DOMAINE JEAN-FRANCOIS GANEVAT
Last year I tasted some of the most incredible young wines I have ever experienced. And, just to make it even more interesting, they were wines that I knew nothing about. On March 20, 2011 I posted an article entitled “You Don’t Know Jura”. Reprinted below is the introduction to that article:
“OK. I admit it. In the past I have known very little about Jura wines. What little I did know recalled a Sherry-like wine that I tasted sometime long, long ago. But, as I recently discovered, there are new things happening in Jura and it is being re-discovered. Here is the story.
The Côtes du Jura is a region in France between Burgundy and Switzerland. It consists of six separate sub-regions. Wine has been made here since the Middle Ages. Historically, the most well-known wine of the region has been the Sherry-like Vin Jaune. This wine is made by aging the wine for six years in barrel. This allows evaporation to form an air pocket and oxidize the wine while forming a layer of yeast similar to the flor that produces Sherry.
The climate of the Côtes du Jura is similar to Burgundy, but a bit colder. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes were brought into the area in the Middle Ages and used with the other 40 grape varieties that were already prevalent there. Towards the end of the 20th century, the planting of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir increased dramatically. As a result, many of the old varieties were lost. Today Chardonnay accounts for about 45% of the total vineyard area.
Jean-Francois Ganevat is a relatively new producer. However, his family’s history in Jura dates back to 1650. Their land is in the Côtes du Jura which is a sub-region of Jura. The Côtes du Jura was created in 1937 and is the region’s largest area extending about 50 miles from the North well into the South. The total area of the region is some 1600 acres. The Côtes du Jura wines account for about 70% of Jura’s red wines and 30% of its whites. Until 1976, the Ganevat family had cows (used to produce milk that goes into the great cheese of the area, Compte) as well as vineyards. After that Jean-Francois’s father concentrated on the vines. Jean-Francois worked with his father from 1982 to 1989. Then he left to attend wine school in Beaune. After passing his exam, he went to work at Domaine Jean-Marc Morey in Chassagne-Montrachet until 1998. At that time he decided that the allure of making new style wines from the Cotes du Jura using traditional techniques was compelling.
When he returned, the family vineyards consisted of some 15 acres in the hamlet of La Combe (just south of Lons-le-Saulnier). This has since increased to over 20 acres which are spread over four different terroirs (areas with different soils and/or climates). The grape varieties consist of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as 17 of the 40 old Jura grape varieties. Biodynamic agriculture is used exclusively in the vineyards. (This is an organic process which balances the relationship of the soil, plants, and animals as a self-nourishing system with minimal external inputs.) About 35-40 different wines are made each year. The production of each wine is very small, sometimes as little as one barrel (25 cases). The total annual production is under 2,000 cases. The red wines are kept in Burgundy barrels for one year before bottling and the white wines are kept for a minimum of two years before bottling. The white wines are aged in large barrels called demi-muids which have more surface area than regular sized barrels (up to two times the size of a regular Burgundy barrel). This reduces the wine’s exposure to the wood and allows more expression of the grape flavor. The white wines are made using ancient whole cluster fermentation, no racking, no sulphur dioxide added during fermentation and only a touch at bottling. The reds are made with entirely de-stemmed grapes, ancient whole berry fermentation, and no sulphur dioxide.
The resulting wines are incredibly pure and represent a unique tasting experience. The alcohol is low –- 11.5% to 13% — and the wines are impeccably balanced with great purity. The Domaine Ganevat wines were imported recently, for the first time, by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, California in extremely small quantities. I was able to purchase a bottle of six different wines, but all the wine was sold in a matter of a few days. This is somewhat surprising to me given the relative obscurity of the wines. But, having said that, some buyers were obviously onto the story. So I apologize if you cannot find these exact wines to buy. However, I would urge you to remember the name Domaine Ganevat and, if you ever see any of these wines, buy them and give them a try.
Jean Francois Ganevat in his cellar
I cannot help but be reminded of many years ago when some of my friends and I came across the newly imported Red Burgundies from a then little known producer named Henri Jayer. Interestingly, Kermit Lynch was one of the three or four importers that brought in those first wines from the 1978 vintage. The Underground Wineletter was the first publication to review the 1978 Jayers in an early issue which had a picture of the 1978 Jayer Richebourg on the cover (To read that issue and the Retrospective Review click here). The Henri Jayer wines were some of the greatest young Burgundies we had ever tasted. They had an incredible purity unlike any other Burgundy that I had ever encountered. In this regard, I see the same purity in the Domaine Ganevat wines. Back then a few subscribers complained that they could not find the Jayer wines to buy, but I encouraged them to continue to look for them and follow the future vintages. Those that followed this advice were well rewarded. For from then on, the wines of the late Henri Jayer became some of the most coveted in all of Burgundy. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is really saying something. To make the prediction that the wines of Domaine Ganevat will follow in those foot steps and become some of the most coveted wines of Jura is surely damning with faint praise. So let me just say this. These are some of the purest, most remarkable young wines I have ever tasted from anywhere! So make sure you know Jura and Domaine Ganevat!!”
The West Coast importer, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant Berkeley, California, just received the new shipment of 2009 whites and 2010 reds. But, this time around there is quite a difference between the 2010 and 2009 red wines, while the 2009 and 2008 white wines are all very consistent. (To read my notes on the wines from last year click here) And, please remember my first comment after tasting the wines for the first time last year was “OK. I admit it. In the past I have known very little about Jura wines.” And, now after tasting the wines this year I would say that I still really don’t know Jura. But, I am dedicated to continue my quest and will continue to taste the wines as they become available and cellar some to see how they age. Here are notes on some of the most recent releases -remembering that in any given year Domaine Ganevat can make 35-40 different wines and most of them are not imported here. I tasted all of the wines reviewed here over a period of a week. None of the wines showed any sign of decline and held up remarkably well with the red wines even opening a bit. All were tasted at my cellar temperature which is around 50 degrees. The reds are definitely better with a chill and the whites are better if not served too cold.
Ganevat vineyards sous la roche (under the rock)
Blue marl soil at Domaine Ganevat
2010 Domaine Jean Francois Ganevat Pinot Noir Cuvee Julien Côtes du Jura.
The vines here were planted in 1977. This wine has 12% alcohol and is light red in color with a lovely perfume hinting of cherries and rose petals. It is elegant and very fine with great purity. Hints of raspberry fruit are intermingled with floral nuances and the wine has a nice zestiness and a hint of pétillance – Highly Recommended. $47
2010 Domaine Jean Francois Ganevat Poulsard Vieilles Vignes Cuvee de l’Enfant Terrible Côtes du Jura.
This vineyard was planted in 1959. Poulsard grapes are dark skinned, but the skins are very thin and very low in color phenols. Hence, it is usually blended with other red grape varieties to make red wine or used to make rose or white wines. No wonder the name of this wine translates to “terrible baby.” Last year I called the 2009 a “beautiful baby.” This year the baby presents a completely different side. So it seems that this “baby” is capable of having a lot of mood changes and throwing a tantrum or two! The difference between the 2009 and 2010 is really dramatic.
This 2010 has 11.5% alcohol and is light reddish orange in color with a golden hue. The wine has a nice perfume with floral citrus nuances. It is light and crisp with hints of tart cherry and a crisp citrus tinged finish – Recommended. $42
NV Domaine Jean Francois Ganevat Vin de France J’en Veux Cuvée J.V. Côtes du Jura.
In this Domaine of unusual wines this one is really unusual:
The production was only 100 cases. The wine has 11% alcohol and is light red in color with a lovely floral strawberry perfume showing very faint hints of spice and minerals. On the palate, it is very pure and finesseful with a silky elegance. And, while light and delicate, the wine has delicious fruit accented by a faint herbal green olive nuance. A light wine to be sure, but it is beautifully crafted and well balanced. This is simply delicious to drink – Outstanding. $37
2010 Domaine Jean Francois Ganevat Trousseau Plein Sud Côtes du Jura.
This wine was made from grapes grown on vines planted in 2000. Trousseau is also known as Trousseau Noir, Cabernet Gros, and Bastardo (yikes!). It is grown here and in Portugal where it is used in making Port. Tasting this wine for the first time last year, the 2009 vintage was stunningly great and reminded me of a young Pomerol. This year it is different – lighter and not like a Pomerol, but more akin to Burgundy. Bastardo? I’m not so sure since I have no idea what a Bastardo is supposed to taste like from year to year. Maybe like this or maybe like last year or maybe something else? With 12% alcohol, this wine has a light red color and a stunning perfume with nuances of exotic plum accented with floral and mineral notes. Elegant and finesseful with lovely fruit and a nice underlying crispness, the flavors have a floral tinged slightly tart cherry fruit with a faint exotic nuance. This is a very tasty wine with a lovely crisp finish – Outstanding. $47
2009 Domaine Jean Francois Ganevat Chardonnay Cuvee Florine Côtes du Jura.
The vines were planted here in 1996 in limestone soil. The wine has 13% alcohol. It is light yellow gold in color and has a great pineapple and citrus perfume with a faint mineral nuance. The fruit is very pure and shows hints of pineapple and pear with a tinge of grapefruit. Silky and elegant the wine has gorgeous balance and finishes with a lemon lime mineral tinge – Outstanding Plus. $40
2009 Domaine Jean Francois Ganevat Chardonnay Grosse en Billat Côtes du Jura.
The vines here are over 50 years old and are planted in schist and marl soil. The wine has 12.5% alcohol and is light golden yellow in color. There is a deep mineral tinged perfume with subtle nuances of hazelnut, pineapple, and citrus. The fruit is lush and rounded with great purity and shows hints of peach and pineapple with faint hints of coconut and citrus. With a firm underlying structure, there is a tinge of minerality on the long lingering finish. This is a gorgeous Chardonnay with great breed, elegance, and balance – Exceptional. $45 Best Buy
2009 Domaine Jean Francois Ganevat Chardonnay Les Chalasses Vieilles Vignes Côtes du Jura.
This wine is made from vines planted in 1902 and grown in gray marl soil. The alcohol is 12.5% and the wine has a light golden yellow color. The perfume is stunning. Hints of orange, spice and pineapple are backed by a citrus tinged minerality and a faint exotic nuance. Lush and supple with great flavor and finesse there is also a great underlying structure. The flavors are complex and hint of pineapple and apricot with hints of citrus and a faint honeyed quality. This is a great Chardonnay of depth and finesse with a long lingering finish – Exceptional. $49 Best Buy
2009 Domaine Jean Francois Ganevat Chardonnay Les Grandes Teppes Vieilles Vignes Côtes du Jura.
The vines here were planted in 1920 in white marl soil. This 2009 has 13% alcohol and is light golden yellow in color. The perfume is gorgeous showing hints of apricot and pineapple with honeyed mineral tinged nuances. The fruit is very pure and refined with subtle hints of citrus and pineapple accented by a faint honeyed quality. This Chardonnay has great balance, flavor, and complexity with a long lingering finish – Exceptional. $52 Best Buy
2009 Domaine Jean Francois Ganevat Chardonnay/Savagnin Cuvee Oregane Côtes du Jura.
This wine is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Savagnin. Savagnin is a grape with a history dating back over 1000 years. It is thought to have been related to the Traminer grape. Today it is mostly planted in the Jura where it is used to make the famous vin jaune and vin de paille. It is rare as a varietal or blended with Chardonnay. The vines here were planted in 1973 and 1977. The soils are white marl and blue marl. The wine has 13% alcohol and light yellow color with a faint golden hue. The perfume is lovely with citrus and minerals accented by floral and faintly honeyed notes. Elegant, yet crisp, the underlying fruit is very pure with a citrus tinged minerality showing faint hints of coconut and honey – Outstanding Plus. $47
2009 Domaine Jean Francois Ganevat Savagnin Les Chalasses Marnes Bleues Côtes du Jura.
The vines here were planted in 1933 in blue marl soil. This is a totally unique and totally delicious wine. As I said earlier with the Chardonnay blend, Savagnin is rare as a varietal or blended as a dry wine. Most often it is used for vin jaune and vin de paille. But, tasting this wine for the first time, the closest I can come to describing it is like a great Sancerre blended with a great Meursault. With 12.5% alcohol, the wine has a light yellow gold color and the perfume is gorgeous with mineral and citrus accented by faint hints of peach and apricot. It has great fruit with citrus, peach, and mineral nuances and it is lush and intense but is also very focused with a crisp underlying structure. Balanced with a long lingering finish, this is a really stunning wine – Exceptional. $60 Best Buy
The best of these wines are simply fabulous. However, as I cautioned last year, the wines are imported in painfully small quantities of only a few cases of each wine. They will be difficult to find. However, the best ones are worth a search and worth looking for in the future. As I said, if you still do not know Jura, and if you don’t know Domaine Ganevat, you are missing some really incredible wines. Nonetheless, as seen with some of the 2010 red wines, selectivity is important. And, truly knowing and understanding Jura will take some time. Just remember the Underground and the old saying “Forewarned is Forearmed” and begin your search. When you succeed then “To the victor goes the spoils.” Happy hunting!