Stéphane Tissot boasts just as much character as his well-respected, nuanced, biodynamic wines from the Jura. A wine region nestled between Burgundy and Switzerland, the Jura’s chillier climate, late harvest times, and marl, clay and limestone- based soils provide the framework for unique and innovative wines, such as the sherry-like Vin Jaune and the native variety, Trousseau. Tissot's quest for aromatic diversity” has led to the creation of more than 30 different bottlings, such as his 2008 Traminer and 2010 Poulsard. He makes seven different Chardonnays alone, including the 2009 Chardonnay "La Mailloche," which he poured at USQ along with five other bottlings in late February. We chatted with the exuberant Tissot about his Demeter-certified biodynamic wines, German Riesling and family vacations.
How would you describe Jura wine to someone who has never had it?
"How would I describe it? Oh my. Well, Jura is a small area between Burgundy and Switzerland. When you speak about Jura, you think mountain. We're 80 kilometers from Burgundy but a completely different climate and soil. We have a very different history. We were Spanish for 80 years in 17th century. We have five different grapes [Chardonnay, Traminer, Poulsard, Trousseau, Savagnin] and a totally different style of winemaking."
Do you blend the five varieties?
"No, the only blend is in the Crémant."
What sets your wines apart from other Jura producers?
"I'm in the north of the area. I have an estate of 46 hectares. In total, I produce more than 30 wines, and for example, I make seven different Chardonnay. Every one is from a different soil—clay, marl, limestone—and each produces a different style of the wine. It's clay soil on the "La Mailloche." It's got lots of character, a very spicy chardonnay, and lots of concentration but very nice acidity. Lots of acidity why? Because clay soil is a very fresh soil and results in nice acidity."
You mentioned during the tasting a certain dish to pair with your Chardonnay. What was that?
" 'La Mailloche' has lots of power, minerality and acidity. It goes well with chicken with cream of mushroom."
We know you like experimentation. What are some of the projects you're working on?
"We don't have enough! Every year we are trying to make something different and new. Each year is an experiment. Something new I’m doing now, is, well, most Jura producers make one Vin Jaune. I have enough Savagnin that I make four Vin Jaunes, each from different soils. When you speak about Vin Jaune, you speak about the winemaking, of the style, of the power, of the concentration, but sometimes we miss all the complexity of the wine on every soil. For me, four different Vin Jaunes is a step forward for winemaking."
Describe the process of making Vin Jaune.
"Vin Jaune is very similar to Sherry. We use the grape Savagnin. There is a lot of alcohol capacity in these grapes, and we leave these grapes for six years in oak barrels. We leave a flor of yeast at the top of the wine, and this flor of yeast protects the wine [from the air] and gives a character to the wine."
Why did you decide to go biodynamic?
"We have been biodynamic since 04. When you’re biodynamic, you have a different life in your vines, in your grapes, and in this way, you can make very easy wine. It leads you. You can keep your yields low, and it increases the minerality. When you drink a glass, you want to drink another one, because they have very nice acidity."
What do drink at home?
"Oh, at my place, I drink wine from my estate, of course, but I really drink wine from everywhere. When it’s good, it’s good. I have lots of different styles of wine in my cellar. I like Syrah; the Rhone can be very very good. I like a good Riesling, too. You know, in France, it’s not so common to find a really good Riesling from Germany."
What is the most memorable bottle you’ve had?
"One that is very interesting is...we bought land in 2001, and I had wine from those vines, a 1959. Very very good."
What are some of your other hobbies besides wine?
"Mountains are very important in my life. I like skiing. I love to spend time with my family outside. Sometimes, I’m too busy to see my family. When a winemaker is working, he’s working. You have to take time with your family to visit without the wine."
Does that mean family vacation? Where do you go?
"When we go on holiday, we like to rent a small boat on the channel in Burgundy and spend four or five days just winding along the channel."