Make no mistake, when it comes to the Jura, Wink Lorch is an expert. The British ex-pat has spent the latter part of her career tirelessly sipping her way through every grape and wine style imaginable from this tiny little wine region. And from every oxidative--not oxidized--high acid, savory, unusual drop, she’s got a quick wit to prove it. By trade, she is a wine writer and educator living between London and in a French Chalet near Geneva. Although her experience in documenting the Jura precedes her, her 2014 book, Jura Wine, marks her as perhaps the foremost expert on the region.
At a recent seminar at TEXSOM’s 2016 conference in August at the Four Seasons Resort and Spa Las Colinas, Lorch did her best to debunk the myths and misunderstandings of the Jura.
To put it in context, sandwiched 50 miles east of Burgundy, and just a bit south of Alsace, the Jura's vineyards cover just over 4,570 acres. (By comparison Burgundy has about 73,000 acres.) The Jura is often lumped together with another small French wine region not too far way, Savoie. But as Lorch announced at the beginning of her seminar, that the two are sadly incorrectly linked for convenience.
“It’s usually because they are both minuscule, and somehow because people think of them as both being Alpine wines. But that’s rubbish,” exclaimed Lorch. “There’s nothing alpine about the Jura.”
Though it is influenced by the Jura mountains, a significantly more stunted region than the Alps, the vineyards themselves are located below plateaus under 1,500 feet in elevation.. By contrast, the higher parts of the Napa Valley region are upwards of 2,600 feet.
For the remainder of her time, Lorch proceeded to correct the many sommeliers in the room who had perhaps been peddling inaccurate facts about the Jura as well as shed a little light on the characteristics of the unique wines from the region.
And as for the claim that Vin Jaune (yellow wine) is the region’s main wine, also rubbish. The Jura-specific style of wine is made in a similar fashion to Fino Sherry with white wine, exclusively made from the Savagnin grape aging in a partially full oak barrel with a layer of yeast, or voile, over the top of the wine for a minimum of 5 years, with release allowed only after 6 years and 3 months after the vintage. But while it may be the region’s most well-known wine, it really only accounts for only 4 percent of overall wine production from the region--which is already small to begin with.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway to keep in mind about the Jura is that it has a reputation for doing everything upside down and breaking all the rules in terms of wine production.
“The Jura is really, really hard to understand,” said Lorch. “And that’s what makes it so interesting.”
For example, red wines are traditionally served before white wines in the progression of a meal, which according to Lorch, is mainly because the white wines vary considerably between non-oxidative and oxidative depending on the nature of their production. Also an unusual tradition is that the red wines are usually served chilled while white wines are usually served much warmer.
Another Lorch-dispelled myth is that all Jura wines are organic.
“Don’t be silly,” she exclaimed. “There isn’t a single region in the world that is 100 percent organic, and certainly not the Jura.”
In fact, about 17 perfect of Jura wines are certified organic or biodynamic, a figure that is actually very high for France in general, but due to the high volume or rain and disease pressure in the vineyards, farming completely organically isn’t a reasonably possibility.
Also a misrepresentation is the notion that the Jura red wines are actually rosé wines.
“I don’t think so,” said Lorch. “When you taste the red wines from the Jura, you can see that they are absolutely not rosé wines.”
The confusion often comes from the unique delicacy in the regions dominant red grape, Poulsard, which is red, but thin skinned, and almost translucent when held up to the sun.
Speaking of Poulsard, one thing most people are correct in assuming about the Jura is its reputation for a collection of unusual indigenous grapes.
While Lorch did contend that Chardonnay is far more widely planted than people realize, and that Pinot Noir is actually the second most planted red grape in the region--both primarily for the production of Crémant, sparkling wine--the region is primarily known for red wines from Poulsard, or Ploussard, and Trousseau.
The most planted red variety is Poulsard, also called Ploussard. According to Lorch, it’s a rather sensitive variety,
“I once read that Pinot Noir is the most difficult variety to grow for any grape grower or wine maker. And that was absolutely fine until I learned about Poulsard. It’s much more difficult. It’s susceptible to everything and you wonder why they continue to grow it,” said Lorch. “It needs extremely careful handling in the winery because it’s extremely reductive.”
Lorch confessed that at first she hated Poulsard wines. But one day, she discovered it was all the rage in New York, which puzzled her. Taking a deeper look into the wines produced by the delicate red grape, she has found that in recent years, certain producers were changing their approach to the grape. The summers were warming. The yields were coming down and the way they were farming was more careful. In the winery, they were changing as well addressing this “animally reductive” character and bring out the natural fruit.
“They were partly doing this by either eliminating sulphur dioxide use, which may sound dangerous and natural, which it is, but it works with this grape,” added Lorch. “Poulsard wines always appear like they may be little delicate, fruity wines. But it packs a punch. That’s what they do. They scream out for food like charcuteries and sausage. And they go with spicy Asian food. And do serve it chilled.”
Pinot Noir is second most planted variety, which makes some sense when considering that the Jura is located only 50 miles east of Burgundy. (There’s possible evidence that it has been planted in the Jura for longer than Burgundy.) Trousseau is the third most planted red grape, which to Lorch is the star. Like Poulsard, it’s indigenous to the region and is also grown in some parts of the United States, Spain and Portugal, where it is known as Bastardo.
As for white wines--Lorch contends that there’s a ready supply of Chardonnay, which can be found in a variety of styles from crisp and steely still wine, to sparkling Crémant and even in the sweeter Macvin and Vin de Paille wines. It’s even sometimes blended with Savagnin to make an oxidative white wine.
But Savagnin is really where the Jura shines. Regardless of what some people believe regarding the golden grape’s distant relationship to Traminer, the mother grape to the aromatic Gewürztraminer, Lorch contends that the two varieties are one-and-the-same, genetically identical.
“It apparently appeared in the forest and just walked out as far as anyone knows,” said Lorch. “And who am I to argue?”
The rather thick-skinned berry is a late ripener and apparently resistant to most diseases. While it can have trouble with late spring freezes it retains wonderful acidity and exudes bright citrus characteristics.”
“I think Savagnin is an extraordinary grape,” said Lorch. “I’ve heard it described as nutty. But I disagree. That may come from an oxidative style. But not all Savagnin is made in that style. From the late 1980s on, more and more producers are making standard table wines with it and it’s really taken hold among people from outside of the region.”
Eight unusually alluring wines and a few presentation slides later, Lorch wrapped up the session with a explanation of Vin Jaune production as well as a short teaser about Macvin, the fortified wine of the Jura--though an example of it was nowhere to be found in the tasting. While the room of attendees was left wanting quite a bit more from the articulate speaker, it was clear to all that when it comes to the Jura wine region, great things absolutely do come in small packages.
Lorch's book, Jura Wine, is available for delivery worldwide from Wine Travel Media.