We were pointed to Domaine Simon Bize when we visited Marc Grenier a few months ago. He had given to us one of his Burgundy reds which we liked much. A long-time user of Grenier wooden vats, this family winery is also one of the discreet pillars of Burgundy wines and works out of 23 hectares, part of it being rented, making quite a good number of cuvées, mostly from the Savigny area. We took advantage of a planned family visit in Burgundy to ask for a visit. B. had also tasted their wines a couple of times in tasting events that I couldn't attend, and she was impressed.
We had the chance to taste the wines with both Patrick Bize, now in charge of the winery and centered on the red-wine part of his vinifications, and Guillaume Bott, a winemaker hired in 2002 who is in charge of white wines here. The only thing I regret is that we couldn't meet Patrick Bize's Japanese wife Chisa who was in Nara (Japan) at the time with their two children. We'd have liked to learn more from her as this is all such a nice story : A bank professional in Tokyo a few years back, she longed to learn more about French wine and maybe change career, and she volunteered to be Patrick Bize's translator during one of his first visits in Japan. He had come to Japan to see how it was like, in 1996. They were beginning to sell a bit in Japan and he thought it might be interesting to go there. The Japanese buyers organized his stay and visits very well, and even proposed an interpreter, which he refused at first (he learned later that you must not refuse something in Japan). She eventually guided him around, and later came to France to see and take part to the harvest, they married and had two children. Her wine expertise has immensely increased since (she even follows courses at Anne Claude Leflaive's wine school)...
Guillaume Bott came out of the vatroom then. He has been working as winemaker (for the white wines) here for 7 years. He was working for Domaine Etienne Sauzet before, an estate producing exclusively white wines in Puligny-Montrachet. Domaine Simon Bize's production is split between about 2/3 of red wines and 1/3 of whites.
__Simon Bize Bourgogne "les Perrières" 2003, a white. From vineyards in Savigny, on interesting terroirs up on the slope bordered by woods, on a very limestone soil. Full of ripeness, a nice introduction. This 2003 was his second vintage there, he had arrived here in june 2002 and got to adapt to the vineyards and the cellar. 2002 was a very beautiful vintage, which was a good thing for his first year, while 2003 was more difficult. They began to harvest august 18 that year. To compare, in 2008 it was something like sept 20 or 25. This 2003 is a good surprise, he says, people used to say that this vintage wouldn't make lasting wines. We're at our glass debating about the location of these Perrières vineyard when Patrick Bize melts back suddenly into our tasting, saying jokingly "en blancs, on est meilleur que chez Anne Claude" ["we're making better whites than Anne Claude" - we had told him about our visit at Anne Claude Leflaive, a close friend of his, and he likes to tease her]. I must say here that a visit with Patrick Bize is a lot of fun, often unexpected, like this one, which is even better. Patrick Bize, about les Perrières, says that there are three different vineyards there, without soil differences. He walks us to this vatroom to taste a white from a stainless-steel vat, a bottling being scheduled for tomorrow. The large vatroom and storage area has been added in 2000, the previous facility which was located 200 meters from here in the middle of the village being awfully small and uncomfortable, according to Patrick. As we walk to the vats, we pass along the open wooden vats, there are two lines of them on each side of the vatroom. All the reds are vinified in these traditional open vats. The first one on the left [picture above] has been salvaged and renovated by Grenier cooperage. It was very damaged at the bottom and Marc Grenier had to cut off 20 centimeters, that's why it's a bit shorter than it was. This vat is now partly in wild cherry-wood and part in oak. I shot a picture from above, shooting randomly toward the inside, look at this wonderful wine-vessel interior [pic on right]...
Reaching the stainless-steel vat with the white wine due to be bottled the next day, Patrick bot fills his glass, then ours and Patrick's.
__Simon Bize Bourgogne Blanc, les Champlains 2008. Nice brightcolor, very aromatic nose. Guillaume says that it is a blend of vat-vinifications (1/3) and cask-vinifications (2/3, casks from new ones to 6-year old). Usually here, Guillaume says, they have 15% of new casks, for a short-elevage use, like 8 months. The white wines are blended, fined and lightly filtered. It's a rather round and gliding wine, and Guillaume Bott says that the next wine, les Perrières, which comes from a vineyard 200 meters away maybe, will be completely different in spite of the same vinification. The soil is why. In the first years, they would vinify this wine totally in casks but they realized it couldn't stand much oak, so they did it partly in vats. They tested different proportions but the 2/3-1/3 yielded the best results. Guillaume Bott goes now to another stainless-steel vat.
__Simon Bize les Perrières 2008 (white). The color is very different here, and B. notices that the latter was more on the gold side and this one on the greenish side. In the mouth it's very different too, it is much more tight (tendu) and mineral.This had an elevage 100% in wood. He says that les Perrières is always very discreet when young, a wine that needs a longer elevage in bottles to open up. This Perrières terroir is a real terroir compared to much of the generic Burgundy vineyards which lie on little-value flatland on both sides of the highway. Here you have something elegant. He tried to blend Champlains with Perrières when he arrived in 2002 but it wasn't interesting either. This les Perrières will already be much more open and enjoyable in a year from now. 2008 wines are well balanced, he says. They were just worried for these 2008 because there was a lot of malic acid, so they thought the wines could get a bit weak or bland after the malo-ferm, but they actually retained a good balance. Speaking of difficult vinifications, for Guillaume Bott, 2006 was the toughest because the wines were quite high in alcohol and the yeasts had difficulty to finish the job (they use only the wild yeasts). If necessary, they use oxygen to awake the yeasts.
__Simon Bize Savigny Blanc (Village) 2008, from a stainless-steel vat. Was racked 15 days ago from the casks, so the wine is to be tasted "as is", brut de soutirage. Still turbid, greenish, some gas. Will be bottled before the next harvest. More length, more powerful already than the generic Burgundies, with still a good acidity.Empty glass with aromas of white flowers, even some spices it seems to me. Patrick Bize smiles and listens, we don't dare to say more.
__Simon Bize Savigny Premier Cru les Vergelesses 2008. Turbid too. Beautiful (sorry, can't find my notes). Patrick Bize says that even though Guillaume Bott is specialized on the whites, he gives also his advice, and both go to the vineyards to check the vines and the grape growth. He hired also someone to look over the reds, Nicolas Gordo. There's an exchange between the three about which way to go and it helps make safe choices.
At this season in the vineyard, they have to do the evasivage or epamprage, a sensitive and time-consuming foliage cutting which is decisive for the future grape. They also cut the grass, and do the rognage, a cutting of the vine branches raising high over the rows. They employ about 5-6 people altogether including at the winery, plus extra staff for particular tasks like pruning and burning the canes. This afternoon, they spray against mildew and oidium. Speaking of the harvest, which are manual, the 35-or-so staff eats together the lunch prepared by his wife Chisa, with some rosé. There was also about 10 people here at the winery to sort the incoming grapes.
__Simon Bize Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2008. Taken from one of three casks stored in a separate room near the vatroom. Very turbid (see the glass that Patrick Bize holds on the wheelbar of his bicycle), Guillaune Bott says that's because it's still in the midst of its malolactic fermentation. Asked about stirring, they say they don't do it much, depends of the years. Guillaume Bott chose the new cask among the three (the others are 1- and 2-year old) to taste this wine because the malolactic fermentation is usually more advanced there, making the tasting easier. They let the malo-ferm happen by itself here, which makes some cask do it earlier than others. Difficult to taste at this stage.
__Simon Bize "Aux Grands Liards" Savigny 2008 (red). Beginning its malo, he says. It's a cuvée made with rather old vines, on the Village side. This wine will probably stay in casks until next october or november. Very pleasant in spite of being starting its malo-ferm. He says he'll check the wine again in august. They usually open the red-wines cellars in winter to cool them down and close the white-wine rooms to warm the atmosphere, for the sugar and the malo to do their job. Later in the season, they need to warm up the reds and pump some warm air from the outside. This red-wines cask cellar is at 9°C in winter and at 15°C now.
__Simon Bize Aloxe-Corton Le Suchot 2008, a Monopole (not to confuse with "les Suchots" in Beaune). From another (old) cask. A one-hectare vineyard, not in ownership, he works it on metayage. A pleasure, this wine, says B. As I look on the walls of this now-20-year-old cellar room, I spot here and there patches of black molds which made it their territory, even if they seem less thick than in the oldest rooms.
__Simon Bize Savigny Serpentières Premier Cru 2008. Quite dark wine, Guillaume Bott says that after the malo it will be less intense. Vineyard on mid slope, exposed on south, facing les Guettes (purple zone, upper-center on this map). Speaking of casks, he works with a small Burgundian cooperage located in Chagny, Tonnellerie Minier. Hard to taste right now. Patrick Bize says that when mature, this wine is more supple than les Guettes, being from a vineyard in deeper, clayish soil. For him, this terroir is fine and ends up yielding good results.
__Simon Bize, Savigny les Marconnets 2008. On the Beaune side, near the autoroute (on the left when you come from Paris - purple zone on the left, on this map). Very nice wine. Easier to taste, he says.
__Simon Bize Savigny les Guettes 2008. A climat located upper on the slope compared to les Serpentières. More rocky soil with the woods at the top of the slope nearby. 100% whole clusters. Not very original for a tasting note, but I like this one too... Asked if they taste regularly to anticipate what to do next, he says that they do it now and then, like today with us, sometimes with friends and vignerons (never with customers to stay independant). About SO2, these wines that we're tasting have seen none yet, they are brut de vendange, as pure as on harvest day. The wine sits on its lees. B. enjoys this wine very much too.
__Simon Bize les Talmettes 2008. Located just before les Vergelesses (center, purple, partly hidden by a grape sign on this map), an old vineyard, 0,8 hectare. He trimmed this plot himself this morning, he says that the ground was muddy while les Perrières and les Champlains were dry. So he decided to walk bare feet there to spare his shoes, in symbiosis with the soil (note that, he says with a grin, and I'll not wash my feet till tonight to stay in symbiosis...). Serious again, he says that this vineyard is grassy and dotted with wild blue flowers. Very nice wine, B. likes it too. Nice texture, very pure and classy. Les Fournaux in comparison was more square and firm. 15 casks of this wine. Asked about the price of this wine, he says it costs 20 Euro, adding it's quite cheap, which seems true considering the character of this true wine. The generic Bourgogne wines cost 8 Euro, the Savigny-Village wines cost 15 Euro and the Premier-Cru wines 20 Euro.
__Simon Bize, Savigny Premier Cru les Vergelesses 2008. (Talmettes on the left, Vergelesses on the right on this map). That's nice. One notch over the Talmettes, beautiful. He says that the orientation and soil is very close from the latter, but it's an older vineyard here, planted partly by his grandfather(in 1938 maybe) and by his father (1947). That's tasting already so well, I'd be curious to see when he really stands up... He nods, saying 2008 is a very good year in general. Part of the grapes (50%) were whole-clustered. He says that it's not fashionable to have whole clusters these days, but he feels like the wine can stand it, so he goes for it. Superb wine indeed.
__Simon Bize, Latricières Chambertin Grand Cru 2008. Cask again. One third destemmed grapes, two thirds whole clusters. Very beautiful nose. Not in ownership, purchased to a friend on métayage.
__Simon Bize Savigny Premier Cru les Serpentières 1993. The sound of the cork going out was gorgeous, really, and the wine had this vibrant color as it poured into the glasses. 16-year half bottle. That's nice. The bottles had been opened in front of us, no carafing stage here, but it already gives nice spicy aromas. 100% destemmed, Patrick remembers. He says that this love with whole-cluster vinifications comes from his father and his grandfather. His father missed his vintage in 1947, it was very hot and he had destemmed, there was no cooling system in vats, they used a horse cart to go to Beaune and bring back big ice blocks which had almost melted back at the winery, a disaster. They lost several cuvées that year. Since then, they considered that on old vineyards, except for the big clusters and the ones with so-so grapes that they can destem, the rest can be vinified whole. Asked about wholecluster vinifications elsewhere, he says that it's not common. Dujac used to do it much.
For the story, Patrick Bize has three sisters with whom he is very close and he was the one who took the reins of the family estate. One of his sisters is a demanding wine lover and lives in Paris. Another one lives in Vosne Romanée and works in an estate.
As we taste again this Serpentières, its balance and elegance strike us. Patrick Bize says that it needed lots of time to reach this expression. Tasted in the years 1996-1997, even 2000 and 2005, it was still on its way. He happened to keep these half-bottles because the restaurants thought the format difficult to sell, and it turned out that this wine aged well. You just had to wait for this particular cuvée.
I'll note his good word that he had in the last minutes of our visit : "le vin, c'est fait pour être bu à table, avec des gens qu'on aime bien, avec une bonne bouffe", in short, wine is to be had with good friends and something good to eat, that's all.
Patrick Bize had two children with his Japanese wife Chisa.
75% of Simon Bize wines are exported. UK (John Armit), US (Martin Scott Wines in NY and Cellar Door Import in California), Japan (Luc). See this importers page for other countries. In the past, Belgium and Switzerland were more important markets than now, he notes.