Natural Wine Connoisseur, Simo Zbiri on Quality, Craftsmanship & Style
Restaurateur, sommelier and natural wine connoisseur, Simo Zbiri, is living proof that a discerning taste for the finer things in life can be inherited. Following in the footsteps of his impeccably stylish late father, he has become a gentleman of his own, with a deep knowledge of and appreciation for classic style. The Morocco-born tastemaker embodies how cultural and lifestyle influences from all over the world shape us, with a blend of influences showing through his distinct personal style. Fueled by an inexhaustible lust for life, Simo has figured out exactly what he loves and has no intention of focusing on anything else. His philosophy: “It’s self-respect when you dress up in a sharp way, then naturally you earn respect from others.”
From growing up as a teen surfer on the beaches of Mehdya, Zbiri found himself working in the hospitality and wine business in the Netherlands as a young adult, eventually becoming a beloved sommelier. He’s best known for pioneering the natural wine lifestyle, creating two of the first establishments of its kind in Amsterdam. Most recently, in the wake of the early impact of the pandemic, Simo relocated to South West France to get his hands dirty and explore every aspect of viticulture. Whatever new challenge arises, Simo will approach it with fire in his heart and a style that reflects this outlook on life. Always striving for the best quality and extraordinary craftsmanship in their respected fields — the first collaboration between Atelier Munro and Simo Zbiri is founded on identical principles and a philosophy that has proven itself time and time again. We got together to discuss Simo’s journey into natural wine from the restaurant floor into the vineyard, his biggest style influences and how it all shaped the collaboration.
Today we’re in restaurant Hotel de Goudfazant in the North of Amsterdam, tell us about your connection to this place
Hotel de Goudfazant is one of the best and certainly most beautiful wine and food pairing spots in Amsterdam. One of the owners, Fredo (Frederic van de Laar), is a very good buddy of mine and we happen to have the same palate when it comes to wine. And I’m extremely specific when it comes to wine! Actually, I’m quite specific with all finer things in life.
Tell us about those finer things in life and how they have shaped your personal style?
My late father will always be my biggest influence when it comes to how I live my life and how I dress. For as long as I can remember I was aware of how integral style was to how he lived his life. He always looked super sharp. As the chief of police in the town where I grew up, he dressed impeccably in three-piece suits in the French and Italian tradition.
Yet on the weekends he would look completely different, wearing denim and white t-shirts with rolled up sleeves. Working on his vintage Simca 1000 in our garage, where I observed and assisted him from a young age, he looked exactly like Steve McQueen. He bought that same car, in different colors, several times. Whenever it would inevitably break down, he would buy another one. This was the one car that fit his style, so he never changed it. That says it all to me. He passed away two years ago and looked incredibly sharp until the very last moment. I inherited a complete gentleman’s lifestyle from him.
Were there more influences?
Although my father influenced my style overall, I also needed to find things that were truly my own. I grew up in Kenitra, 40km north of Rabat, which in my opinion is the most beautiful area of Morocco, especially Mehdya Beach. In my youth, we all embraced the surf lifestyle introduced to the region in the 50s by the American soldiers stationed there. That became a major influence on my outlook on life. On the other hand, aside from my father, the rest of my family brought other classic influences from French gastronomy and good wine to beautiful watches and how one behaves in general — these spheres of influence define my style and my lifestyle to this day.
I go by the mantra: “If you respect yourself, you dress up to show the world. As those who respect themselves will be respected.” That’s what the lifestyle of a gentleman comes down to.
As a young adult you left Morocco and moved to Amsterdam to start your career as a professional in the hospitality business. How did that move influence your life?
It had always been my plan to leave Morocco and study in the USA. In Norfolk, Virginia, to be precise, as that was the American military base connected to the one in Kenitra. The American friends of my father all came from there. But when that didn’t work out, I decided to go to Amsterdam instead. At first it was just hard work, but after a few years I met a group of people who had the same lifestyle influences as myself. It’s funny when you think about it, but that’s exactly what happened. Tenue de Nîmes’s Founder, Menno van Meurs, and Atelier Munro’s Creative Director, Joachim, were some of them. So even after I moved away from the influences that had shaped me in Morocco, I found people like myself. That’s an important part of how my personal style was shaped too: finding people I could relate to.
You went on to work in the wine business and as a sommelier with a specialty in natural wine. In 2015 you achieved your dream by opening your own restaurant, Eastside, and the natural wine bar, Thirty5ive. What sparked this passion?
From the moment I discovered natural wine, which happened in Paris while I was already working in the wine business back in Amsterdam, I knew this was the thing for me. It is about very dedicated farmers, creating small quantities of wines that are just extraordinary. It is not industrial, not even really commercial. The wines are produced with the utmost respect for life on earth. It embodies everything I stand for as a human being. As I was one of the first in Amsterdam to focus on natural wine, the beginning was quite hard, not everyone understood it yet. But I knew this was the only thing I wanted to do, so I went ahead with it and it became the best experience of my life.
And now a new chapter in your journey into wine, with your move to the heartland: South West France. What has that been like?
It marks the introduction of a new major influence on my life: I became a farmer. Excuse my words, but it is fucking beautiful! I moved there to work as a hotel consultant for a newly opened Chateau, but the last few months I’ve only been working the fields of the vineyard. I’m doing something completely new. Learning new things every day. Instead of working the frontside, I’m in the back, working with my hands. Yet, I do it looking the way I’ve done everything before this, in my own style: wearing denim, a white t-shirt, the way my father would wear it, a hat and even a foulard. I’m enjoying myself, working on the land, but still looking like the man I am.
You have created a special collaborative natural wine to celebrate your Curated by Simo Collection. Explain how the Cuvee Simo came about.
It’s a beautiful and simple story: Atelier Munro’s Creative Director, Joachim, called me a few weeks before the shoot asking me if we could create a wine especially for Atelier Munro. That was somewhat of a mission impossible on such short notice, but we did it anyway!
How do you go about it when someone approaches you with such a question?
It starts with where I am in that moment. Currently, this is South West France, so that was a perfect start. We created what I would call: a funky experience. It’s an assemblage of Viognier and a bit of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. A very aromatic and intense wine in the mouth at the beginning, then comes the acidity, becoming fresh at the end. The perfect wine for the coming summer.
So, are all these cultural and lifestyle influences blended into the Curated by Simo Collection?
That is exactly how I see our collaboration. All the major influences on my personal style can be found in the collection, one way or another. The classic French style of my father wearing his three-piece suits, the American influences, and the lifestyle of natural wine that is about producing a small amount with the best quality ingredients and extraordinary craftsmanship.
Interview by Christoph van Veghel