Wines by Region / Jura / Côte de Jura / Domaine Labet
While tasting, Julien told us he had studied at Domaine Ramonet in Chassagne-Montrachet and Hamilton Russell Winery in South Africa (both damn good references). He then came back to the family domaine to help make his father's wines, and was given 3 hectares of his own to play with and make wines with his own name on the label. It seems Alain was happy to let Julien exert some of his knowledge and passion on the family business, but not on all of the wines. After all, the local market was used to the taste and price of the wines they have produced for years, and the French market was and is essential for the domaine’s survival. In fact, the whole family depended on the income, as Julien's brother Romain (who has since been given full control of the vineyards) and sister Charlene (also a trained oenologist) were also employed by their parents
Julien started pulling more corks. It seemed like we weren't going to be looking for a hotel immediately. We tasted Troussaud, Poulsard and Pinot for red wines, a Rosé Crémant, the rarely-seen Macvin, and the wonderfully rich Vin de Paille, amongst others. What an unexpected pleasure this tasting was turning out to be! Josie Labet came down the stairs and laid a cutting board on the table, covered with saucisson sec and comté cheese, both regional specialties. As we nibbled, Julien spoke.
Domaine Labet Fleur de Savagnin “En Chalasse”
Savagnin more than 40 years old, from sélections massales. Planted at 260 meters, with a west-facing slope on blue clay and bajocien limestone. The wine is a deep straw-yellow color. The nose is packed with ripe fruit like Meyer lemon, but balanced by its toasty notes. On the palate, though the citrus notes are still there, they are joined by notes of dried fruit, even some mango, and a pleasant minerality
Domaine Labet Chardonnay “Les Champs Rouges”
Called Champs Rouges because it comes from a 1.3-hectare parcel of red clay atop a bedrock of Bajocian limestone. Only indigenous yeasts used for fermentation, and it then undergoes 12 months of aging on its lees in 3- to 4-year old oak barrels (and topped up). Ripe apple and exotic curry spice aromas, and on the palate a creamy lemony flavor is balanced out by an almost crunchy minerality. One of Labet’s finest topped-up wines.
The Labet Vineyards
Everything Julien said on that enlightening day is still true today, now that his parents have officially retired and fully given the reins to their 3 children (with Julien at the winemaking helm). Now, as then, the family owns 13 hectares of vines in the small town of Rotalier, in the southern part of Jura not far from Lons le Saunier. It's an area more known for Chardonnay than Savagnin. The domaine is only 15 minutes south of Château Chalone (the small appellation known for its top-quality Vin Jaune).
One-third of the Labet vines are over 60 years of age. The majority of the vines come from old massal selections. Depending upon the parcel and vintage, the yields vary between 20 and 40 hl/ha (1.5 to 3 tons per acre). The fruit is hand-harvested and there is a manual sorting before pressing.
Natural Principles of Viticulture
Now that Julien has fully taken over the winemaking for both his own label wines and the traditional domaine label wines, he has been able to truly run with the beliefs to which he feels so committed. While the domaine’s vineyards were not originally certified organic, even the more traditional Alain had always worked them respectfully and with the minimum possible chemical intervention. Julien, being of the younger generation and wanting to take the organic concept even further, gradually converted the 3 hectares he had been given to organic farming, receiving Ecocert certification for that parcel in 2010. Now that he and his two siblings have taken over the entire family domaine, these 3 hectares are incorporated into it, and they are passionately pursuing the conversion (and eventual certification) of all the holdings to organic farming.
Meanwhile, Labet has always attempted and continues to attempt to work as naturally as possible. No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used, and only organic compost is plowed into the soils. With the older vines, only a horse is used for this work. Most of the vines are from pre-clonal stock (sélections massales) and the yeasts are always indigenous.
For the reds, it is pretty straightforward (for Julien Labet, that is!): the grapes are either fully or partially de-stemmed, depending on the vintage. The Pinot Noir and Trousseau are aged in barrels, while the Poulsard is aged in ancient foudres. They are bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Labet Blancs – Two Jura Styles
As in the case of many Jura producers, the whites are made in two distinctive styles.
The first style of wines (and the majority of Labet’s wines) are topped-up and made in a more modern style in which oxidation is prevented. Labet’s wines made in this style are in the line called Fleurs. The objective with this line is to transmit an original expression of the vine, the grape, the terroir and the climate. "We like to trust our intuition," Julien says. "But we also feel that tradition includes experiences that the present should feed on." With these wines, all plots are vinified separately. The fermentations are long and at a low temperature. The wine is raised on its fine lees in 228-liter barrels that vary between 4 and 15 years old. The upbringing of the whites depends largely on what the vintage presents and the parcel—there really is no recipe. The lees-stirring is not systematic, nor is the amount of time the wine will spend in barrel.
The second style is the traditional or oxidized style (vin de voile). These wines come from various parcels that are blended together. Only indigenous yeasts are used for their fermentations, which takes place at a low temperature in ancient foudres. In the spring, the foudres are racked and the wine is placed into very old 228-liter barrels. The wines are not topped up, something that encourages the development of a yeast veil (voile) which hovers over the surface of the wine. This method of aging helps prevent the wrong type of oxidation (which would convert the wine into vinegar), and instead allows it to develop an original bouquet that includes curry, hazelnut and walnut—aromas historically well known in the Jura.
Both styles are vinified using only indigenous yeasts and are bottled unfined and unfiltered with no to minimal sulfur added.
One meets many producers while traveling along the wine trail. But as the years pass and one tastes more and more wine, it's rare for the lightbulb to flash when tasting an assortment of wines for the first time. That night in 2008 in Rotalier was one of those lightbulb nights—suddenly the dark cellar was becoming brighter as each wine was poured into our glasses. I cut myself some saucisson and grabbed a hunk of cheese. Julien poured another wine into my extended glass. I wasn't thinking about the time, or finding a hotel that night, anymore. I felt perfectly fine right where I was.
Domaine Labet Chardonnay/Savagnin
60-70% Chardonnay and 30-40% Savagnin, depending on the vintage. Vines are between 30 and 60 years old. A blend of various parcels planted on marne. Aged under the veil in old 228-liter barrels for between 24 and 48 months.
Domaine Labet Crémant du Jura Rosé
The Crémant de Jura appellation was established in 1995, and its wines are made like Champagne, with a secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle. Labet’s Crémant Rosé is made with pure Pinot Noir, fermented in 228-liter barrels. Skin contact takes place for 4 or 5 days, until the desired color is acquired. The wine then rests on its fine lees for 8 months and undergoes a full malolactic fermentation. It is given some liqueur d'expedition (yeast and sugar) and then bottled, and the interaction of these two causes the secondary fermentation to take place in bottle. After 24 months, the bottles are riddled over a period of 3 weeks and finally disgorged, given a small dosage and corked.
Aromas of red fruits and ripe apples jump from the glass, and on the palate there is a hint of dried raspberries or strawberries along with some earthier notes. An extremely food friendly wine, this gives rosé Champagne a run for its money.
Domaine Labet Vin de Paille
Vin de Paille (straw wine) is a specialty of the Jura. This one is a blend of Chardonnay, Savagnin and Poulsard from various parcels, from vines between 30 and 60 years old. The exact blend varies according to the conditions of the vintage. The top grapes are harvested and aged in a dry, third-floor attic on straw mats for 4 to 5 months. After the grapes are pressed (with sugar levels between 340 and 420 grams per liter) they are fermented with indigenous yeasts in well-seasoned 228-liter casks. Fermentation is long, lasting anywhere from 6 to 18 months. The resultant vin liquoreux is about 14.5% alcohol and has a residual sugar content of between 100 and 180 grams per liter.
Candle wax and citronella candle, with a lovely, citrusy acidity that livens up this full-bodied wine.
Domaine Labet Macvin
Cognac has Pineau des Charentes, Armagnac has Floc de Gascogne and Calvados has Pommeau de Normandie, and the Jurassic version is called Macvin du Jura. Here, producers use a blend of 2/3 unfermented juice which is muted with a third Marc (the distilled lees and the French equivalent to grappa). This prevents the fermentation of the sugars and stabilizes the alcohol at 18%. It is then aged in well-seasoned 228-liter casks and is most commonly drunk as an apéritif.
A unique tasting experience for anyone who loves wine and spirits. The entry is a bit fiery, which is somewhat deceptive as what comes next is a mouthful of dried apricot, a slight minty note, and a round and nutty finish that seems to go on forever. Must be tasted to be believed.