Historical elements - Languedoc Wines

Historical elements An eventful history

Historical elements

The history of the Languedoc vineyard begins with the Greeks, many eras before our time, when the vine was introduced in the 5th Century B.C.  And like many other French vineyards, it developed considerably under the impetus of the Romans, having taken up the torch as fine connoisseurs of vine cultivation of their state.  Since then, the wine-growing industry has played a significant role in the regional economy.

Promising beginnings…

For the first thousand years, wines from the Languedoc were generally obtained using a singular method, known as “passerillage”, consisting of drying the grapes out in sun after picking in order to achieve over-ripening.  The building of the Canal du Midi in the 17th Century gave the vineyard a certain impetus by creating a dynamic regional economic area, particularly beneficial to the wine-growing industry.  The Canal du Midi passes through the whole region linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean, thereby promoting the knowledge and the sales of these regional wines.  The wine-growers also benefited from the wine shortage, induced by the especially severe winter of 1709 that decimated a large part of the vines.  Hence, consumers massively turned to the Mediterranean wines.  And as a bonus, , railway lines developed at the end of the 19th Century, enabling to despatch wines more easily, particularly to miners and workers in northern France.  This was the most prosperous period of the Languedoc vineyards.

The coup de grace of phylloxera…

In 1968, Phylloxera put an end to this fantastic development.  This devastating insect attacked the roots of the vine, thus destroying the whole vineyard and obliging wine-growers to rip out the native plants.  By using vines having been grafted onto more prolific American plants and due to mechanical progress, vineyards in France were gradually replaced, leaving this terrible catastrophe as bear memory.  The Languedoc wine-growers were seized by frenetic replanting, heedless of the quality of the vines planted, only concerned by quantity and high yield.  The Languedoc wine-growing region thus produced the largest volume of table wine in terms of National figures, with yields reaching 120 hectolitres per hectare.  Harvests were certainly abundant, but to the detriment of the wine quality, often considered light and lacking in flavour.  1900 saw an exceptional harvest, just like that of the following years, whereupon annual production of the four southern counties attained 21 million hectolitres!  Market prices dropped immediately, such excess production being a national phenomenon at the time.  This fall in prices, in addition to fraud through the creation of parallel "sugar wine" markets (essentially made from sugar beet, despite being prohibited) and tampered wine markets (abusive chaptalization at the time of grape-picking), lead to the 1907 uprising, an event celebrated across the region in 2007 at the time of its centenary.  The whole region stood up to join forces and save its vineyards, its know-how and above all its revenue.  In 1910, upon the repression of fraud, quality being officially defended, cooperation being organised and excess production being temporarily curbed through less abundant harvests, the French wine-growing industry started anew on a sound basis.

The rebirth of the Languedoc vineyard

As of 1945, after the creation of the INAO in 1936 (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine - National Institute for Origin-Controlled Wines), the vineyard and its extraordinary land types started to gain National recognition. The first regional wines carried VDQS labels (Vin De Qualité Supérieure - Superior Quality Wine), to later become AOC wines (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée - Origin-Controlled Wine). Since the beginning of the 1980s, the Languedoc wine-growing area has undergone a profound change, not only in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality. Shouldered up until then with a poor reputation, the Languedoc region took charge of its land, implementing an overall restructuring of its vineyards. Alongside the vast uprooting of vine plants, typical Mediterranean grape types developed, while the traditional grape types underwent adaptation and improvement of their cultivation. As of 1975, selection and research on the characterisation of the various land types was undertaken in the Languedoc region, accompanied by studies on the various modes of vine management, on the control of yield and on wine-making itself. This qualitative restructuring strategy of the Languedoc vineyard concluded by the progressive classification of its land into various Controlled-Origin Wines (AOC), a guarantee of the quality and authenticity of the wines now available on national and international markets, these having become ever more demanding, calling for quality and originality.

The Languedoc pursues its revolution…

Today, new challenges are knocking at the gates of the Languedoc vineyard. Consumer trends have changed with wine production crossing the borders, entailing the emergence of new challenges. Hence in 2007, the AOC Languedoc regional label, was officialised, the consecration of the Languedoc strategy, initiated a few years earlier by the CIVL (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc - Interprofessional Council of Languedoc Wines). It has become the reference label in the context of its reorganisation strategy, providing an AOC Languedoc range, the aim of which being to ensure improved visibility for the consumer.