Until recently, Languedoc-Roussillon was the only major winegrowing area in France not to have its own regional appellation. This was put to an end late last year when AOC Languedoc was officially launched, after more than a decade in the works. The region's growers and winemakers hope the move will boost the area's image and reputation.
"This new appellation, based upon the production criteria of AOC Coteaux du Languedoc, covers all the appellation growing zones in Languedoc-Roussillon, from Nîmes"—just west of the Rhône river—"down to the Eastern Pyrenees," explained Château Lascaux vintner Jean-Benoit Cavalier, currently president of the AOC Languedoc Winegrowers Syndicate.
It is hoped that the production of AOC Languedoc will grow to 21 million gallons of wine within the next decade, twice as much as the production of the former Coteaux du Languedoc which covers mainly the best upland terroirs. "AOC Languedoc is an electroshock that should help jumpstart the region," said Emile Géli, sales manager for cooperative winery Foncalieu Vignobles.
Wines produced in the AOC Languedoc area can be made from a wide selection of grape varieties: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignan for the reds and rosés; Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Viognier, Picpoul, Marsanne, Roussanne, Vermentino and Ugni Blanc for the whites.
Growers that want to produce region-specific wines (of higher quality, potentially), can choose to present subregional AOCs on their labels—such as St.-Chinian, Minervois and Corbières—instead of AOC Languedoc. Producers situated in the areas previously producing Coteaux du Languedoc can continue to use the former appellation name until 2012. Alternatively, they can promote their premium wines by adding the name of a district area—such as Pic St.-Loup or Montperoux—to their labels. Some of these areas have already begun to apply for subregional status with the INAO, the entity overseeing France's appellations, due to the formation of the AOC Languedoc.
But smaller Languedoc winegrowers, who claim Languedoc is an industrial appellation that will not reflect a regional style, aren't optimistic about the change.
"AOC Languedoc has arrived 20 years too late," said wine historian and vintner Jean Clavel, who fears it will not be able to compete with Vin de Pays d'Oc, a designation that covers a much larger group of subregions. Vin de Pays d'Oc wines represent an annual production of 132 million gallons of varietal wines, about 80 percent of which is exported. "AOC Languedoc has been designed as a bridge between the local vins de pays and the subregional AOCs, but it's going to be in direct competition with Vin de Pays d'Oc, which has a good head start," he pointed out.
But one thing the AOC Languedoc producers have going for them is a collective marketing strategy. Several of the region's producers, in collaboration with the Languedoc Wines Trade Board, have created an organization called Origin Languedoc, a group that will, among other things, conduct tastings in other countries. "This project is designed in view of getting consumers to remember the word 'Languedoc,'" explained Christophe Palmowski, marketing manager for value producer Vignerons Catalans.
The concept has won over the area's major merchants and cooperative wineries, who have already begun to roll out new brands sporting the region's emblem, the Languedoc Cross, on bottles retailing for as little as $5 and ranging up to $10.