Arbois, France’s oldest AOC

Arbois © Denis Margaux/Triangle d'Or Jurassien
Although limited to 2 000 ha, the Jura vineyard produces a large diversity of wines and some of them are unique. Surrounded by beautiful scenery and boasting medieval monuments, the town of Arbois is a good place to discover them.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
410 km from Paris on autoroute A6 till Beaune, then on autoroutes A31, A36 and A39 till exit 7, then on N83 till Arbois.
- By train
TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon to Besançon or TGV Lyria from Paris Gare de Lyon to Dijon or Bourg-en Bresse, then TER till Arbois. The journey takes between 3 h 20 and 4 h 45.
Getting around
It’s necessary to have a car to get to the wineries.
- Hotels
Les Caudalies
Jean-Paul Jeunet
Castel Damandre in Les Planches
- Bed and Breafast
Closerie Les Capucines
La Courcelles
La Part des Anges in Pupillin
La Finette
Les Caudalies
Jean-Paul Jeunet
La Balance, Mets et Vins
La Cuisance
Castel Damandre in Les Planches
Auberge du Grapiot in Pupillin
Maison Pasteur
Open every day from April 1st to October 15th, from 9.45am to 6pm. Guided tours only.
Admission : €6 / €3.
Tel : 0384661172
Musée de la Vigne et du Vin
Open from 10am to noon and from 2pm to 6pm from March to October, from 2pm to 6pm from November to February. Closed in January and on Tuesday except in July and August.
Admission : €3.50
Tel : 0384664045
Institut Franc Comtois des Vins et du Goût
Tel : 0384664053
- Arbois Tourist Office
Tel : 0384655550
- Jura Tourist Office
Tel : 0820393900
No, the Jura’s winemakers don’t produce only the famous vin jaune, a very particular wine with a golden colour that develops rich nutty flavours similar to dry fino Sherry. Situated between Burgundy and Switzerland, this region gives many other quality wines and some of them have no equivalents. Vineyards are indeed not only planted with grapes found worldwide such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but also with three varieties that are found nowhere else.

Artbois vineyard © T.Joly
 Savagnin, a unique grape variety
A grape thought to be related to Traminer, Savagnin is responsible for whites made in a deliberately oxidized style like vin jaune, but matured in barrels for only three years instead of six under a naturally occurring film of yeast. So, the very distinctive and unusual nutty flavour is not as strong, but they do take some getting used to. That’s why many wineries also produce blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin that are easier to drink to novices as the nutty flavours are reduced. In addition, some winemakers produce Savagnin “ouillé”, meaning they are made in a classic non-oxidized style, that are more fruity and taste more like white wines you are used to drink.
In comparison, the two local red grapes give relatively normal wines
First developed in the 15th century, Poulsard makes very light, delicate yet robust red wines with a light ruby colour and a distinctive perfume.

Reine Jeanne cellar © T.Joly
 800 ha of vineyards
They are so pale you can see right through them and that they are sometimes mistaken for rosé even though the tannins are evident on the palate and they age well.
Containing more tannins, Trousseau makes wines with more colour and structure that age well too and often gives a nose combining gameyness with redcurrants. Both varieties can also be assembled together and / or with Pinot Noir to add colour and body.
France’s oldest AOC, dating back to 1936, Arbois is the perfect place to discover this diversity. Comprising 800 ha of vineyards located around the namesake town, this appellation indeed produces all types of Jura wines : red, white, vin jaune, crémant, a sparkling wine usually from 100% Chardonnay, straw wine and Macvin, a mellow liquor wine produced by blending unfermented juice of late harvested grapes with eau-de-vie made from grapes.

Artbois © T.Joly
 Enjoyable strolls
To taste them, you have the choice between about fifty independents winemakers, two cooperatives, called fruitieres in Jura, and Henri Maire Domain by far the largest winery in the region whose founder was considered a marketing genius and is credited with rescuing the Jura wines from obscurity in the last quarter of the 20th century. However, wine production in the region is not new. It dates back to the Roman time and brought wealth to the pleasant town of Arbois since the Middle Age. Private mansions, wealthy houses, old stone bridges, remains of ramparts including two powerful medieval towers and the Romanesque church of Saint-Just dominated by a 60 m high bell tower added in the 16th century remind of this past prosperity. So, it’s very enjoyable to stroll along the streets and the Cuisance River.

Artbois © T.Joly
 Tasting courses
If its is open, have a look at the superb 14th century Reine Jeanne cellar that is still used for wine ageing by one of the town best winemakers. If you want to learn everything about the history of wine growing in the region, planted grape varieties, wine making methods and traditions, then go the Musée de la Vigne et du Vin that is housed in the château Pécaud originally built in medieval times that once belonged to the Dukes of Burgundy. It also hosts the Institut Franc Comtois des Vins et du Goût that organizes wine tasting sessions and courses all year round. In addition, outside the castle, you will find the departure point of a 2.5 km long path marked out with information boards that makes a loop through some vineyards.

Pasteur’s house © T.Joly
 Louis Pasteur’s house
But, the main monument of Arbois, is the house of Louis Pasteur, the French scientist who became famous for discovering germs and vaccine for rabies. It’s there, in this former tannery bought by his father that he spent most of his childhood and, later, all his holidays. Located on the banks of the Cuisance River, the house has been recently restored but is still decorated and furnished exactly as it was when Pasteur lived there.
Including the small laboratory where he conducted researches on wine and beer fermentation. For this reason, he is widely considered as the father of modern oenology. In summer time, fun science experiments for old and young alike take place in the garden.
Only 3 km away from Arbois, the charming little village of Pupillin is a not to be missed destination for the wine lovers.

Pupillin © T.Joly
 Capital of Poulsard
It is indeed considered as the capital of Poulsard, here also called Ploussard. More over, the vineyards planted on the surrounding steep sunny hillsides give the wines a particular character. For this reason, the winemakers and the fruitiere of the village can label their wines with the appellation “Arbois – Pupillin”. All offer wine tasting and cellar door sales.
Very practical, if they are away, the bed and breakfast “La Part des Anges” also runs a wine bar where you can taste all the wines produced in the village and buy them at cellar door price. Lastly, a lookout located over the village provides a great view of the vineyards.
While you are in Arbois, you should also go see the Reculée des Planches.

Tufs waterfall © T.Joly
 Lovely waterfall
A typical feature of the Jura landscapes, reculées are deep, narrow dead-end valley bordered by cliffs at the base of which you will always find a cave or an underground waterway that brings to life a river. They were created by strong frosts and the erosion of the plateau by underground rivers, then, enlarged by glaciers during the ice age. Probably the most beautiful of all, the Reculées des Planches boasts a cave where you can see the destructive effects of the water, including potholes, as well as one of the two sources of the Cuisance River. The second one comes out near by and creates the lovely Tufs cascade. As to the Planches village, it is worth a look for its old stone houses and a couple of independent winemakers giving you the chance to taste more wines.

June 18, 2012
Thierry Joly 

[ Wines ]

During our visit we particularly enjoyed wines from the following winemakers and wineries
- Arbois
Rolet Père et Fils
Stéphane Tissot
Jacques Tissot
Domaine de la Pinte
Domaine de la Tournelle
- Pupillin
Domaine Overnois Crinquant
Cellier Saint Benoit
Julien Mareschal
Philippe Bornard