Grape & Grain

Two winemakers helping put France’s Jura region on the map, and doing amazing things with chardonnay

Stéphane Tissot and Jean-François Ganevat, leaders of the ‘Jura revolution’, are coming up with some stunning wines using one of the most ubiquitous grapes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 5:47pm

Stéphane Tissot and Jean-François Ganevat were both born into winemaking families in a corner of France that has recently shaken off decades of benign neglect. Tissot’s father, André, created his family estate in 1962, while Ganevat can count generations of winemakers back to 1650, but it was his father who made the choice to concentrate solely on wine.

Long before I tasted their wines I had heard of both men, as leaders of the so-called Jura revolution. Jura is a region sandwiched somewhere between Switzerland and Burgundy, grazing the edges of the Alps, and the childhood home of Louis Pasteur, the spiritual father of modern winemaking.

Over the past decade, Jura has managed to steal a march on many of the better-heeled and better-known regions of France, appearing on fashionable wine lists worldwide as sommeliers fall in love with the unexplored, unusual, and frankly sometimes funky delights of the trousseau, poulsard and savagnin grapes that grow there.

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Its isolation and mountainous terrain has meant it has kept an identity of its own – one that has become increasingly sought after. Not just the famous oxidative vin jaune (yellow wine), but its dry styles have moved from counterculture to front and centre, a feat that is even more impressive when you consider that the Jura makes just 0.2 per cent of France’s wine.

I’ve definitely grown to love the gentle charms of a savoury, light-bodied red trousseau over recent years, but it is Tissot and Gavenat’s take on chardonnay, a far more mainstream grape, that has really made me sit up and beg for more Jura.

I might have my Jura papers rescinded for saying so, as chardonnay is the world’s fifth most planted variety (after cabernet sauvignon, merlot, airen and tempranillo), which hardly fits with the Jura’s outsider image, but no matter. These are easily the most exciting versions of the grape that I have tasted from outside Burgundy in recent years.

Both of these winemakers spent a number of years working in Burgundy before returning home in the 1990s, and so are well placed to take on their former mentors; Ganevat worked with Marc Morey for a decade and Tissot studied in Beaune for five years. Both work biodynamically and display just the right amount of obsession to take their winemaking skills to another level. Ganevat is about as individual a winemaker as you can hope to find. He is more than happy to agree with this assessment, saying: “I make lots of wines that don’t get approved for being within the traditional French AOC system, but that doesn’t bother me. I never want to make wines that follow a recipe, I have no interest whatsoever in that.”

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This could be why he produces no fewer than eight different chardonnays each year, “depending on how I feel and how the grapes have responded that year”.

Tissot also goes his own way, making a range of single-terroir chardonnays, from La Tour de Curon to Les Bruyères. He uses the local melon-queue-rouge clone of chardonnay alongside Burgundian clones, to add to the complexity in the final bottle and to further reflect the vast array of geological formations in the Jura – something that is clear to anyone who has spent walking holidays here (as I did as a child – thanks, dad).

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He has since gone on to produce terroir-specific vins jaunes, among his many other innovations, but it is his chardonnays that I just keep being drawn back to, with their endless permutations of stony, intense, complex flavours that show that this well-travelled grape is still more than able to surprise.

Benedict & Stéphane Tissot Les Graviers Arbois 2015

Electric wine, rich, concentrated and complex and yet mineral, clean and pure. It contracts on the finish, thrillingly tense, and then just refuses to go away. Candied lemon cut through with a twist of concentrated lime and cut slate. One third is aged in new oak, Burgundy barrels. Spicy, mineral, rich, concentrated, amazing.

Domaine Jean-François Ganevat Les Chalasses Vieilles Vignes Arbois 2014

This is a rich, deep and fleshy take on chardonnay that settles in for the long haul, full of smoky herb and citrus flavours and beautiful slate minerality on the finish. Low-yielding old vines, fermented with natural yeasts, then aged for 22 months in large oak casks.