Jazz and lifestyle at Chateau L’Hospitalet

Article du 24-08-2010

Back in 2007 I wrote an article for L’Amateur de Bordeaux entitled “Are French Winemakers Revolting?” about an uprising by half a million growers in 1907 at Narbonne on the Mediterranean not far from the Spanish border. The point was that a hundred years later winemakers in the area were still being buffeted by low prices and competition from places they’d never heard about. At the time I thought that these growers had a simple choice; either they could leave the industry and take the last bit of cash from Europe or they could abandon their beloved cooperatives, make wine themselves and sell it directly.

I may have met a third approach.

His name is Gerard Bertrand, the region’s dealmaker. For a man with his reputation for business vigour and market focus, his gait is hesitant, even engagingly floppy. But while this tall and debonair ex-rugby player is quick to smile, he is clearly driven and driving. His staff were happy to participate in the 5-day Chateau L’Hospitalet jazz festival in early August, even if they were obviously on their toes.


First to the jazz. On our first evening we heard Liz McComb yodelling her Gospel sounds, a good heart-warming message, much needed once the valley winds started to swirl through after sunset.

On the second evening, Maceo Parker funked until 1am. As he blew into his sax, sang, pranced around the stage or expressed his love for us all, his rotund bassist Rodney "Skeet" Curtis (normally jazz bassists are lithe and loping) chunked away without a second’s break, slapping up and down the neck. The guitarist strummed hot chords, a couple of girls chortled away in the background and the horns went ape-shit, as is their wont. Easy but entirely unobjectionable.

Along with other journalists, I had joined what the pamphlets call the Mediterranean lifestyle and was surrounded by lovely young things with even suntans, their branded sunglasses tucked into 100€ haircuts. We were staying in Bertrand’s signature property, L’Hospitalet, a wine tourism facility with a large tasting room and a 46-room hotel with a restaurant, bar and lounge.

A quick glimpse of his website shows the range of his other investments; altogether he owns 325 hectares of vines in the Languedoc, including the bio-dynamically farmed Domaine Cigalus where he lives with his speedy wife (I know, as I tried to follow her as she drove her white Lexus 4WD) and their two young children.

A helicopter flight on the morning of the Parker concert showed the challenge of wine growing in these dry hills. The heterogeneous nature of the country is obvious from the air; countless small plots of different colours and textures go in every direction. They were taking us to the village of Tautavel, best known for the Tautavel Man, a fellow who wandered around here half a million years ago and whose skull was found in 1971.

We were there, however, to see what Bertrand was doing to prevent the local people from becoming the dinosaurs of wine. He has taken grapes from Tautavel for many years and has finally done a ten-year renewable deal with four of the village’s co-operatives, the details of which were not entirely clear to me, although it seems that they have given him exclusive sales rights in return for help with marketing. This mix of cooperative traditionalism kept in check by strident business focus is that possible third approach for this beleaguered spot.

The rambling and charmingly inconclusive speeches towards the end of a delightful sun-speckled lunch left the impression that the deal had been painful for the locals and that the event was something of a catharsis, more important for them than for us. At the end, the Co-op chairman said that “all teams need the feminine touch”, and introduced the two women in the team as “assistants”. I’d love to see them try that in Australia!

Back at L’Hospitalet in the late afternoon I caught up with Feargal, an Irish fellow who fifteen years ago “just dropped in for a spot of work”. Since Bertrand makes 10 million bottles of wine under forty brands, I asked Feargal to go straight to the top, so he poured only two whites and three reds.

The biodynamic Cigalus 2008, an iconoclastic combination of chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc had seen ten months in mostly new barrels. The Aigle Royal Chardonnay, from low-yielding vines at 500 metres altitude near Limoux, was more pleasingly modern still, with heaps of rich peachy fruit. The L’Hospitalitas 2007 of shiraz and mourvedre was floral, spicy, savoury and meaty. La Forge from the family’s traditional holdings at Domaine Vilemajou is a homage to his father, about whom he speaks frequently. From shiraz and carignan a century old, it is ripe and fruity and is less forced than I feared from the description. And who could object to the Le Viala 2007 of shiraz, carignan and grenache from Chateau Laville Bertrou in the Minervois La Livinière, an AOC since 1999? Extravagantly new-worldly, with a wonderfully long and grippy ending.

“We don’t play jazz,” said Maceo Parker. “We do James Brown.” He must have told us his name at least twenty times. As if we hadn’t understood, a blonde “from London” kept bouncing onto the stage to tell us again.

But the music was ideal for tuning out and dancing; tight, controlled, driving and slick. Just like the wines.


Lincoln SILIAKUS pour Wine-Stereo

Article d'André Deyrieux pour Wine-Stereo ICI

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