With the turn of the new year, Jacques Puffeney, the patriarch of French Jura wine, will bring his 52-year career to a close.
“On Jan. 1, I will retire,” Puffeney, 69, said in his 17th-century cellars below his home in Montigny-les-Arsures. “I don’t have a child who wants to carry on. That’s how it is. C’est la vie.”
Puffeney, a staunch traditionalist who for many has been the white-bearded face of the Arbois appellation and Jura in general, told Wine Spectator that 2014 was his final vintage. He will continue to tend to vintages in barrel or bottle in his cellars—the last wines he’ll produce—while leasing most of his vineyards to the Burgundy producer Marquis d’Angerville for its Domaine de Pélican label.
“Jacques Puffeney is a grand vigneron,” lamented winemaker and neighbor Michel Gahier who had bid unsuccessfully to rent Puffeney’s vines. “We will lose an image of the Jura and a bit of terroir in this affair.”
The son of a vineyard worker, Puffeney and his father began working little more than an acre of vines in 1962; Puffeney started bottling wines in the 1964 vintage and soon won acclaim. Though Puffeney has never traveled overseas, in the past 20 years his wines developed a loyal American following, with demand outstripping supply of just over 800 cases annually in the U.S. (about 40 percent of his total production).
“My heart is broken,” said Neal Rosenthal, who imports Puffeney’s wines to the U.S. “He was one of the Jura’s best traditional producers. It’s sad to lose this great tradition and heritage.”
Puffeney, whose two daughters were never involved in the domaine and were not interested in taking over, said he would have preferred a solution that would have kept his 15-acre domaine intact, but no plan could meet both his own needs and comply with the restrictions of French law.
An immediate sale of everything would have come with a huge tax bill, and Puffeney insisted on keeping his stock of non-released vintages. French laws not only restrict how much vineyard land a retired winemaker can cultivate (less than 1 acre) and how much he can earn, but also restrict the sharing of winery space. The only solution in the end was to lease the vineyards to a winemaker who already had its own brand and cellars.
About 11 acres of Puffeney's vineyards—a traditional Jura mix of white Savagnin and Chardonnay as well as red Trousseau, Poulsard and Pinot Noir—will be leased to the Burgundy producer Marquis d’Angerville, which has been expanding its small Jura holdings after having purchased Puffeney’s neighbor, Château de Chavanes in 2012.
Guillaume d’Angerville of Marquis d’Angerville said Puffeney’s retirement is “a big loss for the Jura.” But d’Angerville added, “It is quite something for us to have part of his legacy in the form of his vineyards.”
The lease brings d’Angerville/Pélican's Jura vineyards to about 35 acres used to make Burgundy-style wines. As yet, Domaine de Pélican does not make any traditional Jura oxidative whites for which Puffeney was best known—including the Jura’s Sherry-like Savagnin vin jaune (yellow wine) aged at least six years in barrels under flor, a layer of naturally forming oxidative yeast.
In addition to finishing the wines in his cellar, Puffeney will cultivate a tiny plot of vines for personal consumption and will consult with his nephew and winemaker Frédéric Puffeney, to whom he has given 2 acres of vines.