Success and biodynamics: a conversation with Gérard Bertrand

Friday, 3. February 2017 - 12:30

The smell of freshly-cut wood greeted the guests streaming through the newly-built cellar door of Château l'Hospitalet, near Narbonne. Outside, a light show played across the stone walls of the chateau, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Gérard Bertrand’s entry into the wine trade, when he took over Domaine de Villemajou in 1987, after the untimely death of his father Georges.

Since then, the former rugby player has created a wine company – Gérard Bertrand– that now encompasses 13 estates, all of which are in Languedoc-Roussillon. And despite the size of the portfolio, Gérard Bertrand– both the man and the company – remain committed to biodynamic principles.

“The main difference between organic and biodynamic farming is that organic farming is a cultural method and biodynamic farming is a philosophy,” said Bertrand, speaking at Vinisud in Montpellier earlier this week. “You regenerate everything in the subsoil and you also understand the influence of the microcosm and the macrocosm. It’s also a philosophy of life.”

Based on the work of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic agriculture was the earliest form of organic agriculture. Its fundamental principle is that the farm should be a self-sustaining organism, with the soil, plant crops and livestock supporting and sustaining one another. What makes the method controversial is that it has been accused of being a pseudoscientific system, for taking account of moon phases and using esoteric preparations. Bertrand says he converted to biodynamics after testing the method.

“One day my homeopathic doctor offered me the Steiner book called Lessons of Agriculture, and it was like a revelation to me,” he says. “After maybe one year of thinking about it, I started to experiment.” Bertrand says he took a 4-ha block of Merlot and divided it into two, converting to half to biodynamic farming and using conventional methods on the other two. “After two years I have seen a lot of changes in the vines and the soil,” he concludes. “In the tasting room, the wines had more minerality and better acidity and I took the decision to convert all the estates in 2004.” Eight of the estates are now fully biodynamic.

“The important thing is to find the balance when you walk in the vineyard, and to reinforce the real life of the vines,” Bertrand explains. “It is like human beings with homeopathic pills – you need to reinforce your energy. When I drink a biodynamic wine, I can feel the vibrancy in my mouth. It’s multi-dimensional.”

Bertrand says that while biodynamic wine is a niche at the moment, he expects it to grow, particularly in premium markets and the on-trade. He also believes that being a biodynamic producer has helped him enter China, because “the moon is very important for them and they have a long tradition of respect for nature. They have some issues with pollution, but they have already started to change and they will be a green culture.” Bertrand says that he has “great enthusiasm” for the future of the Chinese market.

Another enthusiasm is for rosé. In 2016, the company acquired two estates in Cabrières, Domaine du Temple and Château du Roc, out of which an estate dedicated to rosé has been created. “This is beautiful terroir – in the mountain – and an appellation with great expertise in rosé,” he says. “The taste of Cabrières is very special because of the altitude.” Bertrand says the mix of terroir, altitude and rules that demand a minimum of 40% Cinsault in the wine produce a different and attractive type of rosé expression. The new rosé will be launched in 2018.

As for the next 30 years, Bertrand also believes that the future of the whole Languedoc-Rousillon area is bright. “The south of France is a destination, and people everywhere in the world understand what the south of France is.”
Felicity Carter