Vosne Romanée, Burgundy.
Taking advantage of a 2-3 day family visit in Burgundy, we found the time to visit Jean-Yves Bizot. My first experience with his wines was in a tasting at Augé last november. His Vosne Romanée 2003 and Echezeaux Grand Cru 2002 were a memorable feast for the palate. He was not very talkative on this frigid and snowy day : It was so cold that every vigneron in front of the store had been fit with a brightly colored peruvian earflap hat by forethinking Marc Sibard. But I still could learn from him that these balanced and delicate wines were made out of a very small vineyard surface (2,5 hectare) and through a very simple and non-sophisticated vinification.
This is a balmy warm april day. Jean-Yves Bizot says he is currently doing some replanting to replace dead vines and his employee is busy mowing the grass between the rows [picture lower right : the grass grows fast after the cold winter]. He will plow lightly along the roots some time later. He says there is too much plowing in the vineyard nowadays : The vineyard and the upper layer should be left alone with their own quiet life.
After this introduction, he looks for glasses and opens the blue door to the cellar. The tasting glasses are big, he does not like the INAO glasses and says these ones are large and wide enough to let the wine breathe and ventilate.
The vaulted cellar is cool, its walls oozing with dampness in some places. It was built circa 1850 and prior to that, a sophisticated drainage was built to isolate it from the underground water. The main cellar room holds a little less than 2 dozen casks : the 2005 wines. All of them Pinot Noir : Vosne Romanée and Echezeaux. His Echezeaux comes from 3 plots (70 ares altogether).
He says he began working here in 1993. This is a family estate and back then, when his father's sharecropper fell ill, he took charge of the vineyards. But he was initially trained as a geologist (which can be useful in the viticulture) and so he attended oenology studies in Dijon, Burgundy (1991-1992). He actually soon had to "de-learn" many of the things that are taught there. Speaking of geology and of what it brought to him, he says he learned an important thing : in french, "laisser le temps au temps", leave the time to time, or let things settle down. This quiet duration factor matters for the vineyard and for the vinification, like it does for the geological phenomenons.
About the definition of terroir, he says people often refer to the synthesis of vineyard cum soil, but disregard the human role in terroir : Humans have carved the landscapes, the hills and the slopes along the centuries, taking away stone by stone from the vineyard to build walls arount it, building drainages along the plots. He says that around here, all the slopes have an underground drainage. This is out of the view of the unsuspecting visitor and many have been built in the 12th-13th century.
Back to this cellar : In winter, he lets the temperature plunge to 6-8° C by opening the doors. It stabilizes the wine and it is good for tartric stability. The gaz will dissolve in the wine and you get a wood-wine balance. It also helps at the bacterian level as he does not add any SO2.
The grapes are non-destemmed. He works in the vineyard to have the best quality in the clusters to allow thatn: Ripe harvest with 20/25 hectoliter/hectare. 5-6 days fermentation in a vat, then he treads the grapes under his feet and heels. Some punching of the cap but no pumping-over. There is not a single pump here. He says pumping-over is easy but brings a lot of negative side-effects : it hardens the tannins for example. The wine stays between 13-14 days to 22-23 days in the vats, depending of the millesime. No external yeasts. He says that the fact he uses whole clusters allows the juice to auto-regulate. Sugar is released little by little and dissolves, bringing a natural balance. Temperature of the juice at this stage is about 25-26° C. The juice's density goes down very progressively in about 5-6 days.
Then comes the press stage, then decanting. Then, 5-6 days after pressing, the wine goes in the casks, new casks, always (Rousseau Freres cooperage, Tronçais-forest wood, 36 months natural drying). He says that when you buy an old cask somewhere else, even a one-wine-old cask, you take-in sulphur with it because casks are cleaned with sulphur, the wood has incorporated it and gives it back, resulting in your wine supposedly non-sulphured showing some in tests.The bottling, which he does himself, is done cask by cask. It means the differences from cask to cask will be found in the bottles too. No selective bottling for some customers here. When the wine is bottled, this is the first time it is being moved. It spent its élevage quietly since it went into the cask. Small SO2 added at bottling. Usually 10mg/liter, exceptionally up to 15mg. Very little free SO2 left in the bottle, but until now he had no accident for the wine's stability.
The wine's elevage lasts 15 to 20 months depending of the millesime. Right now alchoholic and malolactic fermentation are over (they actually were complete in december).
Let's taste now. He walks to a cask with the wine thief :
__1 Jean-Yves Bizot Vosne Romanée 2005. The base cuvée. 20-year old vines (1986). The wide-bodied glass allows a good swirling of the wine, releasing red fruits aromas, burlat cherry (as B. notes). He says he does not keep any bottle since 1999 (let's remind he works on a tiny 2,5 hectare estate). He still has bottles from 1998 sometimes and opens some regularly.
__2 Jean-Yves Bizot Vosne Romanée 2005, 70 years old vines (1927-1933). Nice nose. Maybe a little closed, he says (normal for the old vines at this stage). Nice glycerol legs in the wide glass. Substance in the mouth. Nice. Spices. B. notes rose aroma in the empty glass... Thin, tight tannins. He says 2005 for him is a very nice year with balace, quite easy to work on. The vosne vineyards got frost may 3rd 2005, some future grapes were lost. It was even worse in Echezeaux. He usually makes 5 casks there and made only 4 in 2005. About 2006, he says the growth is 10 days late due to a long, cold winter.
__3 Jean-Yves Bizot Vosne Romanée, les Jachées 2005 [picture on left with glass : VRJ ]. The freshest of the 3. More acidity. Still some gaz. He put the wine in casks with some sugar left and it fermented there. He says that beyond the vividness here, this wine is straight. Burlat cherry in the mouth.
__4 Jean-Yves Bizot Echezeaux Grand Cru 2005. The last but not the least. Brilliant, purple robe. Lots of complexity, B. says. He says that what he likes in this wine is that there are no angles, there is a dense, well-melted texture. This is indeed a great wine and we enjoy every drop of it. Yield was 16 hectoliter/hectare this year. Some producers look for the explosive side, here it is all subtle notes, fluidity, suavity. Back a few years ago customers needed time to adapt and he himself wondered if he had to change course (this was 5-6 years ago). Parker stopped noting his wines for example. But now, people have gradually changed their way to appreciate wine, and he is out of the storm, with a solid customer base in France and abroad.
While most of his wine is red Pinot Noir, he has a very tiny production of Chardonnay, that we did not taste here.
His wines can be found at several selected cavistes. See here le Cavon de Bacchus in Nuits Saint Georges. He exports in several countries, among them Luxemburg ( Wengler S.A. ), and also Japan, through Oenocom and Odex.