Stephane Tissot: Redefining the possible in the wild Jura

Stephane Tissot: Redefining the possible in the wild Jura

Bonjour d’une boule d’energie qui ne connait pas le mot quitter,

                 One week ago Thursday, I spent a misty morning with the one-of-a-kind bundle of non-stop positive energy that is Stephane Tissot of tiny Montigny les Arsures in the Jura mountains.   Located roughly 60 miles east of Burgundy’s town of Beaune, the beginnings of the Alps rise up on the same eras of limestone bedrock found throughout the Cote d’Or.  However, the closer proximity to the mountains caused there to be greater irregularity and inversion of the several layers of limestone bedrock, forcing the rock ABOVE the clay/decomposed limestone blend that is referred to as marne.  In Burgundy it is fairly consistently the opposite, with the limestone BELOW the marne.  Additionally, the vast majority of Burgundy’s  vineyards are E/SE/NE facing on a single sloped hillside, whereas in the Jura there is a huge variety of little rolling hills and slopes that have exposure in every which direction, with soils types changing at the drop of a hat from limestone dominant to clay dominant, and different varieties of clay and limestone at that.  Both the image above, with Stephane explaining the rock-above-mud factor, and the map below, detailing the blue stripes which are layers of limestone bedrock surfacing in both the Cote d’Or and the Jura, help illustrate these aspects of their shared yet unique geologies.
                After decades of languishing in relative obscurity, interest in the Jura’s wild potential has exploded thanks to the ground breaking wines made by Tissot, Overnoy, Ganevat, among a few others.  Stephane is without a doubt one of the pioneering chieftans in take-no-prisoners, terroir first, quality first biodynamic farming in the region.  He continues to push the envelope by favoring crazy dense plantings of up to 27,000 vines per hectare (a la Lamy’s Haute Deniste plantings), raising red wines in different types of amphora jars, going deeper in single vineyard parcellary selection, and limiting yields to levels that would make Grandpa not only blush but cry.  The vast majority of their holdings are in old massale selection vines, sort of like self propagated heirloom varieties.  The breadth of his production is impressive, including some of the greatest values in bubbly wine in the world, an amazing array of electric single vineyard Chardonnays, traditional oxidative Savagnin based wines, Vin de Paille dessert wines, AND a host of reds made with Poulsard, Trousseau, and Pinot Noir.   One could never fault him for not leaving it all on the field, as we say in the States…….
                The morning of our meeting, we raced around his bustling winery at a breakneck pace, Stephane shouting to his team in stride about what tasks are on the docket, while he grabbed a small mountain of samples to taste.  I asked him, “How many coffees do you have in a day?.”  He replied with a wry grin, “None.  I don’t like coffee.”  I was amazed, to say the least, because he operates at such a high gear, pedal to the metal, that I assumed it had to be chemically assisted.  But that’s just how he is, sun up to sun down, animated by a very special kind of passion and drive.  A non-stop dense bundle of positive energy, he is.
                We had an amazing tour of the vineyards, again at breakneck pace, where all of the geological qualities so essential to understanding the diversity of the Jura were laid plain to bare.  Of particular note is his incredible Grand cru site of the Clos de la Tour de Curon, a majestic steep hilltop vineyard planted on pure limestone bedrock with the iconic slender Tower of Curon perched at its summit.  You can palpably sense it, oozing a Grand cru aura of this-is-a-very-special-place.  And after tasting the wine, HOLY HOLY HOLY, it is INSANELY good.  I cannot encourage you enough to check this out if Grand cru caliber Chardonnay with a jaw-dropping, hyper-implosive sense of minerality is up your alley.  This is truly one of the greatest Chardonnays in the world, roughly four barrels made per year.
 “Among the especially noteworthy sites recently developed by Tissot is his Clos de la Tour de Curon, situated right below the eponymous tower once reputed to mark the best site in the commune of Arbois. The vines – based on old selections massales, and just coming up on ten years – are trained to single posts; densely planted to resemble a Mosel or Cote Rotie slope; and reduced to just 2-3 clusters each. ” 
“Tissot’s Chardonnay plantings favor selections massale and the local melon a queue rouge variant rather than latter-day Burgundian clones; the selection planted at the Tour de Curon representing in his words “all the variants of Chardonnay you can have in the Jura, including 4% ‘Chardonnay Musque.’” – David Schildknecht 
                   What follows is an offering of my personal favorite selections among his bubblies, as well as the full monty of his single vineyard Chardonnays.  I have left out the traditional oxidative styled Vin Jaune wines as well as the reds.  If you have any particular interest, i’d be happy to secure some for you, minimum of 3 bottle quantities; inquire if so.   I think that it is useful to think of each of the single vineyard Chardonnays as 1er cru in quality, with the Curon being a Grand cru.  Certainly if tasted blind, these would cause quite an uproar if tasted alongside even the most electric wines of the Cote de Beaune or Chablis.  I’ve never seen or heard of an offering of this breadth, and am thrilled to be able to present the full diversity of his work, all at the best prices ever to be seen stateside.  Take my advice, mix up a case of the parcellary Chardonnays.  They will rock your world.
A thought from wine-geek-supreme David Schildknecht:
” Stephane Tissot has become the best-known face of his region internationally (exports are now up to half of production), and in their combination of clarity and immediate appeal with intrigue, it would be hard to find either a person or wines more suited to that role.”
Bubblies (representing 30% of his total production):
Cremant du Jura Extra brut $22 – From both clay/limestone soils, this had me salivating instantly with intensely chalky/calcaire saltiness allied to a very suave fine mousse.  In complexity and sheer deliciousness, this is a quality/price superstar.  A case buy no-brainer.  50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 5% Poulsard, 5% Trousseau.   
David Schildknecht’s review of the L09 disgorgement:
“Tissot’s non-vintage Cremant du Jura Brut L09 is not merely a recent installment in his long-running streak of distinctly delicious and encouragingly affordable non-vintage methode champenoise bottlings, but represents the introduction of this region’s two best-known indigenous dark grapes – Poulsard and Trousseau (albeit to the tune of only around 5% each) – into the classic blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The strong sense of red and black fruits here – indeed, the wine seems like one huge bowl of juicy, subtly CO2-saturated berry juices – is surely one result of that experiment. A soft mouth feel underlies the fizz, and the mere three grams of residual sugar dosage seems entirely appropriate to so fruit-forward and texturally flattering a sparkler. A hint of citrus enlivens a modest finish. This should be enjoyed in its youth.”
Cremant du Jura BBF (Blanc de Blancs en Fut) $29 – The digorgement offered here is a blend of 75% 2008 vintage aged in barrel, 25% 2009 vintage aged in tank.  It is deeeelicious, with both good fruit richness and salty cut, with impressive textural sophistication.  It is on my very very short list for best quality price bubbly that i’ve yet known….crazy limited, i’ll see what I can get.
Here is David Schildknecht’s review of the 2005/2006 blend, just as a point of reference:
“The three large initials on the label of Tissot’s non-vintage Cremant du Jura Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs BBF L05-06-1 – another new project – stand for “blanc de blancs eleve en fut,” in this instance older barrique. Based on vintage 2005 plus 25% of tank-fermented 2006, but only recently disgorged when I tasted it in November, this displays a lovely balance of toasted grain with fresh apple and lemon, mouthwateringly tinged with salt and chalk and delightfully wreathed in diverse flowers. As in other of the best sparkling wines of this estate, there is an impressive alliance of textural polish to finely-integrated mousse. Faintly bitter and smoky notes from lees autolysis add further interest to the lingering finish of this beauty, which will probably be worth following from bottle for at least a couple of years. Tissot’s plan is to release a BBF each year that similarly and with overlap reflects a pair of vintages, so that the 2012 release will represent 2006 blended with a small share of 2007.” 91 points for the 2005/2006 blend.
Cremant du Jura Indigene blanc MAGNUM $59 – From uniquely indigenous yeasts, with the pre-alcoholic fermentation fresh juice of the next vintage used as dosage for the secondary fermentation.  I could only source 12 bottles of this in Magnum, but it is not to be missed!!!! 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 5% Poulsard, 5% Trousseau.   
Here is Schildknecht’s review of the ’08 based disgorgement:
“Tissot’s vintage 2008-based non-vintage Cremant du Jura Brut Indigene L09 represents the latest in a series about whose inaugural installment I raved in Issue 184, whereby neither sugar nor commercial yeasts are utilized for either the primary or secondary fermentations; the latter is induced by the addition of a sweet wine; and the wine’s low finished residual sugar is that which remained from its secondary fermentation. The initial blend was identical to that of the corresponding “regular” Brut, having for the first time on this occasion included small amounts of Poulsard and Trousseau with the usual Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Once again, we are presented with a refined performance in which fresh red currant and black raspberry; toasted grains; and subtle citrus are tinged with nutmeg, chalk, and salt, and a succulent, velvety yet finely-pearling palate impression leads to a mouthwateringly savory finish that goes dramatically – and given their nearly identical raw material, surprisingly – far beyond what’s offered by the corresponding basic brut. Enjoy this excellent value over the next couple of years.” 90 points for the ’08 based disgorgements

2013 Arbois Chardonnay Patchwork $23 – This is the new name for the cuvee traditionally called the Classique.  From a blend of 5 or 6 parcels, blending the qualities of clay dominant and limestone dominant soils, vines averaging 30 years old.  As an intro to Jura Chardonnay, I can’t really think of better examples.  Instensely chalky, with the weight of a good 1er cru Chablis with a different Jura register of savory tones.  A no brainer crazy value.   

Schildknecht’s review of the 2010 version, as a point of reference:
“All of the mere three acres of Tissot’s extensive Chardonnay plantings that are in clones (as opposed to selections massales) find their way into what he calls (but doesn’t label as) his “cuvee classique,” and the corresponding 2010 Arbois Chardonnay Classique had only just been bottled when I tasted it 13 months after its harvest. Delivering generous, succulent, pure fresh apple and lemon mingled with nut oils and subtly tinged with smoke, musk, sweat, lard, toasted grain and salt, this ample yet lithe bottling (like all Tissot Chardonnay’s vinified entirely in barriques or demi-muids, here 10% new) is anything but simple, yet simply delicious. A fine introduction to the wiles of Jura Chardonnay, it will drink well and even evolve interestingly for at least three years. A bottle that had been opened for two days was still utterly fresh-tasting, though favored more of those characteristics one can only call “mineral,” and uncorked Tissot Chardonnays can often remain delightful for a week.” 89 points for the 2010 version
2012 Arbois Chardonnay Les Bruyeres $35 – From black Triassic clay, this was a knockout, and a wow! welcome to the 1er cru tier of his wines.    This ’12 was electric finesse.  It had both richness and intense salty cut, a complete and compelling wine.  WOW. 
Schildknecht’s review of the 2010 version, as a point of reference:
“From a site featuring heavy, particularly sticky Triassic clay, Tissot’s 2010 Arbois Chardonnay Les Bruyeres was still slightly reduced and gaseous when I last tasted it. It displays pronounced fruit pit bitterness allied to bright lemon and wreathed in musky floral perfume. Firm and compact, this rather backward wine is notable for its sheer finishing penetration – albeit with persistently bitter as well as smoky notes (which Tissot seeks to assure me are typical for Bruyeres Chardonnay at this stage) – and will almost certainly have a lot more to say for itself by the time it is released late this year, as well as be worth following from bottle for a half dozen or more.” 88-90+ points
2012 Arbois Chardonnay La Mailloche $35 – From lighter colored Liassic clay, named after a parcel resembling a large hammer or Mailloche.  This was again a jaw dropper.  In matiere, or palate staining dry extract and flavorstuff, this had me googley eyed.  It got a star and a !!! Super pure, both explosive in flavor impact and implosive in mineral mass depth.  My goooodness. 
Schildknecht’s review of the 2009:
“The Tissot 2009 Arbois Chardonnay La Mailloche is memorably and pungently redolent of resin, fresh ginger, roux, nutmeg and incense as well as allusions to fresh pear and apple that then form the basis of a juicy and, by vintage standards, unusually bright though full and richly textured palate. Savory salinity and suggestions of stone add further complexity to a long, vibrant finish.” 91 points
2012 Arbois Chardonnay Gravieres $35 – From a blend of 6 vineyards selected to highlight limestone dominant soils.  In aroma and flavor, the mineral explosiveness is even more evident, and the wine more finessed/svelte in texture.  
Schildknecht’s review of the 2010:
“Assembled already before the 2011 harvest but last tasted by me from tank because it was not due for bottling until this March, Tissot’s 2010 Arbois Chardonnay Les Graviers – from vines of 55 years average age in five parcels that share abundance of rock and high active lime – delightfully combines a sense of almost sweet ripeness with animal, mineral, and floral nuances. Fresh apple laced with honey and bacon fat and wreathed in musky, narcissus-like perfume inform an intriguing nose and a caressing yet delicate palate transparent to saliva-inducing notes of smoke, salt, iodine, and chalk. This long-finishing cuvee ought to prove versatile and well worth following for half a dozen or more years, as well as good value.” 90-91 points
2012 Arbois Chardonnay En Barbaron $35 – From 25km further south than the majority of his holdings, in the Chateau Chalon area.  Mostly clay, with some limestone.  This has richness, cut, savory, salty, in an evidently aristocratic frame.  Classy.
Schildknecht’s review of the 2010:
” Tasted assembled in tank, whence it was not due to have been bottled any sooner than this spring, the Tissot 2010 Cotes du Jura Chardonnay En Barberon delivers a fascinating and head-turning amalgam of citrus, apple, and resinous herbs, with saliva-inducing, sweet and saline savor that seems to marry elements of oyster liquor and fresh scallop. Grown in the commune of Brery on chalky soils reminiscent of those in Chateau Chalon, this Chardonnay of refined texture, subtly complex, and combining richness with lift, is likely to merit a decade if not longer attention span.” 91-92 points
2012 Arbois Chardonnay Clos de la Tour de Curon $99 – I don’t know quite what to say but WOW.  The same type and era of limestone as one finds on the Corton hill in Burgundy.  The vines now more than a decade old, the implosive mineral mass of this wine is INSANE.  Pure dense calcaire, aka limestone.  A long decant is definitely needed as this is so dense in material that it needs air to uncoil.  As compelling a white wine as any in recent memory.  The vines are like an ultimate heirloom variety collection of Chardonnays, incredibly diverse.  This will be a delight to see evolve!!!  
Schildknecht’s review of the 2008:
“The Tissot 2008 Arbois Chardonnay Clos de la Tour de Curon smells of musk and sweat as well as grapefruit and plum distillate. Bright and gripping, dense but infectiously juicy, it then delivers an almost kaleidoscopic as well as dynamic interaction of fruit with animal and mineral elements, including shrimp shell reduction, check stock, and oyster liquor. Positive bitterness of fruit pit adds a sort of cyanic afterglow to the vibrant finish (only it isn’t life-threatening ;-). To further enhance the riveting experience of this bottling, insert it into a tasting with top-notch premier cru Chablis of its vintage … but then make sure to play around with it at the dinner table, too. I predict (especially considering the youthful contemporaneous showing of the inaugural 2004 Tour de Curon, on which see my tasting note in this report) that this 2008 will remain exciting for another decade.” 94 points
I cannot overstate how incredible this guy’s work is.  Even though i’ve only met him once, my guts tell me everything that I need to know: that he is a salt-of-the-earth devotee to his homeland with the most profound respect for Nature.  He is a passionate and charismatic leader and proponent of these values, dramatically shifting the perception of the region as a whole.  People like Stephane, and his lovely family, deserve every bit of support and success that comes their way.  I’m thrilled to be able to include him on the Down to Earth All-Star Team.
Wines are offered here during a one-week presell at the best prices you will ever see nationally, if not globally, after which pricing will rise 10-15%.  Wines are slated to arrive in late December ’14/early January ’15.  Once confirmed, payment due in full via check or CC+%.

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