Act II, part 3: The Languedoc is the South of France
Until recently, I believed the creation of a new foundation Languedoc appellation effective 2008 with its less onerous production requirements would cause a gradual shift of Vin de Pays (or country wines) from the common table wines category into the controlled appellation of origin system*. I mean, it’s a source of pride for regions like Bordeaux or Burgundy to say that just about 100% of their wines are AOP wines, right? Not the case in the Languedoc.
The regional Vin de Pays, now called IGP**, is stronger than ever having joined forces with the Languedoc Wine Council four years ago to create a larger, unified umbrella brand called simply, South of France wines, or the sexier sounding Sud de France. It’s a great idea when one considers that the regional name of the IGP is Pays d’Oc. The region covers a huge expanse basically from the Spanish border to the Rhone River.
These IGP wines are no longer mere ‘table wines’, having come under the fold of INAO, the National Quality and Origin Institute, which governs the AOP wines.
Languedoc producers like Gerard Bertrand seem to flow easily between AOP and IGP wines as shown in his latest tasting where both classes of wines were interspersed with each other, and with the wine quality being equally high. For an upcoming Languedoc educational tour led by Matthew Stubbs MW for the French Wine Society, AOP and IGP wines stand shoulder to shoulder. After 30 years of working unconstrained under the IGP system and producing highly-regarded wines for an international market, producers seem perfectly happy to stay in that realm.
However, for my sanity, I shall in the future just refer to all of them as Sud de France because it’s just too confusing to constantly refer to Languedoc, Languedoc Rousillon and Pays d’Oc, ensemble.
The marketing of the Sud de France is the last rubicon for the region to be taken as seriously as its more famous neighbors, and I can already see it happening as the regional bodies forge ahead.
Quality above all, in winegrowing and winemaking. Average yields of 42 hl/ha, including IGP, are the lowest in France and contribute to fruit-driven wines that international consumers demand. The region also provides the greatest wine values to consumers due to low relative land values in this vast region. With 56 approved grape varieties under IGP and a range of styles from world-class sparkling to fortified and everything inbetween, there is no shortage of consumer choice. And due to the warm, dry climate, the Languedoc is the most organically-farmed vineyards in France. All of these factors play into global demand.
The most compelling force propelling Sud de Force forward is the dynamism of their thinking, leading to early adoption of oak chips, screwcaps and varietal-labeling. They tackled winemaking obstacles such as sluggish ferments with leading research on high alcohol yeasts at Montpellier to ensure a clean, fruit-driven styles.
In fact, this dynamism is so strong, it can’t be stopped.
When the final chapter is written, it will be titled “Sud de France, a tour de force.”
*Appellation d’Origine Protegee or Controlled Designation of Origin
**Indication Geographique Protegee or Protected Geographic Indication