The Philosopher in the Vines
A visit to the cellar and vineyards of Jean-Jacques Coudray-Bizot becomes a lesson, not just in grapes and soil, but in philosophy, the intellectual process, and the inner workings of Burgundian culture. As you walk among his vines, Jean-Jacques’ musings range from ideas about viticulture, to development around the city of Beaune, the writings of René Descartes, and the nature of self-doubt. It’s this self-questioning nature that is perhaps most crucial to the understanding of Jean-Jacques’ methods. Everything done in the vineyards and in the cellar is considered, investigated and then considered again. This rigorous and methodological process was passed down to Jean-Jacques from his grandfather Dr. Bizot, who was a surgeon and wine maker at the Hospice du Beaune, and whose favorite saying about wine was, “you have to hurry up and wait!”
Jean’s original vines were on the plain, but he, along with a handful of maverick vignerons, began planting up the steep, chalky slopes with the most favorable expositions, and the most frost resistant micro-climates. Since then Jean’s son Denis and now grandson Benoit have continued to work this land and make exceptional Champagne. Benoit, is especially taking quality to new heights at the domain.
Walking in Coudray-Bizot’s vineyard holdings is a Burgundy lover’s dream as your feet sink into the soil that has given birth to some of the world’s greatest pinot noirs and chardonnays. Here in the vines JeanJacques works with the utmost respect for nature and the specific character of the terroirs. All the work is
done to allow the earth to speak through the wines. Use of any chemical treatments are avoided and, of course, the harvest is done completely by hand.
Another key element in the quality and style of these wines is Jean-Jacques’ cellar which lies beneath his home in Beaune, the Chateau David de Beaufort built in the 1500s. Not only does having ancient cellars provide perfect temperature control for fermentation and aging, but the atmosphere and tranquility of the space is also good for the wines’ development and traditional structure. Tasting down in this damp, cool cellar, the only clue that you are in the modern world are a few naked lightbulbs to provide enough light to carefully walk from barrel to barrel. Jean-Jacques decides about de-stemming and élevage from vintage to vintage but no more than 30% new oak is ever used on the wines. Normal aging time in the cellar is 5-6 years before release depending on how the wines are evolving.
Although Jean-Jacques is making some of the most compelling and delicious wine coming out of Burgundy today, he is wary of over-confidence and where it leads. To constantly question his methods and to make the best wine possible are his ultimate goals. Jean-Jacques tells me his father’s most sage piece of advice to him; “always be careful of the person who is the most confident, as they, perhaps, have the most to make up for.”
Echezeaux ‘En Orveaux’
Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru ‘Les Champeaux
Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru ‘Les Cazetiers’
years, the rest were planted fourteen years ago. There is more red clay here and a higher limestone content