Jura and the CWG come to Kalmoesfontein

Having your mind – and tastebuds – stretched is always a good idea. And those of the Cape Winemakers Guild members (and of me as a guest) were nicely stretched last night, when Adi Badenhorst put on an amazing tasting of 14 wines from the Jura at his Paardeberg farm, Kalmoesfontein. Jura is not the best known of French wine regions, but is certainly one of the most idiosyncratic. Andrew Jefford in his book on The New France  says that “it remains well outside the stockade of the conventional and the fashionable. Tradition is never more improbable, nor convention unconventional, than here among the yellow whites and coral reds”.

Jura bottles

Just the sort of place to appeal to Adi – who’s already himself experimented very pleasingly (his rare but delicious Funky White, for example) with wine matured under a thin layer of yeast (only somewhat like sherry), which is how the Jura’s best-known wines are made. I suspect, though, that at least some of the more conventional CWG members did not find the more oxidative, unfruity and arguably downright weird wines anything other than an incomprehensible challenge to their taste. I must say that I love the stuff, and it was an enormous privilege to sample by far the largest number of Jura wines that has ever crossed my palate.

Adi-1Waiting on the stoep, we started with rather good lightly sparkling Crémant du Jura, served in typical Adi contrary fashion, from wide, Marie-Antoinette-breast champagne glasses. I think I last drank from one of those at some wedding 30 years ago – no doubt filled with Grand Mousseux. But the late afternoon views across the Swartland to the mountains made up for quickly disappearing bubbles….

I’m not going to describe the wines, but I must say that the first one was a surprise to me – a classic, precise and delicate chardonnay from Domaine du Pelican. There’s lots of chardonnay in the Jura, apparently, but the real white star is the brilliantly acidic grape called savagnin, which is what’s used for the most characteristic (though certainly not most common) wine of the region – Vin Jaune. Basically, normally, this wine is matured in casks which are ignored (not topped up at all, usually) for something over 6 years to develop its remarkable flavours.

Adi gave us quite a range of styles of Vin Jaune – with the climax coming, as it should  with a beautiful example from the tiny sub-appellation of Château-Chalon, from Domaine Chevassu-Fassenet, the Vin de Garde 2007. Still in its infancy, with its long potential future cruelly cut off here so far south of its birthplace, it was softly chalky beneath the piercing acidity, the aldehydic rather than oxidative characters all in poised harmony, alert and lively, and a finish that went on for ever.

Eben juraIt added a little piquancy to the event, by the way, that the wines were poured by Adi’s near-neighbour on the Paardeberg, Eben Sadie (with the help of his two sons, Markus and Xander, both learners at the nearby agricultural school). Here he is pouring for Coenie Snyman. And he took the photo of all the bottles.

We finished (that is, before the wines with dinner, itself a pretty splendid affair catered by Adi’s mom, Judy Badenhorst – surely one of the Cape’s best cooks) with four light, fresh red wines: two each from trousseau and poulsard grapes. Nice stuff too.

I’d love to know how these grapes – especially acid-hoarding savagin – would perform in the Cape.

CWGprotegeesIncidentally, it was a pleasure to have five of the CWG protégés there, enjoying this extraordinary opportunity. In the photo, interrupted while enjoying their dessert, they are, from left to right: Mahalia Matshete, Sydney Mello, Clayton Christians, Maryna Huysamen and Banele Vakele. I hope their imaginations and ambitions were fired, while their minds and tastebuds were being stretched.

4 thoughts on “Jura and the CWG come to Kalmoesfontein

  1. Since the fabulous Jefford book is now more than a decade old, unfotunately Jura wine don’t fall outside the fashionable anymore and this reflects in the price these days except maybe for the reds which are great summer quaffers. Reasonably affordable stars from the region to look out for are Stèphane Tissot (near Arbois) and Julien Labet (nearer Chateau Chalon) and both have South African work experience. Don’t shun the chardonnay though, the non oxidative styles give Burgundy a run for it’s money (silly expression when running for money involves Burgundy) and the chardonnay made sous voile tend to be much friendlier than their savagnin counterparts and age beautifully. The ‘fresh’ examples of young savagnin show their gewürztraminer heritage in its aroma and I share your curiosity in how it would perform in warm climates. According to Jancis Robinson in her book Wine Grapes it’s grown successfully in Australia.
    Great thing about the Jura is that many producers have shops in the villages so tasting opportunities galore! Beautiful region too, but be prepared for butter, cream and cheese overdose as everything swims in the stuff, even on a pizza I had in Arbois.
    I notice some bottles from Ganevat in your pic. What was your impression of these as he’s praised to high heavens in the press, but I don’t seem to get what the fuss is about?

  2. Thanks Dieter for that well-informed stuff. To respond to both your chardonnay point and your Ganevat question. We had two Ganevat chardonnays – L’Autrefois 2011 showed a little flor character; bone-dry and fairly modest alcohol; elegant and unchallengingly enjoyable. The Cuvée du Pépé, raised entirely under voile, was much grander and bigger and much “funkier” – with a bruised apple, aldehydic nose; almost salty, with a leesy richness (it was on the lees 18 months) and lovely texture in combination with a genuine, alert freshness. But a slight harshness on the finish, I found – perhaps the nearly 15% alc showing, though. I should think it would benefit from time. I do agree that the voile wines from chardonnay were more approachable (at least in youth like all of these) than the savagnins – but I myself was much more struch with the piercingly acidic, more complexly flavoured savagnins.

    The Ganevat 2007 Rotalia Vin Jaune (from savagnin) was also very good, I thought, with great intensity – but (going by my notes rather than my recall) I found more interest in the Montbourgeau l’Etoile 2007 and the Aviet Caveau de Bacchus Grande Vin de Garde 2007. Given my comparative lack of experience, I’m not sure how valid that judgement is, of course.

    I really hope I’ll be able to explore these fascinating Jura wines more in future. As well as looking forward to more local Jura-inspired wines, first of all from Adi Badenhorst.

  3. Jura is very much in fashion these days! At least in Holland and UK, and probably all over Europe.

    I love Ganevat, mainly the white’s. Needs 4 or 5 years in bottle. He doesn’t use sulphite by the way, but the wines age very well.

    Yesterday I had the privilige of drinking a 1987 Ch. d’Arlay Vin de Paille, awesome stuff.

  4. Dieter, the Aust reference is an interesting one re Savagnin. Its introduction down under was basically an accident…many producers planted what they thought to be Albarino, and both vinified and bottled under the varietal name, only to find out after some sleuthing from a viti academic that what had been imported was Savagnin.

    Quite a bit of drama ensued. There are now some quite good wines made from Savagnin, although from young vines and it will be interesting to see how the variety adapts to the warmth of the Aust climate. Cheers

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