While vineyards have long been around in France, there is one wine region that has a special harvest. A harvest that continues into late autumn, almost to the edge of winter. In Jurancon, in the Pyrenees-Atlantique region of southwest France, the harvest starts early weeks in November and goes through to mid-December.
Jurancon – an extraordinary wine-growing area
The segmented vineyard of Jurancon sits southwest of Pau, the capital of Béarn. As you enter the region you start to notice the vineyards perched on the hillsides sloping southwards towards the Pyrénées. The vineyards cover around 1000 hectares. The appellation (the name given to a product made in a specific place) of Jurancon consists of dry and sweet white wines. The main grape variety used are the Gros Manseng and Le Petit Manseng grapes, both native to this region. The Manseng vines thrive in this environment where the winds from Spain sweep across the vineyards. It literally contributes to the passerillage or natural dehydration of Le Petit Manseng, creating a raisin-like sweetness.
Le Cave de Gan Jurancon
The Cave de Gan (in the village of Gan), was established in 1949 by a cooperative of 15 members. The present membership consists of 250 wine growers under the AOC Jurancon and 50 under the AOC Bearn who deliver their harvests to the Cave de Gan. The decision when to harvest is collective between the winemakers, the manager of the winery and winegrowers. The first grape generally harvested is the Gros Manseng which produces a dry white wine. Le Petit Manseng is harvested later and is more resistant to moisture and rain fall. It is left to continue the process of passerillage. Once the harvests are delivered the fermentation begins in huge vats which you van visit on a tour of the Cave de Gan. The wine is sent through underground piping to aroma vats in the aging room.
Preceding the aging room is the entrance lobby. Upon entering, the nose senses fruity aromas from the wines! There is a large display of Jurancon wine bottles, the oldest dating from 1926. Two Gallo Roman mosaics spread across the wall illustrate the arrival of the Romans in this area in the first century A.D. And they prove that wine was cultivated here as there is a clear pattern of green vine leaves around the border. The Cave de Gan inherited the mosaics which were discovered close to the village of Jurancon.
Large vats hold the wine from the cooperative but also from individual chateaux domains who produce their wine here. The wine matures from 6 months to 3 years. Wine is also aged in oak barrels. The ageing cellar contains up to 500,000 bottles. The annual harvest produces up to 5,000,000 bottles. The wine bottles are stacked vertically and the guideline is: the deeper the colour the older the bottle.
The wines of Jurancon
The Jurancon dry white wine is fresh and elegant, the appearance is very clear and pale yellow and it’s good with fish and cheeses! The sweet white wine is golden coloured and the taste is intense, full of exotic fruits, citrus and honey. It pairs well with blue cheeses, foie gras, spicy dishes and dark chocolate.
What makes it so unique
First, the climate is ideal for the Manseng grapes. The sun fills the vineyards and the winds attend to the passerillage, increasing the sugar concentration and aromas. Second, this region has the climate that produces a Late Harvest and this is exceptional and rare. The area is certainly worth a detour to taste and buy these uniquely delicious wines.
Katie Disken grew up in Dublin, Ireland and now lives in southwest France where she writes short stories and poetry, and is a fan of the unique wines of Jurancon.