Club Oenologique: Interview: Burgundy’s Olivier Bernstein
by Roger Morris
When Olivier Bernstein decided to found a Burgundy wine maison in 2007, he owned no vineyards, and had no experience making wine from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, but his wines are now among the region’s most sought-after
Most people who seek out a new career as a producer of luxury goods are content to safely start at the bottom – or at least in the middle – and work their way up.
When Olivier Bernstein decided to found a Burgundy wine maison from scratch in 2007, the business plan of the then 40-year-old executive who grew up in Touraine in the Loire Valley was to risk starting at the top – even though he owned no vineyards or grape contracts, and had no experience making wine from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Surprisingly, given that great wine region’s stubborn, hidebound traditionalism, he was an instant success. Twelve years later, the 51-year-old Bernstein still seems a little surprised that his plan worked so perfectly, and that his eponymous Olivier Bernstein premier and grand cru Burgundies are among the region’s most sought-after wines, generally selling for several hundred dollars a bottle.
A genial, outgoing, tousle-haired man, Bernstein comes from a family that has appreciated culture at all levels, but also one that values entrepreneurial business acumen. His family’s business, the well-respected classical music publishing company Bärenreiter, was founded in 1923 by Bernstein’s grandfather in Augsburg, Germany. It relocated in 1927 to Kassel, Germany, where it is still headquartered today, with offices in London, New York, Basel and Prague.
However, Bernstein struck off on his own, rising to a career in international management for the French rail agency TGV, before deciding that his amateur’s passion for wine outweighed his passion for management. In 2002, he bought a small wine estate in the backwoods of Roussillon in the south of France – “it was all that I could afford” – and earned a degree in viticulture and oenology in Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, where he interned briefly with Burgundy legend Henri Jayer. Five years later, Bernstein decided to take a leap of faith from the backwaters to the citadel of French winemaking.
He divides his time between his houses in Beaune and Paris, and produces and ages his wines in small cellars in Beaune and the nearby village of Gevrey-Chambertin. His most expensive wine is Chambertin Clos de Bèze, and the 2017 vintage sells at Fine+Rare in London for £2,250 per bottle and at Morrell & Company in New York at $1,385. In Hong Kong, 2016 is the current vintage and sells for about $1,008 (US) at Altaya Wines… continue reading