Joseph Dorbon’s setup is simple: three hectares of organically tended vines on prime south-facing slopes above his home village of Vadans; a horse to help him plow; and a subterranean 16th-century cellar in which his soulful wines slowly take shape. We met Joseph through Michel Gahier, and indeed the two men share a certain combination of dyed-in-the-wool Jurassien spirit and boundary-pushing thoughtfulness. Vadans, a sleepy little village even for the Jura, contains soils of yellow marl, which tend to produce reds of great finesse and whites of chiseled complexity, and Dorbon’s wines follow suit; yet, like the greatest wines in the region, they are both deeply evocative of place and distinctly Joseph’s own. He works his land without chemicals, plows by horse—a difficult and little-seen practice which he learned from his uncle—and harvests by hand. His cellar practices are minimal and steeped in Jura tradition: spontaneous fermentations without temperature regulation; aging sous-voile for his white wines; minimal (and sometimes no) additions of sulfur; and bottling of the white wines only after significant time in cask. Joseph’s deeply evocative wines have garnered deserved attention since we first began our partnership five years ago, and we are preparing to receive a round of new arrivals from him this week.
2016 Arbois Rouge “Les Bernardines – Vieilles Vignes”
“Les Bernardines” is a vineyard in Vadans named after the Bernardine order of Cistercian monks who stewarded the land during the Middle Ages, and Joseph owns Ploussard and Pinot Noir vines within its confines. The harvest, comprising around 80% Ploussard and 20% Pinot Noir, is co-fermented in stainless steel without temperature stabilization, and aged two full years in old Burgundy barrels. Fresh and lithe, the 2016 “Les Bernardines” leads with Ploussard’s sappy red-cherry fruit, with the Pinot Noir contributing a certain suaveness of texture. The palate sees an extra boost of concentration from the 60+ year old vines, and the wine blends gentle structure with vivacious drinkability in very harmonious fashion.
2018 Arbois Trousseau
Trousseau reigns supreme in Montigny-les-Arsures, the home village of Michel Gahier and Jacques Puffeney, where it produces wines of power and structure from the village’s grey-marl soils; by contrast, Vadans’ yellow-marl soils produce a more easygoing version of the variety, and Dorbon thusly treats it more breezily in the cellar than he does his Ploussard, aging it in stainless steel for just one year and applying no sulfur whatsoever. With its clean, ringing black-cherry fruit and its varietally true spice character, Joseph’s 2018 Trousseau dazzles with its purity and drive, with only a wisp of tannins tying the package together.
2014 Arbois Blanc “Cuvée des Moyne – Vieilles Vignes”
“Cuvée des Moyne”—moyne being the Middle French spelling of moine, or “monk”—comprises 80% Chardonnay and 20% Savagnin from vines between 40 and 70 years of age in Vadans. The varieties are interplanted, and Joseph harvests and ferments them together, giving them three years in neutral 228-liter Burgundy casks with no topping up. This wine illustrates clearly how veil-derived characteristics—marzipan, curry, green walnuts—can coexist comfortably alongside fresh-fruit elements and vigorous acidity in a well-crafted sous-voile white wine, and indeed “Cuvée des Moyne” is downright chiseled in its minerality, with bright, direct yellow fruits framed by, rather than overwhelmed by, the saline thrust of the veil.
2010 Arbois Savagnin
Joseph purposely bottles very little of his Savagnin as Vin Jaune, and his “basic” Savagnin spends longer in barrel than is required of an actual Vin Jaune by law—in the case of this 2010, seven full years sous-voile. The resulting wine, though deeply marked by the mysterious and wildly complex aromatic and flavor spectrum of the veil, remains fresh and vinous, with stunning acidity and a saliva-prompting, bone-dry finish of unbelievable length.
2009 Arbois Vin Jaune
According to appellation restrictions, Vin Jaune must spend a full five years in barrel sous-voile, and cannot be released until six years and three months after the harvest; Dorbon doubles the formula, giving the rare barrels he deems worthy of being bottled as Vin Jaune a full decade in cask. The result is an oceanic wine of seemingly impossible power, with raging acidity wed to luscious, salt-caked yellow fruits, and given additional complexity by a raw-almond character that stops short of overt oxidation. This makes most Vin Jaune taste tame by comparison, but it nonetheless retains a stunning sense of equilibrium and fine-grained minerality.
2013 Macvin du Jura
According to tradition and law, Dorbon’s benchmark Macvin du Jura is produced from two-thirds unfermented must (in his case, pure Chardonnay) and one-third marc distilled from his own fruit, raised in his own cellar. Macvin, a beloved local specialty, is rarely non-delicious but is often somewhat simple; not so with Joseph’s, which spends a whopping six years aging in its own separate barrel cellar and developing startling complexity. The up-front varietally charged fruit of most Macvin melts in Dorbon’s version into an umami-tinged and broad palate of truffle and tobacco, with the alcohol integrated smoothly into the concoction’s overall complexity.
2006 Macvin du Jura “Hors d’Age”
Joseph occasionally chooses a particularly splendid cask and lets it age for twice as long (or more) as his “basic” Macvin, producing an “Hors d’Age” version of Macvin du Jura that has no peer in the region. The 2006, which was just bottled in 2019 after nearly 13 years of aging, is outside category, with the umami depths of the shorter-aged version amplified hugely; the aromatics alone are worth the price of admission. No lover of spirits should fail to experience this outer limit of the category.