Portraits Vignerons - Michel Bernard : La grande distribution plus jamais - Les Grappes

Michel Bernard: "Mass distribution, never again! »

Château Beauchêne is not only a princess castle, an ideal place for sumptuous weddings. It is also a vineyard located in the heart of the Rhone Valley, known for its fruity and delicious wines. Michel Bernard is the happy owner. Coming from a family of winegrowers, he did not intend to grow vines... He comes back with us on the unusual history of the Château and its current projects.

Michel Bernard abandons his law studies and takes over Château Beauchêne.

Our path has been a little bit particular: in the early 70s, I took over the family business after the sudden death of my father. I then had to make a choice and dropped out of law school to concentrate on developing the farm. We quickly built up a very important traditional clientele in Paris, and we were short of wine.

At the time, my teeth were longer than today and I started a business. I applied my legal rudiments to come up with a formula that allowed us to group 40 wineries, which was very innovative at the time. We were then in the early 1980s, and mass distribution was really starting to take an interest in wine, which allowed us to develop very quickly. We became a very important wine merchant, but paradoxically we had lost all our wine shop and restaurant customers. After ten years, I stopped believing in this business, because I no longer believed in mass distribution. To survive in mass distribution today, you have to aim for mass production, constantly pulling down prices... it's no longer reasonable.

So we returned to production and I bought the château and the surrounding vineyards in 1988. We made important investments to increase the quality of our wines, with a modern winery, and many efforts concerning the vinification of white wines, which we master perfectly today. On the other hand, we will no longer set foot in supermarkets.

The fruity wines of Château Beauchêne in Piolenc

The vineyard of Château Beauchêne is composed of two entities. Firstly, there is the vineyard directly around the Château, which, in view of all the materials that we recover as we plough, is probably the site of an ancient Roman settlement. Next to the castle is the original estate (about 20 hectares, situated between Orange and Châteauneuf-du-Pape) which has belonged to our family since the French Revolution. These two estates are now grouped together, and the plots are only a few kilometres apart.

We produce red wines for which we favour fruitiness, not to be confused with lightness. We de-stemmed the whole harvest in order to have a longer vinification. We have melted tannins but that doesn't mean that our wines don't expect. It's my paste and the one I'm trying to advise my daughter who's going to take over. For our white wines, we stay on the fruit, but they're more like gastronomy wines, to be drunk at the table. It still has a good ageing capacity: try a 15 or 20 year old white Châteauneuf and a truffle brouillade. We make whites that remain relatively vinous, so the two are a perfect match.

The future of Château Beauchêne: more mourvèdre to counter global warming in the Rhone Valley

For the past 8 years, I have been making efforts to plant grape varieties with the particularity of being more resistant to a possible warming of the climate. Without being particularly climatoskeptical, we observe that the region is getting warmer, and we are therefore increasing the percentage of mourvèdre. This grape variety likes to have its head in the sun and its feet in the water, and we are fortunate to have water tables fed by water from the Alps and the Rhone.

Today, our daughters are the next generation. Previously, they each had a rather different profession. Amandine went to business school. As for Estelle, who will take in hand the agronomy and oenology, she was a veterinarian. They are now 37 and 38 years old, and it is thus for her a real return to the vineyard! I am proud that they can bring their experience and extend the history of the Château.

Tasting commentary of the cuvée Grande Réserve 2014 of Château Beauchêne on Gilbert & Gaillard :"Clear garnet robe with youthful highlights... Pleasant nose, redcurrant, raspberry jam, spicy touch. Aromatic attack, we appreciate the naturalness and precision of the fruit, some discreet tannins, a touch of the garrigue. It's very pleasant. "

Robin (The Clusters)

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