Meet the French Winemaker Who Is Betting Big on Orange Wine

Gérard Bertrand has become a leading figure in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region in southern France, championing sustainable practices like organic and biodynamic winemaking.

Winemaker Gérard Bertrand. CreativesInResidence

The last decade has seen the explosion of the rosé wine industry worldwide, but orange wines are the next frontier. And one of France’s most renowned winemakers has made it his mission to make orange wines go mainstream. Gérard Bertrand, a former professional rugby player, transitioned into the world of wine after taking over his family’s estate following his father’s death. Over the last 35 years, he has become a leading figure in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region in southern France, championing sustainable practices like organic and biodynamic winemaking. His ambition has grown his holdings to 17 estates, spanning more than 900 hectares of vines, making him one of France’s largest independent winemakers.

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“My father was a leader in the wine industry; he was the first to believe in the region in the south of France in the 1970s. I started to do my first harvest in 1975, when I was 10 years old. And at the end of the harvest, my father said to me, ‘You know, you’re lucky because when you are 60, you will have 50 years of experience,’” Bertrand tells Observer. “And now I’m 59, and I have already done 14 vintages, and during the same time, I already played rugby, as well.” 

And given Bertrand’s recent dedication to orange wines, he isn’t even close to done yet.

Villa Soleilla, the newest accommodations at Bertrand’s Château l’Hospitalet. Soufiane Zaidi

If you’re not already familiar with orange wines, you’re not alone, but that won’t be the case for long. Orange wines are made from white grapes, but with extended skin contact during fermentation, resulting in a unique, deep orange-hue and flavor profile. Winemakers macerate the grapes alongside their solid parts—namely the skins, seeds and stems—for a period ranging from a few days to several months.

This method, though considered trendy now, is actually an ancient technique with roots dating back more than 4,500 years in the country of Georgia, often referred to as the birthplace of wine. In those times, traditionally, grapes were not pressed before fermentation. Instead, the Georgians let the wines macerate in buried amphora (clay pots), called Kyevris. This unique winemaking technique eventually spread to the rest of Europe, first inspiring the winemakers in present-day northern Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. Today, orange wine continues to be produced in Europe, as well as many other parts of the world, including the United States, New Zealand, Australia and France.

Bertrand is an admirer of this ancestral winemaking method. In particular, he loves the structure of this skin contact wine made with white grapes using red winemaking methods, which gives the wine some tannic qualities, among other things.

“I wanted to pay tribute to these people because they created a new category,” Bertrand explains. “And it was also amusing for me to try to make a rebirth of orange wine with less bitterness, and also less tannins, in order to have to create wines for drinking, not only for tasting.” 

In recent years, orange wine has slowly but surely grown in popularity among winemakers, sommeliers and other certified wine experts, as well as devoted wine lovers, for its inventiveness and creativity.

But compared to rosé or popular white varietals like chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, orange wines have more of an uphill battle in the challenge for greater market share. To start, for casual or even more advanced wine drinkers, orange wines have a different taste to them—a bite, a bit tangy or gritty, or whatever you want to call it based on your experience. While this might be a winsome experience for some wine drinkers, it’s not for everyone.

Alexia Roux
Villa Soleilla wine. Alexia Roux

“Orange wine has a different taste profile, especially because of the aging during the winemaking process—more or less one month minimum, and then 12 months of aging in oak,” Bertrand explains. “And then the maceration process and skin contact development reinforces the aromatic profiles, resulting in notes like peanut butter or apricot.”

Secondly, for stemming from such an ancient tradition, orange wine is still a newer product on shelves in American wine stores or included on wine lists at restaurants stateside.

That said, Bertrand’s company has done the research (in partnership with London-based market research firm Kantar Group), arguing that the desirability and demand for orange wine is there among U.S. consumers. According to the 2023 study, almost half (42 percent) of American wine drinkers are already aware of orange wines. Among those who are aware, nearly three-fourths (73 percent) have already tried orange wine, with one-third (31 percent) of them saying they drink it regularly. At the same time, 84 percent of U.S. wine drinkers who have never tried orange wine said they are open to trying it, which Bertrand says represents a significant opportunity for growth. (For reference, the study was based on a sample of 1,000 people who drink any type of wine and are living in the United States, aged 21 and over. Quotas were balanced to census demographics by age, gender and U.S. Census region.)

Gérard Bertrand Wines now includes several orange options, each with its own distinct character and at varying price points. For curious wine drinkers who aren’t convinced yet, the Orange Gold is a good place to start. This organic wine has a very approachable suggested price of $25 in the U.S., an easy investment for experimenting with a new wine for fun. And Orange Gold lives up to its name. Housed in a striking bottle decorated with sun beams that enhance its golden hues, the wine offers a complex bouquet of white flowers, candied fruits and a hint of white pepper. It’s crafted from a blend of chardonnay, muscat, viognier, grenache blanc, chenin and roussanne grapes.

Villa Soleilla. Soufiane Zaidi

For more experienced oenophiles looking for an exciting bottle, there is the Villa Soleilla, named for the estate where it is produced. Villa Soleilla is the newest addition of luxury accommodations at Bertrand’s Château l’Hospitalet, a five-star wine and beach resort just outside of Narbonne in the Languedoc region within the south of France, along the coast of the Mediterranean. 

Being a premium wine, this biodynamic wine is also more of an investment, with a suggested retail price of $195 in the U.S., although, similar to most white and rosé wines, it is one you shouldn’t let sit in your wine fridge for too long, as it doesn’t age well in the same way that red wines do.

“Villa Soleilla is already biodynamic-certified, and Orange Gold is organic. We apply the same recipes into the vineyards. For winemaking, we use only natural ingredients in the vineyards—this is easy,” Bertrand says about practicing sustainable winemaking. “We don’t have any issue with the winemaking, but we use amphora, and we also use some oak casks in order to develop complexity. And we age our wine for a minimum of one year before bottling.”

Summer is a prime time to consume orange wine as an alternative to heavier reds you might want to save for fall and winter, not to mention if your palate is tired of the usual white or rosé wines. Orange wines also pair well with a multitude of dishes. But Bertrand’s favorite food pairing? A French classic: cheese.

“The number one priority for us is really to pair all the orange wines that we make with a cheese plate. That’s because when you have a cheese plate at home or at the restaurant, you get lost. With goat cheese, it’s better to have a white; with camembert, a red; with blue cheese, a fortified wine,” Bertrand says. “The only wine that covers the spectrum of cheeses is really an orange wine. And depending on the level of maturation and the level of concentration, as well as the blend [of grapes], you can play with a lot of cuisines, from couscous to tuna tartare to Wagyu beef burgers.”

The Golden Sunset cocktail. Soufiane Zaidi

Bertrand also suggests that orange wine makes for a great cocktail mixer. Wine cocktails have resurged in popularity over the last few years as a lower-alcohol option compared to mixing drinks with much higher-proof spirits. One lower-ABV cocktail recipe developed in-house is called “Orange Sunset,” consisting of Orange Gold wine, bergamot orange and sparkling water.

“This is really a great cocktail to celebrate the sunset anywhere in the world,” Bertrand says.

Bertrand is already looking ahead to his next development, one of which is still somewhat of a rarity in the wine world, albeit still not available just yet: an orange sparkling wine.

“It’s always amazing to be the first to market, and it was a challenge for us because when you make sparkling wine with the bubbles, the bubbles develop bitterness. It was a challenge to create orange wine and then to develop the fermentation in order to develop the bubbles,” Bertrand says. “But finally, after two weeks of experimentation, we found a way to have sparkling orange wine and to avoid bitterness. And it’s amazing. I really love the intensity of the aromatic profile.”

Château l’Hospitalet. Soufiane Zaidi

Bertrand says that he hopes that orange wines will eventually slot into the top four categories of wine, which right now stands at red, white, sparkling and rosé. 

“I remember when rosé was starting slow, in France and exporting to other markets in early 2000. And now it’s an amazing category,” Bertrand says. “I think it takes time, and not all the chefs and sommeliers like to pair with orange wines yet. It will [only] be a matter of time when more winegrowers are involved.”

Meet the French Winemaker Who Is Betting Big on Orange Wine