Domaine d’Esprits

Vincent and Marcellin Puget are wine makers in the romote, rural village of Buffard, 20 miles south-west of Besançon in the Doubs Jura, France. They, along with a handful of friends, own and take care of a number of small vineyards in clearings on a wooded hillside above the village. It is a very small affair, with almost all of the wine being sold within the immediate area, although a little of each vintage does get sent to wine bars in Lyon and Paris.

I visited Vincent and Marcellin’s vineyards in the summer, when the vines had tiny bunches of grapes beggining to form. In a few weeks’ time, perhaps three weeks, the friends will be gathering together to pick the grapes in the cooling Septemeber evenings. Everything about the vineyard is done in the old-fashioned way, because, I was told, that makes for a better wine. The vines are kept very low, being cut back each year to around a foot off the ground and they are knarled and woody.

Honeybees buzz industriously among the wild orchids and dog roses in the hedgerows, turtle Doves coo from oak trees, and small lizards scuttle across the dry, stony, turned soil.

Vincent told me how, although they are not registered as an organic vineyard, they are practicing environmentally safer and more responsible vine growing methods than many of the organic registered wine makers in the region. To prove his point, he said, “Listen to the birds. Look at the flowers. They are living here amongst my vines. We look after them, and they help the wine.”

Between every other row of vines, the land is allowed to grow undisturbed and grasses, herbs and thistles grow; a practice never seen in large vineyards. The theory is that the wild plants growing around the vines increase the quantity and variety of wild yeasts settling on the grapes, so no added yeast is used in the fermentation process.

Nothing could be closer to a true sense of flavour of the land, of terroir, as harnessing wild ferments from the native soil and flora.

The vines grown at Domaine d’Esprits are Trousseau, Chardonnay, Poulsard and Savagnin.

Savagnin is the local grape to the Jura, a green-skinned grape with a long history in the region, although related to Gewürztraminer from Germany.

Savignin is a slow growing, low yielding and unpredictable vine, but the fruits make complex, deep and interesting wines. It is the only grape that can be used to make the local Vin Jaune; a fortified wine made with late harvested grapes and aged in barrels for 7 years.

During the ageing, a thick growth of yeasts form on the surface of the wine as the water evaporates, leaving a layer of air, and the wine oxidises. Vin Jaune is sweet, heady and aromatic and it is a perfect match for cheese of the region – Comté.

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