Since the 70’s much has gone to improve the image of these almost forgotten vineyards, indeed most growers used to sell their grapes to the coop. However a clutch of producers emerged in the mid-eighties making some wines that set the bar in term of quality pretty high. In the nineties Jurancon was the talk amongst wine buffs and indeed more and more producers retrieved their grapes from the coop and planted more vineyards producing aromatic dry white from the Gros Manseng and luscious yet refreshing sweet whites with great acidity from the nobler Petit Manseng.
The beauty of this appellation was and is still is that the general level of quality across the board is pretty high. However in recent years, probably since the turn of the century some challenges have emerged, retaining the acidity and minerality in wines especially the dry has been difficult with degrees creeping up, and resulting in wines losing their freshness and not gaining in complexity.
Domaine Castera -Jurançon
Castera nestles at the foothills of the western Pyrenees bordering the Pays Basque Country in between the town of Pau and Oloron. Here, in Bearn, viticulture has existed since Henry IV.
In our quest to find a Vigneron who has a vision for the future of Jurancon we came across young Franck Lihour at Domaine Castera in the sleepy town of Monein the heartland of Jurancon. The Vineyards are made of three plots Tauzy (2h) meaning Le Chene Tauzien ( Tauzien Oak tree) in Bearnais , the local lingo, then the main plot Caubeigt (8h) (bold top in Bearnais) and finally Les Terrasses (1.3 h).
Tauzy sits at 236m high with East and North exposure on limony-clay soils with “galets roule” similar to chateauneuf for about 70cm with a pure clay subsoil underneath giving good drainage and with accessible water table deep down. Another key aspect of that plot is that the iron and manganese content in the soil is quite high, giving the wines a huge potential for ageing. This is a fresher, cooler vineyard ideally suited for one of the indigenous variety Petit Courbu that has been revived by Franck and his father Christian. In fact they have the original plant which nurseries get cutting from to propagate. The Chamber of agriculture is also experimenting in their vineyards with a further 9 clones. Petit Courbu, is very mineral and fine with a salinity on the finish and is the perfect component to refine the Gros Manseng.
Caubeigt being on a larger surface is more complex, the soils are essentially the same as Tauzy but with variable amount of stones and depth of soils. There is a 2h plot, the part that is south exposure, quite a hot site so this, because of it aromatic potential goes in the sweet Jurancon, but not Caubeigt as it is not deemed elegant enough!