification or in conversion) is at the event held in March each year, Le Nez dans le Vert. The event, which also attracts top names as well as new ones, allows a limited number of wines from each domaine to be presented by an increasing number of producers. There is a public day and a trade morning, and it is one of the prime ways a lot of these young producers have reached the main metropolitan and international markets and audiences. When you visit some of the names below you won’t find flashy, hi-tec wineries and tasting rooms – the one I visited at the end of this latest trip, L’Octavin (see below) basically makes wine in a large double garage. But you will often find that well over half their production goes overseas.

Domaine de la Tournelle

I’ve known the wines of Domaine de la Tournelle longer than the others listed here, having drunk their gorgeous light red, L’Uva Arbosiana, at Antidote Restaurant in London over a few years (they also do “take-aways”). This vibrant Ploussard (they use the Pupillin spelling) is made by semi-carbonic maceration and no sulphur is added. It is recommended that the wine is transported and kept at 14 degrees or below, although I have taken bottles home from Antidote in summer heat without ill effect. From Arbois, use a cool box to play safe.

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The domaine produces a full range of Jura varieties,  including Vin de Paille and Vin Jaune. They produce Savagnin, both topped up and under flor, and several classy Chardonnay bottlings. But this is a domaine where it pays not to forget the Trousseau as well. Aged in older wood, this wine will gain complexity in bottle.

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As I’ve already written in a previous Arbois article, Pascal and Evelyne Clairet also run the Bistrot de la Tournelle from the pretty riverside location of their Central Arbois chais and tasting room. It’s the perfect place to sit in the sunshine and drink a bottle of Uva Arbosiana with some tasty small plats.

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Domaine des Bodines

This Domaine is about four years old. Alexis and Emilie Porteret have most of their vines close to their home and winery, which is very easy to miss but it does have a sign, just outside Arbois town limits on the road from Dôle. They have now expanded a little, and like so many Arbois winemakers, have managed to find some vines near Pupillin.

The domaine first came to my attention in 2014, via their Pétillant-Naturel “Red Bulles” (Bulles cropping up a lot in the names of these bubbly wines). The wine’s reputation doesn’t rest on a witty title, however. It’s a great expression of Poulsard, easy to drink, refreshing. I was very pleased to find some this year as September isn’t strictly a good time to find a wine mostly consumed after bottling in Spring and early summer. They do need drinking, but in my experience they’ll last nicely into the autumn. With a pét-nat you can either stand it up to drink it clear on the fruit. or you can shake up the sediment for a more savoury, yeasty glass, as the wine undergoes its bottle fermentation without disgorgement.

I have only obtained, in addition to the Red Bulles, some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir so far, but I’m planning to work my way through the Bodines list when I can. I’ve heard great things about their non-Vin de Paille and there’s some wine set aside for, if it works out, some Vin Jaune (a few years off, perhaps 2018).

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Domaine Hughes-Beguét

I have a special affection for the wines of Patrice Beguét (the Hughes part of the domaine comes via English wife, Caroline), as he is possibly the most friendly and hospitable Jura producer I’ve visited. I try not to be demanding of the time of busy people, especially when they are getting ready for harvest, but in 2014 we spent a wonderful morning in his cellar, beneath the family home in Mesnay.

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Patrice and Caroline gave up careers in Paris to make a home just outside Arbois, almost within sight of the towering limestone cliffs of the Reculée des Planches. Patrice has vines at Mesnay, but also more vines in Pupillin, where he has had much encouragement from the likes of Pierre Overnoy. Commited to biodynamics and natural wines, this young man makes so many different cuvées it’s hard to keep track.

The clever names now prevalent in the natural wine sphere, whether in Jura, The Loire or elsewhere, reach new heights here. Straw Berry for non-Vin de Paille, Pulp Fraction for a bled pink, Très orDinaire for a fruity ouillé Savagnin. The very good pét-nat is called Plouss Mousse (no guesses for the grape variety there).

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Patrice certainly also has a serious side, displayed through his two top reds. Champ Fort is a Ploussard made from this vineyard of exceptional beauty, all wild flowers, on slopes above Mesnay. Côte de Feule comes from one of the more well known, and exceptionally well-orientated, sites on the sun-trap slopes which face south from Pupillin (the Plouss Mousse comes from a lovely untidy patch over the stream to the east this slope – we had a wonderful walk around Pupillin’s vineyards with a hand drawn map on which Patrice had marked all his plots for us). These contrasting reds show the effect of the different terroirs very well indeed, and they are serious wines capable of ageing.

Patrice and Caroline give the impression (whether true or not) that they have found their own personal paradise. One or two of their wines have been imported into the UK (The Wine Society were first off the mark, and one cropped up earlier this year at a tasting at London’s Planet of the Grapes). I really hope they achieve the genuine success they so truly deserve.

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Domaine Ratapoil

This domaine is slightly out of place here, in that I’ve not visited Raphaël Monnier, nor have I bought his wines in the region. But I have bought his tasty Ploussard “Partout”, and the slightly more serious Pinot Noir “L’Ingénu” from innovative UK merchant Solent Cellar. The domaine is based way north of Arbois at the very edge of the AOC, at Arc-et-Senans, with vines spread widely around this area – both near Arbois, at Vadans (off the Arbois road to Dôle), and at Buffard where the River Loue forms a tight, Mosel-like, meander east of Arc-et-Senans (if lacking the continuous steep, vine-clad, slopes of the German river).

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I only hear nice things about Raphaël, and I’m looking forward to trying more.

Domaine L’Octavin

I made my first visit to L’Octavin this year. One of my discovery wines of the 2014 trip had been their red with the long name, “Boire du Trousseau n’est jamais une Corvée“, which we drank whilst entertaining friends in Arbois. It had leapt out of the bottle as one of the freshest natural wines I’d tasted all year.

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I first met Alice Bouvot, who runs the domaine with Charles Dagand, during this year’s harvest. Despite a forthcoming trip driving to Savoie and back in a day, Alice graciously offered to meet me at their garage winery on the other side of town the morning after, on our last day in Arbois. We were up bright and early for the drive home, but Alice turned up at 8.15am as promised, looking as if she really deserved a couple more hours sleep. It’s typical of how helpful and accommodating people are in this region.

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Alice, thank you so much for that visit

Many of the cuvées at L’Octavin are named after characters in the Mozart Operas the pair love (Commendatore, Pamina, Reine de la Nuit…). Not all. Their pét-nat is called “Foutre d’Escampette”, which my translation would be “F-about” (being as mild as possible). Their unusual white Poulsard is called “Cul Rond à la Cuisse Rose” (somewhat ruder), which displays a certain cussedness perhaps stemming from the hard time they’ve had establishing themselves.

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Not only have the dullards in charge of the agrément for the AOC been giving them trouble (all the domaine’s wines are now released as Vin de France with no obvious detriment to sales), but that came on top of difficulties over their original name. It seems that the Californian label, Opus One, felt that “Opus” should be reserved for them alone, and that a tiny producer in Eastern France who made wines with a musical connection should not be allowed to use this word. That is why “Opus Vinum” was changed, I presume due to the pressure of lawyers and money, and L’Octavin was born. I’ll be honest, the new name sounds better and they will find that their rise to stardom will not now be hampered by the hassle of threats from corporate law suits. Wonderful wines, so full of life. Such dedicated farmers. I hope they get their just rewards.

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Domaine Christelle & Giles Wicky

Another producer who I don’t know all that well, but having drunk their delicious Cotes du Jura “Clos de Jerminy” two weeks ago, it had a similar effect to the Trousseau from L’Octavin I mentioned above. One of those wines where you just wish you had a magnum, or a second bottle, sitting in front of you (and with only 12.8% alcohol, we’d probably have drunk a second).

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The Wickys farm in the region known as the Sud Revermont, south of Lons-le-Saunier. It’s a region not much known for viticulture these days, despite the fame of  Alain and Josie Labet, whose lovely wines were known abroad long before their children, in particular Julien, took over the running of the family domaine in the first years of this Century. Of course, it also happens to be home to perhaps the Jura’s most famous vigneron currently, Jean-François Ganevat, who’s based a few kilometres south, near Rotalier.

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The wider Sud Revermont is one of the parts of the Jura region to watch. Ganevat continues to push the boundaries of experimentation under the Vin de France banner (Gamay blended from Beaujolais, ancient autocthonous Jura varieties…), and the younger Labets continue to gain greater recognition. But I’ve also had lovely wines from Peggy and Jean-Pascal Buronfosse, especially their Côtes du Jura “L’Hopital”, and I yearn to find a solitary bottle made by Japanese couple Kenjiro and Mayumi Kagami, of  Domaine des Miroirs at Grusse. Those who read the wonderful year in the vines BD by Etienne Davodeau, “The Initiates” (ComicsLit 2013) will have met them fleetingly on page 227.

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Heading further north again to finish this brief look at the region’s exciting new domaines, here’s a short list of those who are firmly on my radar but whom I’m yet to pin down with a visit:

Domaine de la Loue, Catherine Hannoun’s tiny domaine near Port-Lesney.

Les Bottes Rouge. Jean-Baptiste Ménigoz was a former partner of Raphaél Monnier (of Ratapoil) before setting up with his wife between Grozon and the D469.

Domaine Renaud Bruyère. Renaud works with partner Adeline Houillon, sister to the famous Emmanuel who is now in charge at Domaine Overnoy. They are the hot new names in Pupillin.

Les Dolomies. Poligny, if it is quite as dynamic as Arbois, has thus far hidden that fact from me, but in the rural hinterland of Passenans, Celine Gormally is gaining a bit of a reputation, enough of one that I tried in vain to find some of her wines this year (I get the impression that visitors are not particularly encouraged, yet Celine has already managed to achieve broad export success).

Of course, the Jura region has at least a couple of dozen more established producers who perhaps merit exploration first if you have not yet got to grips with the region, not to mention those, like Philippe Bornard in Pupillin, who probably seem more “established” to me than to some others (Philippe has been at it since the distant past of 2005).  But that is surely enough to be going on with for France’s smallest viticultural region. Bon exploration! Drink and then visit. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has not enjoyed this rural idyll, despite a few jokingly negative remarks from Parisian friends who probably still see this region as a rural backwater. Perhaps backwater is a gross insult, but I think the peace and quiet which goes with all that great food and wine is why we love it so much.

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About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
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5 Responses to The Contenders (Arbois Week)

  1. amarch34 says:

    Fantastic guide David, all names duly noted and bookmark linked in. I had the good fortune to try one of the Octavin range and really liked it, I need to look up which one it was.
    That March event sounds good, tempting. I see Messrs Clarke and Atkin have followed in your footsteps this week, but you’ve given me all I would need in this series. You’ve captured the buzz and excitement around this region and certainly sold it to me.

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  2. dccrossley says:

    Not one to blow my own trumpet but if there’s anything I don’t know about Jura it must have been told to me by Wink Lorch 😉 . I seem to breathe Jura these days (when I’m not drinking Beaujolais and sniffing out Savoie and Bugey). But the more the merrier, and if the old guard get involved it will mean more recognition for these deserving vignerons. Whilst people are discovering the Macles, Tissots, Ganevats and Berthet-Bondets there’s still time for the likes of us to lap up wines from Alice, Patrice et al, not to mention to butter them up for that (heaven forbid) future allocation.

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  3. Ben says:

    Living in New York, where Jura wines are popular if increasingly expensive, I’ve been able to drink a number of wines from these “contenders”. The only producer you seem to be missing is Domaine des Cavarodes. The wines I’ve had from Bruyère and Ménigoz have been impressive, particularly the 2013 Gibus Trousseau from Ménigoz. I also think Buronfosse is very reliable for a low sulphur producer, particularly the white wines. I have some of the 2012 Trousseau des Corvées from Tournelle cellared and hope it will indeed gain in complexity as you indicate. I noticed you don’t seem to have written about the Macle Cotes du Jura on the website, which is a wine I often enjoy and that seems to be neglected in comparison to their Vin Jaune.

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  4. dccrossley says:

    Hi Ben, I was merely counting Macle among the established stars. I love their wines, both C-C and the Cotes du Jura.

    Thanks for your knowledgeable comments and insights.

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  5. Pingback: Jurable or Merely Fashionable? | David Crossley's Wide World of Wine

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