“Applying ourselves to this idea of a shared experience at all times is key. And of course, removing the idea that money is the driving force. Of course it’s great, but it’s not everything.”
It’s often the way that the most interesting growers weren't initially working in the field of wine. Gilles Berlioz of Domaine Partagé had always wanted to live rurally, but this first saw him cultivating flowers, rather than vines.
You only have to take a look at Gilles and wife Christine's vineyards to know that their purpose is as much about diversity as it is wine. And it’s their nurturing quality which is also the driving force behind the winery as a concept. For Domaine Partagé (translated literally as 'Shared Domaine'), it has always been about people over profit.
Since Gilles was a boy, the pull of exploring many avenues of work was strong. It’s thanks to his father—who for as long as he can remember always had more than one trade or job on the go—that Gilles has been able to pursue the many different facets of his interests.
“I’ve always tried different things because that's what my father did. Before I began working in the vineyards, I had been doing lots of different jobs; namely working as a landscaper and builder.”
Gilles had inherited his father’s vineyards of Jacquère and Mondeuse vines in 1990. Since the vines weren't enough to live off at the time, he continued his other work on the side. But step by step, little by little, Gilles grew his winery to seven hectares by 1999.
However, not fully convinced that expansion was the key to happiness, Gilles scaled back his land to refocus. He says,
“I took a step back, and started working with biodynamics while working with Michel Grisard in 1999. Most of all, this was a step I took in order to improve the way in which we were working with the Earth.”
He read many books on biodynamics, and researched the topic thoroughly.
"I also did a few internships in Germany and France to learn about biodynamics hands-on. Biodynamics is and should be something very personal; you learn a lot by doing. Beforehand, you have preconceptions about whether it will work, and how. Only on the job do you begin to understand."
It wasn’t long before Gilles and his wife Christine realised where their priorities lay: biodynamic farming and working alongside like-minded people.
It was a love of their team that brought them to even change their name in 2016. Domaine Partagé was born. Meaning ‘Shared Domaine,’ the name change reflected a shift to acknowledging the shared experiences and hard work of friends, teammates, fellow winemakers and their customers.
Fast forward to 2020, and Gilles' vision is as clear as ever. His new initiative: selling small quantities of their grapes to young, budding winemakers in order to help them as they start.
Gilles and Christine's decision to seek out biodynamic methods came from becoming disillusioned by the concentration of chemicals being used for agriculture in the area. Continually questioning their cultural and physical practice in both the vineyards and in the cellar made transitioning to biodynamics an easy process for Gilles and Christine. But, it meant more work, which meant taking on a team:
“I started as a one-person team. In 2002, I took on my first employee. Five years later we were fully converted to biodynamics."
These days, the winery is run on the foundation of the relationship and interaction between Gilles, Christine and the team of five who accompany them in their day-to-day work.
Domaine Partagé's vineyards are made up of three very distinct parcels — Bordiot, which is 0.85 hectares of Mondeuse and 1.5 hectares of Persan; Les Châteaux, three hectares of Chignin-Bergeron; and Les Crays, which is 0.50 hectares of Jacquère and 0.30 hectares of Altesse. Though each differs in profile, you’ll find calcareous rock and clay throughout.
Gilles is one of the most renowned growers of the Savoie, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t introspective about his process. Although his wines are considered amongst the best, there is a constant feedback loop ensuring that – as they continue to grow – the wines grow with them.
“We’re always asking ourselves questions in order to improve the way we’re working. I’ve worked as a winemaker since the 90s and the wines I made previously aren’t up to the standard that I am for now. I don’t actually like those wines at all anymore.”
Consequently, he continues;
“We’ve thought for a while about what the ideal form is, for our winemaking…”
This consistent quest has seen Gilles’ winemaking process evolve. He uses a pied de cuve as a natural yeast starter, and cut out all use of oak in 2006. Recently, he has moved to fermentation and élevage on fine lees in horizontal fibreglass eggs. No sulphites are used. For the red wines, it's semi-carbonic style.
“We add some fermenting juice to the whole bunches. Then, we leave it to ferment naturally, without any remontage, only pigeage if we need to. We try it after two/two and a half weeks, and then we press two or three days after.”
They produce four wines — "Le Jaja" (Chignin, 100% Jacquère); "El...Hem" (Roussette de Savoie, 100% Altesse); Les Filles (Chignin, 100% Bergeron aka Roussanne); and the iconic "La Deuse" (Vin de Savoie, 85% Mondeuse, 15% Persan).
We’re not usually one to be swayed by a label, but Gilles’ labels are some of the best (and funniest) we’ve seen. They’re often designed by artist friends and family, and some have even become collector’s items.
With Gilles and Christine moving one step closer to nature, some of their existing clients followed suit, and a new clientele emerged:
“Our client base is becoming so much more diverse. I’d say that nowadays it’s the people who feel much closer to nature who seem to appreciate our wines the most. They gravitate towards these kinds of wines. Working with biodynamics changes your intentions; it changes your perception and intention to respect the land…”
We realise it’s not just his team who inspired the name change; it's his devoted customers, too.
“It’s for this reason that the winery is named Domaine Partagé… everyone that works with us, and everyone that buys from us are a part of this domaine. It’s as much about the interaction and relationship between us and others, as it is about making wine.”
“I think that applying ourselves to the idea of a shared experience at all times is key. And you must remove the idea that money is the driving force. Of course money is great, but it’s not everything.”
As we come to the end of our chat with Gilles, we ask him what he looks for when making (and drinking) wine. He pauses for a second;
“I suppose what I don’t want, is to be confronted by the wine. I want to be able to enjoy the pleasure of drinking it.”
And don't we all?