Produced from 50-year-old vines in Clos de la Roche, one of the four Grands Crus of the Morey-Saint-Denis commune. 13.41 hectares (33 acres) is the total vineyard area of the Clos under production. Limestone dominates in the Clos de la Roche, where the soil is barely 30 cm. (12 inches) deep with few pebbles but with large boulders which give the climat its name.
Most of the winemakers in the patchwork of Burgundy’s great vineyards have inherited their vines through family ties that stretch back over many generations. Finding another way into viticulture in this diminutive region takes both patience and passion – qualities Bernstein has in abundance. “To have become a winemaker through choice rather than because of familial expectation is a distinctive – and liberating – position to be in,” says Bernstein. “Mine is a family of entrepreneurs: our ventures have always been linked to pleasure, passion and creation but at the same time working at the highest level possible to discover what can be done better.” Born in Touraine, Bernstein’s family business is rooted not in wine but in classical music. His grandfather founded Barenreiter, a publishing company famous for its scores by world-renowned composers such as Mozart, Bach and Schubert, and Bernstein grew up in a home where creativity and flair were valued alongside hard work. Olivier’s early business ventures took him into the rail industry working with TGV, but despite travelling the world to work both far (Taiwan and Venezuela) and near (Cassel in Germany) the pull of his desire to become a winemaker meant he returned to France.
Taking his first formal steps towards fulfilling this ambition, Bernstein undertook a degree in viticulture in Beaune. “I needed to grow something for myself,” he says. “I had a precise goal: an ambition to make pure, balanced wines that combine both mouth-filling depth and magnificent delicacy.” At the age of 35, he moved to the south of France (Tautavel, Roussillon) and acquired eight hectares of vineyard. “I bought a tractor and started out by doing everything by myself, learning viticulture and learning the industry. It was complicated, it was hard work but the successes were so rewarding,” Bernstein says. “My dream, though, was always Burgundy, and I made the move there in 2007.” Starting from scratch again, Bernstein began by renting space in Gevrey-Chambertin. It was here that he met Richard Seguin, the man who would later become his cellar master: “We began talking while sorting grapes – we were both the only people working a Sunday!” says Bernstein. In 2008, Seguin came to join Bernstein full-time. “I was lucky with the timing of my move,” says Bernstein. “I was able to take on some really interesting vineyards with wonderful old vines. Now, whether working on the vineyards I own, or those we rent, I am able to farm entirely as I want to. We do all the viticulture ourselves.
The whole process from the vineyard to the bottle lasts around 30 months, during which we have a thousand decisions to make which will influence the wine – in those choices, there must be no compromise,” he explains. In 2012 Olivier Bernstein was able to purchase vines in the Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru vineyard Les Champeaux and the Grand Cru Mazis-Chambertin. He has also settled into his fabulous premises in the heart of Beaune, an essential visit for the serious lover of Bernstein wines. Today, Bernstein’s seven Grands Crus and three Premiers Crus plots have a wealth of old vines, which are fundamental to the quality of his wines. All but one of the Bernstein vineyard plots are at least 40 years old; most are between 60 and 80 years-old. While officially acting with negociant status, Olivier and his team take responsibility for the vineyard work on their plots.