One of the most exciting trends in agriculture is biodynamics—“a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition,” according to the Biodynamic Association. The wine world is catching on, using traditional methods of clipping and positioning vines to encourage growth, buttressing them with plants that are naturally pest-resistant. One of the movement’s major proponents is Gérard Bertrand, a former professional rugby player and second generation wine grower based in Languedoc in the south of France, who adopted biodynamic viniculture almost two decades ago. So we sat down with Bertrand to find out how he made the change from athlete to vintner, how he deals with climate change, and what he does when he’s not stomping grapes.
MJ: How did you first became interested in wine? It seems that it was the family business.
Gérard Bertrand: It’s very simple: I grew up among the vines, and, it was, as you say, the family business. My father was a pioneer in our immediate region. The head of a big, local wine co-operative in Corbières, he saw the possibilities of making truly great wine in the region. When he was met with resistance, he took very brave steps toward that end, acquiring a historic property, making his own wine, and bottling it under his own label. That was uncommon during that era. While I had “helped” during harvests when I was a small child, I really took full interest in the process when I was 10. My father, Georges, who I loved and admired so much, recognized that spark that was ignited in me and said, ‘Gérard, you are very lucky. By the time you are 50, you will have had the experience of 40 vintages. Just think how great your wines can be with that!’ I now have 45 under my belt, and I can confidently say that we are achieving greatness.
What is the allure of wine for you? Why have you decided to make it your life’s work?
Wine is multi-dimensional, offering something that is incomparable with any other beverage, certainly, but nearly very comestible, too. It offers pleasure, but also is a marker of what comes from the earth, the artisan’s craft, the scientist’s knowledge, the philosopher’s wisdom, and something of the divine. I love my role as a farmer, cultivating the lands I was granted to offer something more from them. The possibilities for creativity are endless, and every year offers the potential for something new.
You were also a rugby player, and it seems like fitness is a big part of your life. What do you do these days to stay in shape?
The discipline I acquired during my athletic career carries on in every aspect of my life, but I also continue my sporting activities through rigorous physical exercise. I am a regular runner (I always carry a pair of running shoes in my suitcase), and I am an avid weekend cyclist, riding the steep, winding roads in the region. Also, I maintain a well-balanced, healthy diet based heavily upon organic grains and vegetables, and I have a daily yoga and meditation practice that keeps me agile and grounded.
When you aren’t making wine and working out, what do you usually do?
I enjoy spending time with my family, usually in nature. I read, I write, and I dream of the future.
You have a pretty enormous portfolio of wine. When Americans go to their wine merchants, what of yours can they find?
We are very fortunate to be able to offer such variety. American wine lovers have the opportunity to try wines from several of our estates that we manage biodynamically: L’Hospitalet, Cigalus, Sauvageonne, and others, plus our iconic estates Clos d’Ora and Clos du Temple—each of which deserve a whole chapter on its own! Then, there are our lifestyle wines: Naturae, an organic line; Art de Vivre, which exemplifies a traditional Mediterranean way of life; and Côte des Roses, an easy to enjoy, festive line of superb quality.
You’re an advocate for several causes, including biodynamic farming. What are the tenets of this kind of agriculture, and why are you a proponent?
It’s a matter of harmony and of trust, combining a farmer’s wisdom with that of modernity. Essentially, biodynamics is homeopathy for plants, of maintaining a diverse, balanced environment. My impetus for pursuing and promoting biodynamics is simple: accelerating climate change shows that the earth is out of balance. In order to maintain the health and well-being of life—human, animal, plant, and microbial, we must restore that balance. Biodynamics puts balance and harmony at its core. I’ll add that harmony is a vital element for great wine. For a winemaker seeking excellence, that is essential.
Some winemakers are quietly anxious about what climate change is going to do to the industry (and planet, of course). Is it something that’s factoring into your planning now?
We started addressing issues of climate change in 2002 as we began experiments with biodynamic viticulture. Our responsibility in this regard is essential, and we have developed a certain expertise in environmentally positive (which is more than “non-destructive”) viticulture and winemaking that we gladly share at conferences, seminars, and roundtables, and by offering consultants to others in our region.
What do you think most Americans don’t understand about French wine?
I don’t see anything at all lacking in Americans’ understanding of French—or any other—wine. Quite the opposite, I am delighted how open Americans are to the wines of emerging regions as alternatives to more classic ones like Burgundy or Bordeaux. They possess a real spirit of adventure and discovery that is thrilling for any winemaker.
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