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Gérard Bertrand Aims To Build Languedoc-Roussillon Category In U.S.

June 19, 2012

Languedoc-Roussillon winemaker Gérard Bertrand is celebrating his eponymous business’s 25th anniversary this year, but in many ways his work in building Languedoc’s image in the U.S. is only beginning.

“For me, the U.S. is a 10-year project. First we developed the network,” says Bertrand, whose namesake brand currently sells around 100,000 cases in the U.S. and reached full national distribution this month. Marketed through the Gérard Bertrand USA subsidiary, the wines are distributed by Southern Wine & Spirits in 13 states, and by Glazer’s, Young’s Market and M.S. Walker in other key areas. “Now, our aspiration is to create the South of France category in the U.S. as we’ve done in Europe over the last 20 years. It’s succeeded there and in Japan, so it’s natural to target the U.S. And retailers I visit are interested, like Sherry-Lehmann in New York, because it’s an opportunity to offer something different,” he adds.

The Gérard Bertrand brand ranges from Languedoc varietal wines featuring screwcaps and retailing at around $12 up to single-estate offerings from the company’s eight properties in the region, which run up to $75 a bottle. “Eighty percent of our wines are between $10 and $20, which is the most exciting category in America right now, so I think we’re very well-placed to grow,” Bertrand says. While the company owns 1,000 acres of vineyards, it sources 60% to 70% of its total 1.3-million-case production as a negoçiant. “But we’re not a classic negoçiant,” Bertrand notes, “because we have long-term partnerships with all our growers.”

Bertrand is based at his flagship property L’Hospitalet in the Coteaux du Languedoc La Clape region, but he visits the U.S. every six weeks and says his direct relationships with distributors, retailers and restaurateurs have been key to growing the business. “It’s important for us to be our own importer and have direct relationships with decision-makers in each market,” he says, adding that the Gérard Bertrand brand’s top markets are California, New York, Massachusetts and Texas. “Otherwise you only have a relationship with the importers, and very often the importers sell what’s easy to sell.”

The on-premise is getting the lion’s share of Bertrand’s attention. “When you have a good on-trade network you have the ability to choose your partners in the off-trade, the ones who respect the integrity of the brand,” he says.

Bertrand’s top priority is bringing the message of Languedoc’s terroir to the U.S., but that doesn’t mean he won’t participate in trends where opportunities present themselves. Two recent additions to the brand line, a Gris Blanc Rosé, which is made from Grenache Gris grapes and is nearly clear in color, and a Muscato wine, both selling for around $15, are examples. The Gris Blanc, intended to meet the trend toward lighter-colored rosé wines, only appeared in the U.S. last year, but it’s been available in Europe for five years and has grown to become the most successful product in the Bertrand portfolio.

 

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