The French Jura is just over the border for many of us in western Switzerland, but it is possibly one of the French wine regions we know the least.
Wink Lorch, a British wine teacher and writer, began exploring it at the start of this century while she was spending part of every year in nearby Haute Savoie.
She was asked to write about it and was hooked; by 2014 she had published the definitive book, simply called Jura Wine. It’s a must-have for anyone who wants to seriously explore these interesting wines, which have in the past two decades moved onto the world stage. Exports went from 4% to 13% of the region’s production between 2011 and 2017, according to the French Department of Agriculture. Crémant du Jura accounts for half of the exports.
With just 2,000 hectares, Jura is France’s smallest wine region.
More than vin jaune
My first encounter with Jura wines was a fine bottle of Château Chalon vin jaune, given to us as a gift. My husband and I had no idea what to expect and the shock at our first sip of this “strange” wine left us a little leery of Jura wines for some years. We then traveled through the region a few times, discovered some of the other wines and gradually learned that vin jaune is a very special Savagnin wine, to be treasured once you understand it. Wine Folly describes it as “A rare, oxidized French white with bizarrely unique aromas.”
Wink Lorch, in an online article, provides solid details that make sense of vin jaune for us. Her book, in 352 pages, does the same for the rest of the region’s wines, the producers, the geography and more. She is a thorough researcher, the kind of honest writer whose work I love to read. The book is dense with information and good photos. Don’t expect to read it cover to cover in a couple of days – and yet, it is easy to read because she is knowledgeable and the writing is straightforward.
Keen to meet Jura producers
The book’s best feature, for me, is the section on the wine producers, where it becomes clear that she knows these people and has spent time at the wineries. In an age where it’s too easy for writers of travel or food and wine guides to borrow much of their work from other sources and use breezy language to imply they know places firsthand, this is refreshing and comforting.
She writes about Jean-François Ganevat’s (Sud Revermont), “On my last visit he was spray-cleaning the tractor when we arrive and we left him on his tractor working the soil. He told me that this is the hardest and most time-consuming job to do, and the timing must be right; in the wet spring of 2013 he felt that many vignerons started too early.” She then expands on biodynamic farming and this producer’s experiments in the vineyard and the cellar. I felt by the time we moved to the next winery that I knew Ganevat. I would certainly be interested in visiting him, armed with the knowledge Wink Lorch shares in the book.
A crowd-sourced book
A footnote to the book. It received a good deal of attention in wine publishing circles before it came out because she made one of the early efforts to crowd-source funding for the book with a Kickstarter campaign. Finding a publisher who will take on a niche wine book without asking the author to pay is very difficult today. In some places, Switzerland, for example, authors sometimes find a sponsor or someone to subsidize a book. This is heavily frowned upon in the English book world because of the very real risk the book will be influenced by that money.
I spoke to Wink recently about her choice. It wasn’t an easy route to take but she persevered and the product is very good. Its author’s independence is evident. Highly recommended.
She has a new book coming out in April, Wines of the French Alps.
Where to buy it
Available on Amazon.co.uk or best, directly from the author. £25 for the Jura book or £45 for a package, with advance purchase of the new book plus the Jura book.