With three wine cellars, including one in his Loire château, Gérard Depardieu has plenty of wine to choose from, writes ALAN SPENCER.
Asked if his cellar is well stocked, Gérard Depardieu, actor, producer, wine lover and vintner, answers with a question: ‘Which one? Each time I’m invited to a friend’s house, I take along a case of wine,’ he says, miming carrying a heavy load on his shoulder. He has the right constitution. Built like a lumberjack with the soul of an artist, he is the antithesis of his companion, actress Carole Bouquet. She’s the epitome of sleek, chic Paris fashion, elegant and reserved. In contrast, Depardieu is tousle-headed, unkempt, showing his chest under an open-neck denim shirt worn outside crumpled trousers. True to his profession, he is an extrovert. ‘I’ve noticed that vignerons are people of few words, but plenty of action,’ he says. As an actor, he himself is a man of many words, constantly acting. ‘I left school at the age of 12–13,’ he says self-deprecatingly. ‘The only thing I could do was act. I just copy what other people do.’
Although he would seem to suggest that in every friend’s house he can find a few bottles when needed, he remains openly vague about what treasures may be lying in his cellars, perhaps because he wants his wines to be discoveries. ‘A wine that surprises you,’ he says, ‘is a wine that smells of the cellar and the pride on the vigneron’s face when he makes a success of his cuvée.’ He has what is arguably the world’s best collection of Château Rayas from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and enjoys wines from unexpected areas. ‘I believe there are the makings of great wines in Montpellier and Béziers,’ he says. ‘I tasted a 1907 which was sumptuous!’ But his hedonism reaches beyond wine. ‘I have drunk rum from Jamaica dating back to the 18th century. It was superb. I have a whole collection of very old rum.’ Depardieu agrees that Bordeaux is the home of ‘extraordinary wines this year – the Merlot has never been so sumptuous. The grapes in California are too ripe.’ He knows his cellar contains a few cases of Haut-Brion 1961 and a lot more from the 1979 and 1988 vintages. ‘I also have a number of cases of Lafleur. The Robin sisters are so charming. I have bottles of their 1970 and 1993,’ Depardieu muses, showing his interest in the people behind the wines. Although at times, he has loved wine to excess, his artist’s sensibility instils in him a deep sense of awe. ‘My love for wine,’ he says, ‘dates back to childhood, during communion in church. When the priest raises the chalice and pronounces the sacred words, in the mind of a young boy wine takes on an aura of mysticism.’ His respect for wine runs deeper than its immediate effect on the senses. ‘The sensuality in wine is fabled,’ he says. ‘What is important is the philosophy behind them.’
But philosophy doesn’t exclude passion. ‘I’m an amateur,’ Depardieu says enigmatically, meaning it in the strict sense of one who loves what he does. His zest for life – for great wines, good food and good living is as though, since playing Cyrano de Bergerac in the film of the same name, he has identified with the character.’My nose is huge!’ Cyrano says in the play. ‘Let me inform you that I am proud of such an appendage…’ Depardieu has developed a nose for wine and says he can sense immediately if a wine is a little sophisticated. ‘You can instantly smell what has gone into it, yeasts or other ingredients. Sniffing is one thing, but it may give too much information and spoil the pleasure of discovery.’
Following the success of the film, the Bergerac Wine Bureau wanted to give him a vineyard to promote the appellation. ‘It was a logical move after the film,’ he said. ‘But what interested me more was Chinon and its Cabernet Franc.’Understandably for the actor/producer, the home of the the famous 16th-century satirist and gourmand, François Rabelais, was a logical choice. In 1982, Depardieu bought Château de Tigné in Anjou, and he has systematically invested in quality. ‘I started with 20 hectares and now I have 90,’ he says proudly. ‘Yield is limited to 40 or 50 hl/ha and Parker rated my wine 94 out of 100. Pretty good, huh?’
But the genial conviviality that wine inspires is the important factor. ‘For me,’ he says, ‘the best wines are those you drink with two or three friends when you try to discover them. Wines which are not aggressive.’
Alan Spencer is a freelance writer based in France.