Is the Jura Dealing with the “Urban Outfitters Effect”?

When news broke that one of the Jura's beloved producers will lease vineyard land to famed Burgundy winemaker Guillaume d'Angerville, it inspired a wealth of complaints and speculation. Is the Jura poised to become the indie band whose fans struggle with its mainstream success?

old burgundy wine bottle jura

When the news broke earlier this week that, upon his retirement at the end of the 2014 vintage, iconic Jura winemaker Jacques Puffeney would lease his 10.5 acre vineyard to Domaine du Pélican—the Jura estate under the ownership of famed Burgundy producer Guillaume d’Angerville of Domaine Marquis d’Angerville—my Facebook feed welled up with a grumbling chorus of complaints.

The reactions among my industry friends and colleagues serve as a fairly accurate representation of a larger attitude toward signs of change within that region. “Just what the world needs: more slick ‘Burgundian’ Jura wine,” one noted. “D’Angerville clearly knows how to make great Burgundy, but does that translate to what is expected from the Jura?” asked another.

Comments such as these might initially seem like classic examples of what Freud once called “the narcissism of small differences.” One is also reminded of the mentality found in the “indie” rock scene, wherein fans become angry when their favorite obscure band signs with a major label. But for a generation that came of age as wine drinkers during the Jura’s unexpected rise to “wine geek” canonization, the “differences” signaled by the takeover—at once cultural, social and stylistic—represent anything but “minor” ones.

In this way, the story of the Jura’s ascendancy mirrors the wider shift in public taste and awareness that has redefined our contemporary drinking culture. To that end, the Jura—and the artisanal narrative that grew up around it, describing a last bastion of untouched, “authentic” winemaking traditions—perfectly suited a growing generational sense of what “real wine” should be.

Today, the Jura exists in the collective imagination as the quintessentially offbeat wine region. Among journalists, it has become commonplace to name-drop it as a shorthand for the kind of wines that boast a specific countercultural street cred. The region developed such a loyal cult following, after all, as a direct result of this appeal. But as any student of culture (or capitalism) knows all too well, the “Urban Outfitters Effect” is impossible to avoid: history repeatedly demonstrates how challenging it can be for “outsider” or “fringe” expressions to resist mainstream appropriation.

According to a certain subset of drinkers, at least, the face of the “mainstream” in this instance can be none other than d’Angerville’s­—admittedly, an ironic role in which to cast one of Burgundy’s most internationally acclaimed producers, whose tiny quantities of Volnay number among the finest examples of their kind. It can’t be denied, on the other hand, that despite their geographical proximity, the culture of Burgundy isn’t that of the Jura, and the arrival of a wealthy producer without roots in the region (and with a titre de noblesse in his name) has inevitably alarmed traditionalists. That he’s taking over for a local hero like Puffeney, widely known as the “Pope of Arbois,” only exaggerates the inherent symbolism.

“It’s not a question of whether or not d’Angerville is making good wine or bad wine,” explains Sophie Barrett of importer Selection Massale, who recently spent several months in the Jura working the harvest with acclaimed producer Stéphane Tissot. “It’s about the place maintaining its personality, and what concerns people is the threat of losing identity. The Jura is a rustic spot, with a strong sense of community. This—in addition to the wines—is what attracts us to the Jura. It’s not a place for big money; it’s a place for soulful wine.”

For the time being, it remains unclear what wines like d’Angerville’s—which some have praised for their “Burgundian” elegance and others have characterized as overly polished and lacking the area’s traditional spirit—might predict about the area’s future.

That the Jura has suddenly become a commercial prospect, however, is far from surprising. It could be argued, for that matter, that further interest from d’Angerville and his ilk might signify a different kind of potential for the region, ensuring its success on the international stage and granting its native winemakers even broader exposure.

On the other hand, with prices climbing exponentially each year and top bottles becoming increasingly rare and (dare I say) collectible items, this is the exact scenario traditionalists fear most.