Southern belles

The Languedoc-Roussillon region produces 16 million hl per year, making it bigger than Australia, Argentina, China and Africa in terms of output.

The region is promoted by the generic brand Sud de France and its remit grew even bigger in 2016 when the French Government merged Languedoc-Rousillion with Midi-Pyrenees to create a new administrative area called Occitanie, which is the size of Ireland.

Sud de France now includes parts of the South West, Armagnac, Cahors, Gasgogne and more, as well as parts of the southern Rhone including Lirac.

“We have huge diversity,” says Elodie Le Drean Zannin, head of wine for Sud de France. “You can find sparkling, red, rosé, white, sweet wines. We have 70 grape varietals, and you can find Malbec now from Cahors.”

Hundreds of international buyers, including a UK delegation made up of retailers and suppliers, descended on Montpellier recently for trade show Vinisud, and for the Forum International d’Affaires.

This saw buyers select their favourite wines and producers during a tasting event, and Sud de France set up a range of B2B meetings for them throughout the week.

The buyers were enthused by the region’s diversity: some were looking for small parcels of fine wine, others were looking for sub-€3 wines suitable for own-label, but everyone found what they were looking for.

Bill Rolfe, who owns Sussex independent The Market Square and is chairman of supplier 10 International, says: “The Languedoc has always been a dynamic and exciting region. We sell quite an extensive range at the Market Square. Our customers like southern French wines. It delivers the right style for the UK palate. It works very well. In the main the UK wants single varietals, and there are a lot of blends in the Languedoc, so you have to try to find single varietals that can hit a price point.

“I came here two years ago looking for some exceptional wines at certain price points and I failed because I couldn’t find the quality I wanted at the price that would sell in the UK, so I put the project on hold. Now I feel the pricing works this year, and I am looking at introducing a range of reds, whites and rosés that have the style and typicity of the south of France. We may have two labels – one for the UK and one for exports.”

Jean-Pierre Hourlier, Hourlier Wines, specialist retailer of French wines in Derbyshire, adds: “It’s my personal favourite French region. It offers value for money. The tagline is that it’s ‘where creativity meets diversity’ and that’s bang on the money. There are obscure grape varieties being introduced, blends created, small production, large production, non-filtered wines. There are people being creative with winemaking. It’s the nouveau France. They are creators of experimental wines, of which you can find some great gems. The whites are improving. That was a weakness but they are much better now.

“The FIA organisers have embraced technology to log tastes and preferences and set up meetings and that will only improve going forwards. The one to one meetings are a great way to meet someone and get a gist of their story. Over the years the B2B meetings have been a big part of our selection and we have listed a lot of wines through the meetings.”

Le Drean-Zannin says: “I would say to buyers that didn’t come to the FIA and Vinisud that you can find the best quality to price ratio here. The regional council invests €15 million per year on marketing Sud de France producers, so it really believes in wine exports and is backing it financially.

“In the UK independents are a key focus for us, as that is where you can drive value. We are all about promoting value and we aim to build up special relationships with the on-trade and with independent retailers through our London office.”

Pic Saint Loup

One of the most exciting parts of the region is Pic Saint Loup, which is about to become a standalone AOC after gaining approval from the National Institute of Origin and Quality.

AOC Pic Saint Loup will cover red and rosé wine from 17 villages that are close to the Rhone geographically and stylistically.

OLN went to visit some of the area’s leading producers and enjoyed elegant wines produced by forward-thinking winemakers that offer a strong price to quality ratio.

Vincent Ballu, sales manager at Haut-Lirou, which has 95ha in the region and is looking to expand in the UK after previously gaining listings with Majestic, says: “In France the Languedoc is the most dynamic region, in terms of innovation in the vineyards and in the cellar and in terms of business.

“Twenty years ago it was completely different. It was a lot of co-ops and bulk wine, high yields, supplying other regions like Bordeaux, not that much good wine being produced. But for last 15 years the region has improved and it is very diverse. We have a lot of different microclimates and soils.

“It’s the region where you can find originality and modernity, and everyone can find something they like. We have great wine regions in France. I love Burgundy, but it is the same as it was 10 years ago, and in 10 years it will be the same. But here it’s really dynamic and moving.”

Jean-Benoit Cavalier, 14th generation owner of Chateaux de Lascaux, which has listings in Berry Bros and various outlets across the UK, adds: “We have great soil and climate and there is a distinct taste to our wines. The quality has improved so much and the international reputation has grown.”

Jean-Christophe Granier, owner of Les Grandes Costes, which has listings with the Co-op and Direct Wines and won lots of awards for its stylish reds, says: “It is important to be in the UK market. We have won lots of medals at the IWC and others and high points scores from critics, and that helps us.”

Facts on Sud de France

The region produces more than 16 million hl per year

It’s the largest winemaking region in the world, with 4% of the world’s vineyard area

It accounts for a third of French production

It is the number wine French region for rosé, ahead of Provence.

It makes 85% of French varietal wines

It is the leading organic region in France and in the world.

21% is AOP, 70% IGP and 9% without indication

10% of the region is organic

It has 1,600 organic wineries and accounts for 36% of organic French wine production

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