Former professional rugby player turned winemaker, Gerard Bertrand, currently runs 13 wine estates and has won accolades such as the IWC’s Red Winemaker of the Year 2012.
Gerard talks to us about the special role wine plays in our lives and, as we confront increasing environmental challenges, how the wine industry can set an example in agriculture, pushing for organic and biodynamic practices.
Interview with Gerard Bertrand - Climate Change Leadership Porto 2019
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Gerard Bertrand: I think now in the world people understand more and more that wine is a multi-dimensional beverage. You have different times to drink a bottle of wine and that is why I have created in my book, the pyramid of sense, in order to explain the difference between the pleasure, the taste, the emotion and the message in the bottle.
Of course, the second thing is that you need to eat to stay alive, you don’t need to drink wine. When you drink wine now it is not anymore because you need it but because it is a cultural experience or a friendly experience. This is something different than 50 years ago when people used wine as an energy drink.
This is a new paradigm for the wine industry and that is why the wine industry needs to be an example for agriculture, and also to have to lead the change. This is to create a new agriculture with less chemical products and more natural ingredients. This is why we push for organic agriculture.
Nick Breeze: What are the climate risks and impacts that you have been most exposed to?
Gerard Bertrand: The climate is a long term process. We have seen in the last 30 years some changes. First for the date of harvest because people, generally, are picking grapes earlier.
The second thing is the alcoholic degrees, which is more important.
The third is the impact of the sun onto the grapes. I mean that we do not need to remove the leaves [on the vine] anymore. We need to keep the leaves in order to protect the grapes from the sun.
Of course, that is why we turned all of the estates into organic agriculture, and that is why also we try to plant new vineyards at altitude and less close to the ocean in order to have a better climate.
Nick Breeze: You are in the Languedoc Roussillon, do you irrigate down there?
Gerard Bertrand: 95% of our vineyard does not have any irrigation. We just add some water when we are in very poor soil, or when we have a lot of limestone. But as soon as we have enough depth into the soil, we don’t need irrigation.
Because we produce only premium wines, we have only limited yields and we do not need water resources.
Nick Breeze: Can you talk about how biodynamic processes have impacted biodiversity in your vineyard?
Gerard Bertrand: You know, it is a long process when you move from conventional agriculture to biodynamic agriculture. First, you need to wait 2 or 3 years to see the changes, not only with the grapes but with the soil because, of course, the first process is to reinforce and to develop the strength of the vine. That is why it is important to cultivate the soil and to see the changes. To have not 10 cm of soil but 30 cm’s, and to reintroduce life into the soil. After 3 or 4 years you have a fantastic life and biodiversity in the soil, which is important.
Number 2, it is important in the vineyard also to plant trees and to develop the biodiversity of insects and to have more and more complexity in this new ecosystem. As soon as we have much more biodiversity, the plant and the vine itself becomes stronger and adapts itself to the climate.
Nick Breeze: As the temperatures go up, or whatever the impact is, do you think this is building resilience in the vineyard?
Gerard Bertrand: First it is the philosophy of life. As I said before, this is very important for us to leave a better planet for our children. Number two, Have discovered that the quality of the wine is much better with the impact of the biodynamic principal because you increase the acidity of the wine and you decrease the pH. You have a better potential for ageing and you have more finesse, elegance and vibrancy, which is important in a glass of wine. At the end of the day, when you have a passion for making wine, you want to make the best wine as possible!
Nick Breeze: So when the person picks up this glass of wine and they taste it, there is a noticeable transference of the processes into the wine?
Gerard Bertrand: Yes, I think the wines are more vibrant, more elegant, and also you can feel the life in the wine. You can also discover the taste of somewhere, not only the taste of something, which is very important!