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One winemaker visit always sticks out in my mind. It was a hot morning in July of 2015 when we left the hotel in Arbois bound for the small commune of Saint-Agnès, about a forty-minute drive southwest. Actually most of the days in France in the summer of 2015 were very hot, as tasting the newly-arrived vintages from many regions will attest. The Jura is an incredibly picturesque part of the country, with winding roads weaving through rollicking hills dotted with pastures and vines; you really get a sense that this is indeed an agricultural region. It also happens to be where Geraud and Pauline Fromont – the proprietors of Domaine des Marnes Blanches – live, which was the sole purpose of our visit.
Pulling up to the Fromont’s 200-year-old stone farmhouse, you understand fully that this is a small, family operation. To the left is the main house, with an attached three-story structure that functions as the “cellar” for raising the sous voile wines and also houses a small, but well-appointed tasting room. Down a walkway to the right is a modern outbuilding where they produce their reds and ouillé (topped-up) whites. You are then greeted by two of the sweetest people you will ever meet (unless one of them is busy fixing lunch for their three children), and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to take a drive to see the vines.
The young couple was born and raised here in the Jura, and grew up working on farms that practiced polyculture before starting their estate in 2006, then in their mid-twenties. Geraud and Pauline’s agricultural background no doubt had an influence on their vineyard practices. Upon purchasing their first plot of vines in Cesancey, they quickly began the conversion to organic farming and are now certified by ECOCERT, with all vineyard work being done by hand. The couple now owns ten hectares including holdings in two neighboring villages, Vincelles and Ste-Agnès, where their home is. They named the domaine after the white marl soils in which the vines in Cesancy are planted, though the other parcels have various soil types including red marl and gryphées – limestone rich in fossils. These parcels are vinified separately with native yeasts (some cuvées will be blended before bottling) both in stainless steel tank and neutral barrels of various sizes, with no additives whatsoever, save for a bit of sulfur.
These wines continue to impress me every time I open a bottle, and I don’t see that changing any time soon as these two ambitious winemakers continue to hone their craft. They are clear examples of how well natural wines made in the Jura can convey terroir, without sacrificing the traditional ways of the region. If you’ve been following our mailers for a couple years, you may remember that this is not my first time writing about them. With the way things are going for Geraud and Pauline, it’s safe to say that it won’t be my last. Tim Gagnon
From a parcel of 35-year-old Chardonnay vines planted in limestone-rich soils, the 2015 Les Molates is pure joy to drink. All of their ouillé wines are vinified the same way: direct press into neutral barrels of various sizes for both alcoholic and malolactic fermentation, and spend eighteen months on the lees before bottling with a touch of SO2. It opens with a luscious nose of orange zest, pineapple, juicy green apple, brown spice, honeysuckle, and butterscotch. Full-bodied but not flabby, it is saline and pure with a bright acidity. This is such a pretty wine, and was a standout at a recent lunch with fried Dungeness crab. Tim Gagnon
Made from 100% Chardonnay grown in the same vineyard as Les Molates and fermented entirely in stainless steel before spending twelve to sixteen months on lees, this is a serious first foray into the sparkling wines from Domaine des Marnes Blanches. All of the base wine is from the 2014 vintage and this is the first year that this has been released without dosage. The nose is bright with honeysuckle, mango, and lime flower. On the palate it has a fine mousse with an almost toothsome texture; it is bone dry with hints of marmalade, exotic fruit, and a fresh, zesty acidity. This is simply the perfect apéritif. Tim Gagnon
Now we go a step further: the Fromont’s Crémant Reserve is also 100% Chardonnay, but sourced from a parcel of old vines that was planted in 1955 in soil rich with white marl. The base wine is entirely from the 2013 vintage (all of the base wines they use are single vintage; they do not use reserve wine) and is fermented partially in stainless steel before being racked to neutral barrique. This spends a minimum of 24 months on the lees, and is also bottled with zero dosage. It is stony and deep, with hints of orange peel and blossom; apricots and marzipan come forward with time in the glass. It is more broad and textured on the palate, with orchard fruit, sea salt, and a deep, borderline savory minerality. Long, elegant, and immensely drinkable. Tim Gagnon
The Fromont’s Poulsard is exactly what we love about this grape: incredibly bright red cherry fruit, a funky, savory spice, translucent color, and an incredible depth of flavor. The grapes are hand-harvested and go into stainless steel tanks. Alcoholic fermentation lasts about two weeks with no punchdowns or pumping over and the wine is raised in neutral barrique before being bottled unfined and unfiltered with a small addition of sulfur. This is simply a delicious wine! Tim Gagnon
If I had to choose one grape that embodies the terroir of the Jura region, it would be Trousseau. Unlike Pouslard with its unmistakable visceral charm, Trousseau is less often masked by its innate characteristics. Geraud’s Trousseau vines are planted in marl-heavy soils with a limestone base which gives the finished wine a meatier nose with lifted blackberry, violet, and cool blueberry aromas. The palate is rife with more blackberries and a strong mineral component backed by sturdy, well-integrated tannins. Although I believe that this would be the Fromont’s most age-worthy red, the joy of drinking it with all of its youthful energy still intact is quite special. Tim Gagnon
Perhaps a bit more ripe than last year, the 2015 Pinot Noir is a fairly fruit-forward wine with brambly red raspberries, Bing cherry, pomegranate, and hibiscus notes on the nose. On the palate it is dense with tinges of pepper and minerals, finishing with gobs of red berry fruits and dried red flowers. This is really a treat to drink now and over the next couple of years. Tim Gagnon
Chardonnay sourced from a single parcel of old vines (the same parcel of vines is used to make the Crémant Reserve) in Ste-Agnès planted in white marl. A bit more delicate on the nose than Les Molates, it shows captivating aromas of tropical fruit and a hint of sea breeze. The palate possesses incredible depth and power; more mineral than fruit-forward at first. With time open on the table, it is firing on all cylinders with enticing flavors of lychee, white peach, jasmine, and salty pineapple stalk. Absolutely decant if drinking now, and this will also reward with time in the cellar. Tim Gagnon
Although the 2015 vintage of this wine just became available, we wanted to highlight the 2014 as it is drinking beautifully right now. The Savagnin for this cuvée is sourced from a few different parcels, all of them vinified separately in neutral barrique before being blended together in stainless steel tank before bottling. It has all of the classic lusciousness that Savagnin can offer while also displaying wonderful purity and tension. This wine definitely has the structure to age well, as long as you have the will power! Tim Gagnon
Made from an interesting local strain called Savagnin Muscaté, this is a wine unlike any other Savagnin I’ve had. The vines that provide the fruit for this cuvée are between 57 and 60 years old. Heady and floral on the nose with hints of ripe apricot, and a touch of spice, this almost could be mistaken for an Alsatian wine if it weren’t for Savagnin’s distinctive tropical fruit aromas. Compared to the 2014, it is incredibly broad and pretty on the palate with touch of white pepper and brown spice. Long, floral, and supple, this is a beguiling wine that deserves your attention. Tim Gagnon
For their sous voile wines, Geraud and Pauline Fromont have a separate, three-story cellar that creates an environment conducive to healthy layers of flor. It is dark and humid, with no temperature control, and different levels of humidity on each level influencing the wines in barrel differently. They put the wines in barrel (which are never sulfured) on hot days to assure that the flor develops quickly and they will not be moved again until after a minimum of three years. The Savagnin vines for this cuvée are 45 years old. Much like the 2011, the 2012 Savagnin is classic and precise with an emphasis on balance and freshness. Tropical fruits abound with fenugreek, curry powder, honey-baked walnuts, and saline pears. The palate is sharp and focused with a tangy saltiness and fresh fruit with nuts followed by dried flowers rushing forward on the finish. It is an impressively crafted wine that opens up beautifully at the table and would be perfect with a main course of veal or roasted chicken and also the Comté that will follow! Tim Gagnon
2008 marks the first vintage of Vin Jaune ever produced by Domaine des Marnes Blanches. In short, it is beautiful. The nose is lively, almost ethereal, with aromas of toasted cashew, burnt orange rind, eastern spice, pine, and mango skin. Texturally speaking, it is one of the most interesting Vin Jaunes that I have tasted; it offers exquisite fruit with a touch of smoke on the palate and is lithe, intense, incredibly long, and elegant. Lovers of Vin Jaune, look no further: this is the wine for you. Tim Gagnon