Gérard Bertrand has a vision for the South of France including Languedoc and Roussillon: to be the first organic wine region in the world. The former rugby star is certainly doing his share to make it happen. I recently learned more about him, and his passion and his wines, in a recent webinar, including his efforts in converting more than 2000 acres of vineyards to biodynamic practices.
Bertrand’s wine education began in the vineyard of his father, Georges. “I started working with my father in 1975 when I was 10 years old. After two weeks in the cellar, my father said ‘You are lucky, because when you are 50 you will have 40 years’ experience.’ Father taught me his passion for the south of France and his talent for wine blending. He shared with me the beauty of the region and the diversity of the terroir, the climate and the grape varieties. He was a visionary, one of the first to recognize the potential of the south of France in the 1960s.” His father died in 1987, but his vision lives on in his son.
Bertrand considers the region as a composite entity composed of the wines, the gastronomy, the culture and the art. “We have produced wine for more than 24 centuries. The Greeks provided us with amphorae and the grape varieties they brought with them, including the Clairette grape. Then came the Romans who built Narbonne, the first sister of Rome outside of Italy. Narbonne was also capital of France 20 centuries ago. We have a long history. It was the second most important port in the Mediterranean after Rome. So, there is a culture of trading. It is why we like to send wine everywhere in the world!”
He noted that the South of France is an ideal place to farm organically and biodynamically because of the proximity to the sea. There is ample rain in spring, which is very welcome since they do not have irrigation. Summers are usually dry. When it does rain, the wind in the area dries the vines, which prevents diseases making it easier to use biodynamic practices.
Bertrand discovered biodynamic agriculture by way of his interest in homeopathic medicine, which led him to Rudolph Steiner. “Biodynamic principals changed my life. First, we don’t use any more chemicals. Second, the wines are better than in the past. Third, we share the message of a new paradigm for taking care of the earth and biodiversity. It is a philosophy for organizing life, looking for balance between humans and nature. Also, a balanced and ethical approach to farming.”
Perhaps Bertrand’s best recognized wine in the U.S. is the pale pink rosé in the bottle with a rose on the bottom. The term, “Côtes des Roses” on the label is not about a rosé, but the name of an eight mile stretch of the Mediterranean coastline. The rosé is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, and the 2019 vintage offers everything you want in a rosé. Fresh, delicious strawberry, peach, grapefruit aromas and flavors, are round and luscious in the mouth and energized by snappy acidity. It’s perfect by the pool or at the table with a fresh summer salad (Gérard Bertrand $16).
Recently they have added other wines to the Côtes des Roses brand including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. For the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, Bertrand envisioned a style between Sancerre and Marlborough. To accomplish this vision, he had to get grapes from two very different terroirs. The riper, rounder style came from a warm area near the Mediterranean Sea. The leaner style came from vines in a cooler climate, with a long growing season close to Carcassonne, the ancient walled, fortified city. It is a refreshing wine with lemon zest, grapefruit and melon aromas. In the mouth, deliciously zesty flavors of melon, grapefruit, peach and a whisper of vanilla are lifted by mouthwatering acidity. Enjoy it with grilled shrimp or a caprese salad (imported by Gérard Bertrand and priced at $17).
The 2018 Chardonnay is the current release. A portion of the wine is aged in 225-litre Bordeaux barrels for approximately four months while the other portion sees no oak. It is a delightful wine with charming aromas of ripe
apple, melon, pear and vanilla that introduce round, yet zesty flavors of melon, pear, a touch of grapefruit and vanilla. Crisp acidity keeps the flavors bright and the finish long to pair with grilled halibut ($16).
The grapes for this scrumptious 2018 Pinot Noir come from cooler areas between Carcassone and Limoux, famous for Blanquette de Limoux (considered by some to be the first sparkling wine). The vineyards are situated at elevations between 500 and 1200 feet. Its deep ruby color and lovely notes of black cherry, raspberry and violets speak of the pleasure to come. In the mouth, the wine is at once delicate and intense or as producer Gérard Bertrand says, “male and female, yin and yang, a steel fist in a velvet glove.” Black cherry, raspberry, blackberry fruit flavors with floral violet and vanilla notes are round in feel while nervy acidity and ripe tannins provide backbone. Serve it with grilled salmon or a pork tenderloin ($17).
I encountered Bertrand at another webinar presented by the Institute of Masters of Wine on the topic of rosé trends over the past 30 years. You may have noticed that the fashion in rosé color these days is pale pink. The paler the better, no matter how highly pigmented the grapes may be, but, there’s a catch. The color and flavor of wine come from the grape skins and seeds. The longer grape juice is in contact with the skins and seeds before during and after fermentation, the more color, flavor and tannins in the finished wine. If you want pale pink wine, it is necessary to limit the amount of skin contact, which means the wine may not have much flavor. I learned about a process called “stabulation,” which was new to me. It is a technique that winemakers are utilizing to get pale wines with plenty of flavor. Usually, after grapes are pressed, the juice rests for 24 hours or so to allow any remaining solids, called gross juice lees, to settle to achieve clear juice before fermentation. In stabulation, the must and gross lees remain together at low temperature for a period of days. To prevent the lees from settling to the bottom of the tank, the must is stirred regularly ensure plenty of contact between the must and lees. During this time aromas and flavors are extracted by the juice from the gross lees. The result is a pale rosé color, due to the short time of skin contact, but more aromas and flavors from lees contact.
It is inspiring to learn more about Gérard Bertrand’s vision, leadership and efforts in making his corner of the world a better, environmentally healthier place to make great wines. He attends to the minute details required for making great wine, from the healthy grapes on healthy soil to sale of the wine in a uniquely innovative bottle. His father would approve.