The 4,5-hectare domaine Buronfosse is located in a quiet hamlet sitting along the Jura foothills south of Lons-le-Saulnier. Jura is a region which managed to remain very authentic and true, and this is true on the human level too, I use to say that as I'm not addicted to big cities, Arbois is a place I'd consider settling in : nature not far away, gentle people, what else do you need ?
In the area of Rotalier, prairies, woods and vineyards are closely intertwined. The wine region is known for its iconic local grape varieties but even the cows are different as only certain Lycée Agricole breed can be used to make the local Comté cheese. Speaking of wine in the Jura there are probably less winegrowers than a century ago but the ones that remain are often good, even on the register of artisanship and natural work which many of us appreciate. The two other winegrowers established in this small hamlet of Jura are no other than Jean-François Ganevat and Julien Labet, no need to say that you could have worse colleagues next door.
Peggy and Jean-Pascal aren't from the region, Jean-Pascal is from Lyons and Peggy from Saint-Etienne and they both studied in different agriculture schools, Peggy at the Lycée Agricole de la Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel (training with horses and milk cows) and Jean-Pascal in Cibeins (agriculture mechanics).They met at the age of 20 but worked in different locations first, he worked in a training center in Jura from 1991, then from 1994 as agriculture technician, and Peggy had been working in the south of France.
In 1995 Jean-Pascal rented a small house in Rotalier, Peggy joined but it was difficult for her to find employment so she began to work in the vineyards of domaine Claude Joly, 2 years in a row, and that's when they decided to settle for good in the area, they bought this old winegrower house with stables and chai/cellars in the middle of this hamlet (it had all the amenities of a wine farm but last time it produced any was 1947). Jean-Pascal had his day job at the agriculture school in Lons-le-Saulnier but they began to look for parcels as Peggy was ready to start something, but finding parcels to rent was (and still is) difficult, local vineyard owners wouldn't trust someone from outside the region who never managed a vineyard before.
What helped them too is that they became close friends with the Labey family, they were about the same age, each kept the children of the other when needed (the Buronfosse have 3) and the Labey gave them useful tips on how run the vineyard and work in the cellar. They also of course got help and advice from Jean-François Ganevat who works in the same philosophy.
When they got their 3rd child Jean-Pascal gradually stopped his day job, he's on the farm 100 % since 2013. Peggy also had kept working on the side on the beginning for 3 years, and their gradual involvement allowed them to grow cautiously and safely.
When we dropped at the domaine (after passing Ganevat's facility - pic on left) Jean-Pascal Buronfosse was just arriving from a parcel with what looks like a mower and he was pushing it back in a barn. The place is a real farm sitting in the middle of the village, with the fountain pictured above just on the other side of the street. Farms operating inside villages were common a century ago, these farms were small and villagers would make a (spartan) living cultivating several crops including grapes and keeping a few animals. Today in spite of the pavement the courtyard and the buildings around still had this something you find only in real farms, I mean on the Rudolf-Steiner understanding of the word.
This was busy season, the recent rising temperatures with buds popping up and the announced rains for the next day asked for swift action, like mowing or doing a delayed plowing to keep the weeds in check.
Jean-Pascal who stays a while with us before returning to the vineyard says that the last two vintages were kind of difficult, particularly with the suzukii drosophilia for 2014. They know already that there will probably not be any Poulsard wine this year, they have a vat of it but they're not sure it'll go through. Instead of the, say, 12 hectoliters of this local variety they'd make on a normal year, they made 4 hectoliter and they still have to wait if anything can be made with it. On the Pinot Noir they had a one-hectare parcel with a devastating frost for the buds. That's why they have very small volumes of wine, including for 2013.
__ We first taste a sparkling, a zero-dosage type of Crémant. But this is not labelled as AOC Crémant du Jura, because the agreement commission (which gives the green light for the AOC) would have balked when tasting this sparkling, he says they want standard products and he thought it was better not to ask for the AOC. He says that if they had added some dosage in this sparkling he think it might have passed. The other option was to present the wine at the commission a year later and then it would have passed. This will thus be labellled as Vin de France (table wine). They are not allowed to print "méthode Champenoise" although it's made along this method, they just can put "mousseux" which is a pretty derogatory term for sparkling, but Jean-Pascal says it's not a problem, they'll choose a nice cuvée name and that's it.
This sparkling is made mostly with Pinot Noir, abut with pinots named "pinots droits", he insists, because there are several varieties in the pinot-noir family.
We tasted these few wines with some great cheese and saucisson...
Jean-Pascal then brought a small bottle of Pinot Noir, but a type of Pinot Noir which is called here Savagnin Noir, this is an old parcel planted in 1948. The parcel is named Les Fontaines and has a surface of 16 ares (very small indeed). We drove there later, the vines are really convoluted and seem happy to be still around, they probably also enjoyed the company of these Montbéliardes, the local-breed milk cows that produce the excellent (and also local) Comté cheese. I am sure here again that Rudolf Steiner was right for his highlighting the importance of intertwining living farm beings.
This pinot makes only 10,5 % alcohol. Malolactic just finished, Peggy says, so it's a bit early to taste. With these Savagnin Noir she says they always reach a nice maturity, and they don't feel the need to chaptalize. The wine is very fresh. They're not systematically against chaptalization, for example they picked the Poulsard at 9,4 % in 2014 and chaptalized it a little bit to reach 10 % so that it could stand better. Peggy confirms that still, they have little hope of being able to do anything of it this year, but they'll see, you never know. She says that in 2014 all the red grapes were damaged by this suzukii drosophilia.
In order to rescue what could be rescued, they destemmed the grapes, put the grapes in a fermenter for a maceration, added a bit of sulfur on top and they dragged the vat under the sun to get the fermentation start quicker, because the condition of the fruit couldn't bear any delay, with the drosophilia damage the grapes already smelled vinegar. They were tipped about this by a good friend of theirs in the Beaujolais, Philippe Jambon. Normally on a normal vintage the grapes would take 2 or 3 weeks to ferment.
Tasting drinking the wine : delicious, easy to drink. How a 10,5 % alcohol wine can be so good, we always have the instictive reflex to question wines when they're so light, but that beautifully light and tasty. Peggy says that in Jura they have lots of reds that share this fruity, light character. Happy wine for sure.
__ Sekwoisa (or Cékoiça ?), another red, means phoneticly in French "What's that" because many friends an people who tasted it asked this question with interest. They'll not ask for the AOC here because they used several grape varieties, so this will be a table wine. The varieties are Pinot Noir, Poulsard, Enfariné (Historically the winegrowers in the region would add Enfariné in the blend when the year was hot because ir brings up the whole acidity of the batch), Béclan and Teinturier (as the name hints, it's a variety that brings darker color if needed). They are all complated the old way in the same parcel which makes 70 ares. This is not an old vineyard though, it was planted in 1980 (but many vines are missing). Peggy says that it is not easy to find available parcels in the region (for sale or rent), the best way to grow the surface is to plant, she adds. This cuvée costs 11 € tax included at the domaine.
The alcohol here is samely 10,5 %. Delicious wine indeed, goes down so easily. Kudos for the job, who needs an AOC here ?...
After Jean-Pascal returned to the vineyard to do some plowing before the forecasted rain started, Peggy brought us to a first cask cellar, obviously recently built. She says they got some funding from the EC to build this barrel room and work, handling of the barrels is easier now.
__ Côtes du Jura, le Pré du Bief, Chardonnay 2014, from a barrel (the only barrel for this cuvée, 300 bottles). The grapes are picked by hand, then pressed and after a one-day débourbage to setlle the thickest lees the juice is pumped into the barrels for the fermentation.
There's a bit of reduction at this stage because of exchange with the remaining lees. Peggy says that they'll uproot this parcel in 3 years because economically it's not manageable, the surface of the parcel is 27 ares and they make only one barrel (too many missing vines), plus they can only do the work by hand there, it's too narrow for a tractor. And when they converted this parcel from conventional to organic the vines didn't react well to the plowing and many died.
Nice yellow color, tastes OK instead of the reduction, with some wood notes. Malolactic has not started yet, she says reduction often postponed the malolactic.
__ Cuvée Marcus Terensus 2014, also Chardonnay from a cask (they have 4 of them). Will have 9 months of élevage in total, like the previous cuvée. The nose is more aromatic here, she says it's often the case. While the Pré du Bief is on crushed limestone and marl, this other parcelm grows on a limestone plateau with bigger rocks with even thick rock plates underneath, something which is rare in Jura. They got this parcel in 2007. This wine should be bottled in june.
Nice mouth feel and texture with a pleasant viscosity.
We walk then to the old cellar to taste from other barrels and on the way we pass a batch of bottled sparkling.
That's a nice cellar indeed, you feel the long culture of winemaking in these walls, and even if it stopped temporarily a few decades from 1947, I'm sure there is some kind of continuity in the micobial life of these walls.
Like farmers used to dot it I guess, a couple dozens saucissons hang in the dark (pic on top and below) with the right humidity to dry slowly safely away from the light and the flies. I'm not sure squarely-trained enologists would approve but I'm sure the wine does. These saucissons were made by Jean-Pascal's father, who used to have 3 pigs at a time and other animals although he is not a farmer. He slowed down the pig raising but still makes charcuterie.
__ Côtes du Jura Les Ammonites 2013, Chardonnay, from a 500-liter demi-muids. The vineyard here grows on grey marls (marnes grises), it was planted in 1998. This wine will have stayed 18 months in the large-volume barrel. Peggy says they could bottle it now but they prefer delay it because they wait that the other cuvées with shorter élevage are ready, to do the bottlings at once. They use a big bottling line which they own collectively with other local winegrowerrs (through a CUMA). This cuvée costs 10 € tax included.
That's good, nice wine. Here the malolactic is completed since spring 2014.
__ Côtes du Jura Varron 2013, also from a barrel, will stay also at least 18 months in wood. Chardonnay from a parcel planted in 1956 on limestone/clay soil. The type of chardonnay here is different from Les Ammonites, the clusters are bigger on the Varrons and they usuall have some millerandage, meaning some of the grapes on a given cluster are still green when the rest is ripe. The consequence is that the volume of juice is smaller. Peggy says that the Ammonites have more this butter side because of the marls, here the limestone brings a more chiseled wine, neat and straight. 10 € tax included like the previous cuvée.
In the mouth it's obvious, more serious structure, that's very interesting and must age very well. Peggy says that while the young parcel of Ammonites (1998) ferments quickly, the Varron takes always more time, no hurry, and she says that in spite of the same conditions in the cellar both wines always behave this way. Another difference is that Varron doesn't like the bottling and it needs more time to recover and open.
Delicious wine. I guess once bottled you'll have to keep it laying for a while to best enjoy it. They 1500 bottles of this wine in 2013, and less in 2014 because of frost. In 2014 the totalproduction on a normal year with all the cuvées is 12 000 bottles but in 2013 they'll have made only 8000 and in 2014 even less, 5000. Peggy adds with a laugh that it will rebound in 2015...
We now taste some Savagnin, one of the local grape varieties in Jura
__ Côtes du Jura Varron Savagnin 2013. They planted this Savagnin next to the Chardonnay in 2008, using 3 different types of Savagnin : Savagnin Jaune, Savagnin Vert and Savagnin Rose (this one is close to the Traminer of Alsace), all massal selections. It's not planted on separate rows, their goal was to transmit the varietal heritage and they planted these savagnins en foule, all together.
This is a topped-up savagnin (not a veil one) so the nose and aromas are very different from you expect when you think savagnin.
Easy drinking wine, with a life feel, delicious, no spitting. Peggy says that she loves these topped-up savagnins, and also as such they also stand well the time.
She made 4 barrels of this savagnin, or 1100 bottles.
__ Savagnin Sous le Monceau 2013, from another barrel (225-liter). Made with two types of savagnins from another parcel, half savagnin vert planted in 1948, half savagnin jaune planted in 1998. Because of the marl underneath the savagnin jaune has more volume and higher maturity, the savagnin vert bringing more the acidity side. On this same parcel of Monceau they have their old Poulsard from 1948, no less than 20 different types of Poulsard... I love Jura. They know these details because someone from the regional viticulture research institute surveyed their parcel for 3 years and came to this conclusion. Costs 15 € at the domaine, tax included.
__Côtes du Jura Savagnin L'hôpital 2013, also in old barrel, also with a planned 18-month élevage, also topped-up savagnin, two barrels of this only. They planted this parcel in 2006, also thith the three sub-types of savagnins, the yellow, the green and the pink, all massal selections. On L'Hopital the soil is crushed limestone and marl.
In the mouth, more powerful, majestic wine. She says it's almost ready for bottling. They take into account the moon position to choose the bottling date, because the bottling process is already an ordeal for the wine and with the right moon it makes more easy. Costs 15 € tax included too.
We taste the second barrel, it tastes very different, with menthol notes. Feels more mineral too, but that must come from the barrel, not the actual minerality. They notice this difference whatever the vintage, both will be blended of course.
We then walked to another cellar room, closer to an attic than an underground cellar because this is were the veil wines mature. A couple of hams and saucissons also mature inside what looks like a hanging screened cheese-cage (because I guess unlike in a cellar insects venture in this attic).
Peggy doesn't use a winethief here to fill a glass of wine because it'd make a hole in the veil with unknown consequences in terms of oxidation, so she opens briefly the lower cork and lets flow enough wine to fill part of a glass.
__ Vin Jaune 2011 Varron, also made with the 3 types of Savagnin found on Varron, will be released in 2017 to respect the minimum élevage time of the Vin Jaune, considering it can fully develop as Vin Jaune, because it doesn't work all the time. The few times they succeeded their Vin Jaune they noticed that they don't have high ethanal (or acetaldehyde) levels, this makes lighter types of vins jaunes from what I understand, it comes from the yeast ambiance here. The problem with this type of wine is that you don't know why it works or doesn't, they take data from a lab to follow the wine but the people at the lab don't know themselves why things work sometimes and sometimes don't. Chance is a factor, especially I guess when you don't seed your wine with special yeast. Also because of the small total surface of Jura's vineyard (0,2 % of the total vineyard surface in France), the regional research centers don't have lots of funding to study the issue. The conversation drits on Pierre Overnoy and Peggy says that this loves him, they meet him regularly and he is very humble in spite of his long experience and knowledge, she says it's a chance for the region to have such a person. He tells to winegrowers that they should take risks, not protect their wines excessively. On the other hand he knows she and Jean-Pascal have a family so he tones down here adventurousness.
Speaking of their children, the Buronfosse have 3 sons : Cyprien (8), Marius (14) and Titouan (16). They give a hand but Peggy and Jean-Pascal says the most important thing in the future for them is do what they like, if it's not running a winery it's not a problem.
We then follow Peggy in her Citroën 2CV to see a couple of vineyards, the quiet, discreet dog (named Gagio) coming along. It seems to be eating some grass at some point because it spits and sneezes.
Of course the vineyard is farmed organic. First we stop at Varron with its chardonnay. She says she leaves 2 clusters per bud and the clusters tend to be packed together on the vine, so they try as much as possible to keep them apart for a better ventilation. The plot was planted in 1956 but you have a few young vines too to replace the ones that were accidently uprooted.
Just in the last few days the buds went out and this is growing fast. On the ground you stumble on small limestone but underneath you have big flat rocks.
Speaking of the grass she says it's important to keep the grass competition in check because the vine looks for nutrients, and through plowings they make sure that untill the flowering no grass threatens this process. That's why Jean-Pascal is busy today, even with their small surface this is a lot of work. Peggy says that she does the finishing with tilling by hand the spots missed by the plow.
Also, Peggy doesn't with this this, but she has a draft horse and she plows several parcels with it, it is well adapted for certain terrains. We alas didn't see the horse. The plot on the right (Savagnin if I remember) was among the ones plowed by Peggy's draft horse.
We walk also along rows of Savagnin, the 3 varieties, she says it's hard to say which is which now because the leaves are not out. We can see Jean-Pascal working in the distance on his small crawler tractor and we walk in his direction. Happily the plowed earth is dry so we didn't ruin our shoes.
The crawler tractor is a very small model, it must be quite light I guess, and it's narrow enough to pass between rows that have sometimes been planted very close, at the horse era.
Jean-Pascal stops a few minutes for a chat with Peggy about how this is going on on these rows. Peggy asks about the difficult walking conditions now that it's been plowed and Jean-Pascal says that a neighnor will lend him his cover-crop tool and this should make the soil less chaotic. The cover-crop is actually a tool you put at the back of a tractor, it has a few parrallel vertical disks that crushes the clods of earth. On the other hand they try not to crush these clods too much otherwise grass might grow again quickly. Jean-Pascal grabs a clod to show us signs of life. It is more difficult now because the earth being a bit compact after several weeks without deep rain, the earth worms stay put, but when you crush the earth with your fingers you see there's obviously life in there.
Peggy says that they always make a bet when they plow at this time of the year because depending if there will be drought in the coming months or lots of rain, the plowing issue has to be managed differently. If the year will be dry they should keep some grass cover, but if the place is to be soaked with water it's also good to keep some grass to pump the water, so it's not easy. What is sure is that after blossoming they'll stop plowing.
They say they routinely exchange their tool with neighbors, other winegrowers or farmers, beyond the CUMA which is an institutionalized structure through which they can own tools collectively. They even exchange their own tools and machines, the only tool they can't really lend is the mounted sprayer because they always have to use it at the same time, the weather decides.
Peggy drives us to another plot located on a slope near woods and prairies, "Sous le Monceau", this is an old parcel of Savagnin Vert (background) and Poulsard (foreground). This vineyard was grafted in 1948 by Julien Labet's grandfather. The Poulsard from this parcel makles the cuvée "Sous le Monceau" and the Savagnin Vert goes into the cuvée L'Entre Deux. The vines look gorgeous for this age, great parcel.
To make things simple you have not one type of Poulsard here, but 20 [Twenty], as certified by a viticulture scientist who checked the vineyards over several years. The soil here is crushed limestone with marls. Here the vines are lower and thinner, this is very different from the other old vineyard. Here on old vines the buds come out slower than on young vines, as if the sap had to fight to get through these old trunks, she says. This is where they had the problem with the drosophilia las year, with yields on this plot of 4 hectoliters/hectare (makes 150 liters, with this tiny surface). She says that they had some marginal drosophilia damage for a few years but probably because of the particular weather of 2014 it was particularly bad in 2014. The big rains of july swelled the grapes with water and as the Poulsard's skin is very thin it opened the way for this damage when in september the temperature rised, encouraging the development of this drosophilia. They were keeping an eye on the parcels, tasting the grapes/seeds etc, and she says it all changed in the matter of 3 days, this was very abrupt. Plus they had 2 frost occurences on this parcel earlier in the year, which didn't help for the yields.
They use to pick lots of wild salad plants on this parcel in winter, particularly a type of salade named doucette (also named mâche or lamb's lettuce in English). Lamb's lettuce seems to like organic vineyards, I remember Jo Landron used to pick some too as well as former-chef Laurent Saillard among others.
They use organic compost, they buy it from now but they plan to make their own with several neighbors.
Peggy points to these trees on the upper end of the parcel, she says these are wicker trees or some sort of willow trees that were planted there because their thin and long branches can be used as ties for the vines and wires. The trees look bare at this time of the year because they prune them but after a few months they'll have another load of natural ties ready for use, and right along the parcel waithing for the vigneron to cut them. These old-time farmers didn't brag about sustainable farming, they were living it.
This is a living example of the cleverness of our spartan ancestors who were self-sufficient in all details : why buy ties when mother nature can grow new one every year ?
The domaine Buronfosse's wines are exported to the United States (Zev Rovine_Zev Rovine Selections - David Raines_Vineyard Research), to Australia (Diva Nord), New Zealand (Maison Vauron), Denmark (Krone Vin), Sweden (Wine Trade), the United Kingdom (Raeburn Fine Wines), Germany (Vins Vivants), Japan.