The climate of the Jura is continental but can be very cold in winter. Most of the vineyards are found at altitudes between 820-1,310 ft (250-400 m) between the plains of the Bresse region and the Jura Mountains. The towns of Lons-le-Saunier and Arbois are the principal cities in the wine region and the vineyard soils tend to composed of mostly clay in the lower flat lands with more limestone based soils in the higher elevation. Deposits of marl are scattered throughout the region with some of the area’s most regarded vineyards being found on those sites. As you can imagine many vineyard slopes are quite steep!
The Jura is home to the father of oenology, Louis Pasteur. His discovery of yeast’s role in converting the grapes’ sugars into alcohol marked the beginning of modern wine making. Louis Pasteur was born and raised here and owned a vineyard near Arbois that is still producing wine today under the management of Jura’s largest wine firms: Henri-Marie (see my blog Domain Henri Maine, Underwater Yellow Wine and the Jura).
There are 5 AOCs for the area: Arbois, Château-Chalon (Vin Jaune), Crémant du Jura, Côtes du Jura , L’Etoile (named after the star shaped fossils that are common to these limestone and clay soils) and Macvin du Jura (a liqueur). L’Etoile, Arbois and the Côtes de Jura make Mousseux (sparkling) wine in both white and rosé styles.
Written documents prove that wine-growing was already being practised in the 10th century in Arbois and in the 16th in Château-Chalon. For centuries, the Jura existed in splendid isolation. Unburdened by the ways of its neighbours, the Jura developed its unusual grapes and styles of wine, which the rest of the world essentially ignored for decades. The land-owning nobles developed a tradition of quality on their wine-making but the boom in the wine trade was the fruit of real social cohesion: alongside the large land-owners, the more modest wine-growers were able to group together into cooperatives. In 1906 The Coopérative Fruitière Vinicole d’Arbois became the first wine cooperative in France.
The wines that you may have heard about from the Jura are the Vins Jaunes which are similar to dry fino Sherry. They gets their character from being matured in a barrel under a film of yeast, known as the voile, on the wine’s surface. The grapes are fermented slowly and then kept in small old oak casks. The wine acquires its characteristic yellow colour and nutty flavours as it ages for the requisite time of 6 years and 3 months and can age from 50 to 100 years, like Sauternes. The oldest Vin Jaune tasted was from the year 1774!
Another, less well known, wine is the Vin de Paille (French for ‘straw wine’) which is made from grapes that have been dried on straw mats to concentrate their juice. The result is similar to ice wine, but can be made in a warmer climate. The technique dates back to pre-Roman times, and most production of these wines has been in Northern Italy and the French Alps.
The Crémant de Jura is made by the méthode champenoise and both white and rosé styles are available. The grapes used are the white grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Savagnin and the red Pinot Noir, Poulsard and Trousseau. Chardonnay (known locally as Melon d’Arbois )and Pinot Noir clippings were brought to the region from Burgundy during the Middle Ages and were used among the 40 other grape varieties that were prevalent in Jura for most of its wine making history.
Savagnin Blanc is a variety of white wine grape with green-skinned berries and a definite flavour of nuts. Savagnin is very late ripening, and may be picked as late as December. It’s thought that it Savagnin is related to the ancient Traminer variety, a green-skinned grape recorded in the Tyrolean village of Tramin (Termeno) from ca. 1000 and that Viognier of the Rhone Valley may be a more distant relative of Savagnin Blanc. Legend has it that Savagnin was sent by nuns to the Hungarian Abbesses Château-Chalon during the Crusades.
Poulsard is a red wine grape variety which has thin skins that produce pale, nearly transparent, red wines which are often characterized by an orange coral tint and are known as Rubis du Jura and Rosé Corail . The grape is aromatic with the scent of fresh, young red berries, typically strawberries.
Locals say that Trousseau was imported to the Jura in the 15th century by Count Jean de Chalon at the ancient Château Arlay. Trousseau is a red grape most famously it is used in Portuguese port wine. It makes deep cherry red wines with high alcohol and flavours of red berry fruits.
The name Trousseau is a reference to the shape of the bunch, it looks ‘packed up’. The red Trousseau grape performs best in the gravelly vineyards near Arbois that can give the grape the additional heat it needs to ripen into a deep coloured, intensely flavoured wine.
Chardonnay must represent at least 50% of the vintage in the Crémant du Jura Blanc and Poulsard and Pinot Noir must also represent at least 50%. for the Crémant du Jura Rosé.
Understandably the Crémant du Jura have their own unique flavours reflecting this amazing region and show notes of brioche, dark ginger, baked apples and walnuts.