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Buyers and producers discuss forecasted higher demand for Languedoc at Vinisud

Published:  30 January, 2017

A survey of 1,100 distributors in seven countries has identified the Langeudoc as the wine region most likely to see increased consumer demand in the next 24 months.

The Sopexa Wine Trade Monitor survey, released at the end of 2016, left the Languedoc top of the pile, ahead of Rioja and Cotes du Rhone, so we headed to the region to find out why.

"This survey previously predicted that Picpoul would really increase sales, particularly in the UK, and it did, so it is quite reliable," Elodie Le Drean-Zannin, head of wine at Sud de France, told Harpers.

Languedoc-Rousillon produces 16 million hl per year, making it the world's largest winemaking region, with a greater output than all of Australia.

It is promoted by the generic Sud de France brand, which was created in 2006. Since then exports have soared, up 37.7% in volume and 42.6% in value.

The area covered by Sud de France grew even bigger in 2016 when the French Government merged Languedoc-Rousillon with Midi-Pyrenees. The new region is called Occitanie, which is the size of Ireland, and it now includes all of the Languedoc-Rousillon, parts of the South West region, Armagnac, Cahors, Gasgogne and more, as well as parts of the southern Rhone including Lirac.

This week, 200 international buyers - including six from the UK, 24 from the US and 12 from China - are in Montpellier at the Forum International d'Affaires having a range of B2B meetings with producers from the region.

The FIA takes up one of the many large halls at Vinisud, which has attracted hundreds of buyers interested in the region.

"I would say to buyers that didn't come to the FIA and Vinisud that you can find the best quality to price ratio here," said Le Drean-Zannin. "We have huge diversity. We have 70 grape varietals, including Malbec now from Cahors.

"The regional council invests €15 million per year on marketing Sud de France producers, so it really believes in wine exports and is backing it financially."

Exports to the UK, its third-largest export market, have risen 11% in the past decade but have declined slightly in the last couple of years. Le Drean-Zannin, however, is encouraged to see the more premium AOC wines growing UK sales while the cheaper IGP sales have dwindled slightly.

"In the UK independents and on-trade are a key focus for us, as that is where you can drive value," she said. "We are all about promoting value and we aim to build up special relationships with the on-trade and with independent retailers through our London office."

UK buyers in attendance were positive about the region. Jean-Pierre Hourlier, who runs family business Hourlier Wines, which imports French wines and sells them to consumers across the UK and through a retail store in Derbyshire, said: "The region's tagline is that it's 'where creativity meets diversity' and that's bang on the money.

"There are obscure grape varieties being introduced, blends created, small production, large production, non-filtered wines. There are people being creative with winemaking. It's the nouveau France. They are creators of experimental wines, of which you can find some great gems. The whites are improving. That was a weakness but they are much better now."

Wiltshite-based Crush Wines has focused heavily on the region and has had great success with Bijou, a range including red, white and predominantly rosé, with different labels for a range of UK accounts, including Waitrose and Majestic, where it sells for around £8-£10.

The juice is sourced in Cabrieres, where volcanic soil and low yields produce rosé wine with aromatic qualities, expressive fruit and a long, complex finish.

It is ramping up exports of the brand to the likes of Germany, Scandinavia and Australia, and orders keep rolling in from the UK, so it needs to source more wine to keep up with demand and is expanding into other parts of the Languedoc.

The region is the leading producer of rosé in France, ahead of Provence, and Crush Wine's national account manager Emma Laval says the wine they have sourced from the region "has more character, more concentration and more flavour than a [standard] Provence rosé, but it still has the elegance and the pale colour".

The wine it sources going forwards will not be the same as from Cabrieres, instead it will showcase the characteristics of each sub-region's terroir, but the pale colour consumers are demanding will be maintained.

Chris Ellis, owner of Crush Wines, said: "The very real difference between this and Australian and Californian rosé, apart from the colour, is that they might have 30g of sugar, but this has none and it's the ultimate food wine. It is reaching an ABC1 audience, someone that might buy Whispering Angel but wants to save £10. It's affordable luxury."

It believes the Languedoc is the only place in the world it could source such complex rosé that offers such a strong price to quality ratio.

International buyers were equally enthused. Jimmy Lim, sales director at The Cellar Door in Singapore, said: "The Languedoc is gaining momentum in Singapore. Consumers are becoming savvier because of smartphones and they are looking for better value for money and Languedoc wines are well priced."