Natural wines from Jura region in France
We’re a little obsessed with the Jura region, we admit it.
These wines have captivated all of us in some way and we are constantly scouring winelists, pulling corks and on the hunt for more new and exciting bottles. We’re not the only ones with this obsession and in recent times Jura’s status and stocks have risen sharply, as have prices for its most famous producers with the likes of Overnoy, Ganevat and Labet being on the want list of many. We wanted to help you navigate the region a little easier and make sense of some of the confusing bits. Let’s crack on!
As it stands, Jura is one of the smallest wine regions in France with a measly 2000 hectares of vines planted. Compare that to neighbouring Burgundy (which has around 30,000 hectares) and you can see why its success is surprising to some. The region was not always so small in terms of hectarage and bottle production, it was once thriving but the vines were decimated by Phylloxera (in the late 1800s), the onset of mildew infections across Europe (early 1900s) and, of course, two World Wars also didn’t help the situation. Despite all of this, Jura has a very long tradition of producing incredible and unique wines.
You may be asking - where is Jura?
The region lies around 100kms east of Burgundy on the Eastern edges of France sandwiched between the Bresse plain and the limestone filled Jura mountains from which the region gets its name (the limestone is from the Jurassic era, but there are no dinosaur theme parks around sadly!)
The nearby mountains heavily influence the climate of the region, as do the Alps a little further east on the Swiss border. The climate is cool to moderate and very wet. The continentality of the climate means that winters are bitterly cold but due to climate change, summers become hot and dry, creating some drought issues in some years.
The vineyards are scattered across the region on undulating hills all pushing different aspects trying to catch the best sun exposure at a moderate altitude of 250-350 meters above sea level. Plantings sit below a plateau of rich Jurassic limestone.
But, before we all jump to conclusions about the soil type - limestone only influences some of the vineyards and the dominant soil type in the region is Marl (which is a sedimentary rock rich in carbonate, clay and silt).
All marls are not created equal, some have more clay and some more calcareous (limestone-based) minerals which can be displayed in the color of the soil itself. These variations can be blue, gray or white shaded depending on its geological make-up. It’s safe to say that the soils here are a complex layer cake, similar to Burgundy and that some say are just as confusing.
Wine growing areas in Jura
The main growing areas of the region are centered around the sub-appellation of Arbois (in the north) and the famed Pupilin sub-appellation where the legendary Pierre Overnoy resides. Centrally, Chateau Chalon (where you can find Domaine Macle) is an appellation dedicated to the legendary Vin Jaune and due south we have another standout sub-appellation of l’Etoile.
Further south the legendary village of Rotalier lies and is home to some of the region’s most renowned producers Jean-Francois Ganevat and Domaine Labet. The region also uses a catch-all appellation for all its vineyard areas the Côtes du Jura.
Chardonnay is the dominant variety and Pinot Noir is also on the rise across the vineyards but these two heavyweights don’t stand in the way of the three championed native varieties, the white Savagnin (aka Traminer, Naturé), the reds Poulsard (aka Ploussard in Pupillin) and Trousseau.
Wines of all types are made including Cremant, a fortified wine (Macvin) and of course still red and white wines. What sets Jura apart from the rest are the winemaking styles, which are thrilling but can also be confusing to the uninitiated.
Vin Jaune a well-known Jura wine
The most well-known of these styles is the Vin Jaune. This wine is traditionally made from 100% Savagnin. It is fermented as regular white wine but then matured in 228-litre Burgundy barrels (“piece” in French) that are not topped up (i.e. after the wine has evaporated out, which is generally commonplace elsewhere). This gap of oxygen in the barrel allows the development of a thin layer of yeast to build on the surface of the wine (the voile or veil in English) similar to the flor of fino sherry.
The voile both protects the wine and gives it a wonderful oxidative character. Maturation must be for a minimum of 5 years under the voile and a minimum of 6 years in total. Vin Jaune is a special experience to take in and can be known to shock (in a great way, of course). They are sometimes served as an aperitif or alongside the local chicken (Poulet de Bresse) or cheese (Comte).
Oxidative winemaking and dominant wine styles
Oxidative winemaking styles make their way over to many of the whites of the region, although some are made in a process that is the opposite but equally mind-blowing. Those aged in the oxidative process but not for the extreme Vin Jaune lengths of time, or using different varieties such as Chardonnay, can have less intense but equally enticing oxidative character. They are usually labelled “Sous Voile”, meaning “under the veil (of Flor, as previously described above)’.
White wines that are “protected” from oxygen and the yeast development during their maturation have very different but equally insane and very distinct reductive characters (of gunflint, struck match, lead pencil) that some would argue (me included on some days) are equally as mind-blowing as those of their oxidative cousins. These wines are labeled “ouillé” which is the term used for wines kept in barrels that are topped up (a process called ouillage in French).
The reds sometimes take a back seat to the super-expressive whites but they should not be overlooked, especially those from the local varieties. The Poulsard variety is the lightest of the bunch due to its very thin skin. It's generally made as a fruit-driven wine, light and fun with very little tannin and its red currant character is normally the star. Poulsard can sometimes even be made in Gamay style using carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration.
The Trousseau is usually made with longer maceration times, possibly with some whole bunches, giving the wines a little more body and depth. It usually sees some maturation in the barrel adding structure and giving a precise framework of darker fruits and earthy edges to shine. Blends are not uncommon using both varieties and, of course, some Pinot Noir.
With all of this possibility at your fingertips and a raft to choose from on MORE Natural Wine, you’ve got lots of opportunities to discover more and as always, do get in touch for some recommendations or questions!