John Wil­son on the saviour of Langue­doc

Gérard Ber­trand has made this area of French wine shine

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE - WINE JOHN WIL­SON

Tall and charis­matic, Gérard Ber­trand com­mands the re­spect and loy­alty of those who work for him. “Peo­ple ei­ther work here for three months or 10 years,” he says. “If they fit in, they stay for a long time.” Ber­trand is one of those re­spon­si­ble for re­viv­ing the for­tunes of the Langue­doc, a mas­sive wine re­gion that runs along much of the Mediter­ranean coast of France.

In the 1980s few peo­ple were in­ter­ested. For many years it had been a mass pro­ducer of cheap jug wine. Ber­trand started by sell­ing well- made in­ex­pen­sive wines to the su­per­mar­kets. He also be­gan buy­ing up mori­bund es­tates that had old vines, good soils and the po­ten­tial to make great wine. To­day he owns 22 es­tate sand 410 hectares of vines.

He say she worked his first vin­tage at the age of 10 with his fa­ther at Château Vil­la­ma­jou in Cor­bières, go­ing on to join the busi­ness full time in his early 20s. At the time he was play­ing se­nior rugby with Nar­bonne, his lo­cal team and he is now a share­holder. In 2002, he be­came in­ter­ested in bio­dy­namic farm­ing and be­gan to ex­per­i­ment with two hectares of vines in his home es­tate of Ci­galus. The wines were fresher, with much bet­ter acid­ity. Con­vinced by this, he is now in the process of con­vert­ing all of his es­tates so 50 per cent will be or­ganic by 2020; 30 per cent are al­ready bio­dy­namic.

“It is a long jour­ney that takes time. At first most of my staff said ‘ The boss has gone crazy’, but now they will leave if we go back to con­ven­tional [ wine­mak­ing].”

Ev­ery­one I met had an al­most evan­gel­i­cal be­lief in the pro­ject and in bio­dy­nam­ics. “I tell you, it works,” says Ber­trand. “The re­sults are in the vine­yard. It is hard for peo­ple who don’t be­lieve to un­der­stand. My soil was like a fridge; full of ev­ery­thing, but cold or frozen . .. As vi­gnerons, we need to de­liver the taste of the grapes and the taste of the ter­roir. Bio­dy­nam­ics mag­ni­fies all of this.”

To­day, most of his bulk wines are also sourced from co- op­er­a­tives that prac­tise or­ganic viti­cul­ture.

Ber­trand’s huge suc­cess is the re­sult of clever mar­ket­ing and good wine­mak­ing. His wines are modern, with good ripe fruits, yet re­main true to their ori­gins. His great­est achieve­ment may have been to con­vince con­sumers that the Langue­doc can make high- qual­ity wine. His wines range in price from en­try level up to ¤ 180 for a bot­tle of Clos d’Ora from his small re­mote es­tate in Min­er­vois La Livinière. The flag­ship prop­erty is Château l’Hospi­talet, a restau­rant, shop with tast­ing room, and ho­tel on the Mediter­ranean coast­line close to Nar­bonne. It is well worth drop­ping in if you are in the area.

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