Feature Story

Vanya Filipovic on Savigny-lès-Beaune

“There really isn’t a moment I can remember when wine wasn’t a big part of my life,” says Vanya Filipovic, the general manager and head sommelier at Joe Beef and Vin Papillon in Montreal. “My mother being a wine steward, and my father a chef, wine was always an important element of each meal. My parents would have me tag along on their many wine trips, hoping the ‘bug’ would catch on. At the time, I found it all hopelessly boring. I remember holding my tasting glass in the labyrinth-like caves of Dom Ruinart at seven, thinking, ‘When is this over?’”

In the early days at Joe Beef, Filipovic planned to escape the world of restaurants and wine when she was accepted at Columbia University for a masters in literary translation. But then she stopped in at the first-ever Wines of Jura tasting in Montreal. She had time to taste through only two tables before she had to leave, but she invited the winemakers to the restaurant, thinking one or two would show up.

Vanya Filipovic Vanya Filipovic
“They all came,” Filipovic recalls, “bottles under their arms and in their pockets—the Jurassic bon-vivant spirit was palpable.” She tasted with all of them and realized: “This is what I’ve been missing in my wine education.” Determined to connect directly with vignerons and their work, she told Columbia, “No thanks,” and went to work harvest at Domaine Labet in Jura. That’s where she met Jean-François Ganevat, who took her to Burgundy for the first time.

Filipovic ended up spending three months there, “soaking up everything I could.” She remembers arriving at 8 a.m. for an appointment at Domaine Simon Bize: “As I pulled in, the domaine was quite sleepy. I wandered through the courtyard, and Chisa Bize (Patrick’s wife) came to greet me, puzzled. Patrick was not home. He must have forgotten our meeting! Mortified, Chisa told me to wait while she phoned him.

“He eventually did pull in and was not happy to see me. Irritated, puffy-faced and grumpy, he showed me to the cellar. My questions were answered with short yeses or nos, and we power-tasted through everything from tank. This tasting will be over in ten minutes, I thought.

“I don’t remember what I said or what I didn’t, but a moment came when Patrick looked at me and said, ‘Do you like cars? You look like you like cars.’ I don’t care much about cars. But, excited for some sort of exchange, I replied an enthusiastic ‘Yes, I love cars!’
“He led me into a garage with three beautifully restored old Mercedes town cars. ‘Pick one,’ he said.
“I picked a gorgeous silver one. Turns out I did like cars after all.
“‘Get in,’ he said.

“And just like that, we were riding through the vineyards of Savigny-lès-Beaune in an old silver Mercedes. Patrick took the time to explain each parcel, to show me the vines he planted, the ones from his father’s era. He knew each plant’s story, and each piece of soil by heart.

“Then the Mercedes broke down. We were stranded in the vineyard, just on top of the hill, and Patrick started yelling in Japanese. His two sons and several interns came running, and pushed us as he continued pointing out parcels and telling stories. “We returned to the cellar, and then I understood. We tasted verticals, horizontals, reds, whites. The wines were just like the man. Hard to penetrate, but incredibly focused and generous. With endless depth and intrigue.”

After Burgundy, Filipovic returned to Montreal, took over the wine list at Joe Beef and created her own wine agency. Savigny-lès-Beaune remains close to her heart, and she chose the village’s wines for her selection of six red Burgundies.

1. Domaine Simon Bize Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru Aux Vergelesses

“There are three different parts of this parcel: Patrick’s father planted the first in 1939; the next in the 1940s and the last in the 1960s. The wine is always a blend of these three parts, co-vinified, and I think the old-vine character really stands out here. This is Savigny at its most complex, with minimal extraction and great minerality. Patrick Bize [who passed away in 2013] was known for his philosophy of nurturing old vines and lowering yields as much as possible, and the result is really palpable. Anyone who disregards the appellation should taste his wine. Both white and red.”

2. Domaine Leroy Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru Les Narbantons

“The vineyards [of Leroy in Savigny] can be identifi ed from a mile away: green, lush, tall and wild. Lalou-Bize was really avant-garde in her use of biodynamics, and because the vineyards have been tended this way for so long, with tisanes and other preparations, there is a real energy in the wines. In terms of Savigny, specifically, there is a true sense of place. The wine is highly reductive in youth due to the strong presence of limestone on this parcel. That is why I would prefer to pour an older vintage of Leroy Narbantons, 2006, for example. It’s true that in a Savigny lineup, this wine is the extraterrestrial, as the density and minerality offer a duality and intensity that is rare—in general, and in Savigny.”

3. Louis Chenu Père et Filles Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru Les Lavières

“I met the Chenu sisters (Juliette and Caroline) in 2009 and I felt immediately at home with them. They were working in a non-interventionist way at a time when most people were excited by extraction and new oak. Today the wines have never been better. Les Lavières is the first cru that the sisters exploited when they took over from their father. The parcel is in a very steep
slope and I think the wine they bring out of it is charming, and it really reflects the personality of the winemakers: incredibly fine and pretty. I love the brightness of the wine, with beautiful little peppery tannins to bring structure, and an amazing light shining through the fruit. I always love it, regardless of the vintage.”

4. Domaine Chandon de Briailles Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru Aux Fourneaux

“I’ve followed the wines of this domaine for a long time, but the first that really moved me were from 2010. François de Nicolay converted the vineyard to biodynamics in 2005 and it shows now. The wines have such luminosity. Aux Fourneaux was the catalyst for me. It’s a cru that can be both very powerful and that has a great balance despite its solar character. It’s always rich and textured from the excellent exposition and cool Savigny nights. And in the hands of François, the wine has a wonderful purity and a noble and ripe bitterness that lingers. This estate initially belonged to Pierre Guillemot’s family in the 1800s—just near the hill of Corton, the vineyards have always been very prized for their expositions.”

5. Domaine Pierre Guillemot Savigny-lès-Beaune

“These wines are always both stylistic with some richness and oak, and slightly rustic with little tannins and nice length. The extraction is light, so the wines are pure in their aromatic expression. The Guillemot family has always been highly reputed for seeking out the best vineyards. This is an amazing go-to Savigny with great personality. One can fi nd a sort of balance between the dry tannins of the Côte de Beaune and the sweeter tannins of the Côte de Nuit… It’s as if these wines sit right in the center.”

6. Emmanuel Rouget Savigny-lès-Beaune

“For me, the wines are as rare as a rendezvous with the man! A tractor engineer by training, and avid hunter, Emmanuel is not such a fan of socializing. Yes, the Savigny remains one of the most a ordable wines from the domaine, although he rarely makes more than four barrels of it per year. It’s funny that his Savigny-lès-Beaune has a similar profi le to his Echezeaux—they bear this incredible limestone profile, a salty mineral character and a slight reduction that sets them apart—while his other wines are spicier, so er, juicier. Perhaps it’s the new oak (almost always a hundred percent) on the Savigny; perhaps it’s the fact that both the Echezeaux (also always new oak) and Savigny vineyards were initially planted and tended by Henri Jayer’s brother Lucien (probably with similar plant material). Or perhaps it’s just the Rouget touch…”

This story was featured in W&S Fall 2016.
illustrations by Veronica Collington