This year we paid a shorter than usual visit to Arbois, and it must be said that the beginning of November isn’t the best time to visit. The Toussaint holiday takes away at least a day, some shops and restaurants are closed and wine producers are often away too, taking advantage of the school holidays in some cases (the Clairets of Domaine de la Tournelle, a “must visit” for me, were in warmer climes). But in any event, I was lucky to be able to visit Domaine des Bodines, whose winery is just outside Arbois on the road to Dôle. They have, over the past couple of years, slipped effortlessly into my favourite half-dozen Arbois producers, and there is plenty of hot competition.
Domaine des Bodines is the project of Emilie and Alexis Porteret. Like so many of the truly inspirational vignerons in the Jura Region, they had no background in wine when they decided to embark on this road. It sometimes seems as if this clean start allows a different way of looking at things, without the weight of tradition or family practice. I’m thinking here of people like Patrice Béguet (Hughes-Béguet) and Jean-Baptiste Ménigoz (Les Bottes Rouge), to name just a couple more.
The person the Porterets see as their adoptive wine father, the abovementioned Pascal Clairet (La Tournelle), was in a broadly similar position himself back in the early 1990s, and this may be why the Clairets, who are a truly wonderful and warm couple, have been mentors in one way or another to so many young Jura winemakers. The co-operative attitude among the younger Jura wine producers goes a long way towards helping them get off the ground (as well as moral support there is an equipment sharing co-operative which means impossible investments can be put off until they are well established).
As Wink Lorch says in Jura Wine (2014, the seminal work on the region), the Porterets were very scared as to how they would sell their first commercial harvest of around 8,000 bottles. Now there are few importers of Jura wines who would not love to have them in their portfolio.
A few things have changed at Bodines since Wink’s book. First of all Alexis no longer works part-time at Domaine de la Pinte, enabling him to devote all his energies to home turf. Secondly, although the size of the domaine has only increased a tiny bit, they no longer farm the vines they had from Catherine Hannoun, over near La Pinte, but they have taken on a little Savagnin and Chardonnay at Poligny. Production has risen to around 15,000 bottles a year now everything is fully productive.
Another reason the domaine is more work for Emilie and Alexis is their conversion to biodynamics. They began with organic conversion, but have used biodynamic preparations for five years (La Prêle, or what we call horsetail, is used in the spring as an excellent biodynamic fungicide known to Pliny the Elder, silica in summer is sprayed on the leaves, and they use the traditional cow horn buried for six months before dynamising in water, to promote soil life) but Emilie said that the cost of certification is prohibitive for young producers with a five hectare estate.
The newest plan is to use a horse for the vineyard work. If you follow Bodines on Instagram you may have seen Emily’s first experience of horse ploughing. She’s had a lot of support from Alexandre Bain (Pouilly in the Loire). Emilie described all of these activities, especially using a horse, as “bettering ourselves”, and you can see that the pursuit of excellence is embedded in everything they do here. A horse doesn’t compact the ground like a tractor does, nor does it harm the vine roots thus shortening the life of the vines. Of course, it doesn’t pollute what in this case is theirs and their children’s back garden either.
Before tasting in the small cellar we headed out into the vines. The Porterets are very lucky, because their main vine holding is right outside their house and chai. The land slopes gently upwards to a small ridge (planted with Trousseau on its highest part), from where there are views over towards Villete-lès-Arbois and Vadans. Towards Arbois is a beautiful copse, and nearby vines are not treated chemically. In the autumn sunshine the air was fresh and the location idyllic.
The soils up here are on argilo-calcaire (clay-limestone) and the traditional mix of marnes found around much of the town. The vines were planted by the previous owner, co-operative vigneron Jean-Paul Crinquand, in 1983, which Emilie says is nice because that’s the year she was born. They have all five Jura grapes in Arbois to go with the white varieties I mentioned in Poligny.
The pleasure of seeing the vines is in understanding where and why different varieties are planted in different places, and here, seeing the ploughing between rows, which the Porterets (on their terroir) believe helps the vines, especially with drainage (the vines have always been ploughed here, even before Emilie and Alexis took over). On the way back we briefly met Alexis and his father, who helps out when he can in the vines.
The chais boasts a range of small tanks in the first part at ground level, some fibreglass and some stainless steel, all purchased secondhand because, as Emilie said, starting from scratch is frighteningly expensive.
In the Jura tradition, without comment, we began with the reds. Pinot Noir 2017 was harvested at the end of August and was direct pressed. It is very fruity, with both strawberry and raspberry present. It also tastes very pure. 2017 was a difficult harvest in terms of quantity but everyone here seems happy with the quality.
Trousseau 2017 was still macerating. The plan was to draw it off to press two days after our visit. They like to make a “lasagne” (that’s how Emilie described it), layering whole bunches with stems, bunches without stems, and then bunches with stems again. The aim is to do absolutely nothing. There is no pigeage or remontage, no added CO2, nor anything else. The wine pretty much makes itself at Domaine des Bodines.
Maceration Savagnin is a wine I was really looking forward to trying, one of the Bodines wines I’d yet to taste. It undergoes a four month maceration now. They taste continuously, and have decided that up to six months maximum is enough, so that they can keep plenty of fruit as well as the maceration textures, and not too long a maceration (they went up to eleven months whilst experimenting) also allows the balancing of Savagnin’s natural acidity with that texture. This juice was also going to be pressed at the end of the week, undergoing a very gentle pressure. It’s always hard to make proclamations based on juice, though in Jura at least I have a modicum of experience. But for me, this tasted thrilling.
We then moved to the barrel room next door, and just a little below ground level. Chardonnay 2016 is very fruity and fresh for the variety. I really have a soft spot for Bodines Chardonnay. It doesn’t lack body at all in 2016, but it does have real focus and a mineral edge. It spends two winters in wood before being put back in tank for blending, so expect release perhaps next spring, or maybe later (looking at the ’15 below).
Savagnin 2016 was affected by the cold winter of 2016/17 in that temperatures reached -13 celcius, and fermentation stopped, not recommencing until March this year. In my experience, this is not totally uncommon in the region, where January and February can famously be bitterly cold. I even know of one case in Arbois where fermentation didn’t begin again for a year, though I don’t know the fate of that particular wine. This Savagnin has some nuttiness developing nicely, and it seems rounder than the Chardonnay right now.
Chardonnay 2015 is certainly a product of that warmer vintage, being fatter than the 2016, without losing that mineral freshness. Both are appealing, and the ’15 naturally tastes more complete with the extra year. It will be bottled very soon.
We finished in the barrel room with a very nice Savagnin 2015 which will also be bottled soon. Emilie says they like to do as little as possible so that the wines make themselves, which means they are also very particular about when they bottle each cuvée. This Savagnin is ouillé, or topped-up, and it retains freshness and vibrancy. It’s one of the most popular wines from Domaine des Bodines.
You really feel there is a nurturing spirit at work here, but then Emilie is an arts graduate who trained in childcare. I got the impression that she has a deep feeling for her wines, and a deep understanding of them, unusual in one so young, but it really shines through, spending a couple of hours with her.
We moved out into the sunshine to taste from bottle. In some ways this was the disappointing part of the visit, but only because there was so little to taste, and indeed to buy. The wines are in such demand that Emilie only had two wines to open for us.
Névrosé 2016 is a pale red, very much in the Jura Ploussard tradition, except that this is made from Pinot Noir. It is from a precocious plot which we saw on our vineyard walk, lower down the slope and looking more or less eastwards. It has all the refreshing qualities you’d expect from a wine best served cool. It’s fruity and soft. But it does pack 13.2% alcohol. Like the wine below, don’t expect any fining or filtration to strip the life out of the wine, so you will also get some fine sediment swirling around in the bottle. Stand it up for a couple of days, and likewise, if you decide to chill it a little in the fridge.
Pinot Noir 2016 is still very young. Emilie said that she didn’t really want to sell the 2016 yet, but that she feels sorry when people come a long way to visit and there is no wine left (remember that the 2015 Chardonnay is still in barrel here). This Pinot underwent eight months maceration, one third whole bunches and two thirds destemmed. This eight month period was kind of accidental, according to Emilie, because it was too cold to press the juice initially. It has only been in bottle two months, hence their reluctance to let it leave, but I promised to squirrel it away and not touch it.
In any event you might be remarkably lucky to find some 2015 in the shops. I even tracked down some of their Ploussard “Red Bulles” pét-nat in the region. This is the first Bodines wine I ever tried, about three or four years ago and I’ve managed to buy a bottle or two every year since. It’s one of the region’s best pét-nats, although the roll call of fine examples seems to grow every year. Ploussard/Poulsard just seems perfect for fresh and fruity sparkling wine.
Emilie proved to be one of the most welcoming hosts in the region, in line with everything acquaintances had said about her. On a visit you certainly learn an awful lot about this patch of terroir, and how this young couple, just in their thirties, work here. There is a very strong philosophy, more one felt passionately than intellectualised. It entails respecting the vineyard as a living entity, allowing the wines to form of themselves, naturally, without unthought out interventions. And I think they care very much about how their wines are appreciated too, and are keen to know where they end up. It struck me as not dissimilar to wishing to stay connected to your children when they leave home. I think the wines are wonderful.
Animals play their part here too. Each family member, parents and children, has a chicken as a pet and a donkey will be arriving soon.
Domaine des Bodines is right on the Route de Dôle, immediately as you are leaving Arbois on the left (the sign is large but easy to miss). Call (0)3.84.66.05.23 or contact via firstname.lastname@example.org . Visits by appointment, although if you are largely interested in purchasing wine it may be best to ask if any is available.
Bodines has much of its distribution abroad, where a lot of their 15,000 bottles seem to end up. The excellent Selection Massale in California seem to stock the wines, and they are currently listed in the UK by Les Caves de Pyrene, although I’m not sure what their current stocks are. The Cave des Papilles in Paris has, in the past, been a source, at least for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Epicurea in Poligny is a good bet, unless the Jardins St-Vincent is open in Arbois (see below). I’d like to think that these wines might crop up a little more widely in London before long.
Those who have an interest in visiting Arbois and the region can find a lot of information in articles from previous trips on this blog, especially those written in 2016 and 2015 (use the search function). But it felt appropriate to add a small update here.
We dined at La Balance on our first night, and some readers might be aware this restaurant has changed hands. In my opinion it is (on that showing) very little changed from what it was (it was always a breath of fresh air to go there). We drank André-Jean Morin’s Domaine de la Touraize Savagnin 2014. It’s aged under flor but very fresh as well as nutty. Not as big as some, lighter than those more complex sous-voile wines which often get described as “mini-Vin Jaunes”. I really enjoyed his pét-nat earlier this summer (see in “Recent Wines- Summer ’17, Pt 2”), and I definitely plan to sample more of this producer, who was new to me in 2017.
Sadly Les Claquets was closed whilst we were in town, but it does appear to be open otherwise, despite rumours it might close down, and indeed, seems to be open lunch and evenings (it was due to reopen two days after we left).
Also closed, as usual, was Stéphane Planche’s Les Jardins St-Vincent but Stéphane did mention as part of a conversation on social media that he will be opening Fridays and Saturdays. This, despite all the “domaine” shops in Arbois, will bring joy to all the natural wine lovers visiting the town. I did spy Stéphane in Arbois, but he looked resolute (he may have been carrying a battery charger), but I have been told that if he’s around he will open up specially (he’s been back consulting at Jean-Paul Jeunet for a while, and that’s where one might track him down).
Finally, I know of at least a couple of readers who have done some of the walks I’ve mentioned before. We did the long walk to Pupillin again this time (climbing up past the Hermitage overlooking the town before taking part of the GR59 through the forest to the village). This time we also explored the walk to Les Planches, the nearest village to the Cascade des Tufs. This is marked towards the Allée du Roi de Rome after which it is a rocky path along the western ridge of the steep cliffs which lead to the Fer à Cheval. Possibly not a walk for icy conditions, but safe otherwise, quite up-and-down with an occasional scramble, but very enjoyable. We saw mouflons up close as we descended to Les Planches. The Arbois Tourist Office sells a very good map detailing several excellent walks for €5 (called Arbois – Vignes et Villages).
Left to right:- Touraize Savagnin sous-voile at La Balance, Les Claquets in Place Faramand and Hirsinger, Arbois’ internationally acclaimed chocolaterie-confiserie. No visit to Arbois is complete without a big slab of Comté and a visit to Hirsinger.