The estate is located in the village of L’Etoile in the southwestern zone of the Jura. The origin of the name “L’Etoile” (meaning “star”) is attributed to either the fact that there are five hills surrounding the village in the pattern of a star or, more probably, because of the numerous specimens of the fossils of ancient starfish that are found to this day in the soils of this appellation. The appellation itself is very small, including only 52 hectares, principally in the village of L’Etoile but also with certain vineyards in the neighboring villages of Planoiseau, Saint Didier and Qunitigny.
The domaine’s nine hectares are devoted mostly to Chardonnay with Savagnin sited in 1.7 of those hectares; some Trousseau and Poulsard round out the plantings. The viticulture is organic and the vinification is strictly traditional respecting, in all aspects, the ancient practices of this region. Nicole Deriaux’s natural approach to every step of the process captures the true essence of the Etoile appellation in each of the separate bottlings done at the domaine.
All grapes are hand-harvested and vinified in the cellars underneath the family home, which is surrounded by the picturesque mountaintops of the Jura. Fermentation occurs in stainless steel cuves but all wines are then racked into a combination of foudres, demi-muids and smaller barrels, virtually none of which are new. The white wines are aged in barrel; they are never racked; they are not topped off. The very special nature of the appellation of L’Etoile produces white wines of exceptional finesse and complexity.
|Crémant du Jura: Nicole Deriaux produces a small amount of sparkling wine from her Chardonnay plantings. The young vines are used to produce the Crémant. The wine undergoes both alcoholic and malolactic fermentations and then spends at least eighteen months on the lies as it passes through the second fermentation in bottle (a la Champagne). Vinified entirely dry and left strictly Brut at the time of disgorgment.|
|L’Etoile: This cuvée is the classic white wine of Montbourgeau. It is usually bottled after 24 to 30 months of elevage in barrel. Chardonnay is the dominant grape but an occasional Savagnin vine is found within the Chardonnay plantings, an addition which adds a touch of complexity to the ultimate blend. The fermentation occurs in stainless steel but, after malolactic, the wine is racked into small barrel and demi-muids for two years. At that point, the entire production is assembled and left for several months in cuve before being bottled.|
|L’Etoile En Banode: The finesse of the regular cuvée of L’Etoile plays counterpoint to this cuvée, “En Banode” which is a field blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin from a single vineyard source. Not produced every vintage, the “En Banode” is more full-bodied and rustic than the regular L’Etoile bottling and it reflects the special soil characteristics (the grey and blue marne) that are best for planting the finicky Savagnin grape. The “En Banode” bottling occurs after 30 to 36 months of elevage.|
|L’Etoile Savagnin: Montbourgeau produces a small amount of pure Savagnin. The grapes are sourced from several sites all underlain by marne (grey/blue). After fermentation, the Savagnin is racked into a mix of different-sized barrels where it rests for four years or so without further racking and without being topped off.|
|L’Etoile Cuvée Spéciale: This elite cuvée of Chardonnay is Madame Deriaux’s special selection from her best Chardonnay plantings. Like the pure Savagnin cuvée, it is left to age for many months (in this instance usually 48 to 60 months) in barrel without racking and without topping off. It is a wine for the ages with a vibrant acidity underlying a dense and concentrated body with notes of beeswax and honey and resin and minerals.|
Cotes du Jura Poulsard: Montbourgeau produces a limited amount of red wine from the Poulsard grape. It is a bright, airy wine with a hint of tannin to the finish. This red from L’Etoile is classified as a “Cotes du Jura” since the L’Etoile appellation is strictly reserved for the white wines produced there. We are limited to 600 bottles of this wine per vintage.
|Macvin du Jura: The Macvin is a blend of Chardonnay and Poulsard. The fermentation is stopped by the addition of marc. The blend is two-thirds grape must and one-third marc. The Macvin spends three years in barrel before it is bottled and it carries 18% alcohol. Used as a delightful aperitif or as a “vin de meditation”.|
|Vin de Paille: Montbourgeau also produces a tiny amount of a vin de paille. This “paille” is composed of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Savagnin and 20% Poulsard. The grapes are left to raisin in the open air until the January following harvest, effectuating a high degree of concentration. In effect, it takes 100 kilograms of grapes to produce a mere 10 liters of Vin de Paille at Montbourgeau. A total of five hectoliters are produced in the years that Monbourgeau makes a Vin de Paille … obviously very limited availability and bottled exclusively in 375ml size.|
|L’Etoile Vin Jaune: Made exclusively from the Savagnin grape, the Vin Jaune of Montbourgeau is always produced from a late harvest. After fermentation the wine is racked into foudres (30 hectoliter size) and then, after six months, racked again into smaller barrels. It is never topped off, the “voile” appears and the wine is left for at least seven years to age in barrel before being declared “Vin Jaune” and being bottled. The “Jaune” of Montbourgeau is more high-toned than the Jaunes of Puffeney and Gahier, less broad perhaps but more fine, a clear reflection of the appellation of L’Etoile.|
The Jura’s meteoric rise among American wine drinkers over the past decade has been well documented, but the wines from the tiny appellation of L’Étoile remain somewhat less known. Perhaps that’s due to its comparatively diminutive size, or perhaps to its lack of appellation-status red wines—much initial fervor over the Jura in the US was driven by the region’s light, irresistible indigenous Poulsard and Trousseau—but L’Étoile, with its exceptionally rocky and limestone-dense soil, quietly produces among the Jura’s most profoundly mineral-driven white wines. The appellation’s undisputed leader is Domaine Montbourgeau, a nine-hectare estate founded in 1920 with whom Rosenthal Wine Merchant has been working for two decades now. Nicole Deriaux, for many years the only woman to head a domaine in the Jura, inherited Montbourgeau from her father Jean with the 1986 vintage, and today Nicole’s sons Baptiste and César are gradually learning the ropes under her careful guidance. Nicole farms without chemical treatments, and raises her wines according to the Jura’s distinctive and proud traditions, fully embracing the power of the local yeasts (the voile) to engender a complexity and a specificity of character unique to the region.
This cuvée has long been our go-to for reasonably priced, traditionally produced Jura Chardonnay. Vinified in steel but aged in well-used barrels with no topping up, it is bottled two years after harvest—enough time to display oxidative influence but not long enough to develop full-on voile character. The resulting wine is vividly fruit-driven yet saline and long, bursting with expressiveness.
2017 L’Étoile “En Banode”
This unique cuvée represents roughly equal parts Chardonnay and Savagnin interplanted in a single vineyard by Nicole’s father Jean Gros in 1970. Over the years, the ripening cycles of the two varieties have aligned, allowing them to be harvested at the same time at proper maturity for both. Like the L’Étoile above, this ferments in steel and ages for two years in barrels—the first year in 25-hectoliter foudre, and the second in 500-liter demi-muid with no topping up. “En Banode” is forceful in its salinity, underlining the site’s heavy limestone content, and the Savagnin contributes a lurking power which is emphasized by the vineyard’s typically ultra-low yields.
2017 L’Étoile “Montangis” [NEW]
“Montangis” represents Montbourgeau’s oldest parcel: Chardonnay with a few stray interplanted vines of Savagnin and Poulsard, planted in 1930 by her grandfather Victor Gros in a particularly stony and fossil-rich vineyard. Like the two wines above, it is vinified in steel, transferred to large foudre for its first year of aging, then racked into used 228-liter barrels for a second year during which time it is not topped up at all. “Montangis” is thickly textured and densely concentrated due to the vines’ age, with a powerful sense of minerality not at all obstructed by the voile’s subtle influence.
2016 L’Étoile “Cuvée Spéciale”
“Cuvée Spéciale” showcases Nicole’s masterful ability to preserve acid-mineral complexity and nuance even through extended sous-voile aging. Composed of Chardonnay with a few stray vines of Savagnin, this cuvée undergoes alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in used 228-liter barrels with no temperature regulation. It remains in those barrels, with no topping up, for four years—sometimes five—developing a full veil during its long aging and resulting in a mouthwateringly salty and profound expression of Jura Chardonnay.
2017 L’Étoile Savagnin
Montbourgeau’s outstanding Savagnin is produced from 20-year-old vines planted in veins of grey and blue marne, a soil particularly favored by the variety but less common in L’Étoile than elsewhere in the region. Nicole ferments it in steel and employs 30-hectoliter foudres for the first year of elevage; 600-liter demi-muids are used for the second, third, and fourth years, during which time the Savagnin develops a full voile. This electrifying wine combines L’Étoile’s high-tension acidity with broad, almond-tinged golden fruits and a blast of sea salt, and its finish lasts well past the minute mark.
2018 L’Étoile Savagnin “Les Budes” [NEW]
With the 2018 “Les Budes,” Montbourgeau—under Nicole’s son César’s guidance—has produced their first-ever topped-up example of Savagnin, fermented and aged in used 500-liter barrels and bottled after two years of elevage. This cuvée forefronts Savagnin’s spicy, luscious character while preserving the deep sense of salinity that drives the sous-voile version, but its overall personality is far gentler, more subtle, and geared more toward finesse than the classic Savagnin above.
2012 L’Étoile Vin Jaune
Hailing as it does from the elegance-enhancing soils of L’Étoile, Montbourgeau’s Vin Jaune displays a precision and lift rare in the genre. Its briny voile thwomp is sheathed in fruit less rich than that of its cousins in the RWM stable, and it punches all the more devastatingly for it. Quince paste, freshly polished brass, and pink salt coat the palate completely, provoking salivation and building to a full-bore, tunneling finish of great tension.
Long ago, sweetness in any form was far rarer than today, and it was prized thusly. In our era of ubiquitous corn syrup, junk food, and soda, it is difficult to imagine a world in which sugar was special, and the overall difficulty in selling sweet wines across all markets testifies to that. Still, sweetness in wine—real wine whose sweetness has not been coerced—remains one of nature’s rare gifts. Producing sweet wines requires a grower to be courageous, as she must wait to harvest and risk late-season vagaries of weather, or, in passito-style wines, assume the risk of air-drying fruit for upwards of half a year in her cellar. Sweet wine production requires prodigious effort for feeble yields, which generally then take longer to produce and longer to sell than their dry counterparts.
… A hunched figure, barely visible in the twilight, barred the great subterranean cellar’s modest entrance. Ragged and weary from their journey, the five sommeliers looked at one another with surprise; the old book had mentioned nothing of a gatekeeper. They had followed the map with great care, the promise of long-buried vinous spoils, theirs for the taking, having sustained them through the endless Krug-less days—but it seemed a final challenge awaited. The sentinel scowled at them from beneath his large hood.
The Jura’s meteoric rise among American wine drinkers over the past decade has been well documented, but the wines from the tiny appellation of L’Étoile remain somewhat less known. Perhaps that’s due to its comparatively diminutive size, or perhaps to its lack of appellation-status red wines—much initial fervor over the Jura in the US was driven by the region’s light…
Beyond Champagne, excellent bubbly now comes from all over in a diversity of styles. You don’t require a special occasion to enjoy them.
Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura Brut Zéro NV $26.99
The Jura region of France is a reliable source of Champagne-style sparkling wines that are subtly different from Champagne. This one, from the excellent Domaine de Montbourgeau, is a fine example. It’s rich and creamy, yet precise — bone dry and still rounded and lush. In most Champagne-style wines, producers add a dose of sweetness just before sealing the bottle to balance the often searing acidity. But if the wine is balanced without the dosage, as this one is, it can be omitted. Hence the designation, Brut Zéro. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)
The 2013 Crémant du Jura Réserve “Brut Zero” is spellbinding, and the finest example of the category we have ever encountered. Few pitches in sparkling wine sales are as hackneyed as the “Champagne substitute” angle, but in a very few…Read More
Scrambled and sunnysided eggs just gathered an hour or so ago from the chicken coop, sautéed shiitakes in Armato oil with shallots and garlic from last year’s garden and added some Armato oregano and peperoncino, steamed broccoli and Brussels sprouts dressed with Bea “Grezzo” oil … all accompanied by this brilliant Étoile 2016 from Nicole Deriaux’s beautiful Domaine de Montbourgeau. This wine is vivid, vivacious and vibrant, bursting with energy. Sous-voile élevage, no concessions to modernity, honest and true to the grand traditions of the Jura. The salinity obvious in the nose and on the palate references the millennia-old period when this region was ocean rather than terra firma. This wine practically trembles in the mouth with a near static electricity. Fully expressive of its specific terroir, the elegance and cut of Nicole’s wines are on display.
Sunday, Sept 22, 2013 Neal spent the day visiting our producers in the Jura. Here are his notes: “I spent last Sunday (September 22) visiting each of our four producers. The first issue to discuss is “reduction” in certain wines from our producers in the Jura. Of course, we had this problem raise its ugly
We are in the midst of a special moment, a quiet dinner at home on the evening before we leave to prospect in the Piedmont and Calabria. The atmosphere is cool, calm and crystalline – listening to Billy Holliday sing and drinking the L’Etoile Cuvee Speciale 2006 from Nicole Deriaux’s Domaine de Montbourgeau, a brief