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Domaine Ganevat, “la Combe,” Rotalier, Jura

Posted by Joe Salamone on March 29, 2011

We’re over a decade into the third millennium, and Jean-François Ganevat is reputed to have no computer. He fulfills orders for his 40-50 different wines (40-50!) by fax machine. And he gets back to people when he wants. We speak from experience:

We had our importer fax some questions over to Jean-François on November 4th. We received an answer from him March 27th.

You could call Ganevat “old school,” but that’s not quite fair. It’s at least true in part, but more than being just old-fashioned, his mentality highlights his strong and uncompromising personality. And that mentality crosses over into the vineyards, and into the wines, too: an approach that produces the most pure and expressive of wines. We appreciate that very much.

Let’s start backwards here, from 2011 and Ganevat’s fax machine and uncompromising nature. Ganevat converted his family’s estate in Rotalier in the Jura to biodynamics in 2006, after returning here from Burgundy in 1998.

The 1990s had seen Jean-François working alongside Chassagne-Montrachet’s Jean-Marc Morey, being introduced while there to a demographic of people passionate about natural wines and site specificity (concepts he clearly took to heart). Prior to that, he’d worked for seven years with his father at the family estate, which has been making wine for five generations, indeed tracing the Ganevat family history here back to 1650. Like many families in the region, the Ganevats had owned vines and a few cows, whose milk they would sell off for Comté. In 1976, Jean-François’ father had decided to focus more on wine.

It was a smart choice, especially considering that the pieces were in place to transform this into a world-class domaine: Some of the vines were planted as early as 1902, with even the Pinot Noir dating to 1950; here, too, were parcels of character-filled heirloom grapes like Petit Beclan, Gueuche and Enfarine (the 17 non-AOC-recognized varietals now go into wines like the J’en Veux) as well as an old and gentle press from the 19th century.

Upon his homecoming, Jean-François took full advantage of the estate’s potential. He now uses the old press for his red wines; he’s expanded the six-hectare domaine to eight and a half, one hectare of which is rented; he translates these varied parcels into the aforementioned plethora of micro-plot cuvées with miniscule yields that see long élevages. So. Who needs computers?

House Style
While many factors stand in line here to make this an outstanding domaine, Ganevat’s work in the vineyard is the real game-changer. In particular his restricting of yields - down to the teens and occasionally even the single digits - is impressive. Ganevat is so conscious in the vineyard that he de-stems his fruit with a reed de-stemmer, and one cuvée per vintage (in 2009 it was the J’en Veux) is entirely de-stemmed by hand, using scissors and leaving just a trace of stem and perfectly intact grapes. It’s a method that Ganevat says pays worthwhile dividends in terms of quality.

The results are wines that can startle in terms of purity, concentration, detail and mineral expression. The results are also, clearly, extremely limited quantities: His red J’en Veux and Poulsard are made in only 100-case batches on average, his Vin Jaune around 50 cases - in a good vintage - and his sweet wines and more obscure cuvées can be made in quantities as tiny as 50-60 liters.

Jean-François converted the domaine to biodynamics in 2006 and tries to use natural tinctures and a minimum of copper sulfate on the vines to combat diseases like rot and powdery mildew. In the winemaking, too, Ganevat is virtually sulfur-free, using only a tiny amount (one or two grams per hectoliter) in his two entry-level Chardonnays, the Florine and En Billats.

Oak influence is decidedly not a factor here, as nearly all of the wines (aside from the Les Vignes de Mon Père and the supremely limited quantity dessert wines, which are done in smaller barrels) are raised in large, used, 500- or 600-liter barrels, with the white wines spending around two years there and the reds about one. Especially uniquely, Ganevat’s Chardonnay Chamois du Paradis sees five years in barrel, while his Savagnin Les Vignes de Mon Père sees up to 11 years.

The red wines chez Ganevat are uniquely vinified using semi-carbonic maceration, à la Beaujolais, and fermented in pyramid-shaped vats that see no intervention. After élevage, the wines are bottled without fining, filtering or the addition of sulfur.

So, what to expect from the wines? There’s very typically an intense amount of density on the palate aligned with powerful acidity, and every unique plot of soil gets to speak up individually through more familiar grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Jura oddities such as Savagnin and Poulsard, and eclectic indigenous varietals that almost no one else on record is still making the effort to cultivate.

Upon opening, Ganevat’s whites can be dominated by some generic qualities of naturally made, low- or no-sulfur wines: orchard fruits, bruised apple skins, etc. But stay tuned: After some time open (give them 45 minutes to an hour), their true varietal character begins to emerge with a clear, undeniable terroir expression: There’s a textured mineral component that mingles with mossy elements and hints of bitter roots and forest floor. The wines also possess bright notes of flowers, marmalade and sweet herbs.

It’s also not unusual for Ganevat’s whites to sometimes show signs of reduction; upon opening, the reds can also often show a touch of this - particularly those from the reduction-prone Poulsard grape, though it’s worth nothing that this quality has seemed to wane with each vintage. Ganevat also bottles with a bit of carbonic gas in his red wines, which helps reduce the oxygen presence in the absence of sulfur; as a result, the reds can also show some carbonic gas, which blows off after opening.

While most of Jura’s famous white wines are known for being made in an oxidative, sous voile (or “under veil”) style - they’re exposed to oxygen as they’re aged in barrels without being topped up - many consider Ganevat’s southern area around the village of Rotalier (he’s in the hamlet of La Combe) to be the best place in the Jura for making non-oxidative white wines. And appropriately, Ganevat focuses a considerable amount of energy on his Chardonnay and Savagnin ouille (non-oxidative).

As a matter of fact, for a while Ganevat considered not making oxidative wines at all, because he felt that too many examples came across as heavy and inelegant. Thankfully, he continued - and continues today - to make sous voile wines that are exemplars in the region, though they’re available only in small quantities. As a case in point, in a good vintage, he makes only 600 bottles of Vin Jaune. One of the ways that Ganevat achieves greater elegance in his oxidized wines is through the use of bigger barrels, which he claims were used in the past in Jura (Burgundy barrels are now favored at most domaines), and by storing the wines in more humid cellars.

Vineyard Sites As previously mentioned, Jean-François Ganevat bottles a dizzying array of cuvées: 40 to 50 in a vintage. Each unique plot of terroir is vinified and bottled separately, most named after family members or designated by little-known lieux-dits, a further few of which ever make it into the U.S. … making it admittedly a bit difficult to keep everything clear.

Below are a few of the most prominent sites (more notes on a few specific wines come after the vineyard descriptions); the rest of Ganevat’s vineyards are near his home and at the foot of the cliff that can be seen on his labels.

Chalasses: Ganevat’s largest site at four hectares, this is comprised of blue marl, which is thought to be the best soil in the Jura for white wines, particularly Savagnin. Ganevat produces his Les Vignes de Mon Père and his Chalasses ouille from this site’s Savagnin Vert, which is the most acidic of the Savagnin clones (there’s also Savagnin Jaune, Gros, Gros Vert, Rosé and possibly others). The vines for the Les Vignes de Mon Père were planted here in 1930.

This site is also home to 0.6 hectares of a special, low-yielding, Jura-specific Chardonnay, Melon-Queue-Rouge, which goes into the Cuvée Marguerite. There is also a large portion of “regular” Chardonnay vines here - though they were planted in 1902, so they’re hardly regular; they make up his Chalasses VV cuvée, which is generally considered Ganevat’s best Chardonnay, his most complete and precisely balanced.

Grand Teppes: Ganevat owns two hectares in this white marl vineyard that was planted in 1919 to Chardonnay. The Grand Teppes Chardonnay is a close second to the Chalasses VV, tending to be bigger, richer and more muscular than that sibling. He’s also growing young-vine, ungrafted Poulsard here, and his Chamois du Paradis cuvée - with its five year élevage - is from Grand Teppes.

Grusse en Billat: The most mineral and direct of Ganevat’s Chardonnays comes from this 1.8ha, clay with schist site, where some Pinot Noir is also planted.

Micheline: This is a vineyard that Ganevat purchased around three years ago; the wines are about to come online.

Below is a rundown of a few of the non-site-named cuvées you might be lucky enough to find, if you’re looking very carefully:

Cuvée Julien: This is Pinot Noir grown on limestone soil, blended with a bit of Pinot from the Grusse en Billat site as well.

L’Enfant Terrible: This is Poulsard grown on white marl. Around 178 cases were made in 2009.

J’en Veux: This is a red wine, though it seems some of its grapes are white, too: It’s blended from 17 different non-AOC-approved indigenous varietals, such as Petit Beclan, Gueuche and Enfarine. In 2009, this cuvée saw the super-attentive partial-stem-removal by scissor, and around 111 cases were made.

Oregan: This is a topped-up, 50/50 blend of Chardonnay from Grands Teppes and Savagnin from Chalasses.

Cuvée Marguerite: The “Melon-Queue-Rouge” is an ancient variety of very low-yielding Chardonnay that’s typical of the Jura, here planted on marl in the Chalasses site. It’s all but disappeared due to its small grapes with tiny yields: e.g. 8 hl/ha in 2008.

Compared to Ganevat's other Chardonnays, Marguerite shows both slightly rounder and more exotic fruit along with an undertow of sweet herbs and medicinal root elements - a subtle yet distinct Chartreuse backdrop that complicates the fruit.

Les Vignes de Mon Père: As mentioned above, this is made of Savagnin Vert, planted in 1930 on the blue marl of the Chalasses site. It’s a topped-up cuvée, bottled and released in three waves, drawing the wine from three separate 228-liter barrels: The first after 96 months (eight years), the second after 115 months (nine and a half years) and the third after 130 months (almost 11 years) - each one receives no fining, no filtering and no sulfur as it goes into bottle.
The last one we tasted was from the 1999 vintage and was the vintage’s third and final release. Despite its being topped-up, the wine does demonstrate some oxidative characteristics… in part because of the long, sulfur-free élevage, and in part because in 2007 Ganevat ran out of the wine he’d set aside to fill up the barrels.

Cuvée Prestige: This wine comes from batches of sous voile Savagnin that were marked for Vin Jaune but were “declassified” (if you will) to Prestige.

Cuvee de Gard: This 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin is aged under veil.

Vin de Paille: Ganevat makes this sweet “straw wine” from Savagnin, Chardonnay and Poulsard only in the best years from grapes that are dried in order to concentrate their juice. Quantities are wildly limited.

Sul’Cul: This is a late-harvest wine made from 100% Savagnin, a rare sibling to the even rarer family members of Ganevat’s other sweet wines that are so limited, they’re practically mythical.

Cremant de Jura “Oh”: Ganevat’s sparkler that, unusual for most Cremants, comes from a single parcel. All Chardonnay. Made using methode traditionelle (also known as methode champenoise.)


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