Regional profile: The Languedoc Roussillon
The Languedoc Roussillon in the south of France, which stretches from Provence in the east to the Pyrenees Mountains and the border with Spain in the west, has a long history of winemaking, and some of the country’s oldest vines thanks to the Romans who introduced grape growing to the land.
Despite its ancient winemaking history, the Languedoc’s modern day reputation is more one of volume than the fine wines of other French regions. Indeed, the region is now the country’s largest wine-producing region, and accounts for a full 5% of the world’s total wine production. To put that into context, the Languedoc produces more wine that that of Chile, Australia or South Africa.
It is also France’s biggest bulk wine producer, with IGP Languedoc Roussillon wines accounting for over 80% of the total French IGP bulk wines shipped overseas. AOP Languedoc wines, meanwhile, make up around 10% of total exported bulk French wine.
However, the proportion of bulk wine produced by the region is diminishing, with bulk accounting for 2.8% of AOP Languedoc wines compared to 2017 when the sector accounted for 3.9% of the total in 2016.
Similarly, the proportion of bulk IGP wines is under 15% and decreasing.
GP Sud de France bulk wines accounted for 14% of the total export value of IGP in 2017, down from 15.8% in 2016.
And IGP Oc bulk wine accounted for 12.2% of the total export value of IGP oc in 2017 compared to 13.2% in 2016.
The region covers 224,000 sprawling hectares, with 70,000 hectares of AOC wines and 141,000 hectares of PGO. Over 21,000 estates are involved in the viticulture business, which is the largest sector of the Languedoc –Roussillon economy.
The region is also the biggest organic wine region in Europe, accounting for nearly a third (32%) of all organic production in France.
The Languedoc produces around 13.6m hectolitres a year, the equivalent of 1.8bn bottles.
It accounts for 40% of all French wine exports in terms of volume, with 3.3 million hectolitres exported each year, the equivalent of 447 million bottles.
These sales generated €820m, a year- on-year increase of 1%.
67% of AOC Languedoc wines are sold in the domestic market, with a third (33%) being shipped overseas.
The Languedoc’s bulk wine sales were hit hard by 2017 short harvest, resulting in an overall 22.5% drop in sales of AOP Languedoc, and a 7% dip in French AOP sales.
White wines were down by nearly 19% for IGP Sud de France wines, while IGP Oc whites were down by 4.39% and French IGP whites by 1.18%.
The Sud de France reds were similarly affected, with sales down by nearly 19%. However, French IGP reds were up by just over 5%, and IGP Oc reds, up by 6.6%.
The largest overseas market for Languedoc AOC wines is China, which accounts for nearly a quarter of all exports in volume (24%), and 19% of the value. In the year to 2017, sales of IGP Sud de France wines to China were up by 2.8%, while IGP Oc wines increased by 8.8%.
The US is the second largest market in value terms, accounting for 16% of sales, and enjoyed a 40% increase in sales of AOP Languedoc bulk wines and a 44% increase in IGP sud de France wines.
This was followed by the UK which accounted for 11% of total bulk exports from the region, though in the accounting period shipments of IGP wines were down by 5% and IGP Oc sales down by 19%.
Germany is the third largest market for Languedoc bulk wine, accounting for 10% of exports, while Belgium accounts for 8%.
After China, the UK is the Languedoc’s second largest market in terms of volume, accounting for 13% of total exports, while Belgium is third largest with 12%, followed by Germany (11%) and the US (10%).
As for new and developing markets, the CIVL’s Miren de Lorgeril says she has “big hopes” for Scandinavia, Japan and English speaking Canada and the US. “Those markets are targets for expansion for the next few years,” she confirmed. “We have already started to work on strategic communication plans to support sales in those areas.“
2018 Vintage – a return to normality
After the disastrous 2017 vintage in which France saw its yields plummet to their lowest levels since the second world war, the region has bounced back with a yield in line with the national average.
“It has been a very good year for most of the wine regions with magnificent grapes in all the appellations,’ confirmed Miren de Lorgeril, the newly appointed chair of the AOC Languedoc Wine and PGU Sud de France marketing board.
“Appellations reverted back to more normal yields, even though the overriding trend in Languedoc is a decline in AOC yields due to efforts to improve quality and use of vineyard management techniques such as cluster thinning and single vineyard selections.”
Rain in the spring was followed by a very long, hot summer, punctuated by regular rainfall and consistently dry weather from mid August onwards. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Heavy downpours in the spring resulted in the spread of downy mildew in some parts of the region, with those with a high commitment to organic farming such as Faugeres and Saint Chinian the most vulnerable. These areas have seen their yields adversely impacted as a result.
Francoise Ollier of Domaine Ollier Talliefer, said his output was down this year due to downy mildew. “The low crop volumes reflect a 2018 vintage that shows rare qualities with lots of freshness and richness along similar lines to 2008,” he said. “As Carignan and Grenache were the worst affected by mildew, this latest vintage is primarily represented by Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault.
“First rate vineyards and seasons that developed beautifully have shaped the quality of this latest vintage,” added de Lorgeril. “Delicate aromas and harmonious wines are gradually revealing themselves in the wineries.”
Organic wine and sustainability
As we have discussed the Languedoc already accounts for over a third of total French organic wine production - the world’s largest organic region. It is also making a concerted effort to ensure its production is sustainable in the long term. Climate change has prompted producers to introduce some long forgotten grape varietals which are better suited to drier and warmer weather, while the Narbonne-based Insitut National de Recherche Agronomique (INRA) is also researching new grape varietals that would be suited to the changing environment of the Languedoc.
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