Being invited to a Gerard Bertrand inspired Jazz Festival in Southern France is definitely a heart stopper. Images of Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Brigette Bardot, Jean Paul Belmondo and Gerard Depardieu parade before me. I envision fabulous wines, delicious cuisine, beautiful people dining in incredibly stunning vineyards as Bertrand (who is movie star gorgeous with a charm that mesmerizes employees, friends and business partners), discusses his passion for wine and his love for his wife and family.
For those who have not heard of Gerard Bertrand, this winemaker is a legend in his own time (excuse the cliché). As a self-made powerhouse in Languedoc-Roussillon (perhaps one of France’s most dynamic regions for wine), he has used his wits and wisdom to bring a global focus to his wines and the wines of the district. He is considered a leading wine expert from the South of France.
Born in Narbonne (1965), his entire life has been surrounded by the growing of grapes, the making of wine and the sport of rugby. At the age of 10, his wine grower father, Georges Bertrand, introduced Gerard to the wine harvest in his cellars at Domaine de Villemajou at Boutenac in Corbieres and the rest is history. Bertrand is fond of quoting his father who commented, “Nobody explained life to me, but when you are 60-years old you will have 50 years of experience in winemaking.”
In addition to his passion for wine, Georges Bertrand had a passion for rugby – which he passed on to his son. Gerard Bertrand participated in the sport for 17 years, starting with RC Narbonne (1984), becoming team captain of the Stade Francais (1994), and, upon retirement, becoming president of the organization.
Somewhere between rugby and winemaking, Bertrand found time to attend college in Toulouse where he majored in business administration and sports, receiving a Baccalaureate diploma.
Rugby. A Game Plan for Success
Bertrand claims that his experience as a rugby player and manager has provided him with the foundation for developing and operating a successful wine empire and continues to motivate him to win. His rugby philosophy is based on the tenets of:
1. Team spirt
6. Competition – the will to succeed; to find solutions
Bertrand finds that his rugby years also provided him with an introduction to life, “It is a strong sport and requires a fight to stay alive. It is a sport with no protection. To be successful in the sport, the activity must be part of the players DNA.”
As a child he wanted to be a cyclist and not a wine maker; he even won a number of awards in cycling. However, rugby was important to his father, to his village (there was always a rugby game in process in his neighborhood) and his passion outweighed his interest in biking, basketball and other sports.
From all appearances the “rugby approach to management” has worked for Bertrand. His brand is among the most important wines in the south of France and he is responsible for opening markets and creating a south of France category.
Bertrand has a long-term goal – to see Languedoc-Roussillon recognized as a Grand Cru, to be on a level with the best in the world. “I’m very happy with what we have done in the last 20 years, and there are a lot of things to do in the next 20. But we’re not in a rush.”
The Soil and Soul of Sud de France
The base for the Gerard Bertrand international enterprise is Languedoc-Roussillon located near the town of Sette and the City of Montpellier. The area runs along the Mediterranean coastline from the French border with Spain to the region of Provence.
The Languedoc soil varies from chalk, limestone, schist and gravel (inland) to alluvial soils near the coast. A few of the highly rated vineyards are laid on top of ancient riverbed stones similar to those of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. When paired with the consistent Mediterranean climate of hot and dry summers, warm springs and autumns, mild winters, limited rainfall and the Tramontana winds that dry the grapes and prevent disease – the climate that ensues is excellent for cultivating vines.
To develop award winning wines has not been an easy journey, although, when Bertrand tells the story he makes it appear as easy – breezy as a summer day. He speaks as though he was sure of his success from the very beginning. One of his many challenges was convincing the wine industry and the consumer that wines from Corbieres was worth their attention. When he entered the fray the wines of the region were considered mediocre at best. He knew, almost instinctively, that consumers wanted expressive, well-balanced and elegant wines that were value priced. His mission was to meet these demands.
He has achieved success in the market in spite of large domestic and international commercial producers. He acquires new domains, invests in the means of production, brings in his own management team and develops market strategies that move the product effectively and efficiently through the channels of distribution – making his wines readily available – from the Business Class lounge of Air France at the CDG airport, to restaurant and hotel bars, and retail wine shops in the United States, Canada and Europe to the PRC and Korea for a total of 70 different countries.
His product line includes the Gerard Bertrand signature wines for the varietals, the Appellation wines and wines of the domains and chateaux. His awards include European Winery of the Year 2011 (Wine Enthusiast). He has also been awarded the title of Red Winemaker of the Year 2012 in the International Wine Challenge (after winning 46 accolades and 2 trophies). This is a very serious competition as 10,000 wines from around the world are tasted by a panel of experts and a three-stage tasting process is implemented. It is considered the most prestigious international competition in the world and recognizes the best wines and winemakers on the planet.
In 2013 Gerard Bertrand wines won the Korea wine challenge: Gold medal for Domaine de Cigalus white 2011 and Silver medals for Domaine de Cigalus red 2011 and Naturae Syrah 2012.
A few years ago all of Bertrand’s vineyards became biodynamic. He made his decision based on the writings and teachings of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) that are a mix of spiritual and practical philosophies (anthroposophy/spiritual science) that requires an understanding of the ecological, energetic and spirituality of nature. The practice embraces ecological self-sufficiency and views viticulture as a cohesive, interconnected living system. Steiner has said that biodynamics are, “a path of knowledge, to guide the Spiritual in the human being to the Spiritual in the universe.”
Biodynamic winemaking prohibits the use of cultured yeast and malolactic bacteria as well as acid and sugar adjustments; additional yeast is discouraged. This method preserves and protects the terroir (the subtle flavors of the vineyard site and vintage). The wine presented is therefore a true expression of the fruit and the terroir. The wines are not manipulated so that each batch is specific to the site and vintage resulting in a portfolio of wines that are unique, delicious and reflect the richness and beauty of the land. A biodynamic vineyard is managed as a living organism and the production method yields grapes that are very true to the living earth.
Biodynamic winemaking standards allow the addition of sulfites, require the composting of all grape waste with the resulting compost used in the vineyards. In addition, the fruit is harvested by hand and micro-oxygenation and pasteurization is excluded. Box and bag distribution is not allowed. The use of enzymes and tannins during winemaking and electro dialysis for cold stabilization is also prohibited.
Followers of biodynamics believe that the same wine can taste differently on different days of the year, according to the Biodynamics calendar. In this calendar, FORCES are ascribed to individual parts of the plant:
1. Earth (and earth signs) with Roots
2. Water (and water signs) with Foliage
3. Air (and air signs) with Flowers
4. Fire (and fire signs) with Fruits and Seeds
Vineyards that are biodynamic develop a planting, sowing, harvesting and pruning program that is determined by the position of the sun, moon and planets.
All That Jazz
To bring global attention to his wines, to reward his employees and distributors for gaining market share and to entertain clients and consumers, Bertrand produces a yearly Jazz Festival that is held at his hotel, Chateau l’Hospitalet, located in the Massif de la Clape conservation area. Held in July, the 2016 event presented Selah Sue, Jamie Cullum, Johnny Clegg and Diana Krall. Surrounded by 1000 hectares of pine trees, wild herbs, and terroir that dates back to the 6th century, this 38 room modern hotel offers designer inspired accommodations, a swimming pool, dining options and a wine cellar.
The Jazz Festival accommodates approximately 1200 people for three consecutive evening events. The program starts at 7:30 PM with a lavish 2.5 hour buffet dinner in the hotel gardens and music begins at 10:00 PM; approximately 90 minutes later there is an after-party and more music by local musicians. Frequently the festivities continue beyond 4 AM.
Daytime events include a visit to the village of Tautavel where the local marching band leads the Bertrand group (guests, media, locals, growers, winemakers, employees) to the town square where he welcomes everyone, thanks the growers for the wonderful grapes that contribute to the success of the Gerard Bertrand brand and doves are released. The walk-about ends with a wine grower’s lunch in a nearby vineyard. Other Bertrand promotion events are scheduled throughout the year and include an art festival in May and a truffles festival and hunt in December.
According to Bertrand, “The important thing in life is not success; rather it is the path and steps we take to achieve success.” It certainly appears that Bertrand has selected the right path!