Gerard Bertrand: Estates Series Preview

20 02 2020

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Gerard Bertrand is seemingly everywhere these days, with a firmly established presence in North America (including rosé joint ventures with the Bon Jovi family) and an ever-increasing number of offerings in the Alberta market.  I had foolishly assumed that we had previously been privy to a decent chunk of Bertrand’s overall portfolio, only to discover that the current winery website offers up 135 DIFFERENT BOTTLINGS to consumers, divided up by brand, appellation, price point and production method (there are two different sans soufre lines, Prima Nature and Naturae, as well as at least two entirely separate organic lines, Naturalys and Autrement).  The bulk of my prior Bertrand experience is with his Terroir line of wines, which explore the defining soils and environments of a number of key subregions of the Languedoc, at the southern edge of France.  Tonight, however, we visit Gerard Bertrand’s Estates lineup, featuring distinctive single-vineyard wines from sites Bertrand owns, giving him complete control over the land and the growing decisions made on it.

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There are thirteen Estates vineyards in all (the interactive map on the winery site showing where they are and what they’re about is something to behold), each of which is given both a name and a descriptive mantra explaining what they’re all about.  Tonight’s first bottle, Domaine de Villemajou, is referred to as “The Genesis”, for reasons which will become quite clear below — it is where it all began for this burgeoning winery empire.  Chateau de Sauvageonne, our comparator Estates wine, is called “Sublime Nature”; while Bertrand’s history with the vineyard does not extend back as far, his connection with the land was immediate, as is its visual impression.  Each bottling does not immediately showcase itself as a Bertrand bottle; you have to look carefully on the disparate labels for the iconic name in small font along the bottom.  He may be letting the sites speak for themselves, but Bertrand’s involvement helps assure buyers of the quality within.

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2017 Domaine de Villemajou Corbieres Boutenac Rouge (~$30)

Of all of the Estates series wines, this one must be the closest to Gerard Bertrand’s heart, as it was both his home vineyard as a child and his introduction to winemaking.  The Villemajou estate (“Villa Major”, so named as it was an ex-Roman villa) in the heart of Corbieres was purchased by Gerard’s father Georges in 1970, and he made it the family home — Gerard worked his first harvest there when he was 10.  When Georges died around 15 years later, Gerard took over, intent on continuing the family legacy.  He also assumed the role of advocacy figurehead for the Corbieres Cru of Boutenac, a rocky, hilly, dry, rough area whose motto is “Force et Douceur”; power and softness.  Boutenac’s elongated ripening season is ideal for Carignan, which takes a long time to get going and accounts for 30-50% of the plantings here.  Thanks in large part to Bertrand’s determination, Corbieres Boutenac was awarded official appellation (sub-appellation?) status in 2005, which is why the Boutenac name is proudly displayed on this label today.

The 130-hectare Villemajou estate lies in the very centre of Boutenac and is known for its limestone-rich soils, prominent Chateauneuf-like galets (large round stones forming part of the vineyard soil) and extremely old Carignan bush vines.  The Carignan plantings clear 80 years of age, while the Syrah is pushing 30; these two varieties form the bulk of this Boutenac blend, rounded out by Mourvedre and Grenache.  Interestingly, after being hand-harvested, the Carignan and Syrah grapes are vinified using whole-bunch fermentation, which results in carbonic maceration for 10-18 days at the start of the fermentation process; the Mourvedre and Grenache are crushed and fermented normally.  Carbonic maceration is an intracellular fermentation that occurs within each individual uncrushed grape and results in Beaujolais-style bright bubblegum fruit and limited structure, and it might be used to inject some life and freshness into this 15% ABV brawny Languedoc blend.

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I have to ask off the hop:  why is this in a Bordeaux bottle?  The other Estates wine below, and most other Rhone-grape-based blends, find themselves encased by the gently sloping shoulders of the Burgundy bottle shape, but the Villemajou opts for the high vertical walls and sharp shoulders of Cab’s favoured enclosure.  I’m sure there’s a story there somewhere.  Nevertheless, it is immediately clear that Gerard Bertrand’s home wine is poised to make a statement, its aromas unexpectedly intervening even in the initial visual inspection of its dark, brooding, glass-coating ruby colour.  Turbo-charged notes of blueberry compote, hickory, Saskatoon berry, blueberry pie, black liquorice, cracked pepper and banana bread scream through an olfactory megaphone, with depth and presence despite their confectionary top note.  The blackout curtains drop on the palate, a car-wash-roller swath of blanketing tannin and parallel rush of cleansing acid helping Villemajou’s Carignan live up to its reputation (according to me, at least) as the “shag carpet of wine”…and this is WITH carbonic maceration!  Black jujubes, asphalt, tanned leather and cast iron pan flavours are energized by a plush streak of sweet mocha, blackberry and blackcurrant, the persistent structure keeping this hefty beast effortlessly balanced.  A tremendously compelling wine, and a clear labour of love.

90+ points

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Cork Ratings:  7/10 x 2 (Great graphical coverage, nice subtle “G B” beside the logo.)

2015 Chateau la Sauvageonne Terrasses du Larzac Rouge (~$44)

Chateau la Sauvageonne is a much more recent addition to the Bertrand family of wines, but the vineyard site is no less special.  Gerard Bertrand makes particular reference to the “sheer force of the landscape” here, the raw natural power of the land, and it’s not hard to see what he’s referring to:

If we ever end up planting grapes on Mars, it might end up looking something like that.  The vineyard, converted to biodynamics the year after Bertrand bought it in 2011, is in the fairly new Terrasses du Larzac appellation, located northeast of Corbieres and mirroring Boutenac’s ascent to AOC status in 2005.  It features some of the highest elevation vineyards in all of Languedoc and massive diurnal temperature variation thanks to its equal proximity to both the sea and the mountains:  scorching hot sun during the day is quickly forgotten as cold breezes come screaming down the plateau at night.  As the picture above makes clear, the Terrasses du Larzac are known in part for their distinctive ridges of red soil called “ruffes”, which at Sauvageonne are interspersed with limestone.  The wines have to be at least 60% Syrah, Grenache and/or Mourvedre, with no one varietal comprising more than 75% of the blend; Cinsault and Carignan are allowed to be 30% minority partners.  This particular bottle leaves out the Cinsault but captures the rest, with Grenache and Syrah leading the way.

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Any doubt about the distinctiveness of the Languedoc terroirs is laid to rest by sipping this alongside the Villemajou above.  The Sauvageonne is notably lighter and more translucent and spritely in the glass, although it too leaves traces along the side of the glass as you rotate it, and it too has alcoholic power to spare.  This is equally aromatically expressive as its sibling, but skews more towards the stewed raspberry/black cherry fruit spectrum, anchored by prominent granite/pavement/slate minerality and herbal strawberry leaf, lemongrass and rose blossom.  It’s pretty, as southern France power aromatics go.  The Terrasses du Larzac proves itself to be a fairly capable Chateauneuf-du-Pape stand-in as the wine unfolds on the tongue, layering leather, hoisin-like sweet umami, cloves/baking spice and Halloween toffee on top of a sturdy base of chewy red fruit, the flavours holding firm after the liquid has disappeared.  While perhaps not as distinctively itself as the Villemajou, this equally proves worthy of an Estates showcase.

89+ points

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