Gerard Bertrand is sometimes referred to as “the man who saved the Languedoc”. A bold claim, perhaps… but at a time when the region (particularly the Pays d’Oc) was known principally for producing cheap, bulk wines, he set about convincing consumers that the region could make quality wine that deserved to be taken seriously. Given that he now exports his wines to 160 countries, I think it is safe to say that he has succeeded.
A charismatic and passionate figurehead for the region, Bertrand worked his first vintage aged 10, alongside his late father on the family estate of Château Villamajou in Corbières, before embarking on a career as a professional rugby player in 1984 and going on to play for France. But after his father’s accidental death in 1987, he split his time between being a winemaker and a rugby player and started selling well-made inexpensive wines to the supermarkets to promote his brand. He also started buying up neglected old wine estates that had old vines and good soils, seeing in them the potential to produce great wines. Today he owns 22 estates and 750 hectares of vines, and is one of the most recognisable brands in the Languedoc. As early as 2002, he became interested in biodynamic farming and began to experiment with two hectares of vines in his home estate of Cigalus. He found the wines to be fresher, with much better acidity which convinced him to slowly start converting all of his estates with the aim that 50% will be organic by 2020. Even when I visited in 2019, 30% were already biodynamic and Bertrand was France’s largest producer of biodynamic and SO2-free wines.
Today, the annual production under the Gerard Bertrand label is an impressive 2 million bottles, of which over half is exported to 160 different countries. The brand’s flagship property, Château L’Hospitalet midway between Narbonne and the Mediterranean, is one of the most successful wine tourism destinations in France, comprising a 38-bed hotel, a cellar and tasting venue, and an expansive wine shop. Château L’Hospitalet also hosts annual events such as their harvest weekend, the Fête de la Taille et de la Truffe (vine pruning and truffle and festival) and their hugely popular annual Jazz Festival which is now in its 17th year. They also host Jazz Fridays, where a jazz act plays during a four course dinner in the restaurant, and I was fortunate enough to visit Château L’Hospitalet on a Jazz Friday.
Our first stop, though, was the spacious modern wine shop and tasting venue. We were greeted by an impressive wall of supersized wine bottles, including the first Balthazar I have seen in real life: 12 litres (the equivalent of 16 standard 750ml bottles) of 2014 Gerard Bertrand’s flagship Cigalus red blend… for a mere €750. In a projection room we watched a short film about Gerard Bertrand; the development of the estate and the brand; and his personal philosophy, before gathering around a table to taste a selection of Gerard Bertrand wines from the Prima Nature (sulfite-free and expressive of terroir and grape variety), Domaine l’Aigle and Cigalus ranges.
Prima Nature (Vin de Pays d’Oc) is a range is sulfite-free wines made to be pared down and expressive of both their terroir and grape variety. We tried the 2018 Prima Nature Grenache rosé (pale salmon colour, lovely creamy mouthfeel, notes of peaches and apricots on the palate but a short finish); the organic and vegan 2018 Prima Nature Muscat Sec (lychee and rose nose, fresh yet aromatic fruity palate, but not very complex with a medium length white peach finish); the 2018 Prima Nature Chardonnay (not a typical Chardonnay nose, grapefruit and citrus flavours on the palate, good acidity, short but clean finish); and the 2018 Prima Nature Merlot (lovely deep garnet colour; characteristic “meaty” nose, some dark berry jammy caramelised notes on the well rounded palate). The Domaine de L’Aigle vineyards are situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees near Limoux and the grapes are planted between 250 and 500 metres above sea level, making it one of the highest vineyards in the Aude Valley. The maritime climate and and wide temperature range makes for exceptionally fresh and minerally wines. The 2018 Domaine de L’Aigle Gewurztraminer that we tried was by far my favourite white – the very shy nose gave way to a creamy mouthfeel with good acidity to balance it out and characteristic notes of litchi, roses and figs on the palate,with a very long finish. The final range we tried was Cigalus (IGP Aude Hauterive), a biodynamic range grown on an estate near Corbiere that enjoys a hot and sunny, semi-arid climate producing intense and concentrated wines. The 2018 Cigalus Blanc (Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc) had a delicious apple pie nose and a big, sastisfyingly creamy palate with notes of vanilla and spicy stewed apples with a hint of honey. But my favourite was the 2017 Cigalus Rouge ( an unusual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Caladoc and Carrignan) – a shy nose with dark berry hints, a deep ruby colour and a fantastic palate of jammy fruits, well integrated tannins and a long finish full of dark chocolate and blackberries.
After our tasting we were shown to our rooms for the night in a modern building overlooking the vineyards. My room was spacious and comfortable and decorated in soothing, neutral tones of pale wood and grey. Guests on the hotel’s jazz dinner overnight stay package will also receive a bottle of Gerard Bertrand wine as a complimentary gift in their room. The room also had a bar fridge with complimentary water, an ensuite bathroom, and a lounge area where the sofa could also fold out into a double bed. But I did not linger there too long as I wanted to make sure I got some time by the pool, finishing off the Domaine de L’aigle Gewurztraminer!
Refreshed after my swim, it was time to head for the restaurant for an aperitif and canapés before our jazz dinner. On the terrace overlooking the vines we enjoyed a bottle of Code Rouge, Gerard Bertrand’s strikingly branded Cremant de Limoux – a blanc de blancs made with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac. The wine is light but well-balanced between fruitiness and minerality with a fine mousse. It made a good accompaniment for the delicate and beautifully served canapés. From there we moved inside to the restaurant to take our seats for the dinner and jazz evening, with music supplied by Coton Combo, a 3-piece ensemble from Toulouse (there is a different act each week for the jazz dinners).
We started with possibly one of the best seafood dishes I have ever eaten: slow-cooked crayfish tails in a shellfish aspic with black garlic mayonnaise and shiso leaf. Not only was the dish beautifully plated but the balance of flavours between the sweet crayfish flesh, the salty aspic, the rich many and the fresh shiso leaf was exceptional. It was paired with an equally exceptional wine: Gerard Bertrand’s 2018 Le Clos du Temple Rosé (AOP Languedoc Cabrières) is grown on 7 small plots of vines spread over 8 hectares and consists of old vine Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre and a touch of Viognier. Vines were first planted here in Roman times, and the area currently known as Clos du Temple was gifted to the Knights Templar in 1224. It is the architecture of early temples that inspired the unique bottle shape – a square base with a pyramid-shaped indent, and a body that morphs from a square to a cylinder as you approach the neck. Grapes are hand-harvested at sunrise and the wine is made at the winery in the vineyard, keeping transport times to a minimum. No sulphur is added to the wine and it is matured in new oak barrels for 6 months on the lees. The nose and palate show hints of ripe apricot & peach, as well as green pepper and the palate strikes a good balance between fruit and minerality. At around €190 a bottle, it’s not cheap though!
This was followed by slow-cooked hake and red mullet, saffron potatoes, ile flottante and a seafood bisque. The fish was fabulous, flaky and moist; while the savoury ile flottante looked like mashed potato but was as light as a feather. This paired well with the 2018 Chateau Le Sauvageonne Grand Vin Blanc (AOP Coteaux du Languedoc) – a blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino and Viognier with a complex palate of mango and apricot and a rich texture but a freshness on the finish. The cheese course consisted of Le Saint Julien cheese with walnuts; Tomme de chevre; and a fabulously creamy Brillat Savarin, paired with 2016 Chateau l’Hospitalet Grand Vin Rouge (AOP La Clape). This blend of Syrah, Grenache & Mourvèdre with its silky tannins and strawberry notes was a surprisingly good match for the cheeses, complementing rather than overwhelming them. Dessert consisted of an apricot tart with almond cream and olive oil, paired with a spectacular Gerard Bertrand Legend Vintage 1969 Rivesaltes (AOC Rivesaltes). The Legend Vintage range is composed of 18 rare fortified wines from the South of France, dating from 1875 to 1977, compiled from wines discovered in the cellars of the wineries that Gerard Bertrand purchased throughout Roussillon, bottled under his own label. The bottle we had was from an individually numbered series of 13,350 bottles and had the colour of amber and a heavenly balance of acidity, dried apricots and sultanas that lingered long after the final sip. (And I am not only saying this because the wine is the same vintage as I am!)
If you are staying over as we did, although you may be tempted to have a lie-in, I can highly recommend getting up early and taking a ten minute walk through the vineyards in the beautiful early morning light to the top of the hill behind the hotel. From there you will enjoy a spectacular view over the vineyards all the way to the ocean, as well as see an outsize metal sculpture by Jean-Pierre Rives, another ex-French international rugby player who has devoted his post-rugby career to creating art.
After our walk we enjoyed breakfast outside – it is a self-service buffet featuring a truly impressive selection of pastries, even by French standards: croissants, pains au chocolat, crumpets, mini waffles, fruit muffins, brownies and even giant madeleines! There are also cereals, cheeses, cold meats, excellent Alain Millat fruit juices and several types of Gerard Bertrand’s own estate honey – I had the rosemary one and it was heavenly. They also had the coolest machine for boiling several eggs at the same time, but with timers so that your egg was done to your preferred degree of hardness. Genius!
Gerard Bertrand’s Chateau L’Hospitalet is open 7 days a week year round and is less than an hour’s drive from Beziers, Perpignan or Montpellier airports (and only 1h40 from Toulouse), all of which offer direct flights to UK airports. Narbonne train station is about a 15 minute drive away.
Jazz dinners at Chateau L’Hospitalet take place most Fridays and cost €69 per person for live music, four courses, and a glass of matching wine with each course. Jazz & Wine Stay packages include the the jazz dinner as described, plus a free wine tasting, 1 night’s accommodation in a superior room with breakfast, plus a free bottle of wine in your room, and cost from €295 per person. Both can be booked via the website.
You can also book activities such as wine tastings (free) and vineyard visits (from €17 per person) via the website.
Route de Narbonne-Plage
Hotel : +33(0)4 68 45 28 50
Restaurant : +33(0)4 68 45 28 54
- more of my travel posts
- Peter Dean’s interview with Gerard Bertrand on The Buyer
- Four Niagara wineries you need to visit
- Seven South African wine estates you need to visit
DISCLOSURE: I visited Chateau l’Hospitalet as a guest of Gerard Bertrand and Vins de Pays d’Oc but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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