In the Jura — Part I: Visiting with Domaine Dugois

With an early call time (I was up at 4:30—stupid jet lag), I hopped a train from Paris to Dijon.  There’s something truly special about cruising the French countryside on high speed rail.  There is a meditative way in which villages and old chateaux pass by at lightning speed.  After renting my car, I began the hour long drive to Arbois to visit our friend and Direct Import producer, Philippe Dugois of Domaine Dugois. Philippe took the winemaking reigns from his father Daniel in 2013.  He has continued the legacy of developing wines of purity and freshness as well as those classically oxidative wines of Jura, the Vin Jaune and sous voile savagnin. We began our meeting shortly after ten AM and maximized every moment tasting and exploring together. We took a tour of the winery; I’d seen it before but it never hurts to refresh one’s memory. Plus, I got some fun pics! 

We began with a barrel tasting of the 2015 Ploussard (also called Poulsard depending on which part of the Jura you are in).  Ploussard is a rather large red grape variety that does not have a lot of color in the skin. This high juice to skin ratio creates a light colored red but it can be quite deceptive.  Often the wines are highly aromatic with mouthwatering acidity and fine tannins. The 2015 vintage has been raved about throughout France. It is equally intriguing in Jura. The 2015 Dugois Ploussard is very exciting with Bing cherry, raspberry and brushy notes. So fresh, it seems ready to drink right now.  A perfect introduction to the variety if you are not familiar. The ploussard ages right near the library so I couldn’t help but poke around and see some of the amazing old bottles in their cellar. Wishful thinking, there are only bottles, no cases.  Unlikely we’ll see some of these in the states (you can see what we currently have here)

One of the important projects of the winery is the exploration of the various terroirs of the grape trousseau. Philippe provided a mini-master class on the variety  He produces four different bottlings and each from a different parcel. Three on different soil types: kimmeridgian, limestone and red marl; and one also planted on red marl that is a sub-variety known as Trousseau a la Dame. There's always something new to learn. Each one was perfectly trousseau but I can see how they are different enough to warrant the individual bottlings. To put it into perspective, Trousseau is also a relatively light colored red usually on the side of light pinot noir but with distinctly floral, herbal and a sauvage character. An ideal pairing with the local smoked and cured meats. We’ll explore these more when a few of them arrive later this year. Oh, and of course he threw in a trousseau blanc, not another varietal but a no skin contact version of trousseau. There is no lack of ingenuity at this winery.   

The classics at Dugois are his expressions aged sous voile: wines aged under a veil (voile) of yeast, similar to the Sherries of Spain.  There are two main distinctions here, however: these are not fortified and they are not elaborated in a solera where fractional blending occurs. The wines are placed in cask, usually one used previously for another Vin Jaune with its residual yeast remaining in the barrel. The wines are never topped off and, for years, evaporation will occur concentrating the flavors and intensifying the wines.  When a wine doesn’t quite make it the full distance (by law Vin Jaune has to age for a minimum six years plus three months to qualify for appellation status) it is bottled as savagnin. Think Sherry with a bit more acidity, but plenty of wild salty notes. The real hero is of course the Vin Jaune. These champion wines are notoriously long lived; some even going 100+ years. 

The long oxygenation process and layer of yeast that forms over the wine serves to inoculate the wines from full oxidation. Nothing is better with the local Comté cheese – one of the world’s great cheeses. Everyone’s in luck, we have a new batch of these arriving shortly.  Hopefully second week of May in all locations. The chardonnays we tasted were ouillé style—meaning topped off—so none of the oxidative characteristics. Pure and fruit filled versions of chardonnay. Aged in barrel but no new wood. Another great place to start if the traditional wines are outside your comfort zone. These drink like village level Burgundies. You can see in his winemaking that Phillipe studied oenology in Beaune.

We had a classic French lunch of charcuterie (all local) and cheeses (of course local). Philippe dug into the cellar (he read my mind!) and pulled out a few really special bottles for us to run through. This is where things get crazy.  Both the reds are light skinned, medium tannin, high acid grapes. Could they stand the test of time? The Ploussard was from 1994, barely showing any bricking (just a little orange around the rim) and the wine had notes of forest floor, cepes, and dried raspberries.  As it opened, fresh strawberry and framboise fruit erupted from the glass! Twenty minutes in and the wine was a shocker. The trousseau was from 1989. The wine is 26 going on 27 and full of life. No signs of oxidation just dried red currants, morel mushrooms and light strawberry notes. The sauvage part of trousseau was here but the minerality was defined. I wish I could have played with this wine for hours. Each taste opened up something new. The local smoked beef was superb with this. How about a 1989 chardonnay? Should be toast right? If you mean, toasty brulée notes with flint, smoke and roasted peach flavors then, yes, it was all here. They sold this wine originally for less than ten euros. How is this possible? The local Morbier cheese and this chardonnay were a defining moment.  Finally we finished with the 1990 savagnin aged sous voile. Salted caramels, roasted walnuts and still bright with acidity.  Didn’t I see some Comté on the cheeseboard?  

So this was the start of my wine tasting day. You can see why I was drawn to work with Domaine Dugois. As I mentioned, we have new arrivals landing soon. I’ve already started preparing our next order for late summer/early fall delivery.  Make sure you get on board here as this is one of my favorite finds and everything is in limited quantities.

-Keith Mabry  

On the Trail