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Gérard Bertrand, his father’s son


La Forge, the iconic label by Château de Villemajou and one of the flagships of the now prolific Gérard Bertrand range, has a highly symbolic value for Languedoc’s global wine star. Not only because it is made from his father’s favourite vineyard, but also because this is where he learnt his trade. “I was born in 1965. My father bought Villemajou at the start of the 1970s and by the time I was 12, my sister and I would spend our ‘holidays’ there – a month and a half in the vineyards, from 5am to midday, and a fortnight in the winery. At 16, I started taking part in blending. That’s how I learnt my trade”.
One more thing: “What makes Boutenac special is the pebbles, the deep rooting and the iron-like characters. The iron comes through in the wine –licking the pebbles feels like sucking a piece of iron. I can pick out Boutenac wines from a million others”.

Needless to say, La Forge is aptly-named. And yet the label was only released in 1998, eleven years after Georges Bertrand died in a road traffic accident. “Sometimes I do things really fast but in this instance, with something very close to my heart, it took time. The overall feeling is essential and my father had got it right: La Forge has a very unique typicity and it ages very well. The 1998 is still in the summer of its life, and yet it already has twenty years under its belt!” Born in 1939, Georges Bertrand was the youngest of nine children and he made a big impression in the Corbières – both on the rugby pitch and in wineries. The father of his friend Jean Demolombe, a renowned Narbonne negociant, had sensed his gift for wine tasting and Georges Bertrand soon became an outstanding broker, tasting and scoring “250 wines a day”. “He was also a remarkable blender of wines, with a prescient awareness of the potential of Languedoc”, recalls Yves Laboucarié.

All of these talents have been inherited by his son, who, through fate, became a company director at just 22 years old. “I was impetuous, I would get mood swings, anxiety. I had my own intuitions and wanted to make my own mark. The consultant winemaker Marc Dubernet and I learnt how to get to know each other. We went from being strangers to becoming like-minded – we share the same thoughts. In 1989, I met Pétrus winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet. From 1990 to 2007, we blended Villemajou wines together. He gave me a sense of precision and his extensive experience of barrel ageing”.
In 1998, Gérard Bertrand took charge of the application process for Boutenac to be recognised as a Cru, which had stalled for eight years. “I held 51 field meetings. It took six years. By tasting the wines from the leading estates, we realised there was a genuine connection. But it was a battle, there were clashes over the percentage of Carignan and the boundaries of the appellation area. The agronomist Jean-Claude Jacquinet was the major moderator, he played a pivotal role and everything gelled. We refused to compromise over the tasting approvals, insisting that they involve bottled wines so that winegrowers would have to set the bar high. The extremely high standard of Boutenac wines stems from this requirement. When I invited René Renou, who became chairman of the INAO wine board in 2000, he was very impressed by our wines and helped us a lot. The appellation was recognised in 2005. It was a great story of human achievement…”

Fifteen years on and Villemajou still leads the way in Boutenac, selling 400,000 bottles in France and to around 60 countries. The winery was completely refurbished in 2019. In the eyes of his son, Georges Bertrand – who is depicted in a portrait by Olivier Domin, aka Oll, which hangs in the lobby – is still the appellation’s custodian.

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