Tag Archives: Vineyard

Harvest Celebration with Gerard Bertrand

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Clos d’Ora vineyard 

Recently I was invited to come down to sunny Languedoc and spend a weekend celebrating harvest with Gerard Bertrand and his crew. And 299 others, mostly journalists, bloggers and importers from 14 different countries (though the majority came from the US; clearly the biggest market for Gerard’s wines). An organisational challenge but one that was met and executed brilliantly.

This is only the second time that I have visited the Languedoc; the first was about 6 years ago and involved far too much driving to and from wineries. It is not a small place after all. The Sud de France, which includes Languedoc-Roussillon, claims the largest surface area under vine in France but also the highest concentration of organic vineyards.

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Meat roasted over dead vines

Organics and, more importantly, biodynamics play centre stage in Gerard Bertrand’s operation. The former rugby player swears by homeopathy and his philosophy extends into the vineyard. At 500 ha, Gerard’s are the biggest biodynamically farmed estates in France, if not the world. Biodynamics is one of those subjects that causes controversy and debate. I have no doubt that it works because I have tasted the positive results many times. Though I, like many, also believe that what gives these great results is not just the rigorous application of preparations and processes in line with the biodynamic calendar but also all the extra time that invariably has to be spent in the vineyard.

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On day one we were treated to a tasting of 13 wines from the various estates, led by one of the winemakers, Stephane. In fact there were two tastings, one organised for the European group and one for the Americans, each showing wines deemed stylistically appropriate for each market, i.e. we got the more elegant ones and the US crowd the sweeter, bigger wines. I thought this was really clever and showed Gerard’s commercial aptitude. This (European) tasting helped to highlight the definite style of Gerard’s wines and what he is trying to achieve. Gerard is, as Stephane put it “looking to translate the sunshine of the Languedoc into the wine”. He wants very smooth and soft tannins in his reds. In the vineyard it was clear to see that he is pushing for sur-maturite and the style of wines reflects this – they are plush, velvety and without rough edges. But they also show a sense of place, none more than his top estate and wine, Clos d’Ora, which we visited on day two.

Clos d’Ora is a stunning estate in Minervois La Liviniere. It was first discovered relatively recently in 1997. Back then, it was planted just to Carignan, now 60-70yr old. The place is so serene, Gerard comes here sometimes to meditate. The lovely smell of garrigue follows you around the 8 plots (9ha in total). Here you will find two distinct microclimates – the south-eastern side is affected by sea wind and has mostly marl soils. The north-west side is cooler and drier with continental influence and hard limestone soils. The estate is planted mostly to Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Mourvèdre lives on stone terrasses where it can get the sun and long ripening time it needs, whilst Carignan is planted just below. The Carignan grape bunches are kept a little shaded as this variety is prone to sunburn. When we visited it was a root day (and therefore time dedicated to working the soil) and viticulturist Nicolas was busy tilling the soil with the help of his mule ‘Victorieux’ and his lovely, if a little shy dog Link.

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Vitorieux

The first vintage of Clos d’Ora was 2012 so it is a relatively young wine. Over the weekend we were treated to a vertical of 2012-2015. These were undoubtedly the best wines of the trip with a clear sense of place and that classic black olive, reglisse and wild thyme character but also those very soft, velvety tannins that Gerard is so fond of.

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A visit to Ridgeview

Last Friday I was standing in the vineyards at Ridgeview on a beautiful sunny spring day and it was hard to believe that just the previous week they had been battling severe frosts and had experienced their first ever snowfall. Late spring frost is one of a viticulturist’s biggest fears as it can damage or even completely destroy the tender young buds – meaning a hugely detrimental effect on the harvest that autumn.

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This year old Jack Frost caused havoc across many regions in Northern Europe, with reports of widespread damage – including up to 80% crop loss in the Aube region of Champagne. If you haven’t seen the photos of the vineyards in Chablis tackling frost with burners illuminating every row it is well worth a look – see here. Ridgeview also use these burners (or bougies to give them their proper name) to protect their vineyards. This year the viticultural team had to light them on 8 separate nights (far more than usual) in the early hours anytime between 11pm and 3am when the vineyard temperature fell to critical levels. Impressively it takes the team just 40 minutes to light all the burners across 2.5ha of vineyard. The burners are dotted every few vines along each row and act to raise the air temperature around the vines just enough to stop the young buds getting frosted. It obviously works as, aside from some light leaf burn, Ridgeview haven’t had any major frost problems this year and so their potential crop hasn’t been affected.

So why, you may ask, have vineyards elsewhere experienced such devastating crop loss from these frosts? Well firstly the fact that England is so far north is an advantage in this case. For vineyards further south, budburst would have occurred earlier – meaning that by the time the frosts hit there were many more new shoots for the frost to damage. For once here in England we can be happy for the colder weather! Then there are also some legal issues to consider. In Champagne for example bougies are outlawed for environmental reasons. Something I’m sure many vineyard owners are grumbling about this year. Back at Ridgeview they’re also aware of these environmental concerns and so are experimenting with heated cables along some rows instead of the bougies. These run along the fruiting wire of the trellis, are powered by the electricity grid and are thermostatically controlled to turn on as soon as the temperature dips below a programmed level. Meaning the added benefit of the vineyard team not having to get out of bed in the middle of the night. So far the experiment is proving very successful – this year the vines with heated cables showed no frost damage whatsoever, not even any leaf burn.

The heated cable at Ridgeview protecting the young shoots from frost

The heated cable at Ridgeview protecting the young shoots from frost

Of course there are still many months ahead before harvest will begin at Ridgeview and a lot can happen in that time. Indeed, the risk of spring frost doesn’t really pass until the end of May. But for the viticultural team the first major hurdle of their season is almost out of the way and things are looking good for now. Let’s hope that continues as the summer arrives.

I’ll report on Ridgeview’s new 2013 releases in my next post.

Emma