Château de Berne, Provence
Visiting De Berne, sailing on Elena, and an interview with consultant Hubert de Boüard

I was invited to visit Château de Berne, in Provence. It’s a beautiful estate, but the real lure was the chance to spend time with Hubert de Boüard, a genuine wine A-list celebrity. He is co-owner of Château Angélus, and since 2001 he has built up a consulting business with around 60 clients, both in France and abroad. The other lure was a chance to sail on one of the most beautiful boats in the world – the 55 m racing schooner Elena, which along with De Berne is owned by Mark Dixon, who bought the property in 2007 and has big ambitions for it.

Hubert de Bouard and Thomas Lagarde at Chateau de Berne

‘We felt we knew where we were going with rosé,’ says Thomas Lagarde, wine director at Vignobles de Berne. ‘With reds we moved from a traditional blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah to a more new world style, but I felt it was not our personality. I felt we had a climate for good red wines, with our altitude, so we got some expert advice.’

They hired the in-demand Hubert de Boüard, who has recently turned away 25 clients because he’s at capacity. ‘He’s a man of his own vineyard,’ explained Lagarde. ‘Also, we liked the image he has: he’s very professional, and he carries a style that represents elegance rather than power. We wanted a great red that could be the signature of the estate, and even the region. It should be about tension and elegance rather than power.’

They started working together in February 2012. For the first vintage (2011, which was in the cellar when he arrived) Boüard was involved with blending, and for the next two he was involved in the whole process. ‘For him, winemaking is about details, not a recipe. He started in the vines, selecting the plots,’ says Lagarde. The red has a predominance of Syrah (90%) with the balance Cabernet Sauvignon, which gives the backbone.  

Some more about Elena. It’s simply the most beautiful boat you can imagine, built in 2009, under the project management of skipper Steve McLaren. It’s an exact replica of the yacht of the same name commissioned in 1910 by Morton Plant, designed by American naval architect Nathanael Herreshoff, and launched in April 1911. Total length is 55 metres, and it’s a proper racing schooner, built for speed. We spent the day on it sailing from St Tropez to Antibes, and this was a great life experience.

A film of sailing on Elena:

While we were onboard, I asked Herbert de Boüard some questions. De Berne is one of his 60 or so vineyard clients, a roster mainly based in Bordeaux, but also taking in Lebanon, Spain (Rioja), Thailand, Portugal (Douro) and South Africa (where he’s a shareholder at Klein Constantia).  

Bouard explained that his priority was always his family property, but that when he consults, he wants to be hands on.  ‘Where I consult, it is important for me to follow everything. I don’t want to leave one of my team to be in charge. I have a collaborator, an assistant with me, but we are both following everything that takes place. I want to involve myself, to be in the vineyard, to talk with the team, and to really be as sharp as possible.’

And Château de Berne?

‘When people talked to me about Berne, first of all I decided to go to see what the vineyard looks like and meet the team. I saw the place and thought it was amazing. I felt that the soil and conditions were great for making a grand vin de Provence. I thought we could make a great red wine and a great white wine. We started to talk about the best way to achieve this, starting with the red, and then the white.’

‘For the red, I like Syrah but not when it’s heavy; more when it is like Syrah from Côte Rôtie. Of course, we are not in Côte Rôtie, but in this part of Var it has weather conditions that are ideal for this style. During September you have low maturity, it is really good for the expression of the Syrah.’

‘For Cabernet Sauvignon we have to work it a bit more. When I arrived, they pruned it, they sprayed, and then they didn’t do anything in the vineyard until harvest. But if you want to make Cabernet really ripe you have to work hard in the vineyard and focus on the quality during July, August and September. It has a big crop, and you end up with green, rosé and red grapes. You cannot make a grand vin if you blend these together. At veraison we drop the green and rosé grapes.’

Is it important for red wines to have homogeneous maturity?

‘Yes, especially for the Cabernet Sauvignon, which has the pyrazines.  I am a fan of Cabernet Franc, but for me it is black or white. In the Cabernet Sauvignon you can carry a bit of green, but not with Cabernet Franc.’  

‘We tried to adapt the pruning to have more aeration, and sometimes after veraison we remove leaves, but I am not a fan of leaf removal generally. Sometimes we need aeration and we need the sun on the grapes. For ageing we selected new coopers, and I selected the grain of the wood—very fine, and with long drying (24 months).’

‘After we worked with the lees: they are very important for me. After my studies in Bordeaux University, I visited Burgundy and met with Henri Jayer and my friend Denis Mortet, and also Jean-Francois Meo Camuzet. They work with lees, not stirring, but to protect against oxidation and work with less sulfur dioxide in the wine. What we try to do is to age and protect the wine against oxidation, and we also dropped the temperature during ageing.’

Are you scared of Brettanomyces?

‘Yes, of course. Especially in Bordeaux. If you are attentive it doesn’t develop. If you want the identity of the soil, the freshness and the identity of the grape variety you have to be very careful.’

‘What is Berne for us? For us, what is the best rosé in Provence? Can we do that? What is the best white, and the best red? Step by step we can improve the quality and reach the top.’

What is your approach to tannin management?

‘It depends on the vintage. 2012 and 2013 were different. The extraction must be very gentle when you have a vintage like 2012. It wants more depth, but the depth is difficult to get in this vintage. We try to have no rough tannins. It is important to have everything melted and balanced. You can have a lot of tannin and great extraction, but I don’t want to feel the tannins. I don’t want the tannins in my mouth. It want them to be hidden by the volume of the wine. The extraction is so important and it is something we work on a lot. I want the most harmonious wine.’

Are you looking for maturity in the grapes?

‘For the Syrah I want it with freshness, but for the Cabernet Sauvignon I have no limit in terms of ripeness. It is very difficult to have over-ripe Cabernet. In Bordeaux it is very hard to have over-ripe Cabernet. But the big shame in Bordeaux is with the Merlot, when people pick it over-ripe. 5–10 years ago lots of people were doing this. There are still people who believe that. Merlot needs freshness. If the Merlot is overripe you have jam and chocolate. Everything we don’t like. You can do that anywhere. Increasingly people are starting to understand. The biggest problem is on the right bank. Some people use the Merlot with a lot of over-ripeness, and finally the wines all look the same.’

‘For Berne, for Syrah to be great it must be ripe but not overripe. For the Cabernet, it is different: we need ripeness, and when I arrived the ripeness was not there.’

‘What do I like in wine? I like the fruits in the nose to be preserved, and to use the wood to preserve the wine. I like the wood but not when it overtakes the fruit of the wine. You could have 90% new oak and if you cannot feel the oak it is great, but you can have only 40% new oak and it can overwhelm the wine.’

What do you think about the criticism of the Bordeaux primeur system over the last year or two?

‘When it works, it is great for Bordeaux, but when it doesn’t work it is really bad for Bordeaux. We lose what we win, and sometimes we lose more than we won before. People arrive with their computers and taste 50 wines with no knowledge of the vintage. This is part of the problem, but the other problem is the Bordelais as well. They want to win every year. To have primeur as a success story we have to think that the consumers have the power. If the consumers have good quality for a good price, it will be a successful story. In Bordeaux we are now able to make good wine even in a difficult vintage, but two or three years later the consumer can buy the same wine for the same price or even less. En primeur 2013 is a good example. The consumer says, “what is the reason for me to buy a wine I cannot drink, when I will probably find the same wine for the same price or less in three years.”’

Are the major critics important anymore in Bordeaux, or have they been a sideshow? Do the wines sell themselves?

‘The big brand wines could sell by themselves. For example, Lynch Bages is a brand. They don’t care about the ratings of Parker or Decanter. They use them, but if they don’t have them they can still sell because they have a powerful brand.  2014 will be my 30th vintage as a winemaker. The successful story of Angelus is five or six years. But for Angelus it took 25 years to build the brand. People now say I don’t care about the vintage, the ratings of the critics, I buy it because it is Angelus and I trust the brand. How many brands do we have in Bordeaux like that? In the left bank there are more, but on the right bank there are just five or six.’

‘To talk of the wine critics, in Bordeaux you have always one who is the most important. In 2013 the only one who is 90% of the power, Parker, didn’t try the wines. It may be the end of the story, but the story is very strong. After him there will be a big spread of critics: you will not have a new Parker. The most important thing is to make the best wine possible, and then after to build the brand. For Berne, they have to build the name of Berne on the quality of the wine. It has to become a reference.’

‘It is not my first job, but if I can help my clients to make their brands shine, this is important. You can make the best wine but if you can’t make the brand shine then you will always be poor.’


Château de Berne Rosé 2013 Provence, France
Very pale colour. Dry with nice texture and some subtle cherry and herb notes. Crisp with good acidity and precision. 89/100

Château de Berne Blanc 2012 Provence, France
A blend of Semillon and Rolle. Small production, barrel-fermented in 1–3 year old barrels. Taut, pithy with some spicy oak and notes of citrus, pear and vanilla. Rich-textured palate with nice finesse and subtle toasty notes. 91/100

Château de Berne Grande Cuvée Rouge 2011 Provence, France
Ripe, warm and spicy. Quite rich with sweet cherry and plum fruit, some blackberries and a fine spiciness. Nicely textured and balanced with ripeness but also an attractive spiciness and some grip. This was quite a warm vintage. 90/100

Château de Berne Grande Cuvée Rouge 2012 Provence, France
Fresh, focused and ripe with sweet black cherry and plum fruit. Ripe and pure; stylish and sleek. There’s a real smoothness to this wine. 91/100

Château de Berne Grande Cuvée Rouge 2013 Provence, France
Pure and fresh with attractive cherry fruit and nice blackberry richness. Real finesse here: textured and silky showing a seamless personality and nice purity, as well as fine-grained tannins. Good balance. 92/100

Château de Berne Grande Recolte Rosé 2013 Provence, France
Pale pink, lively and fresh with some cherry fruit. Very pure with good acidity. 89/100

Château de Berne ‘Pur’ Rosé 2013 Provence, France
50% Grenache, 40% Cinsault, 10% Syrah. Pale in colour with pure, sweet textured pear fruit as well as spice and minerals. Lovely breadth and a bit of spiciness. 92/100

Wines tasted 06/14  
Find these wines with


Back to top