Vines rooted in history!

vineyard

The Languedoc-Roussillon is famed for its excellent-value wines, but a growing number of fine wines are also something to be very proud of. This has not always been the case but over the last decade or so has been achieved by a new generation of winemakers. It is currently one of the world's most exciting wine making regions with a huge range of wines that are widely acknowledged by critics and experts as worthy of attention, awards and accolades. A combination of outstanding recent vintages and a growing pool of talent have pushed quality to unprecedented heights. They reflect the diversity of the landscape which, given the size of the area, is considerable.

It is by far the largest wine-producing region in the world, producing more wine than Bordeaux, Australia, South Africa and Chile combined and responsible for about a third of all French wine.

The first vineyards were planted in the 5th century BC along the coast near Narbonne by the Greeks and continued by the Romans who made the city the first Roman capital of Gaul. These early settlers soon discovered that the land and climate of this vast amphitheatre surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, stretching from Narbonne to Nimes, were ideal for growing vines.

clay pots

The Romans, with their superb marketing, expanded the vineyards and created the "Narbonnaise", along with an incredible trading organization, exporting the wine to Greece, Turkey and Egypt. The "Narbonnaise" soon became the principle wine supplier to Rome and huge numbers of amphora (ceramic containers) produced in Béziers during the Roman era have come to light in Italy, a testament to this glorious period in the Languedoc's history.

From the 4th to the early 19th centuries, the Languedoc had a reputation for producing high quality wine. In Paris during the 14th century, St Chinian wine was prescribed in hospitals for its healing powers. The image and reputation of the Languedocian vineyards continued to spread thanks to the industrial revolution and the arrival of railways. Planting expanded to encompass the plains, where 'cheap wine' was produced in huge quantities to supply the workers of the industrial towns in northern France. Millions of litres were drunk by ordinary Frenchmen each day. During both World Wars the Languedoc was responsible for providing the daily wine rations given to French soldiers.

bees

Even the devastating outbreak of Phylloxera at the end of the 19th century was unable to halt the Languedoc's development. The tiny yellow aphid-like pest eats the roots of native European vines and it quickly spread throughout Languedoc and the Midi. For over ten years it ravished all of France and virtually every vine in the country had to be uprooted and burnt. There was much frantic study of the phylloxera problem until its eventual solution was found by Jules Planchon from Hérault at the University of Montpellier. Since the Midi had been the first sufferer, the region was the first to import large numbers of American vines, resistant to the insect, and grafted the original vines onto the replacement rootstock.

While Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne were still virtually wiped out, Languedoc made a modest fortune supplying the whole of France. Quantity over quality was very much the order of the day and it is this image that the region has worked hard to eradicate over the last couple of decades.

In the early 1980's far-seeing growers began planting Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignan Blanc. These wines could not legally be labeled under the region's appellations, but slowly these new wines gained recognition until today they are challenging the best of the rest, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy.

grapes

The Languedoc-Roussillon grows a wide variety of grapes, mainly 9 white (chardonnay, chenin blanc, clairette blanche, grenache blanc, marsanne, mauzae, picpoul blanc, roussanne, viognier) and 7 red (cabernet franc, carignan, cinsault, grenache noir, merlot, mourvèdre, syrah) - the oldest vines being Carignan.

From these the region produces a vast array of wines and your only problem will be tasting them all in one lifetime. As well as the usual white, rosé and red varieties, there are also muscat, banyuls and méthode champenoise, such as Blanquette de Limoux.

As can be seen in the map below, there are currently 18 appellations in the region, the five best known being Coteaux du Languedoc, Corbières AOC, Faugères, Minervois AOC, and Saint-Chinian AOCs. The largest, Coteaux du Languedoc, has 15 sub-districts with distinct wine styles of their own.

map

The Languedoc-Roussillon wine region and the location of the region's appellations.

For the last 15 years or so, the vendange (grape harvest) is mainly done by machinery. Some viticulteurs still pick by hand which is more expensive but results in better quality wine. 30 years ago, the Spanish would come across the border to do the vendanges, and would stay in the local villages for the two months at the end of which there was a huge fête. The little stone houses crumbling in the vineyards, called mazet, are their only legacy. They were used by the workers and their horses as shelter during the noonday heat.

vineyard

The quality of the grapes determines the quality of the wine and depends on their variety, the weather when they were growing, the soil, the harvest, and the way they are maintained and pruned. The time from harvest to drinking can vary from a few months for some wines to over twenty years for others. However, it is interesting to note that only about 10% of all red and 5% of white wine will taste better after five years than they would have after one year.

Bacchus, Roman god of wine

Bacchus, Roman god of wine

Vignerons today are not merely stepping into their father shoes, they are studying at university and gaining diplomas in the latest techniques; they are experimenting, modernising, using new technology, new grape varieties, new methods, introducing organic growing methods, studying soil types, disease and pest control. All these innovations ensure that these young viticulteurs are heading towards medals, awards, glory and above all, a reputation for producing fine wines that goes back over 2000 years.


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