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France // Actor
Talk with François Berléand
"Wine is a part of my life."
In 2024, François Berléand will be celebrating a career spanning 50 years. Originally a stage actor, he then turned to cinema and television, starring in over 120 films and becoming a past master in ‘grumpy’ characters. In real life, though, he is anything but, as evidenced by his passion for wine, the kind you share with friends and family. We meet an authentic wine enthusiast who recounts the Merlot of his childhood to the Syrah produced with Hervé Bizeul, and his first feelings to his latest favourite pick.
When was your first encounter with wine?
I was 9-10 years old. It was with my grandfather. In the garden of his house in Yvetot, he would get me to smell the leaves and the fruit and, on each special occasion – Christmas, Easter or a birthday – he would put a glass under my nose and ask me what it reminded me of. I can still hear myself saying, “strawberry”, “redcurrant”, “raspberry”, and he would encourage me. Another time, with an Alsace white wine, a late harvest, I said “liquorice”, and he thought that was great. From the age of 13, I was allowed to taste the wine. He educated my palate.
Until I was 18, I only liked Merlot.
What did your family drink?
One of my uncles married a woman who belonged to a prominent Bordeaux family. So, we only drank Bordeaux, and only from the Right Bank. Until I was 18, I only liked Merlot. And yet, the first wine I bought, at the Paris Fair, was a Burgundy, and it was only because of the name ‘Montrecul’ [Ed. meaning, pull a moonie]. It wasn’t very good.
We only drank Bordeaux and only from the Right Bank. I only began taking an interest in other regions at the turn of the 21st century.
What was the first real catalyst?
When I was young, I didn’t spend any money on wine, because I didn’t have any. The alcohol content was good enough for my friends and I. That was until I was 27, in 1979, and I started earning a few bob acting at the theatre in Bordeaux. My partner introduced me to Pierre Coste, a prominent negociant. He liked actors and gave me sizeable discounts. I bought an entire lot for 20,000 francs. There were some excellent wines, like Château Petrus and Château Haut-Brion.
Who did you share the wines with?
It took me three years to drink everything. I would invite friends to my house. I lived on the 5th floor with no lift. When there were six of us, I would take out three bottles but around midnight, I always had to go back down to the cellar. It took me a while to realise that the people I invited couldn’t give a damn about what they were drinking. So I started decanting Vieux Cep – cheap plonk at the time – into good bottles and vice versa. They were oblivious to it all. Their reaction was dictated by the labels and I took great pleasure in pretending to enjoy Vieux Cep. It wasn’t long before I kept my wine for people who really enjoyed it.
I wondered why it had taken me so long to drink such extraordinary wines at affordable prices.
When did you start drinking wines other than Bordeaux?
I only began taking an interest in other regions at the turn of the 21st century. In 2004, I was on tour and I was acting in a play with Richard Berry in Montpellier. After the performance, we went to the Jardin des Sens restaurant owned by the Pourcel brothers. When we were considering what to drink, I said stupidly, “Perhaps a local wine? Are there any good wines here?” At the time, Languedoc didn’t have a very good reputation. They served us a Château Puech-Haut and that was when I discovered a full-flavoured wine with lots of fruit, alcohol, a little sugar, and I really enjoyed it. I wondered why it had taken me so long to drink such extraordinary wines at affordable prices. I began to take an interest in Syrah. I headed North for Terrasses du Larzac, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Rhone Valley. Subsequently, I discovered Château La Négly in Aude, particularly the Porte du Ciel label, which is magnificent.
What is your most recent favourite?
Domaine Tour Campanets, in Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. It was recommended to me by the old sommelier who walks with a limp at the restaurant I usually go to when I’m acting in Marseilles. It is a wine by an incredible winegrower, Emmanuelle Baude, who I went to meet. She used to be a solicitor and switched careers out of passion. The bottles are wonderful, the labels are beautiful – it’s really good wine.
You actually made wine with a top winegrower…
I didn’t really do much, Hervé Bizeul (Domaine du Clos des Fées, Rivesaltes) deserves all the credit. I met him during a fast in Spain. I admitted I drank his wine and that I loved it and we soon became friends. One day, during lockdown, he said, “Let’s make some wine together!” He came to my house, he asked me what I liked and we agreed on the Syrah grape variety and a robust wine. I went to his place, we did the blending together. It was so exciting to add a little more of this, a little less of that, to achieve what I like. It became the ‘Entre Amis’ label and the proceeds from sales were donated to the Vendanges Solidaires association which helps struggling winegrowers.
With my group of actor friends, I know that when we take a sip we don’t swallow it immediately, we fully appreciate it.
On what kind of occasions do you like to drink wine?
I have a group of actor friends and I know that when we take a sip we don’t swallow it immediately, we fully appreciate it. The friends are Pierre Arditi, François-Xavier Demaison and Stéphane De Groodt, and others who are not actors. We get great pleasure out of spending time together even though, sometimes we think, “how much does this cost per sip?” Wine is a part of my life but I can go for a month, two months or three months without drinking any. When I do decide to drink some, though, I drink. And not just with friends, it can be with the mother of my daughters. One peaceful evening, we decided to open a great wine and share it, just the two of us.
One peaceful evening, we decided to open a great wine and share it, just the two of us.
One final recollection?
My father was a Russian Jew, born in Moldova. I went there for a programme and I visited the world’s largest wine cellar, Cricova. I drank an amazing wine, but I’ve completely forgotten its name.
Article - Stéphane Méjanès
A former sports journalist, Stéphane Méjanès has covered every aspect of gourmet cuisine since 2012 for a range of magazines and websites. He is the author of a booklet on gourmet food reviews titled ‘Tailler une Plume’ (Éditions de l’Épure, 2019) as well as several chef’s books. He is also a lecturer at ESTHUA in Angers where he teaches Master’s Degree students on gourmet food reviews. Along with Guillaume Gomez and Tiptoque, he launched the ‘Chefs with Caregivers’ movement which earned him the 2021 La Liste Community Spirit Award. On a personal basis, he was awarded the Plume d’Or accolade for writing in 2019 and the Amunategui-Curnonsky Award in 2018.
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