Would you believe that sitting in some barrels in the half of the building beside us that we wouldn’t let my mother-in-law call her “house”, we have what is now legally and officially called “wine”. Believe me, the surprise is mutual. Last email I promised to tell you a little bit of the process and thinking behind how we came to make it in the way that we have, but first I need to set a little bit of context around how wine is normally made here, with its traditions both admirable and dim-witted:
Jess at the Lasseube vineyard, complete with “Nice to Meet You”, the vineyard dog!
Jurancon sells nearly all of its production in France, and most of that within the local region, where it is drunk as a sweet aperitif to accompany charcuterie and sheeps’ cheese before a meal.
- Jurancon Sec is still seen as a modern invention to suit the Paris bourgeoisie. As no Parisiens know their Ossau Iraty from their Brebis (that’s a*se from elbow in french), the local producers mostly make their Jurancon Sec from the early picked and generally inferior grapes. Most Jurancon Sec is 100% Gros Manseng picked at pretty large yields (and its still not bad!). The Petit Manseng is picked at roughly half the yield much later in the harvest and is reserved mostly for the Jurancon moelleux cuvees. Having said this, sales of Jurancon Sec are currently growing way faster than their sweet counterparts, so lots of vignerons are beginning to reconsider their priorities.
- As a relatively small winemaking area, there are only really two commonly used winemaking consultants, so most wines are made according to one or others’ favourite regime. Therefore a lot of the wines taste relatively similar. Those that don’t use those consultants usually make it in the same way their father or grandfather did, not exactly with a whole lot of rational analysis as to why they do what they do.
- Winemaking itself typically consists of the following:
- handpicking in late September or early October.
- grapes come from one vineyard in one subregion
- no sorting
- pressing in an inflatable bag press (easy to clean, quick, good yields, reasonably good quality)
- settling of the gross lees (muck from the grapes and some proteins and other solids released during pressing) at room temperature overnight
- alcoholic fermentation in stainless steel tanks
- no malolactic fermentation (not needed with gros manseng as acidity is relatively normal)
- fining if required
- filtering before bottling. Bottling usually in February or March following the vintage.
This results in what I would personally say was a really good everyday white wine. Not special, but miles better than most wines you come across. However, its not what we want to make. We are doing the following:
Foot-treading allows the basket to be filled with more grapes, cutting down pressing time and reducing potential oxidation. Its also great exercise, which is why I’m not doing it.
- My interest in sweet aperitifs is equal to my love of watching Jeremy Kyle, or eating brussel sprouts. They exist, but I’d prefer if they didn’t. So we are only making a dry wine.
- We love Jurancon Sec when it is made with at least a proportion of Petit Manseng. It is richer, more complex, higher acid, and longer in flavour than when not present.
- We have decided not to use any consultants to help make our wine. This has made it a little bit scary, but we know loads of different winemakers around the world due to our backgrounds, so we have widely borrowed some ideas and techniques from different places, and asked way too many questions of them when we have a problem.
- Our winemaking has been the following:
- handpicking of 100% petit manseng in mid to late October
- hand picked from two totally different terroirs – Monein where the grapes are rich, ripe and unctuous, and Lasseube where the grapes are fresh, mineral and focussed. These will be kept separate until blending before bottling next year.
- we appear to be the only people in the whole region who do berry sorting before pressing. Frankly I’m shocked by this, but we havent found anyone else at all who does it.
- Treading of the grapes by foot (to speed up pressing) followed by pressing in a basket press. This is horribly slow, leads to poorer yields, is a nightmare to clean, but gives fantastic quality of juice.
- Cold settling of the gross lees for 2 days
- alcoholic fermentation in 2-4 year-old oak barrels. The barrels came from two bordeaux estates, one a world famous Medoc Grand Cru Classé making dry whites, the other possibly the most reputed estate in the world, making Sauternes.
- We have just started malolactic in 2 barrels. We are hoping this will add a little additional complexity and mellowness to the end wine.
- We are hoping to be able to bottle without fining and filtration. There is a good chance we will need a light filtration at bottling to make sure it is totally clear, but lets wait and see.
- Bottling will be whenever it tastes right, probably next summer.
Now frankly, we don’t really know if how its going to turn out, but so far so good:
Still cloudy from fermentation, but weirdly, it actually tastes pretty good, to my evident surprise!
The next step, whilst we wait for the wine to complete its élevage is to have a little think about what to call it and how to label it.
All I will say is that I’m really, really annoyed that my first choice has already been taken by another wine:
Do you reckon anyone did any market testing with this name before putting it on the label?
Right, I’m off to cut up some big trees. Next time it will be either sulphur and lees management, or following a fermentation and elevage in the lab. Stay tuned!