Jura is a small wine region in eastern France which is responsible for some traditional and highly idiosyncratic wine styles. It is close to, but quite distinct from the Swiss Jura. Equidistant (35 miles/56km) from Burgundy in the west and Switzerland in the east, the region is characterized by a landscape of wooded hillsides and the twisting topography of the Jura Mountains.
Jura's vineyards cover just over 4570 acres (1850ha), forming a narrow strip of land measuring nearly 50 miles (80km) from north to south. The total acreage is steadily increasing, but still represents less than one-tenth of the area under vine here two centuries ago, before phylloxera decimated the region's vineyards. Jura's wines are sold under five core appellations, the most quantitatively important of which are Arbois and Cotes du Jura.
Five main grape varieties used in the region's wines – three traditional and two more-modern imports. The first of the local varieties is Poulsard (or Ploussard as it is known in the communes of Arbois and Pupillin), a red grape which accounts for about one-fifth of the region's plantings. Poulsard is used mostly in dry reds, but also in sparkling rose wines. Trousseau, the other local red variety, requires high sunshine levels to mature properly and covers only the warmest 5% of Jura's vineyards. It is grown mostly around Arbois, where it produces a small quantity of varietal wines. White Savagnin (known locally as Nature) is used in all of the region's appellations and is responsible for the idiosyncratic vins jaunes ('yellow wines').
Better known as the key grapes of Burgundy, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the two 'international' grape varieties used here. Despite the relative isolation of the Jura region, Chardonnay's increasing international popularity has had an impact – as it has elsewhere in France. Known locally as Melon d'Arbois and Gamay Blanc, it now accounts for nearly half of Jura's total vineyard and is most often used to make wines in a fresher, fruitier, modern style.
Along with its unique vin jaune, Jura has been known traditionally for its sweet vins de paille. They do not have an appellation in their own right, but are produced under the Arbois (including Arbois-Pupillin), L'Etoile and Cotes du Jura titles. Vins jaunes may also be made under these appellations, but are at their best under their exclusive Chateau Chalon title.
Dry white wines are also made in the Jura, increasingly from Chardonnay – as mentioned above – as are dry red wines produced from Pinot Noir (although Poulsard is still the dominant red variety). Sparkling wines have been made here since the 18th century. They are now produced from around 520 acres (210ha) of vineyards, under the Cremant du Jura appellation introduced in 1995.
It should come as no surprise that the key soil types here are Jurassic limestone and marlstone. The Jurassic period was named after Jura because the region's limestone mountains are representative of the geological developments which occured between 145 million and 200 million years ago. The name of L'Etoile, the village which is home to one of Jura's most distinctive appellations, is said to be derived from the star-shaped marine fossils which characterize its limestone-rich soils (etoile is French for 'star'). Chablis and the upper Loire Valley are built on a similar geological structure.
Jura's climate is not dissimilar to that of the Cote d'Or, or even southern Alsace, with warm, relatively dry summers and cold winters. The variation between valley and hillside locations is quite pronounced here as a result of the increased altitude. While the eastern, more mountainous areas of Jura reach heights above 4500ft (1370m), the main wine-growing belt is restricted to the slightly lower-lying land in the west, averaging 1000ft (305m). The majority of Jura's vines are planted on south-facing slopes, to make the most of the sun's rays in this cool climate.