If you ever dream of a small cute French town nestled in a hilly and forested landscape, with vineyards around on the slopes to complete the picture, Arbois is for you, you will enjoy the fresh air coming from the mountains, a beautiful medieval architecture with cobblestone streets, kind and civilized people and terrific wines... If you look for an opportunity to visit the city, go to the Jura for the next Percée du vin Jaune on february 5th and 6th 2011, this will take place in Arbois (not the same town every year). There aren't many tourists actually then (maybe it's too cold), mostly locals and people from neighboring regions including Germany and Switzerland, which makes this wine festival one of the most authentic I took part to. This N.Y. Times article paints what seems to me a very honest picture of Arbois and its life (and the writer (Anne Glusker) even wrote a few words about the Domaine de la Tournelle at the end of her article).
And whatever time of the year you choose to come in Arbois, you shouldn't miss the small estate managed by Evelyne & Pascal Clairet, the Domaine de la Tournelle, which sits in the middle of the old town. They set up shop a few years ago but their wines have already a good following. they have been farming organic for many years but they only got the certification recently, 2010 is their first year with the organic-farming and biodynamic certifications. Farming organic is one thing, but almost as important, they vinify their wines without additives, except some SO2 (and not for all their wines).
The The slow growing in surface at Domaine de la Tournelle allowed them to find their customers because as they started from scratch, they had to create their customer base, and they increased their surface in time with their sales and market. They didn't have family money to finance their venture and they didn't want to owe high mortgages to the bank, so the solution was to grow slowly. At the beginning for example they produced 7000 bottles only (in 1995), and the output grew steadily to today's 30/35 000 bottles annually.
While not yet certified biodynamic, they're already into th is viticultural mode for several years (since 2007) with dynamised sprayings that they prepare with special vats and so on. In the Jura, there are several other vignerons working with biodynamy, like Overnoy, Stéphane Tissot, Ganevat and a few others. Asked about the disease risks in the Jura, as this region seems to be very green and more rainy than, say, the Rhone or the south, Evelyne says that actually she considers Jura as being healthier than the Rhone, where she was a technician dealing with vine diseases. There may be more mildew but definitely less grape worms which are a problem further south. For example on their estate the only special issue they have to face is the containment of grass, which they only do with mechanic means like plowing or cutting. The grass means that the surface has lots of water but as they plow, the roots look for deeper soils and they don't have excessive load weight or watery grapes. .
They harvest by hand, and they manage to have the grape clusters intact, without bleeding grapes. What they do is avoid the bucket use : each picker puts his grapes in a comporte which is a mid-size (20 kilograms) container, and this comporte is placed on a sledge that he pulls when he picks the next vine. The Sledge also helps to isolate the container from the ground and from the mud and other impurities. When the container is full, someone brings it to a trailer at the end of the row. The grape load will then go directly to the press (if it's a white), which limits the possibility of damaging the grapes.
For 2 years, they have been using a pneumatic press, before it was a non-pneumatic horizontal one, but they used it manually anyway.
The whites are pressed whole-clusterd and the juice goes into vats for its alcoholic fermentation. Only wild yeasts for the fermentation, which begins sometimes early, sometimes after a few days. This year it took 6 days to start on average, but last year it was 8... They protect the wine with CO2 during the waiting time. They check the temperature but usually they don't have to intervene (to cool the juice down for example). This year the temp went up to a maximum of 22°C or 23°C so they let it that way. Very quickly after the ferm began (when it reaches a density of 1040 or 1060), they bring the juice to the cellar in Arbois with a special transport vat and they fill the casks where it continues to ferment quietly. The malo ferm wil usually take place thereafter and the wine stays in there for 2 years on its lees, without rackings. About batonnage or stirring of the lees, it depends, they do it for certain vintages, they decide after tasting only. What they look for is minerality and 6 months is not enough to get it, so patience is important and they made the choice to raise the wines for 2 years. The casks are not new, and they buy used casks in Burgundy (Givry), the youngest being 3 or 4 wines old.
After the élevage, they blend in foudres a few months before bottling.
Speaking of their Vin Jaune, they also use wild yeasts. As I wrote in a previous post, while I was aware that most wines in France are made with lab yeasts, somehow I thought (without really thinking focusely on the details) that all the Vin Jaune veil wines (I mean including the ones of the "conventional" wineries) were made naturally, that is with a veil and micro-organisms sprouting from the atmosphere of the cellar. Actually, for this type of wines like for any other wines, conventional wineries use ready-made yeasts which are specially fit for this type of veil. There is of course usually no communication on these issues because it would deprive the Vin Jaune from much of its magic. Here at La Tournelle, they don't add any lab yeasts and this veil appears by itself after a while as the wine evaporates slowly through the wood of the cask. Evelyne says that this veil took time to appear on the wine in the first year, but once it's in the cask, these yeasts stay there and when they put a new wine it, they don't rinse or clean this cask so that the natural yeasts can continue their job with the newly-arrived Savagnin.
Their Vin de Paille is also SO2 free : the grapes (Chardonnay/Ploussard/Savagnin) are harvested in september then go dry for 3 to 6 months, not on straw but on metal and wood grids (in a barn), then they're pressed and put to ferment on wild yeasts in casks. The wine ends up with 180 gr to 200 gr of residual sugar.
__ Domaine de la Tournelle Arbois Uva Arbosiana 2009. 100% Ploussard. No cap punching or pumping over. 4 months and a half in foudres, bottled in april. There's a bit of gaz in there they say, 1100 mg of CO2, keeps the wine safe without SO2. Usually, the amount of CO2 is like 400 or 500 mg. Very fruity, easy-to-drink wine.
__ Domaine de la Tournelle Arbois Trousseau des Corvées 2008. One year in foudres, destemmed but not stomped. Vinified in fiber vats. The malolactic was completed, they raised the temperature of the vat room for that.
__ Domaine de la Tournelle Trousseau des Corvées 2009. Some reduction on the nose. Bottled 2 months ago, still young wine. Very very pleasant wine in the mouth, a real pleasure, you just eat that wine with delight. Forget the nose and enjoy the drink. Very different from the 2008. they have 1 % of the planted Trousseau (there's 100 hectares of Trousseau in the Jura, that's very small).
__ Domaine de la Tournelle Arbois Chardonnay Terres des Gryphées 2007. Chardonnay has been planted in jura since the 12th century, it taste different here because the soil has a particular minerality. Fermentation begins in vats, then during the fermentation, the wine goes into 220-liter old casks. Topping up, no SO2 during the élevage, sometimes in the press, only if they feel it necessary (damaged grapes) with 3 grams per hectoliter dosage. Aged on its lees but without oxydation. This wine makes 12,5°. Very nice nose. The Chard grows on the same soil than their Savagnin. Unique feel in the mouth, character and minerality, a good acidity. This wine sure has a long laying down potential.
__ Domaine de la Tournelle Arbois Les Corvées sous Curo 2007. Other soil and terroir here, blue marl. Nose of ripe fruits, opulent aromas. Freshness felt on the nose too. Stayed 3 years in the cellar, long keep wine. Crisp mouth, elegant. 12,5°. Burgundy oak used here, old casks, no vanilla notes sought. That's the Chard I prefer, I think.
__ Domaine de la Tournelle Fleur de Savagnin 2008. Topped-up Savagnin. They do this wine since 1994, from a vineyard that Pascal planted in 1991. Very, very beautiful wine, neat, mineral, refined. Lots of class.
__ Domaine de la Tournelle Arbois Chardonnay Terres des Gryphées 1999. Reduction on the nose. Aromas of toasted bread. The smoky side of flint stone, silex. They're going to change the corks of their old vintages (the reserve that they keep for checking).
__ Domaine de la Tournelle Chardonnay de Voile 2006. Veil wine, not topped up. 3 years under veil in the cask. Some sort of second wine compared to Vin Jaune, as it did not complete its 6 years and 3 months of veil time. Very enjoyable mouth, length. Light and fresh wine.
__ Domaine de la Tournelle Vin Jaune 2003. What a mouth ! Super length with intensity. So refined and fresh, I love that.
__ Domaine de la Tournelle Vin de Paille 2004. Grapes dried several months in a barn for concentration. Aromas of quince, pear. Made with Ploussard, Savagnin and Chardonnay on indigenous yeast too. No SO2. 180 grams residual sugar, but so well balanced.
__ Domaine de la Tournelle Macvin. 60% Chardonnay-grape juice (unfermented) blended with their own alcohol, and the alcohol has spent prior to that 3 years in oak to be less agressive. Usually it's 18 months but they increased this time to 3 years. Makes a total of 5 years to make this blend. 18° alcohol.
Evelyne opened in 2006 a seasonal venue (june to september), the Bistrot de la Tournelle in Arbois on back side of their house along the Cuisance, the quiet river that runs through the town. You can enjoy the wines of la Tournelle and eat a few charcuteries along the medieval walls in the shadow of a couple of trees. Some people would like the bistrot to stay open around the year but she needs to be active in the winery and the vineyard the rest of the year, so it closes from early september to june.
Evelyne and Pascal Clairet have 4 children, who help already occasionally in the vineyard or at labelling...
50 % of the wines are sold to individual buyers at the cellar or through shipping. The export share is about 30 % with the United Kingdom (Dynamic Vines, Les Caves de Pyrène), the United States (Joli Vin, Jenny & François), Denmark (Pétillant), Canada (Quebec - Balthazar, British Columbia - Racine Wine Import), Japan (The Vine), Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Hong-Kong (in smaller volumes).