Jura is a small wine region in eastern France which is responsible for some traditional and highly idiosyncratic wine styles. It is close to, but quite distinct from the Swiss Jura.
The region is sandwiched between Burgundy in the west and Switzerland in the east. It is characterized by a landscape of wooded hillsides and the twisting topography of the Jura Mountains.
Jura’s vineyards cover just over 1,850 hectares, forming a narrow strip of land measuring nearly 80 kilometers from north to south. The total acreage is steadily increasing, but still represents less than one tenth of the area under vine here two centuries ago, before phylloxera decimated the region’s vineyards.
Jura’s wines are sold under five core appellations . The most quantitatively important of these are Arbois, Etoile and Côtes du Jura.
Key Jura grape varieties and wine styles
Five main grape varieties used in the region’s wines – three traditional and two more-modern imports. The first of the local varieties is Poulsard (or Ploussard as it is known in the communes of Arbois and Pupillin), a red grape which accounts for about one-fifth of the region’s plantings. Poulsard is used mostly in dry reds, but also in sparkling rose wines.
Trousseau, the other local red variety, requires high sunshine levels to mature properly and covers only the warmest five percent of Jura’s vineyards. It is grown mostly around Arbois, where it produces a small quantity of varietal wines.
White Savagnin (known locally as Nature) is used in all of the region’s appellations. It is responsible for the idiosyncratic vins jaunes (‘yellow wines’). These are long-lived, bone dry wines aged in barrels under a layer of flor/yeast known as le voile.
Vins jaunes may be made under the Arbois (including Arbois-Pupillin), L’Étoile and Côtes du Jura titles appellations. However they are at their best under the more exclusive Château Chalon title.
Along with its unique vin jaune, Jura has been known traditionally for its sweet vin de paille made from dried grapes. They are produced under the same appellations, Château Chalon excepted.
However, despite the relative isolation of the Jura region, Chardonnay has made inroads here, as it has elsewhere in France, and now accounts for nearly half of Jura’s total vineyard. Known locally as Melon d’Arbois and Gamay Blanc, it is most often used to make wines in a fresher, fruitier, modern style.
Sparkling wines have been made here since the 18th century. They are now produced from around 210 hectares (520 acres) of vineyards, under Crémant du Jura, appellation introduced in 1995.
Jura vineyard conditions
The Jurassic period was named after Jura because the region’s limestone mountains are representative of the geological developments which occurred between 145 million and 200 million years ago. Ergo the key soil types here are Jurassic periof limestone and marl.
The name of L’Etoile, the village which is home to one of Jura’s most distinctive appellations, is said to be derived from the star-shaped marine fossils which characterize its limestone-rich soils (etoile is French for ‘star’). Chablis and the upper Loire Valley are built on a similar geological structure.
Jura’s climate is not dissimilar to that of the Côte d’Or, or even southern Alsace, with warm, relatively dry summers and cold winters. The variation between valley and hillside locations is quite pronounced.
While the eastern, more mountainous areas of Jura reach heights above 1,350m, the main wine-growing belt is restricted to the slightly lower-lying land in the west, averaging 300m. The majority of Jura’s vines are planted on south-facing slopes, to make the most of the sunshine in this cool climate.