It’s by no means unheard of for a Burgundian producer to look beyond the hallowed boundaries of their home region when it comes to expanding their vineyard holdings. Land prices in that part of France are astronomical, after all, and who doesn’t relish the challenge of the new? As a result, there’s a well-trodden path that runs between Burgundy and the USA, while Burgundian winemakers have also made forays into Beaujolais, southern France, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and Australia.
It takes a pioneering spirit, however, for a winemaker to head eastwards to Jura, an appellation that’s rich in history but well off the radar for most wine lovers. But that’s exactly what Guillaume d’Angerville decided to do. The story goes that the enterprising d’Angerville, owner of Volnay’s Domaine Marquis d’Angerville, was dining at Paris’s famed Le Taillevent restaurant when he was served a Chardonnay from Jura, blind. So astounded was he by the quality of the wine that he decided to invest in the region.
We didn’t want another vineyard in Burgundy, and we didn’t want to travel too far afield – you can’t make wines by phone
The truth – as ever – is a little more complex. “At the time we were looking to do something outside of Volnay,” says François Duvivier, co-owner and winemaker at the domaine. “We didn’t want another vineyard in Burgundy, and we didn’t want to travel too far afield – you can’t make wines by phone.”
Although both d’Angerville and Duvivier liked what they were tasting, Alsace and the Loire were also in the frame for the new venture. Initially sceptical of Jura, Duvivier began to examine the region’s potential in greater depth, and it wasn’t long before the sense of excitement began to build. As the pair delved deeper, they eventually settled on Jura for a number of reasons – not least the fact that it was a mere hour-and-a-quarter’s drive from Burgundy.
“With the help of a geologist, we began to explore Jura and discovered that there were two great terroirs in the region,” says Duvivier. ‘’There’s a limestone corniche that gives us wines that are quite similar to those of Burgundy, but with more acidity, and there are clay-rich marls that give us wines that have power and an extraordinary minerality.”
By 2012, the decision had been made to invest in Jura, and Domaine du Pélican was born. Named after the bird that features on the town crest of Arbois, the region’s viticultural capital, the domaine began with an investment in five hectares of a vineyard that Duvivier describes as looking more like a cow pasture than a place in which vines thrive. “When our geologist recommended this spot, I had to ask him whether he was completely sure,” laughs Duvivier. “It’s turned out to be our very best parcel: the Grand Curoulet.”
Since then, the biodynamically farmed domaine has grown to harness a further 10 hectares, and diversifying production to create a range of 10 different cuvées and counting. Alongside an Arbois Chardonnay – a linear, pure-fruited assemblage from Pélican’s various parcels – there are two terroir-focused, single-vineyard selections of the Burgundian variety, one from the original north-facing Grand Curoulet, the other from the slightly warmer En Barbi.
There are red wines, too, made from Jura’s three black grape varieties, which are bottled as single varieties and as a blend. “Poulsard makes wines that are extremely pale in colour and low in tannin, but high in perfumed aromas, reminiscent of faded rose petals,” explains Duvivier. “Trousseau gives us spicy, structured wines, and the Pinot Noir in Jura is very vibrant, with great fruit purity, even if it lacks a little in terms of complexity. Blending the three grapes creates that missing complexity.” The trio yield the domaine’s Trois Cépages, its most successful wine.
Arguably, however, the Jura’s signature grape is Savagnin, an ancient white variety that’s ancestral to a diverse portfolio of grapes, including Chenin Blanc, Gruner Veltliner and Sauvignon Blanc. This grape accounts for a significant part of Pélican’s portfolio, where Duvivier plays with its ability to make an extraordinary range of styles. “We started with a Savagnin Ouillé,” says Duvivier of the technique that sees the barrels filled regularly to avoid an oxidative style. “And we have a single-vineyard Savagnin from Grand Curoulet, our best terroir. We’ve also had fun making a Savagnin using a bit of overnight skin contact – the grape has thick, slightly aromatic skins – which gives the wine an exotic character.”
The domaine is now about to release its first vin jaune – a traditional style in which the wine is aged under a veil of flor for at least five years – as well as an oxidative vin de voile. And, to complete the portfolio, there’s a sweet wine on the way. “We’ve left 0.2ha of Savagnin on the vine to make a vendange tardive style this year,” says Duvivier, who was planning to pick these bunches – a mix of botrytised and raisined berries, their flavours concentrated by icy temperatures – in the second week of January.
There’s the imminent arrival of an unusual crémant, too. Instead of adding sugar and yeast to a base cuvée to spark the second fermentation in bottle, Duvivier blended the base wine with the still-fermenting must from the 2019 vintage to create the innovative S0 bottling. Equally atypical is the fact that this Brut Nature fizz is made from 100% Savagnin, rather than the blend of grapes permitted by appellation law – as a result, the wine cannot be labelled as a Crémant du Jura.
It’s clear that Duvivier is enjoying the ferment of experimentation. His only regret is that the wines from Jura don’t attract the attention he feels they merit. “Life is sometimes unfair,” he shrugs. “Jura is better known for its cheese than for its wine. Nevertheless, these are wines of terroir, and great wines at that.”