A Garden in Bordeaux

Olivier Bernard is flanked by sons Hugo (left) and Adrien (right). The Triumph Spitfire belongs to the elder son. The family loves cars but all three are committed to their vineyard which the father describes as a “garden”. No herbicides or pesticides are used.

‘My first vintage was 2009. After oenology studies in Reims, I came back to Bordeaux in September and started work with our winemaker Thomas Stonestreet,’ Hugo, 32, younger son of Anne and Olivier Bernard informed when we met at Domaine de Chevalier on 21 July 2017.

Hugo Bernard’s three-year oenology course was spent between Reims and Bordeaux. He then studied marketing, communications and accountancy for another year. Today, the only bearded member of the family, Hugo takes care of the viticulture of the vineyards and also manages the teams during harvest and the cellars of the properties of the group including Domaine de ChevalierDomaine de la SolitudeChateau Lespault-Martillac and Clos des Lunes.

Their combined vineyards total nearly 200 hectares.

The only bearded member of the family, Hugo Bernard studied oenology in Reims for three years. And then marketing, communications and accounting. Today, apart from helping make the wines, he takes care of the viticulture of their estates.

‘We have changed the style of the white a bit by increasing the amount of semillon. Before 2012, it was 85% sauvignon blanc and 15% semillon. Since 2013, because of the (high) acidity, sauvignon blanc is now only between 70 and 75%. Since 2008, there is no more cabernet franc in Domaine de Chevalier Rouge. The red is now about two-thirds cabernet sauvignon, one-third merlot, and about five per cent petit verdot,’ Hugo enlightened.

Brother Adrien, 34, is in charge of the office and commercial aspects of the family business. The elder sibling had first started work outside the immediate family. Adrien Bernard began with Bordeaux Tradition, a negociant founded by his uncle Fredèric (younger brother to Olivier Bernard), and was based in Shanghai from 2009 to 2011. From there, Adrien promoted the wines of the family for the Hong Kong, China, Korean, Japanese and Australian markets. Adrien Bernard lived in Shanghai for almost seven years before finally returning to France in July 2016.

Elder son Adrien Bernard lived seven years in Shanghai from where he promoted the family’s wines to the Hong Kong, China, Korean, Japanese and Australian markets. He returned to France in July 2016 but continues to travel to those places. 

Of all the wines the family produce, they are most identified with Domaine de Chevalier.

It was back in 1983 that the Bernard family purchased Domaine de Chevalier and installed their eldest son as managing director. Olivier and his wife Anne Bernard continue to live on the estate in Leognan with their beloved dogs. Adrien and Hugo have moved out but like father like sons, the family loves cars. And sailing. Adrien has a British Triumph Spitfire (see photo) and Hugo an American Mustang. Olivier keeps a Bentley.

Their hearts are also settled in their vineyards.

You may also want to read … Domaine de Chevalier White 1990

Domaine de Chevalier’s 39.5 hectares (4.5 ha for white and 35 ha for red) have soils that include gravel, black sand, clay and iron. As in Burgundy, the vines are planted very close to each other, at a density of 10,000 vines per hectare. These are the proportions: sauvignon blanc 70% and semillon 30% for white, and cabernet sauvignon 65%, merlot 30%, cabernet franc 2.5% and petit verdot 2.5% for red.

‘We work very hard in the “garden” or what is generally called the vineyard. We don’t use herbicides or pesticides. A lot of replanting has been taking place since 1996,’ Olivier Bernard proudly informed.

People with children tend to think very much of the future and the kind of world they would like to leave behind to the next generation. One of the most precious things I have learnt from Olivier Bernard is that it is more difficult to make a white wine than a red. Well, at least if you are aiming for something as precise and pristine as Domaine de Chevalier.

You may also want to read … Domaine de Chevalier Red 1970

‘In the white, the assemblage or blending is even more difficult to do because in the red, the notion of structure, fruit, ripeness and tannins are much easier to understand. But in the white there is no tannin, so you must go to the real sense of the wine, which means balance, fruit, acidity, length and eclat, which is the brilliance you find in diamond. Some wine s have it, others just don’t. Like in people.’

Olivier Bernard is not only a poet, he’s a philosopher too.

Hugo Bernard’s first vintage is a wine of measured power. A hot, dry year, Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2009 (en magnum) is mid-gold in shine, perfumed of sandalwood and orange/lemon compote, and a palate reminiscent of Meursault but flushed with sunny minerality, dried citrus peel, and a persistent finish. 

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