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Languedoc report aims to conquer “lazy stereotypes”

Published:  20 May, 2024

“Moving away from lazy stereotypes,” is at the heart of a new endeavour to highlight the potential of the Languedoc and its myriad appellations, wine styles and terroirs to a broad range of consumers.

Rupert Millar spoke about the assumption that the region only produces “red or bulk wine” at a recent roundtable and report launch, courtesy of promotional body Vins AOP du Languedoc or Wines of Languedoc.

Picking up on the diversity of the terrain, he said the region’s 20+ AOPs span a broad range of soils from sandstone to basalt with several soils often found in one area. For example, Saint-Chinian’s terroir is split between limestone and schist. There are also often multiple, usually competing, climatic influences.

“Burgundy eat your heart out,” Millar said. “But it also lacks the easy approach of other French regions. There’s no left or right bank to hang its hat on.”

Millar was involved in the research and production of the new report, Spirit of the Languedoc, which was launched at a roundtable-style event at the French owned wine and cheese bar Provisions in Hackney. While tasting through a selection of wines from a number of appellations (each with their own distinct yet difficult to link identity), communicators and educators sought to address the persistent question which hovers over discussions of the Languedoc: how best to categorise and promote to audiences?

As educator Sam Povey pointed out, the region shows a reluctance to embrace any unifying potential. In fact, the term ‘Languedoc’ rarely appears on wine labels and marketing, with producers instead choosing to lean into their famous AOPs, from Limoux to Picpoul, Faugères and Pic Saint Loup (all of which were shown as part of the event).

The report itself addresses the vast question of communication.

“For many years the Languedoc has been the great unknown on the map of French winemaking. This huge region, covering almost the entirety of France’s Mediterranean coast from the Spanish border to the Rhône delta, with its riot of AOPs and IGPs, presents a vast and bewildering challenge for even the most knowledgeable wine lover to overcome,” it says.

It seems the Vins AOP du Languedoc is now taking a page out of Chile’s playbook. Several years ago, Chile set out to explain the influences on its terroirs by splitting the country lengthways into three strips: coastal, central and mountain. Occupying a strip between the mountains of the Cevennes at the southern end of the Massif Central and the Mediterranean, the Languedoc is not dissimilar.

The coastal plains, hills and mountains and the Atlantic corridor are the three areas which the report looks to highlight, while also diving into the characteristic winds which have a formative influence on terroir. Many of these winds have a polarising effect on the climate. They can be hot, dry or cool and either chase away or form rainclouds which leads to precipitation.

The report also highlights the huge change in approach to both viticulture and winemaking over the past four decades. The region’s big co-operatives are among those leading the charge for more sustainable viticulture and high quality winemaking, while more independent growers have emerged alongside, often among the younger generations.

Constant evolution is an enduring theme. For example, the first sparkling wine was made at the abbey of Saint-Hilaire in Limoux in the 16th century. The sparkling wines that evolved from it, Blanquette de Limoux and Limoux Méthode Ancestrale were the Languedoc’s second AOPs, recognised in 1938.

However, more than a third of the regions’ AOPs are less than 25 years old, with organic viticulture, innovative techniques and sustainability all hallmarks of the overall offer. Indeed it is this side of the Languedoc that has much to offer modern drinkers. Appellations continue to take advantage of a considerable amount of freedom, with producers continuing in their quest to avoid the reams of appellation law which is more prevalent in other quarters.