Larger Than Life — Vino Visionary, Gérard Bertrand
With passion and humility, taking time discover who you are—with mindful feelings about all aspects, hands-on, not being subject to the influence of others, forging your own path—the results will be unique and meaningful. - Gérard Bertrand
Gérard Bertrand is Languedoc-Roussillon’s most esteemed vigneron. Having set out on a quest to reveal Languedoc-Roussillon’s terroir—its character and soul—not his own stylistic preferences, Bertrand has built an empire from a small family vineyard.
Bertrand could have been anything he put his mind to. Early in life he chose a difficult path, becoming a top rugby player. Rugby is the kind of game that batters one’s body while fortifying the resolve and refining your spirit. It was his “school of life.” Born in 1965 in Narbonne, Corbières, he grew up on a vineyard but ended up playing rugby professionally. Starting at a young age, he played for the team in Narbonne. Ultimately, his 17-year career concluded with being the captain of Stade Francais and, upon retirement, its president.
His rugby days taught him valuable life lessons—the virtues of team spirit, leadership, conflict resolution, diffidence, camaraderie, and value of achievement. Eventually, these experiences would serve him well in his quest to persuade the world to welcome with open arms the wines from Southern France.
His greatest influence came from his late father, Georges Bertrand, and his pioneering philosophy of uncompromising excellence. A tragic car accident that took his father’s life interrupted his flourishing sports career and placed him on the path to winemaking. Gérard was not new to the craft; he had made wine since the tender age of 10. His first official harvest took place at Domaine de Villemajou in the Corbières region.
In 1992 he took over the 4-acre vineyard that soon grew to 40 (these days he is responsible for 1000 acres of vines.) His pragmatism immediately lead to making land improvements and conducting various viticultural experimentations.
He understood the region’s possibilities; but how to communicate it to the world at large? He instinctively knew that the winds of change would come to the south of France sooner or later. He set out to be a catalyst. A better vision of viticulture and marketing had to take hold. A generational effort must commence highlighting the diversity and potential of his region.
Vigneron isn’t just his job description. Gérard is a man on a mission, inseparable from his namesake brand. His intense passion and dedication to the lifestyle and terroir of the South of France knows no bounds and are genuinely contagious. He is a vocal evangelist of “Art de Vivre.” To him, wine is a life source, not in a metaphysical, but real sense, a benchmark that cannot and should never be denied. Sample his wine and you will become a convert to his philosophy in a blink of an eye.
After several decades at it, he believes that the potential of southern France and its terroir is beginning to be understood. He believes that terroir is a unique confluence of soil, subsoil, altitude, climate, vine plantings; all in harmony with the varietal choices. The human hand is crucial to exposing true terroir in its macro and micro forms. He believes in humility; that he is a mere facilitator of the terroir’s character.
He has created a wildly successful marketing strategy. He feels that message in a bottle comes directly from above and stimulates your senses, celebrates them and reverberates resonance. His new paradigm—winemakers are sharing an experience, not just marketing a product. His strategy has paid off. His wine is distributed in seventy countries and counting. His influence crosses regions and borders. The Gérard Bertrand empire is a powerhouse that counts thirteen properties amongst its holdings. He believes that success is a continuous journey, not a destination. Says Bertrand, “The important thing in life is not the success; rather it’s the path itself and steps we take to achieve success.”
Gérard believes that the wine world should offer more diversity—there are 6,000 grape varieties; while typical consumers are familiar with less than ten. He asserts that wine has been created by God to enjoy his bounty. Standardization and consolidation are natures’ enemies.
He feels that when we start celebrating life with wine we stop disagreeing, wrangling and fighting. Wine can be a spiritual beverage that transcends time and supplies a mystical experience by channeling its terroir. All that one needs is the mindset to recognize its many rewards. He advocates paying attention to details of what’s in the glass and receiving its message. One must open his/her heart and mind to the gift that the wine is channeling.
Unsurprisingly, Bertrand is happiest when drinking wine with friends. He seems to be everything to everyone – husband, father, community leader, and marketing wizard extraordinaire. He is a paternal figure, friend, mentor, instigator, and inspiration to all. Where does he find the energy for all of this? “My energy comes from God – from the inside—I wake up in positive spirits every morning, and walk through the day with my intuition, my feelings, not just my intellect. The brain has limitations; the universe does not. I tap into it. Freedom comes from opening yourself up to folks. Fear of failure, of being vulnerable causes stress. Wine helps ease and erase doubts, to generate positive feelings, and overcome anxiety. Fear is the primary source of all conflict. Wine is a great equalizer and a communion with God.”
He notes that we should not try and control our world. Instead of we should let go and share in its abundance. Being quiet allows one to connect with nature. Being still gives one an opportunity to commune with the universe, to make sense of your existence and to walk in peace. To commence on a transcendent journey is to open your soul in order to break the mental chains that bind your spirit. Be intense and ambitious. Push yourself beyond self-imposed limits.
Gérard often speaks of a unique phenomenon—La Lumiere, the lights of Narbonne. As the sun sets, a magical light reveals itself and the spirit of the vineyards. Many of the region’s domaine’s owners were so taken with Bertrand’s vision that they entrusted their wineries to his stewardship. His unwavering commitment to quality and his quest to highlight the uniqueness of a region’s terroir have secured him both local and worldwide partnerships.
With his spectacular success, he has nothing to prove and everything to offer. He encourages by example and forges forward with ease. He is the transformative force of the southern France, pushing it forward one vineyard, one vine, and one bottling at a time. He galvanizes the wine world with his epic energy. His leadership flows from his authenticity, and his passions cannot be denied.
That’s the thing about a force of nature–it is, by definition, larger than life.