Posts tagged: gerard bertrand

Gerard Bertrand – Winery of the Year

The Wine Enthusiast, a leading Amercian wine magazine, recently named their European winery of the year for 2011.  And the winery is Gerard Bertrand in the Languedoc Roussillon.   I’ve been meaning to write about Gerard Bertrand for a while now, and this might be just the kick in the pants I needed.

The short version

A lot of the visitors to this site are skimming or looking for very specific information (pairing suggestions, tasting notes, etc.) so I have to put this up at the top of the page for the sake of clarity.  This post is a story about getting to know Gerard Bertrand.  It might get a little long winded, and the subject is complex.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s the short version:

Gerard Bertrand is a complicated cookie. It’s easy to criticize him (his organization is so big that it makes a bigger target), but he’s actually a stand up guy.  I had a relatively negative impression of him when I first came to the region, but I have really come around despite my prejudice against big business, economies of scale, and government subsidies. I still don’t know him very well, but I think he’s good people.

Now that’s a super simplified version.  I really hope that readers will take a few minutes to read this whole article.  Because regions like the Languedoc Roussillon are being shaped every day by a handful of people like Bertrand.

Obviously, it takes the communal work of every grape-grower and winemaker in the region to make the Languedoc Roussillon run.  But there are a few point men (and point women) who lead the charge in their own ways and act as poster children for the entire region.

After spending a few hours with Gerard Bertrand, I feel like people don’t give him enough credit for being a good guy.  They give him credit for being a keen business man, or a shrewd investor, a good schmoozer, and lots of other things, but I don’t think many people ever tried to convince me that he’s just a nice person.

So that’s what this is about.

Gerard Bertrand’s Reptuation

Here’s the excerpt from the Wine Enthusiast:

European Winery of the Year

Gérard Bertrand, Gérard Bertrand
Both landowner and partner of the best winegrowers in the South of France, Gérard Bertrand manages over 325 hectares of vineyards across varying Languedoc terroirs. He fully understands the movement toward expressive, well-balanced and elegant wines that remain accessible and affordable.

When I first came to the region, this was exactly the kind of award I’d expect Bertrand to receive.  Last year, it went to the Portuguese winery responsible for Mateus.  And in a three line bio of the man, you mention he’s got over 300 hectares around the region, maybe with a qualifier like “accessible and affordable” (which is sometimes a euphemism for “sells to supermarkets”).

And the first few times I ran into Gerard Bertrand, it was at trade fairs (ViniSud 2009 and LIWF 2010).  In both situations the retired rugby legend was wearing a suit (which might have emphasized his height and gaunt frame to make him look more than a little imposing).  He seemed a little curt with the people around him.  I mistook this for self-importance, and I projected a lot onto the man because of assumptions I tend to make about large scale producers.  I was always willing to admit that his wine was solid, but I never really gave the guy a chance.

I visited Cigalus, his flagship biodynamic estate, and enjoyed a Bertrand-guided tour.  It was neat hearing him talk about the vineyard and his operations.  Here’s a short clip where he talks about long term changes in the wine world and the generational time scale of winemaking:

Hearing him talk about perspective and patience started to convince me that he might be a lot cooler than I originally thought.  But at the same time, these kind of tours are often put-on.  I wasn’t 100% convinced yet that he was being genuine.

The real Gérard Bertrand

At the jazz fest Bertrand promotes on his primary vineyard, l’Hospitalet, I got to spend more time with him.  And I saw a totally different side of the man.  He was laid back and in his element.  A serious but friendly man who clearly enjoyed sharing a nice moment with the people around him.

The only thing I posted from the jazz fest was a helicopter ride over the Corbieres and Massif de la Clape.  Admittedly, that is very bling bling.  And it’s very generous of him to fly me around like that.  But that is not what I’m referring to when I talk about sharing.  At dinner, he had old neighbors around the table, other winemakers, silly American winemake/bloggers, and so on.  He wasn’t just automatically fulfilling the functions of a host.  He was hanging out with his neighbors.  And he was being really nice to everybody.  And really honest too.  There were some moments of frightening intimacy in the conversation.

There was one point when Gérard talked about the fires that had ravaged the Massif de la Clape in recent years.  This is probably worthy of its own post, but I’ll explain briefly that grape vines play an important role in stopping the spread of fires on the Mediterranean coast.  Bertrand advocates planting more vines on the Massif de la Clape as a way to limit the destructive fires we saw in 2010.  You should have seen the look on his face when he talked about that 2010 fire.  He spoke of the smell of burning leather and smoke as he and his friends ran up and down the massif trying to steer the fire away from a nearby village.  Okay, this is starting to sound like an Ayn Rand novel.  But maybe that’s appropriate. :D

I don’t know if this post achieved what I want it to.  I don’t want to pretend Gerard Bertrand is my hero or that he is going to save the Languedoc.  I just wanted to explain how I was skeptical about his character and it turned out he’s nice and seems like he has very good intentions.  We actually have a lot in common and I feel pretty bad that it took me several years to get to know him a little.  And I’m not important enough to name him European Winery of the Year like the Wine Enthusiast did.  But maybe what I can do on this blog is tell you that he’s a stand up guy.  I’m happy that he’s one of the point men for the entire region.

Related Posts:

Gerard Bertrand’s Tautavel at the London International Wine Fair – Love That Languedoc

In my Languedoc-centric recap of the London International Wine Fair, I mentioned that Gerard Bertrand and Thierry’s did a presentation in the Access Zone.  Bertrand sat down with two people and explained the Tautavel blending  process to them.  They filmed that little session and then talked about it at the Access Zone.

Here is an edited version of that presentation put together by the same mad cats that produced my little video from the LIWF.

Thierry’s Wine Blending from Ryan and Gabriella Opaz

I feel like it would have been more fun to actually watch the blending session live rather than listen to them talk about how much fun it was, but I’m glad companies as big as Thierry’s are acknowledging that social media stuff can be good for business. I hope their foray into social media will not be a fleeting thing and that they will learn quickly and adapt to this environment. And that they’ll use the space to bring a lot of good attention to the Languedoc-Roussillon which houses some of their biggest winemakers like Gerard Bertrand and Val d’Orbieu.

I think what’s even more interesting than this presentation is the blogging initiative Thierry’s set up to promote their activities at the wine fair.  They set loose a handful of bloggers who posted all sorts of little snippets throughout the LIWF.  Again, hopefully their effort outlives this one event and they’ll keep on posting.

Edit: as I was publishing this post, Pieter who was one of the people involved in this Thierry’s presentation brought another video to my attention!  It’s the actual blending session and arguably way better than the presentation about the blending session.  But I can’t embed it so I guess just a link.

Related Posts:

London International Wine Fair – Can the L stand for Languedoc Episode 60

I’m at the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) but my impressions from Day 1 leave me wondering if that L might also stand for Languedoc because we’re everywhere. We’re a big region and it feels right that we’re playing a more important role in conferences like this.

Obviously, the work of Sud de France showcases a lot of Languedoc Roussillon wines with a space as large as entire countries.

Also, I got a nice suprise in the space where I’m presenting, the Access Zone. It’s the only area offering free wifi to folks at the conference and it features a bunch of presentations about heightened customer interactivity, social media, etc. I helped kick things off in the morning with Oscar Quevedo, another winemaker who believes in the power of the Internet to market his wines as well as the wines of his friends and neighbors.

Winery Collaboration from ryan and gabriella opaz on Vimeo.

Gerard Bertrand rugby winemaker thierry liwfThen Gerard Bertrand himself showed up with like 12 people (old rugby habits?) to talk about a customized blending experience he did with some consumers of his wine. Video of this later if the sound came out okay.

And at the Naked Wine Tasting (not what it sounds like), Puech Haut got to the finals of a wine competition to see what wine at the fair was the nakedest. You’ll remember this winery from that killer Puech Haut party at ViniSud.

Also, the Wine Gang has a nice big space at the back of the conference, and they are showcasing a lot of wines from the south.

On day 2, I did some more wandering and I found my neighbor Ventenac Cabardes has a stand as well.  So AOC Cabardes, my tiny appellation controlee which has less than 30 independent producers, has TWO wineries pouring their wine at the LIWF.  Also pretty cool.

It made me very happy to see the Languedoc featured in so many ways at the fair.  I’m more than a little jealous that we don’t have a blimp like the general France stand.  But there’s always room for improvement before next year’s show.

Related Posts:

WordPress Themes