The wines of Jurançon have played a deep and historic role in the history and culture of the Béarn – Henry IV was allegedly baptised with one in 1553. Unfortunately, phylloxera, two world wars and the Wall Street crash severely diminished production and by the time its great champion (the actress and author Colette), died in 1954, there were just a handful of independent winemakers left. Happily, the situation has now improved. Pascal Labasse typified a new generation of independent vignerons when he left the comfort of the local cave co-opérative to produce his own wine at Domaine Bellegarde, bottling his first vintage in 1986. Today, he presides over 14 hectares of vines and is assisted by his son Maxime.
Domaine Bellegarde lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees outside Monein, 12 kilometers west of Pau. Here, the family tend 14 hectares of vines exclusively planted with white grape varieties (there is no red or rosé permitted in Jurançon): principally Gros and Petit Manseng. The clay and limestone soils are elevated and free-draining and the grapes are harvested by hand using triage (or successive visits), to select only the ripest grapes. The resultant wines are both dry or sweet in style and the more unctuous examples can be cellared for many years. Pascal's Jurançon Sec 'Énergique' is made from pure Gros Manseng that is harvested in September and vinified with indigenous yeasts in temperature-controlled vats before being bottled in the spring. It is dry and zesty with citrus scents and flavours and is underscored by nervy mineral notes. It makes a versatile apéritif or partner to shellfish. A sweet Jurançon Moelleux 'Historique' is made from 20% Gros Manseng and 80% Petit Manseng and is raised in barrels for 3 months and vats for 6 months prior to bottling. It has a lovely, golden colour, ripe pineapple aromas and a heady, honeyed palate with a long, elegant and rounded finish. Traditionally served as a pre-prandial pick-me-up, it also pairs very well with fruit-based desserts. Completing a commendable range is their flagship 'Cuvée Thibault' which is made entirely from late-harvested Petit Manseng. Rich and complex with an exotic fruit bouquet and diverse apricot, peach and grapefruit notes, it makes for a decadent digestif or celebratory bonne bouche.