Jurançon Sweet White Wine Grape Harvest Begins



3 October 2012

The annual harvest of the Jurançon grapes destined for the Cave des
Producteurs de Jurançon gets started this week. These grapes are the basis
for the celebrated sweet white wine wine of the same name, particularly
appreciated in combination with foie gras, cheeses and desserts but also
enjoyed in its own right as a light, refreshing aperitif. With forecasts
predicting sunny, dry weather ahead, conditions could not be better.   

This wine of southwest France is the produce of the sun drenched slopes of
Jurançon, lying in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The area is one of great
natural beauty and its abundant rainfall assures its farmlands a sparkling
emerald hue that would not look out of place in northern Europe, very
different from the parched landscapes of France's Mediterranean coasts.
However, it shares with these coasts a favourable southerly location,
assuring plenty of humid heat throughout the summer months. This combination
of factors operating on Jurançon's "petit manseng" and "gros manseng" grapes
enable the creation of the tasty wine for which the region is celebrated.

Jurançon wine first won fame when it was used by Henry II of Navarre to
baptise his son, the future Henry IV of France. Thanks to Henry IV's role as
the founder of the Bourbon dynasty, Jurançon became the wine of choice for
the Royal Household and its popularity spread throughout Europe. However, in
the late 19th century, an epidemic known as the "phylloxera" plague ravaged
French vineyards, resulting in French wine production falling by about two
thirds. Jurançon wines were among the many victims of this disease. In the
early 20th century, a number of determined wine growers, along with the Cave
des Producteurs de Jurançon, managed to overcome this setback and, through
their efforts, raise the wine to the prestigious position it holds today,
with a mean annual production of 35 000 hecto-litres (approximately 777 000
gallons).

The different varieties of Jurançon wine are the result of harvesting grapes
at different stages in their maturity. The first set of grapes is picked
between mid-September and the start of October and are used to create dry
white wines. A second harvest of more mature grapes begins soon after. These
grapes will be used to make smooth white wines. Finally, late harvest grapes
are picked during the second half of November, which are used to make the
"Vendanges Tardives" (late harvest) wines. Jurançon is the only wine outside
Alsace to have official accreditation for the production of "Vendanges
Tardives". 

During the harvests, the grapes of the members of the Cave des Producteurs
de Jurançon, as well as the proprietary grapes of the Cave itself, are
brought to the Cave’s facilities in Gan. Here, they are separated from the
vines and put through the wine press. The resulting juice is allowed to sit
for a night in a vat to allow any solid residue to settle at the bottom
where they it be easily removed. The liquid is then sent to the fermentation
vats to allow the sugar to transform into alcohol. After this, the wine is
put into stainless steel or oak vats to allow it to mature. This process of
ageing can last anything from 3 months for the freshest varieties to 48
months for the most elaborate strains. 

What is unique in Jurançon wine, when compared to similar dessert wines, is
that the sugar in the wine derives naturally from the fact that the grapes
are dried at the foot of the vines and absorb sunlight for as long as
possible. Then they are subjected to the "Foehn effect". This is a hot dry
wind which dries out the lower Pyrenees and which blows through the vines,
provoking the evaporation of the water in the vines.

This year’s weather has had an adverse effect on the production of some
varieties of wine in France. The southwest has not been immune to it. As a
result, the wine harvest comes later this year than in 2011. However, the
output of the Cave des Producteurs de Jurançon is expected to hold up
despite these difficulties.
 
Currently, the wines of the Cave des Producteurs de Jurançon can be found in
the shelves of stores throughout Europe – in Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg,
the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain, but are also available as far afield
as Canada and China. In the near future, currently untapped European markets
such as the UK and Scandinavia, as well as Asian markets, such as Japan and
Hong Kong, will be explored. Further down the line, the US market may offer
great potential for this product.

It is possible to visit the Cave des Producteurs de Jurançon - tel (+33) 05
59 21 57 03 - in Gan all year round. Here, the full range of wine from
grapes produced uniquely by the members of the Cave des Producteurs de
Jurançon is available for tasting and direct sale. There are many vineyards
to visit in the surrounding area, which can be explored as part of a holiday
in this corner of Southwest France, based in one of the many bed and
breakfasts located in the region, often run by wine connoisseurs, who will
not hesitate to divulge all their knowledge and experience on this subject
to the occupants of their guestrooms. You can view details of accomodation
options in the area at http://www.francebedandbreakfasts.com or contact
diarmuid@francebedandbreakfasts.com for further information.

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