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Vin Jaune – Jura’s Mellow Yellow

The famous Jura casks

 

Vin Jaune beguiles the senses with its unique attributes, its balance and proud elegance. The flagship of the Jura appellation, it is the quintessential culmination of expert craftsmanship by local wine growers, augmented by the quality of the terroir and a remarkable grape variety – Savagnin.

 

The 21st Percée du Vin Jaune played to a full house on February 3 and 4 and left visitors feeling starry-eyed as they meandered through the streets of the aptly-named village L’Etoile. With glasses in hand and beaming faces, 25,000 visitors attended the many events, concerts, wine workshops and cellar door tastings. But one of the high points of the weekend was, as is customary, the official ceremony marking the release of the latest vintage, in this case 2011. This magical moment demonstrates the impact and awareness of a wine that has become a global institution. Legend has it that a wine grower forgot about a cask of wine, only to discover it years later and realise that in the peace and quiet of his cellar, the metaphorical caterpillar had turned into a butterfly. Vin Jaune benefits from an outstanding terroir, production method and expertise. Originating in Château-Chalon, it is now produced in the Arbois, L’Etoile and Côtes du Jura appellation areas. Made entirely from Savagnin, the king of Jura’s grapes, it has been made famous by its yellow colour and exceptional aromas and flavours. Its ageing process, however, defies the laws of winemaking. The wine ages in 228-litre casks for around seven years without being topped up. A veil of native yeast forms on the surface of the wine, protecting it from oxidation. The natural yeast becomes a catalyst, transforming the wine into a nectar with hallmark aromas. After 7 years, one third of its volume disappears through evaporation, which is why it is marketed in a dedicated 62cl bottle, the famous ‘clavelin’. Its golden hue and powerful aromatics offer up myriad aromas, that intrigue the nose and delight the palate. It drinks well on its own or paired with the local Comté cheese, forming one of the most perfect pairings that ever was, with an array of flavours that guarantees moments of sheer bliss…

 

Fruitière Vinicole de Voiteur: For the love of aroma

Sixty-two years after it was established in 1956, the Fruitière Vinicole de Voiteur now ranks amongst the leading players in the Jura wine region, boasting 55 member growers and annual sales of 385,000 bottles. Its vineyards extend over 75 hectares, including 23 planted to Savagnin, over marly hillsides. Its Vin Jaune is grown around the mediaeval village of Château-Chalon and develops ample, powerful scents with substantial minerality. Fermentation in stainless steel is followed by at least five years’ ageing in oak casks where a yeast veil forms and the wine is not topped up. “Ageing with a veil of yeast imbues the wine with typical aromas of nuts and spices”, explains director Bertrand Delannay. “This is one of the characteristics of a wine that is increasingly popular”.

 

 

Tasting wines at the cellar door

 

Domaine Jacques Tissot: The flavour alchemist

After creating his estate in 1962 from a vineyard inherited from his father, Jacques Tissot produced his first vintage of vin jaune in 1969. Acting as a true flavour alchemist, he and his wife Michelle have developed the full potential of their vineyards. Their children Philippe and Nathalie Tissot, who have taken over the business, continue to build upon this development, farming 30 hectares divided between AOC Arbois and Côtes du Jura. Their Vin Jaune sports a captivating deep yellow-gold hue. Its full-bodied, powerful palate is extremely perfumed with substantial aromatic persistency, offering the promise of some indulgent moments, but also a cellaring potential of 30 years and more.

  

Domaine de la Pinte: The charm of Savagnin

In the heart of the vineyards of Arbois, Roger Martin wrote one of the finest chapters in the history of Vin Jaune. In the named vineyard of La Pinte in La Capitaine, he planted 14 hectares of Savagnin in the 1950s, becoming the largest estate planted to the varietal in the region. Vincent Martin is now perpetuating his grandfather’s legacy and has extended the estate to 34 hectares under vine, including 17 of Savagnin labelled Arbois and Pupillin, at 400 metres above sea level. “We both grow our own grapes and produce our own wines, from the fruit to the finished bottle”, stresses director Samuel Berger. “Since 1999, we have been farming organically and have used biodynamics since 2009”. The 2008 Vin Jaune has a distinctive, very complex nose enhanced by a spice note. The palate is amazingly powerful with lingering aromatics.

 

Fruitière de Pupillin: Taking tradition into the future

Over a century after it was established in 1909, the Fruitière’s architecture and premises have changed dramatically. At the time, wine growing was undergoing problems caused by overproduction and economic difficulties, which is why 33 of the village’s growers decided to band together and form a co-operative, even though wine growing was not their main line of business. In the 1960s, the small firm took a turn for the better with the arrival of a new generation of growers. They made wine their sole focus and gave the vineyards – which had been underdeveloped since the advent of phylloxera in 1892 – a new lease of life. The current area on-stream totals 65 hectares, farmed by 35 member growers. Located along the geological fault line separating Bresse from the mountains of Jura, the soils contain iridescent marl. The 2010 Vin Jaune works magnificently with very mature Comté cheese, or quite simply on its own as an aperitif to discover its full spectrum of subtleties.

 

The cellar at Domaine du Pélican

 

 

Domaine du Pélican: The emblem of the town of Arbois

This estate bridges the gap magnificently between Burgundy and Jura. After spending much of his career in banking, Guillaume d’Angerville returned to France after 10 years in New York and London. A producer of top-flight Volnays at the family’s Marquis d’Angerville estate, he fell in love with Jura and its iconic Savagnin grape variety. In 2012, he created Domaine du Pélican, named after the emblem of the town of Arbois, in partnership with oenology graduate François Duvivier, the estate’s manager. In 2014, they leased old vines belonging to Jacques Puffeney who, at the age of 70, had decided to take a well-earned retirement. Mirroring the standards of the estate’s other wines, the Vin Jaune is equally top rate, but it will be some time before it is enjoyed by enthusiasts – its initial release date is set for 2022…

 

By Jean-Paul Burias – Photographs: Courtesy of the estates