Rotalier is located south of Lons-le-Saulnier (see this Jura wine map). Jean-François Ganevat who works there has become in the last few years one of the most interesting winemakers of the Jura region. His high number of small-batch cuvées of any sort (we'll review them through), each yielding beautiful, unique wines, help again put this little-known wine region on the map. This is one of the craziest winery visit we've done recently, visiting Jean-François Ganevat in the remote valley of la Combe near Rotalier is far from ordinary, you don't get away unscathed (if you ever succeed to get away on your legs...) as you end up drinking the stuff.
We tasted lots of wines, had fun all the while listening to his way to work and vinify. I took a few notes and I also called later for informations that I missed.
His winery and his home consists of a string of houses in a hamlet stting at the foot of a deeply-forested hill in Jura. Looking at these thick woods on the steep hill behind the hamlet, I couldn't but think to how beautiful and cold winter must be in this remote and quiet valley.
As I called from Paris recently for additional information, Jean François Gavenat told me that he was upset and worried by a letter from the MSA that he found in his mail box and which was somehow threatening. The MSA is the French state social security system for farmers, growers and their employees. Its membership is compulsory [and it's a monopoly like all the social security systems in France] and this administration is also doing some sort of police job on the farms and wineries regarding the employed staff (the every-3-months declaration of employees is one of them, but these guys also make surprise visits in farms and wineries...), and they are known to deal with farmers on a threatening way sometimes as they have the legal authority to levy taxes and penalties at will. Whatever, Jean-François was particularly worried, and it's a shame that in the addition to all the good work in the vineyard, in the chai and elsewhere to sell their wines, the winemakers who employ workers have to be harrassed by job-for-lifers spending most of their time in administrative buildings. We'll keep you informed on this matter if necessary.
Jean-François Gavenat worked with his father between 1982 and 1989, then he went to Beaune to the wine school as he lacked any formal winemaking teaching, he passed his BTA, then went to work at Domaine Jean-Marc Morey in Chassagne-Montrachet for 9 years until 1998. This was an old Burgundy Domaine, a dream situation for a young winemaker. During that time, his parents were working on their vineyards, he himself didn't initially plan to come back in the Jura, he was chai master at Morey, everything was fine. Then he began to meet people, taste their wines, which were different, like those of Philippe Pacalet, Barral, Schueller and others. That gave him the desire to come back in the Jura and work differently to make appealing wines, and he returned effectively at the end of 1998.
The Ganevat vineyards are spread in the area with one plot very close to the hamlet on another, well-exposed slope under a cliff (picture above left). The forgotten varieties of Ganevat are not grouped in one block, they're spread all over his vineyard surface, sometimes complanted like it used to be in the traditional vine growing. And he prefers it this way, he says, because "they" may be after him about this forgotten-varieties issue, the Appellation system wouldn't like to see these varieties make a comeback and disturb a pacified variety landscape...
Jean-François Ganevat's vineyards are spread on several terroirs, there's no other culture near them, just woods or Conté-milk prairies. The biggest terroir is les Chalasses, there's 4 hectare there, then there is Les Grandes Teppes (2 hectares), and also Grusse en Billat, a terroir with lots of schists (I guess the dog's name is why) where Jean-François has 1,8 hectare. The rest is behind the house/winery under the cliff (picture). You can have a glimpse on these different terroirs on this page (very good pics).
Some of these cuvées may may be as small as 50 or 60 liters for some sweet-wine cuvées or a single cask for dry wines, Jean François Ganevat vinifies and bottles separately all the terroirs and group of rows he picked individually. That sounds very perfectionist and passionate, and that's what makes a visit and tasting of his wines bewilderingly interesting.
About the SO2, the reds are vinified without any SO2, nothing. For the whites, only the cuvées Florine and Billats get 1 gram at bottling. They vinify like that without SO2 since 2006 and he says that they haven't had any accident or wine turning bad because of that. Since he almost suppressed all the SO2 addings, he noticed that the wines changed for the better, were more classy and easier to drink. But he underlines that 95 % of the work takes place in the vineyard, and beyond that, there's not much to do in fact, you just leave the wine go where it goes. Asked about which precautions he takes to handle and transport his SO2-free wines, he says that he doesn't have any special mode : he considers that thanks to his very long élevages on the lees, in cask rooms which often are not even particularly cold (many of them are on the street level and non air-conditioned), the wines are already used to these changing temperature conditions and fare well after the deliveries. The beautiful terroirs are the force of these wines and he notices that people like Pierre Overnoy who work on similarly outstanding terroirs and also without SO2, don't have particular problems on this issue.
This élevage question with sometimes wine being kept for many years had him set up additional cask rooms and cellars along the years. He also bought a multi-story old house in the hamlet, renovated it with a concrete structure and he put some of his oxydative wines in there beginning 10 years ago. He had a door-less industrial, elevator installed in its middle to access to each floor and eventually move the casks up and down.
Back on the oxydative wines issue, he adds that a few years ago he was on the verge to stop making oxydative wines because he wasn't satisfied by what he tasted, but now, he discovered that they can be at the same time elegant, racy and an easy drink.
Asked about what else he'd like to add, Jean-Francois says that he regrets that nowadays, vignerons and farmers alike have been obliged to fill paper forms like bureaucrats and live in the permanent scare of controllers from the state administration like the MSA for example [there are many administrations that are on the back of the farmers and vignerons]. These people don't understand a damn thing of the life of a grower and come to harass them in their facility [and threaten them with heavy fines, that's the hardest point]. He is quite disgusted with the way things turn out and he told on the phone to his MSA controller that he was really thinking to downsize to 2 hectares next year, fire everybody and work by himself, because in the end, that's what the administration seems to push for... It's rather crazy when you think about it : here is a small winery with only 8,5 hectares of vineyards which employs 8 people (including himself) around the year permanently on average, which is a big workforce for this size, and everything the French administration manages to do is to harass the vigneron. I sincerely wish that Jean François won't have to downsize and that the overstaffed bureaucracy stops considering small businesses like his as cash cows for its bankrupted system.
We've tasted lots of wine of course, I'm not sure that my notes give a full rendering of this great experience, but I'll include them hee nonetheless :
__ Jean-François Ganevat "J'en Veux 2009. 1000 liters made of this, this is the cuvée with all the 17 forgotten varieties with weird names, he blended them all to make this wine. Some peppery notes, savoury wine (labelled as table wine). Costs some 13 € public price and 8,5 € wholesale.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Ploussard 2009, cuvée Enfant Terrible. Vines planted in 1959, 1600 liters of that. Bottled early november. Between 14 & 16 € public price. Delicious unfiltered wine.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Trousseau 2009 Cuvée Plein Sud. Vines planted in 1949 and 2000. Peppery, delicious, I mean de-li-cious... Drink all, the hell with the driving after that...Adrink and a meal, that's what I feel. About 15 € public price.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Pinot Noir Julien 2009. Julien is the first name of his grandfather. Vines partly planted in 1951, partly in 1977 (the latter by his father) on schists. Light reduction on the nose. After some time, reduction gone, very beautiful.
__ Jean-François Ganevat "J'en Veux" 2010. Taken from a cask. Already so good.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Ploussard 2010. Reduction, still sugary.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Trousseau 2010. Candy aroma in retro-olfaction.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Pinot Noir 2010. Vines at 400 meters of altitude, on schists.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Chardonnay Florine 2009. From a cask (10 casks of it). Fullness feel in the mouth. Acidity and freshness. He doesn't know when it'll bebottled, probably next august (2011). This Chard is a Jura type of Chardonnay, it's not the same variety as the same-name one of Burgundy, it disappeared because this sort of Chard has very small yields. He has a small surface of it, 60 to 80 ares on the Chalasses terroir.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Grusse en Billats 2009, from a cask. Vines planted in 1960. No notes.
__ Jean-François Ganevat les Grandes Teppes 2009 "joly". Planted in 1973, 40 ares only. Clay and limestone. Stony, smoky feel, flintstone.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Chardonnay "Micheline" 2009. He took over this vineyard plot 3 years ago but it was chemically grown then. The mouth isn't as beautiful as the previous Chard. Vines planted in 1949.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Chardonnay les Grandes Teppes old vines (didn't note the vintage, 2009 I guess). Planted in 1919. Beautiful Chard.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Chardonnay les Chalasses 2009. Planted in 1949 on gravel soil. No notes, sorry.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Chalasses (forgot to note vintage). From vines planted in 1930. He has several expositions on the Chalasses, lower slope, mid slope and upper slope. Speaking of his natural winemaking, he says that he began really in 2002.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Savagnin Vert cuvée Champs Bernard 2009. 350-liter cask. It may not be written on the bottle, but this is Savagnin Vert, a particular type of Savagnin. There are several types of Savagnin : Savagnin Vert, Savagnin Gros Vert, Savagnin Rose and Savagnin Jaune. Vines planted in 1990 on schists, that's why the wine has this minerality, it's a chiseled wine, aerial and precise. The soil also explains why these juices have very low Ph. Mouth with lemon aromas. Very pure. The Savagnin Vert has lots of acidity (9,70).
__ Jean-François Ganevat Savagnin Jaune En Billats 2009. Vines planted in 1975 on schists, different exposition here, and higher altitude. More opulent wine, richness. Wine taken from a demi-muid (500-liter cask). Very beautiful, balanced and straight.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Savagnin Vert Chalasses (no vintage noted, probably 2009). 300-liter cask. Vines planted in 1930 on blue marls. Very beautiful nose too. Balanced and neat.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Chardonnay cuvée Florine 2008. Bottle. Nose lightly oxydative, not the mouth. Beautiful wine.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Chardonnay 2008 Grusse en Billats. This wine is at the same time very fresh and intense.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Melon à Queue Rouge cuvée Marguerite 2008. No notes.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Chardonnay les Chalasses [I didn't note the vintage but probably 2008]. Old vines from 1902. Tasting begins to be difficult as you sometimes drink a bit, and often more than a bit. But I drew two stars on this one, very beautiful wine...
__ Jean-François Ganevat Les Grandes Teppes 2008 Vieilles Vignes (old vines planted in 1919). Nose : a bit oxydative. Very ripe.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Savagnin Vert les Chalasses Ouillé 2008 (topped-up Savagnin Vert). The vines planted on blue marl. Minerality, purity and elegance. I ask about the alcohol level, thinking it is maybe 12° or 12,5°, he says it is 14° !
__ Jean-François Ganevat Chardonnay-Savagnin 2007, veil wine. Cask in the cellar. No notes.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Vin Jaune 2006 From a cask in the attic. From les Chalasses, on blue marls. No notes (I sure was done by then, but it was good...).
__ Jean-François Ganevat Vin Jaune 2008 (on its way to Vin Jaune, needs more years). Actually, it will be either a Vin Jaune or a Savagnin cuvée Prestige, a veil-wine cuvée which he releases before the minimum time for the Vin Jaune Appellation (6 years and 3 months). Very fresh wine. He tells us that the previous day, he had Russian importers whorking on Russia and Lithuania, and they loved that one. Nice lemon aroma, beautiful structure.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Savagnin les Chalasses 2007, the blue marls plot. Same wine than the one we tasted some time ago, but under veil. 3 casks of this. This wine is going to be good, already on its way.
__ Jean-François Ganevat Savagnin 2005, will be a cuvée Prestige. Will be bottled early november (this visit took place in the 3rd week of october). Very intense mouth, fresh and beautiful. We spit on the cement floor, Jean-François told us we could, and Schiste the dog wipes everything clean each time ! this is the first time I see a dog addicted to Vin Jaune, this is crazy ! This dog is also an expert bung fetcher : as the silicone bungs used to close the casks sometimes fall behind in the dark underneath, he looks for such leftover bungs to bring back proudly to his master, except....that this time he got squeezed between two casks (picture on left) and just couldn't get out...
__ Jean-François Ganevat Vin Jaune from Savagnin Vert 2002. 8 years already ! Very acidic, huge mouth. Weird freshness in an oxydative type of wine, very beautiful finish. Thank you, Jean-François...
We didn't come across any road check or breath check that evening, and we had a good star for sure...