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About 8 years ago, I visited the Christine and Gerard Villet in Arbois for the first time. We met at the Foire Eco Bio in Colmar, which I believe is still the largest organic fair in Western Europe, complete with composting toilets, cheese, beer, clothes, spices, wines, bike powered concerts - literally every organic thing you could imagine - and a little old man who strolls around with a medieval cart, sharpening knives for 1 euro. We tasted and discussed a visit, so I headed to Arbois after visiting some winemakers in Alsace after the fair. The visit to Arbois was probably my first, and was memorable to say the least: lunch at Bistrot des Claquets, and an afternoon visit with the Villets, followed by a fantastic dinner: organic veggies from their garden, and an exquisite pot of Coq au Vin Jaune (another first for me). Since that visit, the Villet's humble abode has been like a home away from home when I travel through France, thanks to the generosity and warmth of the Villets, and their amazing cooking!
Today we have an offer of new arrivals from the Villets, including several red wine bottlings, rare for them and rare for the region in general. Though they have been mentors if not positive influences on many of the younger generation of low-intervention winemakers in the Jura (including Alice Bouvot, Patrice Beguet, Guillaume Gilet and many more), their wines are for the most part traditional. Vinification style is more Burgundy than Beaujolais, so their reds are a bit more concentrated than some carbonic-style Poulsards or Trousseaus on the market. Their ouillé whites have precision and never have the feel of lees stirring and creaminess that I find in a lot of ouillé whites from younger producers. Their oxidative whites are pitch perfect, and their sparkling wines are balanced and food-friendly.
Domaine Villet is a family estate that was started in 1900, and was converted to organic viticulture in 1988, making them one of the first estates in the region to do so. Gérard felt the results were better with organic agriculture, so he eliminated the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic fungicides, favoring the use of manure, compost and organic elements. Around the turn of the (21st) century, the only treatments used in the vineyard were copper (bouillie bordelaise) for mildew, and sulfur for oïdium. Since then, they have been minimizing the use of the copper and sulfur in the vineyard and relying instead on plant extracts, such as tea nettle, prêle (horsetail), willows, dandelions, and the like. Gérard believes firmly that vignerons must be working in the vines throughout the year in order to be attentive to the health of the vines and to reduce risks. He lets natural grasses grow but tills to limit proliferation. He only uses natural yeast in vinification, as he feels yeasts that are introduced are standardized and lead to a uniformity of taste, whereas natural yeasts allow the terroir to be fully expressed. Sulfur is used in moderation (typically between 10-20 mg per liter added at bottling to cover transport).
Christine and Gérard are a warm and humble couple, and it's clear that they love what they do. Their comittment to organic farming, and to the health of their vines and the greater ecosystem, has inspired others (the surface area of organic vineyards in Arbois has gone from 1% in the 80's, to currently nearly 25%), and their wines are exceptional examples of the unique styles and expressions of the region. We hope you enjoy them!... and I recommend making Coq au Vin Jaune with the Savagnin Typé in this offer. The money you save not having to shell out for an actual bottle of Vin Jaune can be used towards morels, if you really want to find the path to bliss.
The 2015 resonates with comforting aromas of creamy walnuts, smoke, red apple, and gingerbread spice upon opening. With time lifted aromas of genepy and subtle mountain herbs emerge to reveal a wine that's playful but rooted in rich tradition. The palate is tightly knit with gripping acidity, spice, and delicious salty minerals. There is the faintest toasted walnut note on the mid-palate but the finish is all refreshing, mineral acidity. -AB
The 2018 Savagnin Typé is aged sous voile for 30 months. This is a must for any fan of oxidative whites, and a perfect bottle to use for Coq au Vin Jaune on a budget. Of course, use a bit for the recipe, and drink most of it with dinner! Very fresh, mineral, and of course displaying slightly nutty aromas, akin to Fino Sherry. -EL
This is the second 'Orange' (Skin Contact) wine produced by the Villets, and a great success! They had some of this wine aging in stainless tank, which Christine found to be strong on spice notes. This bottling was from the part that they aged in large barrels, which she remarks is "plus sur la profondeur, moins sur l'épice" (more on the depth, less on the spice). The tannins are subtle here, mingling with dry orchard fruit, and herbal tea notes. A compelling orange wine, and a fine wine in its own right, not a gimmick or something they hatched up because it's trendy. I remember Christine telling me many years ago that they were curious about the potential of Chardonnay and Savagnin to produce interesting maceration wines. Though relatively new for them (they produced one skin contact Chardonnay in 2014, and this Tradition bottling from 2018), they clearly have a knack for it!
This may be the first time we were able to get some pure Poulsard from the Villets, and we couldn't be happier. A bit deeper than expressions from other Jura estates, so it won't be confused for a dark rosé. Another distinction is the lack of reduction, which is extremely common with Poulsard. This is charming and delicious right on opening. Christine noted to me that the wine had a bit more material due to the warm 2020 vintage, and I can't complain. It's actually quite nice to have a Poulsard that I can share with non-wine geek friends -EL
From a recent tasting of the reds, the Villet Trousseau was a slight favorite. Hints of black cherry, mingling with cranberry notes and a touch of black pepper. Brightness and crunch, with silky texture and light-medium body. Really pleasant now, this Trousseau should age nicely over the next 3-5 years.
In 2017, the Villets filled one of their very large barrels with Pinot Noir, and had a bit extra in a stainless tank. After tasting both, there was a particular appeal to the fresh snappy nature of the tank Pinot, so we requested they save us some! Even now in 2022, the wine has a lot of freshness and pep. Perhaps every so slightly reductive on opening, this blows off within 10 minutes. A bit less immediately charming than the Trousseau or Poulsard, this Pinot Noir really starts to shine after about an hour open, with perfectly balanced red fruit. Very pure wine, with a sharp mineral core, and a delicate finish. -EL
A blend of all three red Jura varieties, Poulsard, Trousseau, and Pinot Noir, from the first certified organic estate in Arbois. Winemaker Christine Villet is a mentor and a mother-figure to many of the regions up-and-coming winemakers. The 2019 Tradition is woodsy, with dark cherry notes and hints of baking spice. The palate is surprisingly plump, with red fruits and a clean mineral freshness. Medium tannins, and overall good structure for aging. This would even work served with a light chill, with a steak on the grill this summer! My feeling based on the structure and medium-body of this red is that it could easily age 5-10 years and develop some finesse. The tannins are by no means firm or out of balance with the fruit and acidity, but there is ample structure and lift for aging. -EL
A blend of Pinot Noir, Trousseau and Poulsard, this is a dark and flavorful Cremant du Jura, a bit reminiscent of a Rosato Lambrusco in it's color and light tannic structure. Red and black currant notes, and a really long mineral finish. This is a great sparkling rosé to have with food, though it's definitely got enough character to stand alone! Though always a favorite, this particular bottling may be the best yet. Super savory, flavorful, dry and mineral... Yum! -EL