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He is one of the best-known biodynamic winegrowers in the world: Gérard Bertrand talks to his biodynamics manager Gilles de Baudus in an interview about curiosity and commitment, the vegetable skin of their vineyards and vines that look like small trees.

The group Gérard Bertrand in Languedoc-Roussillon is the world's largest wine company working biodynamically. In the southern French region, Gérard Bertrand owns a total of 17 wineries that cultivate 26 grape varieties on more than 850 hectares of vineyards and produce wines with twelve protected designations of origin. The Languedoc-Roussillon is considered one of the largest organic wine-growing regions in the world: currently, around 1,600 wineries work organically or biodynamically on about 25,000 hectares of vineyards. The region offers the best conditions for this: The geographical location, the hot and windy Mediterranean climate as well as the many grape varieties help the winegrowers to minimise infections and diseases.

In an interview with Werner Rüttgers, Gérard Bertrand, who was born in 1965, and Gilles de Baudus, who is responsible for biodynamics, talk about their learning process, which has already lasted more than 20 years, and their work in times of climate change.

There is currently a great deal of discussion at wine community about whether organic cultivation and biodynamic farming can contribute enough to sustainability in the wake of climate change. What is your position?

Bertrand: For me, biodynamics and sustainability are closely linked. Both need a long-term approach and vision, a process that lasts. In 2002, we decided to convert the Cigalus winery to biodynamic practices. The conversion phase that we started 20 years ago will continue for many years.

Why is it taking so long?

Bertrand: Biodynamics is not just about not using synthetic chemistry, but about bringing nature back into focus through observation and interest. It is a mindset of constant curiosity, of interest in nature and the environment - not only in the vine. It is the search for balance.

© Gérard Bertrand

You now own 16 wineries in Languedoc-Roussillon, and in September this year you added another in Cahors. How does this search work on such a scale?

Baudus: We have a choice of 15 different biodynamic fertilisers for working the vineyards. Every year we produce 2,000 tonnes of manure from sheep, horses and cattle in five composting plants. 460 hectares of vineyards are planted with vegetation, whereby the cover crop is adapted to the respective soil and acts like a plant skin protecting the soil. Eight vineyards have 960 sheep grazing on their land, and three vineyards are managed by mules, for which there are three animal keepers. We ensure biodiversity in the vineyards with poppies, olive trees and beehives.

Bertrand: Biodynamics is a human experience and perception. It is about the cycle of life. The inner attitude and dedication of the human being influence the way the vineyard and the biodynamic preparations use their energy.

Biodynamics is a personal commitment

What criteria do you use to make decisions about when and where to do what work? And how do you change these requirements - for example with regard to climate change and resource consumption?

Bertrand: Biodynamics, like sustainability, demands responsibility from everyone. The common thread here is the social dimension. When we started, it was just Gilles de Baudus and me. Today there are 80 experts and 350 employees involved in this human adventure. The conversion to biodynamics means learning and relearning. Our teams had to completely relearn how to work in the vineyard and in the cellar to become 80 experts in biodynamics. It means constant questioning, further training, continuous improvement. Everyone had to take the step of learning and implementing new, environmentally friendly practices. This change demanded responsibility from each of my staff. It is a personal commitment. A vineyard is like a child that we raise for many years.

Baudus: We prepare the biodynamic preparations for all the vineyards centrally in a former wine cellar that has been specially adapted for this purpose. We work very precisely when applying them, because the work in the vineyards is based on the phases of the moon. After each harvest, my team and I go into seclusion for a fortnight and analyse, on the basis of the soil, the grapes and the young wine, how each individual vineyard plot has reacted to the measures taken in the previous growing season, in order to then determine the treatment for the coming year.

What significance do the consequences of climate change have in your discussions?

Baudus: Plants can adapt to their environment - and biodynamics supports them in doing so. In practical terms, this gives us a very significant advantage, also with regard to climate change: biodynamics increases the activity, i.e. the vitality of the soil, thirtyfold. This means that our soil can bind 30 times more carbon dioxide than conventionally cultivated soil.

Alchemy between innovation, quality and nature

How do you deal with phases of extreme drought?

© Gérard Bertrand

Baudus: The biodynamic management of the vineyards ensures a balanced fluid balance so that they remain green even in dry, very hot summers. The grapes are harvested by hand at daybreak to preserve the freshness resulting from the drop in temperature at night. Each individual plot is harvested at the optimal time and vinified separately.

Is that enough with these hot temperatures?

Baudus: We observe the development very closely. An example: The vines in the vineyards around our Château La Sauvageonne are about 50 years old. They are raised in the gobelet system and thus look like small trees. A canopy of leaves protects the grapes from strong, direct sunlight. However, this system of vine training is only possible with four grape varieties: Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre. Only their branches can be trained as upright as is necessary for the current sun protection.

Bertrand: We shape our future by creating an alchemy between innovation, outstanding quality and nature.

Your winery Château l'Hospitalet has become a gourmet and wellness resort with many tourists. Does that really contribute to sustainability?

Bertrand: The resort is located in a place where nature is queen and where preserving biodiversity is our priority. The Château goes beyond the requirements of the certification to preserve biodiversity and the entire vineyard environment. Since 2010, the estate has been involved with the LPO (Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux - Bird Protection Association) in an action programme to preserve biodiversity on our property. The estate is also involved in "Safer Occitanie" for the protection of fauna and flora in the protected area of the Massif de La Clape. Several beehives have been placed in the vineyards. It is important for us to protect the pollinator insects and provide them with good living conditions. This includes planting hedges for the vines and conserving water resources. The resort's three restaurants focus on sustainability and prefer organic products. Their kitchens cultivate biodiversity and seasonality, relying on local producers who have become partners over the years. Our short supply chains extend from the kitchen to the jar.

© Header photo: Marie Ormières

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