Chisa Bize: Inside and Outside the Burgundian Box

Chisa Bize: Inside and Outside the Burgundian Box

A few years ago while in Beaune a young server scoffed when I suggested that Domaine Simon Bize was making natural wines. I thought to myself, "well, maybe what I heard wasn't true," and ordered a bottle of Bize anyway.

Turns out what I heard was true — m
aybe she doesn't party with the natural wine scene's more famous squads, but Chisa Bize has been slowly converting vineyards to organic and Biodynamic cultivation, treating vines with skim milk and essential oils, and embracing the strict principles of Fukuoka. She's been making a zero-sulfur Chardonnay that she sells out of her own wine bar and a small quantity of skin-contact Pinot Gris we managed to obtain. However, she's still making Savigny-les-Beaune in a way that would be best described as Platonic, classical Burgundy. It follows arguably the highest calling of Burgundy, that of showing small differences in terroir though wine.

Her level of excellence at both is rare and inspiring. Categories aside, Bize is gaining respect from a growing number of wine drinkers and professionals. Maybe my snarky Gallic server in Beaune is catching on, because her star has been rising even since, and the wines are as scarce as you would expect for a Burgundian having a moment. We actually have to limit the wines offered here to one bottle of each cuvee per customer.

View Domaine Simon Bize Collection

Chisa Bize came to Burgundy via Tokyo after marrying Patrick Bize, the heir to a family estate dating to the 1880s. Patrick dismissed the idea of her working in the cellar and sent her to work in a struggling parcel of vines called "Serpentieres" to give her something to do. He didn't tell her he planned to rip it out the next year. Chisa had the pleasure of surprising him, though, as she was able to resurrect the vineyard through the implementation of some pretty hardcore natural farming techniques. This was 2008, and it was good enough that Patrick didn't rip the vines out after all. 

In 2013, Patrick Bize sadly passed away, and Chisa has since taken her approach to the entire estate. The wines, if anything, have maintained the historic style. She employs strict old-fashioned Burgundian methods and does 100% stem inclusion in every vintage. This is fine in hot years when the stems fully ripen, but it's a risk in cooler years. I've had my share of good producers, especially in the Cotes des Beaune, who are rigid about stem inclusion, and they can make for frustrating, expensive drinking of backwards wines with green vegetal notes and angry wines.

Bize, by contrast, is able to succeed in this method, and her wines from cooler vintages actually do improve and have an impressive sense of dimension and complexity. Her wines show detail without harshness, and possess balance without losing personality and excitement. Venturing into orange wines, Chisa somehow got her very red-looking "Akatcha" Pinot Gris classified as Bourgogne Blanc, which no doubt required a savvy understanding of how to make the bureaucratic appellation rules work in her favor, despite it's laughably inaccurate classification.

One of the things I enjoy most about Chisa Bize is this mischievous streak. It's refreshingly contrarian and yet in the service of making something beautiful. Her wines somehow check the boxes of some very stringent categories, and yet she doesn't seem concerned with appeasing the box checkers, just her own sensibilities. This doesn't always make for universally appealing wines, but yet again she defies expectations. 

The three wines we're offering do an excellent job of illustrating the Bize style and charm. "Akatcha", the skin-contact wine, shows her at her most experimental. The "Serpentieres" is the vineyard that she revived, in both the current release and a very tiny amount of the 2008-- the vintage that first proved she was not going to be relegated to an obsolete parcel of Burgundy. 

Bize "Akatcha" Borgogne Blanc 2017

Skin-contact Pinot Gris that is neither white, nor orange, but quite red in color. How Chisa Bize got this labeled as Bourgogne Blanc, I don't know, but it's an ethereal, gorgeous wine nevertheless. If your idea of skin-contact Burgundy is via Julien Altaber's wild wines, you owe it to yourself to see how Bize captures delicate, fleeting freshness while retaining harmonious layers of hibiscus tea, sour cherry, and fine texture. This manages to simultaneously be classical Burgundy and something excitingly new. Very limited.

Buy "Akatcha" 2018 | $35

Bize Savigny les Beaune 1er "Les Serpentieres" 2017

According to Chisa Bize, 2017 was a very happy vintage, which makes sense -- in 2016 she lost nearly all of her crop to frost. The happiness of this vintage is a superb way to showcase what Chisa Bize does in maintaining very old-fashioned Burgundian techniques without making rigid wines. Black cherry, clove, black pepper, and thyme notes. Lean and focused, it's hardly a lush wine but it manages to be floral and beautiful while retaining profound depth. 100% whole cluster fermentation provides a serious structure that will allow for impressive cellaring results, but it is matched with just enough healthy, ripe fruit that it is approachable now.
Buy "Serpentieres" 2017 | $99

Bize Savigny-les-Beaune 1er "Les Serpentieres" 2008
 

This is it: the first vintage of Serpentieres after being resurrected by Chisa Bize's labor-intensive employment of natural farming methods. 2008 was a challenging vintage, but this also proves out Bize's adherence to 100% stem inclusion, which she feels gives dimension and depth to wines made in tough years. Yet this practice is employed by many others who don't come close to making wines with the finessed beauty of Chisa BizeSage and umami accompany earthy, black cherry notes and fine-tuned acidity. This will excel with food like duck but also has the tannic detail to hang with short ribs and steaks. We are thrilled to have this to demonstrate not only her impressive story, but how gracefully her wines age. 

Buy "Serpentieres" 2008 | $110

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