Five years ago, the Jura wasn't on Guillaume d'Angerville's mind. But on a visit to one of his favorite Paris restaurants, the eminent Burgundian vintner became fascinated by this lesser-known French wine region.
"I tasted this bottle blind in a restaurant in Paris that I often go to," said d'Angerville, who produces red and white Burgundies under the revered Marquis d'Angerville label. "I always tell the sommelier to give me something blind and the only rule is that it has to be outside Burgundy. When he brought me this wine, I said, 'You forgot the rule, you brought me a wine from Burgundy.' And he said, 'I am afraid you're wrong.'"
That bottle was the André & Mireille Tissot Chardonnay Arbois Les Bruyères 2005, made by Stéphane Tissot. It set d'Angerville on a path that would lead to the acquisition of two Jura vineyards, both about a mile and a half from the town of Arbois.
"I think I am lucky with the timing," said d'Angerville, whose estate in Volnay is just one hour from Arbois. "But I have to say that my first impression was one of surprise when I tasted how good the wines were."
It was more than the wines, though. "I fell in love with the people there," said d'Angerville. "They are so sincere, so authentic. They know they make beautiful wines and that they could sell the wines better, but most of the Jura wines made are drunk in the Jura."
Despite falling hard and fast, it took d'Angerville—along with his right hand in Volnay, François Duvivier—five years to find the right vineyards because, he said, the climate and geography of the Jura are even more varied and complicated than Burgundy's. In 2012, two separate properties, both attractive in their own ways, came up for sale at virtually the same time. D'Angerville bought both.
The first property includes a full winery and cellar, as well as more than 12 acres of 12-year-old vines that have been farmed biodynamically by their previous owner, a major selling point for d'Angerville, who practices biodynamics in all of his vineyards in Volnay. He took over the vineyard and the winery in July and made his first vintage this year.
Because he did not prune or work in the vineyard during the first part of the growing season, d'Angerville said he can't consider the wines "completely his." However, he is optimistic about the wines so far and will decide whether he'll release them to the market sometime in the next year.
The second property, another roughly 12-acre plot containing vines that range in age from 30 to 50 years old, is called Grand Curoulet. According to d'Angerville, the site is considered one of the best terroirs in the region for Chardonnay and Savagnin. When his geologist echoed this sentiment, he pounced. The vineyard was formerly under the ownership of Jean-Marc Brignot, a producer who rose to fame within France as a proponent of natural wine. Though Brignot did not use any chemicals in the vineyard, d'Angerville said the vineyard had been neglected and, he estimated, will need a couple of years before it's ready to produce again.
Despite the growing popularity of Jura wines, d'Angerville's move into the Jura is both unlikely and symbolic. Most Burgundian producers who have expanded outside the Côte d'Or have gone to the Mâconnais or Beaujolais, while a handful of others have gone south or abroad.
"The first reaction of the people was surprise and disbelief," he said. "The first thought was, 'Why would someone from Burgundy want to come to Jura and what is he going to do?' But they have embraced me, and I already feel like I am part of them."
The cellar that d'Angerville purchased with the first property has the capacity to process fruit from up to 37 acres of land. He already has his sights set on a third property not far from the other two, which would bring his total holdings to around that mark.
Vineyards in the Jura have traditionally been planted to Savagnin and Chardonnay for the whites, and Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir for the reds. About two-thirds of d'Angerville's holdings are planted to white, the rest red. Somewhat ironically, d'Angerville is the least interested in the Pinot.
Stylistically, d'Angerville said he will use Burgundian techniques because he doesn't feel that he is competent enough yet to make wine any differently than he does in Volnay.
This approach will not be out of place in Jura, though. Several producers—mostly notably Jean-François Ganevat—already prefer a Burgundian approach over the more traditional oxidative style that has, to a degree, become synonymous with Jura white wine. But d'Angerville said that he eventually wants to experiment with oxidation and plans, in phase two, to learn how to make Vin Jaune, an oxidative wine that, like some Sherries, spends part of its life under a film of yeast.
If d'Angerville decides to release his wines from the 2012 vintage, they will be available under the Domaine du Pelican label—a reference to the pelican on the crest of the city of Arbois—in late 2013 or early 2014. D'Angerville plans to distribute the wines to the same 35 countries that currently receive his Burgundies and hopes that this exposure will help boost interest in the Jura.
"I hoping that with my little means," he said, "I can help the Jura continue to claim the reputation it deserves."