The Languedoc Rousillon region provides British buyers with a golden opportunity to start making money from the wine business, a leading producer has declared.
Jean-Claude Mas was born and raised in the region by a family of winemakers and he has watched it flourish in recent years.
His company, Domaines Paul Mas, named after his father, is now one of the leading lights in the south of France, with more than 800ha under vine and total production of 22 million bottles per year.
DRN caught up with him to ask for his message to UK wine merchants that are not currently buying much wine from the Languedoc. “I would tell them, this is how you start to make money in the wine business!” he said. “Languedoc offers the way to make selling wine profitable.”
When asked for its key strengths that make it suitable for export markets, he said: “Its flexibility, natural resources, climate, soil and environment. The fixed costs of land and so on are very competitive compared to other regions.”
The UK is the leading market for Domaines Paul Mas, which supplies Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Aldi and Majestic among others.
Yet its charismatic proprietor keeps snapping up new estates across the region, always taking care to retain their character and winemaking philosophy, and it now possesses the sort of fine wines that could make it attractive to independent wine merchants, restaurants, wine bars and luxury retailers.
“The UK is a key market for us,” said Mas. “It is dominated by the multiple grocers, so to succeed here you need to create strong partnerships with the mults. However, it’s now time for us to build our business in the on-trade and independents.
“We have the wines and the stories to make an impact here, however it’s tough as this channel is not growing, so we would be taking market share to grow our business there.”
Domaines Paul Mas produces the Arrogant Frog brand, which has enjoyed great success in Australia, but the UK is not exactly flooded with big French brands. All the top 10 wine brands in the UK come from the New World, and this could be one reason why French wine sales are declining in Britain as countries like Chile and Australia are enjoying growth.
Paul Mas and Gerard Bertrand are the big names in the Languedoc, and the impetus could be on these producers to create brands that can rival the New World on UK shelves.
“The most effective brands in France are in Champagne,” said Mas. “Here in the Languedoc we have the resources, capacity and authenticity to produce brands. We need to put it all together into a clever marketing plan to build impactful brands.”
When he set up the business in the 1980s, the region was known as the wine lake of Europe due to the glut of supply it created and the cheap vin de table it churned out.
Yet it has evolved gloriously in recent years and many UK buyers already view it as the most exciting wine region in the world, due to the versatility and dynamism that Mas mentioned.
You can find everything from elegant Chardonnay, sparklers and Pinot Noir to rival Burgundy in Limoux to massive, complex reds further south, and everything in between. The price per quality ratio beats several rival regions hands down, hence the comments about it being able to drive profitability in the trade if retailers champion its wines.
“At first it was still predominantly the philosophy of mass production,” said Mas, reflecting on the industry when he began his career. “Then it moved to a second stage where we were finding our way. We did we want to be like Bordeaux, New World, Provence.
“Now we have reached the point where analysis and understanding what we have means we can decide the most suitable way to create real Languedoc character. This has enabled us to make the shift from producers of basic wine into fine wine producers with image and character.”
The portfolio now includes 13 domaines and châteaux: Château Paul Mas, Château Crés Ricards, Château de Martinolles, Domaine de la Ferrandière, Château Teremas Astruc, Mas des Tannes, Château Lauriga, Domaine de la Silène, Château Jérémie, Château Villegly, Astelia, Domaine La Forge and Chateau Arrogant Frog.
After taking over a property, his team brings in more modern techniques and often streamlines the range, but tries to maintain the overall philosophy, resulting in a range of vastly different properties within the group, always with a focus on sustainability.
“These estates have been there for some time, and what attracted me to them is their own personality and character,” said Mas. “If they were for sale it was because something there needed fine tuning. The estates where I have the most success is when people who have been there for some time stay on with me.
“Nowadays we have the technology and know-how to enable us to work in a sustainable way, including but not limited to organic and biodynamic methods. We have to protect the vineyards from pests and diseases and you can use natural methods to re-balance a vineyard.
“It’s incredible the speed at which nature can recover. I have banned herbicides and pesticides. We don’t kill, we prevent. We have many major developments which enable us to grow sustainably.”
The firm has grown rapidly in recent years, but is there a temptation to move out of the Languedoc Roussillon heartland? “Never outside the Languedoc Roussillon, but in terms of future plans, I now have a team in place who share my philosophy and are keen to expand,” said Mas.