The Charming Jura Wines of Domaine Pêcheur
It’s tempting to exoticize the wines of the Jura: a land that time forgot, planted to idiosyncratic varieties, aged in offbeat ways, and so forth. (I’ve certainly put forth such notions in my proselytizing efforts over the years!) But, to those rooted here, the wines of the Jura are simply… wines. To be sure, non-stringent appellation controls and an overriding outsider spirit make the Jura a hotbed of experimentation, but plenty of talented growers here produce lovely wines which convey their unique terroir without attendant renegade flair.
Christian and Patricia Pêcheur exude an infectious warmth each time we visit them in their sleepily picturesque home village of Darbonnay, serving their wines and showing off their magnificent Château-Chalon cellar with a combination of refreshing frankness and joy. Christian’s parents established Domaine Pêcheur in 1976 with just two hectares in Passenans, in the Côtes du Jura, and Christian and Patricia have expanded to just shy of eight hectares since assuming control of the domaine in 1992. If their wines lack the auteur-like majesty of Puffeney’s or the brazen wildness of Gahier’s, they compensate with directness and accessibility; these are lovable wines that provide ample pleasure and constitute easy entry-points into the region’s vinous treasure.
Christian and Patricia farm without the use of chemical herbicides or pesticides, and their cellar work is unglamorously straightforward: natural fermentations in steel, and aging in well-used but sound oak barrels. The Pêcheurs’ vines are between 35 and 50 years old on average, with the Chardonnay and most of the Savagnin planted in pebbly dolomitic limestone, and the Poulsard, Trousseau, and Pinot Noir planted in red marlstone soils; the Savagnin destined for the fabled Château-Chalon is planted in the distinctive blue-grey marlstone of that appellation. Their gentle hand in the cellar produces wines of elegance, transparency, and digestibility, and even their long-aged sous-voile wines convey an appealing lightness of touch.
2020 Côtes du Jura Poulsard
The Pêcheurs’ limpid, delicious Poulsard verges on rosé in color, yet delivers plenty of jammy strawberry and cherry, underpinned by a tender minerality. From 25-year-old vines in the Champs Rouge vineyard in Passenans, it is destemmed entirely and spends a year aging in a combination of stainless steel and used 600-liter oak casks.
2020 Côtes du Jura Trousseau
Displaying a variety-typical greater depth of fruit and breadth of structure compared to the Poulsard above, Pêcheur’s Trousseau nonetheless offers easy drinkability and effortless balance, its cherry and plum fruit augmented by a hint of licorice. This is aged entirely in used demi-muids after a spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel, and bottled just before the following harvest.
2020 Côtes du Jura Pinot Noir
Fermented in steel and aged entirely in used barrels like the Trousseau above, the Pêcheurs’ Pinot Noir combines varietal silkiness and delicacy with a hint of the Jura’s telltale mineral twang; and, as with all the domaine’s red wines, it impresses with balance and freshness rather than depth of color or richness of structure.
2019 Côtes du Jura “Cuvée des Trois Cépages”
As its name implies, this wine combines the Jura’s three main red varieties Poulsard, Pinot Noir, and Trousseau in roughly equal proportions. Tactile, scrumptious red fruit gets a bit of punch from the Trousseau and a bit of suaveness from the Pinot Noir, offering an excellent sense of tension on the palate.
2018 Côtes du Jura Chardonnay
From 35-year-old vines in Mont Royal, Grand Vaux, and Chanet planted in dolomitic limestone, Pêcheur’s Chardonnay spends two full years in used barrels with no topping up after a spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel. Gently oxidative without displaying the full thrust of the voile, this maintains a vibrant sense of acidity and a well-articulated minerality.
2017 Côtes du Jura Blanc “Cuvée Spéciale”
A step up in oxidative complexity from the Chardonnay above, the Pêcheurs’ “Cuvée Speciale” combines roughly equal parts Savagnin and Chardonnay, neither of which are topped up during their three-year stint in well-used barrels. Despite its wealth of sea-salt minerality and marzipan-like voile character, this maintains a sense of poise and prettiness—very much in the overall style of the house.
Also available: 2012 “Cuvée Spéciale” library release (highly limited)
2016 Côtes du Jura Savagnin
The domaine’s pure Savagnin, from the dolomitic blue limestone soils of the Mont Royal, Grand Vaux, and Chanet vineyards, offers a gentler take on the sous-voile version of this legendary variety than those of Arbois or L’Étoile. Aged three years in old barrels with no topping up, it presents flavors of Indian curry and yellow fruits on an airy, breezily mineral frame, finishing with impressive length but without undue weight.
The Vin-Jaune-only appellation of Château-Chalon is the Jura’s grand cru in all but name, its ultra-steep slopes of grey marl producing wines of greater finesse and more pronounced minerality than its peers in Arbois. Aged in a rustic above-ground barrel cellar with wide temperature fluctuations, Pêcheur’s Château-Chalon—from 50-year-old Savagnin in the south-facing Gaillardon vineyard—is a wine of deft precision, with a smoky mezcal-like note emerging from beneath its intensely saline minerality and taut green fruits.
2009 Côtes du Jura Vin de Paille
Comprised of 70% Chardonnay with 15% each Savagnin and Poulsard, the Pêcheurs’ lovely version of this traditional Jura sweet wine is dried for several months on straw mats and aged two years in neutral oak after the meager amount of juice wrested from the raisins finishes fermenting. With its bristling acidity and its layered flavors of orchard fruits, honey, and brown sugar, this somehow remains fresh, drinkable, and digestible amidst all that residual sugar.