Jean-Pierre BERTRAND – Domaine “Grand Nicolet”
Jean-Pierre BERTRAND © AOC Rasteau
“In our place, the wines are the first to speak up for themselves!”
Jean-Pierre Bertrand’s wines are robust. Full- bodied, hearty and well-structured. Not easily cowed when faced with game, a hearty stew or a tagine. Rather, they are assertive – not unlike Jean- Pierre himself.
Next to wine, this 50-year old Auvergnat’s favourite topic is cooking; Jean-Pierre comes from a family of catering professionals. To build on the skills he learned in his youth, he took evening classes at the Ecole Hôtelière d’Avignon, Avignon’s famous catering school: he felt he needed to perfect his favourite stew recipes, or learn how to cook fish properly.
I see plenty of similarities between winemaking and cooking; but it’s just that bit more stressful. With wine, if you want to improve your recipe, you have to wait until the following year.”
Of course, if you’re a food-lover and a gourmet, everything’s about the raw materials. In Jean-Pierre’s case, that means the grapes. The vines on the estate are of very high quality, evenly distributed between the appellation’s high and low-lying sectors. Average vine age is 50, although some are as old as 80. Soils are tilled and harvests are manual – and preferably fairly late, when the grapes are extremely ripe. The fruit is brought to the winery (the oldest in the village, built by Jean-Pierre’s father-in-law in 1926) and partially de- stemmed before fermentation begins. Fermentation lasts around 20-25 days, with a little extra oak for the Syrah.
And the chef’s speciality? “That has to be our blends, all based on Grenache, our main varietal. We add varying amounts of Carignan depending on vintage. Our grapes are excellent, and we try to do our best by them.”
Wines are bottled after 2 winters in-vat and then sold, mostly on the export market, with the help of an agent with whom the Domaine has worked for several years. The remaining 1/3 is sold in France, through on-trade and direct sales; the latter are from the property’s own wine cellars among the vines, “from which we would not be parted for the world.”
A ‘Rastellain’ through and through
These days, Jean-Pierre sees himself as a ‘Rastellain’ – a true native of Rasteau. Since he first arrived in the village in 1987 as a conscientious objector and subsequently marrying the daughter of a local winegrower, Jean-Pierre has integrated seamlessly into village life. First he spent time as a sports coach, then chairman of the football club. He was president of the Tourist Office, Rasteau Bienvenue, for 8 years before taking up the post of treasurer. He has been closely involved in various professional associations since the 1990s, taking an active part in discussions to determine the scope of the Cru. He is currently vice-president of the Syndicat des Vignerons (the winegrowers’ association) and is at the forefront of appellation events such as Nuit du Vin and Escapade des Gourmets.
“I’ve never really missed my native Auvergne,” he says, with a hint of a southern accent. “What I have here is just the start of the story. We have a future to build for our Cru. We’re starting off with excellent potential – but there’s still a lot of work to do.