Jura Wine–unveiling a little-known French wine region

by Tom Fiorina on June 2, 2014

Jura-book-cover_webJura Wine, British wine writer Wink Lorch’s excellent new book about the fascinating wines of France’s Jura region, wouldn’t exist without the Internet. Book publishers find it economically unfeasible to publish books on topics that may only interest a narrow group of readers. So Wink, who is active on wine social media networks, used the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to self-publish it. Almost 400 people from around the world contributed just over £14,000 (nearly double the £7,500 goal of the fund-raising campaign) to pay for the book’s publication. This ranged from £8 for PDF Jura region travel guides to £1,500 for a three-day tour, personally led by Wink, of the region (a contribution of £25 or more bought you a copy of the book).

Wink, a founder and former chair of the Association of Wine Educators and a member of the Circle of Wine Writers, has been splitting her time between a mountain chalet in France’s Haute-Savoie and London since the late 1990s. Besides regularly contributing to wine books by well-known British wine authors Jancis Robinson, Tom Stevenson and Oz Clarke, she writes regularly for different wine magazines. She is also the founder of Wine Travel Guides, an internet site with wine tourism guides for French, Italian and Spanish wine regions. By way of total disclosure, I should mention that two of my wine guides for Corsica are included on this site.

Since Wink (a childhood name that endures) first discovered the Jura, during a day spent tasting wine there in 2000, she has gone back regularly to learn more about its indigenous grape varieties and unusual styles of wine. Through hard work and research, she has become the world’s expert on Jura wine, outside of France.

Few book publishers would have made the financial bet to publish such a densely researched and attractively designed book about such a little-known wine region (the photos and maps are first-rate and help the reader to better understand the region). The first one-third of the book covers the history, soil and grape varieties of the Jura. Wink goes into great detail to educate readers about the Jura’s unique white grapes such as Savagnin (used to make the region’s most famous wine, the oxidative Vin Jaune that is barrel-aged for seven years under a veil (layer) of yeast), or Melon à Queue Rouge (“Melon with a Red Stalk,” a variation of Chardonnay with brilliant-red stalks that hold the grape bunches on the vines). She does likewise for Jura red grape varieties such as Poulsard (also known, she informs us, as Ploussard), mostly used for delicate rosés, or Trousseau, which is capable of producing fine red wines that rival Pinot Noirs from nearby Burgundy in complexity and aging potential.

What really made the book worthwhile to me is Wink’s portrayals of the people from the Jura. Naturally, she discusses one of its most famous sons, the scientist Louis Pasteur, whose wine fermentation research helped to launch the French wine industry. There are also interesting accounts of lesser-known local heroes, such as the 19th-century botanist Alexis Millardet, who helped to invent the technique of grafting European Vitis vinifera vines on American rootstock, thus saving the wine world from the phylloxera louse that was destroying vineyards around the globe, and Henri Maire, who after World War II, when the region’s wine industry was at its lowest, helped to introduce France to Jura wine through his relentless marketing and commercial efforts.

There are over 90 Jura vineyards and their winemakers profiled in the book. Some, like Pierre Overnoy, one of the first in France to make low-intervention wine without SO2, are well known throughout the wine world. But there are many others, including small, family-owned vineyards that are the soul of the region, keeping alive centuries-old winemaking traditions. These people are described with great sensitivity and perception by a wine writer who understands and appreciates the uniqueness and diversity of this region. And Wink’s years of experience in the wine world, particularly her time as a wine instructor, are evident. Whether she is discussing soil cultivation techniques, grapevine rootstocks or different terroir throughout the region, her writing is clear and eminently knowledgeable. Likewise, Jura’s rich gastronomy, which ranges from tasty pork sausages and charcuterie, to its famous poultry, especially Poulet de Bresse, and its many famous cheeses like Comté, are discussed in detail in the context of the local wines.

You can dip in and out of the book, as each wine producer profile is a stand-alone vignette that goes well beyond just a list of wines and tasting notes. And woe to any wine producer who has allowed the quality of his or her wine to slip; Wink, despite her laid-back name, can be ruthlessly honest in identifying them. I can’t wait to visit the Jura, this book in hand, to discover its extraordinarily rich collection of culture, history and gastronomy. I’m thankful that Wink took the time and effort to become a part of this tight-knit Jura family.

Additional information about the Jura region and its wine are available at Wink’s Jura blog at www.jurawine.co.uk. There’s also information there about purchasing copies of her book.

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Rich Frye June 5, 2014 at 22:52

Hi Tom,

We have been enjoying your blog since we met briefly while you were in Faugeres a few years ago. We were just in Arbois for a few days, and armed with Wink’s book, we managed to learn a lot about this beautiful and unique wine region. It’s a special place, well worth a visit by every student of wine.

Rich

Tom Fiorina June 11, 2014 at 18:37

Hi Rich, Thanks for your comment. It’s always nice to hear from loyal readers. I’m glad that Wink Lorch’s book was helpful in discovering the Jura region. Perhaps your next wine trip will be to Southwestern France or Corsica. A bientôt, Tom

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