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Two Days in Jura, Two Stars in Hell

25.01.2022

Nearly two years after the fact, I’m finally ready to discuss a fateful trip to Jura, spent with a few absolute legends of the industry, notably the Tutto gents who invited me along. 

It fell on the final leg of a larger trip wherein we visited a few producers in Beaujolais, Burgundy, and Doubs. Anybody who's ever been on such a wine trip knows the implication of the “final leg.” God, we had visited Cossard the night before, and even by London standards that was a pretty big night. Combine that with about six blanquette de veau’s, approximately zero vegetables, and something like 400 bottles of wine and you can imagine the state we were in. There’s a reason why it’s good to keep these trips short, kids. 

Regardless, arriving in Jura felt like the delicious last chapter of a page-turner and I was ready for it. Hair unwashed, clothes stinking of mud and cigarettes, and a bit of ratty eyeliner from the night before smudged across my cheek, I certainly looked the part as we rocked up to our first stop, a tiny little cellar nestled at the top of a hill where Morgane Turlier and her gang of former Lilith Fair attendees make some pretty special wine. 

Behind a mess of curls is a woman of diminutive stature; in fairness, you’d sort of have to be to work in a cellar of this size. Morgane jumps around from cuve to cuve as if drifting on a breeze, she’s got that aloof character about her. Still, there’s something quite centred and self-assured to her speech: words are carefully chosen, even if softly spoken. We’re able to taste a bit of the 2019 that I’m not sure I should even really talk about (something of an illicit cuvée made in the face of the low-yielding vintage). That said, the wine’s stunning - full of lift and energy, a real medicinal edge that seems to be a benchmark of her wines, and a quiet intensity quite reflective of the woman herself. 

From Morgane’s we head down a winding little road that leads to Amélie Viullet and Sébastien Jacques’ home, where I could have easily laid my head and slept forever. A fire sputters along in the open living room, a tabby circles my legs. 

In their cellar we hear a bit about their backgrounds, and we see a bit of their chemistry. They stand closely together as they speak, taking turns to explain this and that, taking turns to make a joke, and to laugh. She works part-time at a library, he part-time with Etienne Thiebaud. The wines made in their own cellar are a labour and product of love. 

From cuve we taste some 2019s still just-fizzy from fermentation: for red only Méli-Mélo (twice-hit by frost, they lost most of their red fruit and so blended what was left into the co-ferment cuvée) and a savagnin. Both jump from the glass, brimming with freshness and purity. We taste some 18s as well: a chardonnay still fermenting with a bit of residual sugar remaining, and a piercingly direct savagnin, one that almost takes you by surprise with its seriousness. 

In their living room we open a few bottles of earlier vintages and get to chatting. The final residue of last night’s hangover’s been shaken off, and I relax into a well-worn dining chair. The cat returns and this time settles on my lap. I am blissfully unaware of the collective trauma we are all about to endure. We do not sense that our quiet ease will soon be shattered. That the grounds of common decency we all stand on will soon crumble beneath our very feet.

I’m talking about the two Michelin star restaurant in Arbois. The ground zero of my PTSD, where a soggy piece of bread can be artfully plated on a pebble and served to guests, as if to laugh in the face of any who dare utilise their senses. Where, in the middle of February, a piece of sea bream that stings the palate with the damp bitter taste of freezer burn, can be written on a leather bound menu next to the word fresh. Where dessert seems the only asylum from the battering of over-articulated, over-designed and under-delivered non-foods; I  push aside the foam and tree bark and eat the puddle of ice cream underneath. One of our comrades falls asleep at the table, and I envy him for it. 

Of course, I’m being a bit dramatic. The food was horrific - that is a fact. But we weren’t really there for the food; the place hosts a terrific wine list featuring many of the producers we were there to see. After many bottles, a few cigarettes in the courtyard, and countless dirty looks from the wait staff, we piled back into the car, laughing till tears wet the corners of our eyes about the sheer state of it, our stomachs still rumbling. 

The next morning, still processing our collective sensory assault, we were back in the car ambling up to Arnaud Greinier’s. His place seems to me in a real coin perdu of the region. A left, then a right, a right then a left, another left, another right, all down roads lined with fields that more or less all look the same, and we arrive at the chai. A pack of Beagles bark excitedly from across the road as we climb out. They don’t really ever stop. 

Arnaud, like everyone in Jura, was hard-hit by the frost in 2019, losing about 70% of his crop. At the time, we shook our heads in disbelief. As I write this, two years later, worse frosts have hit the region - in 2021 some lost everything. 

From barrel we taste both 18s and 19s, like everyone we’ve seen so far in Jura, he had an easier time with the fermentations in 19 than in 18; many of the 18s we taste from barrel are still fermenting. The production is minuscule, there’s about a barrel per cépage, and just one barrel of blended red for the entirety of his 2019 harvest. The wines are finicky - some still with sugar, some going through a ropey stage, some showing signs of mouse. Still, there are moments of sheer pleasure here too, and glimpses of greatness, especially in the savagnin and the mélon à queue rouge. For all their shortcomings, the wines are living; they seemed in the midst of a deep, restorative breath when we visited. 

Bidding adieu to Arnaud and the yapping Beagles, we headed down for the lunch that would redeem all the injustices of the night before at Bistrot des Claquets. Over three helpings of carrotes râpées and a steaming bowl of tripe, I was cured of all that ailed me: my soul restored, my sins forgiven. 

From lunch we headed to Alice Bouvot’s new cellar just outside Arbois. I’d be lying if I said it was a particularly charming part of town: mostly industrial, more job-lot than neighbourhood - but inside it’s easy to see why the change was required: Alice’s certainly got her fair share of irons in the fire. Between her domaine wines and the ever-growing négociant project, there are a dizzying number of tanks in all corners of the space. Scale notwithstanding, there’s a real thread of continuity in the wines, each aiming for a clear sense of varietal-driven fruit, joyful acidity, and playful juiciness. The domaine wines are, as you’d expect, limited in 2019. She lost between 80-90% of her Maioche vineyard fruit. From what remained, the wines produced are full of life, aromatic, juicy, and delicately structured. Of the négoces, it’s easy to see why there’s the need to achieve volume in the production: the wines are incredibly moreish. The bottle’s empty before you realise you’ve drunk it.

We say our goodbyes and commence the climb through the mountains into Switzerland, where we’ll catch a flight from Geneva. We drive through sleepy villages and forgotten skiing towns, up the hairpin curves that snake the cliffside, past decrepit billboards promoting Morbier cheese and hotels that closed in the 80s, up through the mountains and forests and out of France.  

At the airport, over a 12 euro pint that does little to dislodge the brick of cheese and saucisson resting uneasily in my belly, I do my best to earnestly thank the Tutto guys for bringing me along. It always feels a bit trite in the moment. 

Two years later, it feels like the right time. To Tutto, to the winemakers, to the fucking two star, to Jura: thank you. 

 

-Nathalie