Bruno Debize farmed about 5 hectares in the Beaujolais, mainly in the Southern part of the region, close to his home and cellar in Bully (just West of Lyon). I say farmed because in 2012 Bruno decided to lease/sell most of his vineyard holdings, having determined that he had accomplished everything he wanted to as a vigneron (though he’s probably only in his late-thirties). He was also fed up with the French bureaucracy, mainly because the construction of a highway in 2010 lead to one of his prized parcels of 80 year old vines on schist, Les Ecoirets, to be paved over. These days Bruno vinifies select parcels of what he has leased out to his friends and also continues to buy fruit from growers with whom he has longstanding relationships. Biodynamic since 1999, Bruno Debize makes some of the purest, most terroir driven Beaujolais in a region where style and dogma often trump transparency.
He is one of the most hyper sensitive and self-critical tasters I have ever encountered. When I visited him this past May, we tasted all the wines he had in his tiny cellar. Each time he filled our glasses with wine thieved from the barrel, he required us to move outdoors in order to avoid the residual fermentation aromas of the cellar from obscuring our perception of the samples being tasted. After tasting from one barrel I exclaimed, this is some of the freshest, most alive Beaujolais I have ever tried! He demurely replied that it was his 2012nouveau that he refused to release the previous November because he didn’t think it was ready to be bottled. This is an uncompromising winemaker that does not abide high levels of volatile acidity, brett, or reduction. And yet, all of the fermentations are spontaneous, there is no chaptalization, and the addition of SO2 is avoided unless necessary to preserve the purity of the wine. Perhaps because of his unwillingness to be party to any particular philosophy of winemaking, or maybe because of the relative isolation of Bully, Brunoremains largely unknown and under appreciated. Bruno is, by nature, a very discrete individual and it is perhaps his lack of ego that has kept him from being included among the superstars of the Beaujolais.
In my view, I have yet to experience such clean, pure, complex, energy-filled, drinkable wines as these anywhere else in the region. And it is one populated by some of the most dynamic and interesting producers in all of France. This is not hyperbole or an attempt at a marketing shtick. I truly believe this. So much so that Williams Corner bought and paid for everything that Bruno had left in his cellar that was already bottled but not already reserved by his other customers. An order of 144 cases, each of which Bruno had to open, unpack, and re-label for export to the United States.
As for the wines:
Au Bal Jean-Paul 2010: From a single plot of vines planted on alluvial soils with a limestone base. This wine is juicy, delicate, and fresh (11.1% a.b.v.).
L’Homme a la Veste 2011: From the same three parcels each year, one with 35-40 year old vines, one with 50 year old vines, and one with 60 year old vines half of which are on granite and the other half on limestone. Light and fresh, more depth than Jean-Paul, floral with a note of wild strawberries. (11.5% a.b.v.).
L’Homme a la Veste 2010: Juicy, more concentrated, pure gamay fruitiness. (11.3% a.b.v.). (Please note that there are four different labels that correspond to this wine in this vintage, each case comes with a mix of the four labels.)
Tete de Cuvee 2010: From the best selection of fruit planted on clay/limestone soils. Juicy, more structured, distinct minerality. Drink now or cellar for a decade or more, seriously. (11.7% a.b.v.). (This bottling is slightly different than the one you will find currently on the market in NY or CA. Bruno bottled one barrel by hand and these bottles come from that lot. The bottles on the market elsewhere in the US were bottled by machine. This explains the price difference. Bruno says that at this moment in the wine’s development, he doesn’t sense an appreciable difference between the two lots.)
Morgon 2010: From a plot situated at 400-500 meters of altitude. Crunchy, high-toned raspberry fruit. Chalky minerality. Tightly wound (tasted on Mon 8 April and Tues 9 April, 2013). The tension is like a flattened spring waiting to be released. Needs time (12.2% a.b.v.).
Morgon 2009: More generous and approachable than the 2010. Deeper sense of fruit with the structure to age. Lovely balance, so complete on the palate (12.9% a.b.v.).
Les Combertiers 2011: From a plot of very old vines situated on 85% granite and 15% clay. In Italy in April 2013 it had been bottled only one month previous and it was juicy, but shut down and seemingly inkier than the 2010. Six weeks later at the domaine I noted that it was brooding, with a darker fruit profile than one usually finds in Debize’s wines. Balsamic, spice, and blueberries on the nose. Rich in the month, textured, acid. Lots of material, lots of stuffing. Long, intense, with some drying tannin that will require integration. Very compelling but needs time (12.8% a.b.v.).
Les Combertiers 2010: Red fruits, cranberry and potpourri. Deceptive in that it is simultaneously ethereal while possessing a good deal of matiere. Time in hand (11.6% a.b.v.).
Les Combertiers 2009: On April 8 I noted: ripe cherries in liqueur, sweetly fruited entry, lots of palate impact, yet lithe. A great deal of structure and density. My tasting note on April 9 reads: Fuck my life, this is beautiful. (12.7% a.b.v.).