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In Search Of Solace: Traveling The Jura Region

Sometimes, we have to hear from another person what we already subconsciously know for it to surface to the realm of conscious rather than subconscious knowledge. Recently, I watched the Netflix documentary, “Social Dilemma”; a must watch by the way. In a nutshell, it is a report on the widespread dangers and detrimental side effects of social media in nearly all aspects of our lives. The documentary is mainly a compilation of commentaries by some of the smartest people in the field with intimate knowledge of the subject. In its philosophical and sociological impact, the movie is subtly petrifying. It is eerily timely in its political pertinence. It evokes feelings of deep anxiety, insecurity and visceral skin-crawling fear. But this is the world we are surrounded by and the reality we are faced with. Is there a remedy? No. At least not yet. But the pain can be counteracted. Nature is where I have always looked for and usually found solace. In its pure and unadulterated form, with its timeless beauty and primal appeal, nature, among other things, transcends human folly. 

One of the most naturally beautiful wine regions I have ever visited is the French district of Jura. It lies in Southeast France between Burgundy and Switzerland. Its pastures and rolling hills are guarded by the Jura Mountains, which were formed during the Cenozoic Era about 65 million years ago and stand tall to the east. The westerly one looks upon grassy pastures, orderly vineyards and rolling hills with dense oak and fir forestation spotted with fossil-bearing limestone formations. It’s a predominantly rural district with frozen in time like villages scattered about and a few larger cities on the region’s fringes.

Jura’s vineyards have a similar microclimate to Burgundy with their cold winters and relatively warm and dry summers. The soil composition comprised of clay, limestone and rich in Jurassic Era fossil matter is conducive to earthy, mineral-driven wines. And just like the region itself, the wines of Jura are unique.

Before the devastation of phylloxera in the late 19th century, the region sported more than 40 different grape varieties. Now only five grapes remain to constitute a combination of international and indigenous varieties. Three reds; Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir. Two whites: Chardonnay, Savagnin. The region offers all styles of wines; white, red, rose, sparkling, sweet and the unique Vin Jaune (yellow wine)

Vin Jaune is made from Savagnin grapes and is produced in two distinct stages. First, the wine goes through the regular white wine, malolactic fermentation. Afterward, it is transferred into used Burgundy barrels to be aged for at least six years in special caves where it forms a layer of yeast, subsequently leading to a slight oxidation. Sounds familiar? Yes or no, the process is nearly identical to that of making Sherry. And just like Sherry, the wines excel at complexity and unique flavor characteristics. The wines are dry, nutty with spicy notes of turmeric, ginger and cardamom. But that is just scratching the surface. The wines are bottled in traditional, unusually shaped clavelin bottles, squat with deep punt indentation and sealed with wax at the top. They can age for decades. Chateau-Chalon, a single village appellation, arguably makes the best representations of Vin Jaune. Officially granted the AOCs designation in 1936, Chateau-Chalon was one of the first appellations in France.

Arbois and Côtes du Jura, Jura’s subregions use all five grapes to give us white, red and rose wines in single variety or blended styles. All reds are rather light, with Trousseau having the most structure, power, complexity and a touch of exotic spice. Poulsard, also called Ploussard locally, tends to be pale sometimes mistaken to be a rose. It is light, fairly simple with characteristic floral, perfume-like aromatics. Pinot Noir here never reaches the sophistication of Jura’s Western neighbor Burgundy. It’s often used in blends and by itself is pale and earthy. The price reflects it. You can buy a well-made Jura Pinot for under $20 and it’ll be satisfying.

In the white grape department, Savagnin is the pride of Jura mainly because of its participation in the earlier mentioned Vin Jaune. When young, it produces wines of fine balance between mineral and floral flavors. When older, or sometimes intentionally oxidized it takes on a nutty and spicy complexity. Chardonnay is the most planted grape in the region with its main destination being Jura’s sparkling wines, Cremant du Jura. These sparklers are made in the traditional method (Champagne style), and if coming from the right source, they can be a way less expensive, good quality alternative to their more prestigious counterpart. They have to comprise of at least 50 percent of Chardonnay.

The L’Etoile appellation in central Jura is named after star-shaped fossils found in abundance in the area. The region produces only white wines. Poulsard is grown here as an additional grape for Vin de Paille, “straw wine”. This style of wine is made throughout many other wine regions where the grapes are raisinated by being dried on straw mats until the sugars are concentrated and fully developed. Intensely sweet juice is fermented and aged in oak barrels resulting in decadently sweet wines of dried fruit, honey, nutty flavors.

Lastly, there is Macvin du Jura which falls in the category of vin-doux-naturel; fortified wine (think Port or Madeira). It’s produced from all five regional grapes picked late in the harvest, aged in oak for 12 months, and finally spiked with a brandy (marc) made by the same winery.

And there you have a full palette of Jura wines.

I visited Jura 10 years ago and spent a few days there; I was with a group of wine friends. As much as I could do without being accused of insolence, I would break away from the pack and roam the hills and the vineyards solo. I ate simple but soulfully satisfying meals in centuries-old village taverns, and for the first time, I truly experienced the local wines in their full spectrum. I remember the calm and the effortless feelings of knowing and reassurance that followed. And I miss them now more than ever. 

Considering the present circumstances in which truth and reality seem to be deeply compromised, it is imperative to look inside of ourselves and reflect. And where is it better to do so than in the presence of nature? Whether it’s the ocean, the mountains, the woods, a soothing flow of a river or even a nearby patch of green in your neighborhood park, make sure you become a part of it once in a while; aware, selfless and respectful. If you happen to bring a bottle of wine with you, “good on you my blokes” as my Aussie friends would say. And if you are lucky and stars align for you just right you might see, even if for a glimpse, life for what it truly is.

By: Cezar Kusik


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