*UGCH store manager recently spent a week traveling through Languedoc (pronounced “Long Duck” by those who care about such things, we mostly say it to make ourselves laugh), and tonight he’s pouring Languedoc wines at UGCH from 5-8 to share his travel stories and some of his favorite wines from the region.
As the largest wine growing region of France, the Languedoc covers an area almost exactly the same size of Massachusetts (10,500 square miles) and is nestled snugly on the southern coast of France, between Provence and the border with Spain. The area is blessed with the most stable climate in all of France which helps to produce great consistency from vintage to vintage. Over 300 days of sunshine every year, mixed with cross winds blowing down from the Pyrenees Mountains and coming in off of the sea, produce a dry air filled with rich minerals for the vines to soak in and impart to the grapes. Rustic wines, for rustic food, by rustic people.
Just over a month ago I was packing my bags in anticipation for my upcoming trip to the Languedoc. A group of eleven wine professionals from around the country were invited to go on a tour of the region and learn about its wines, people, and culture. Now, as a person who works in the wine industry this should have been excitement enough, but as it was I had never been to any wine region ever…let alone one in France. For me, French wine has always been my favorite. Not to say that I don’t love a great Brunello, or a big California Cabernet, but it always comes back to France for some reason. You can imagine how thrilled I was to be traveling there.
After bouncing around a few different airports along the way, I finally arrived in Montpellier, the capitol of Languedoc-Roussillon. After I met up with my travel partner and driver, we were on our way to the small town of Capestang where we would be staying at the magnificent Chateau Les Carrasses, (highly recommended…www.lescarrasses.com) a beautiful old winery that has recently been converted to provide amazing accommodations. After lunch, and a quick nap, we met our other group members (nothing but love to the Languedoc 11) at a Picpoul and oyster tasting on the back patio of the chateau. The wines were mostly all fantastic, but with five or six different producers there making just one type of wine, it seemed like too much of the same thing. We didn’t know it just yet, but this would be a little bit of foreshadowing for the week ahead.
For the next five days we sampled close to five hundred different wines from almost eighty different producers. Driving up and down the countryside, which is absolutely beautiful by the way, it was the most wine I had ever seen in the span of a week up until that point in my life. Naturally when you sample that many wines there are going to be a select few that really stand out, and little bit more that will of course be forgettable.
Some wines that shined among the rest were the wines of Limoux, La Clape, and Pic Saint Loup. The other AOCs (appellation d’origne controlee) that were represented were not bad by any means, but it seems that they were too similar to each other to really break out of obscurity. The people making these wines are good natured, down to earth, family oriented people. Most of them have been brought up in this area, and they are steeped in the traditions of the region. With that comes their style of winemaking. When everyone is growing mostly the same grapes, it is then what you do with those grapes that really defines your wine in my opinion. Sadly it seems that a lot of people are doing the same thing with the same grapes from vineyard to vineyard.
Over the course of the week we heard a lot of people talking about ‘making different wines’ or ‘Rural Luxury,’ (a concept of producing beautiful wines from a very rustic and humble landscape) but there were few that actually followed through with it in the glass. It seems that many winemakers are wanting to branch out and try different methods with different grapes, but are afraid to do something so abstract that they cannot be awarded the AOC status. Any wine that doesn’t follow the rules and regulations (grapes you can use, percentages of grapes, etc.) of each AOC is labeled as a VDP (vins de pays) which literally means country wine. Being a VDP doesn’t make you a lesser wine, in fact a lot of the VDP wines we tasted that week were better than most AOC wines, but the wines with the AOC classification on the bottle do seem to get more attention from importers and retail buyers. So some winemakers are afraid to think outside of the box, but at the same time are preaching about a modernization and rebranding of the Languedoc. It seems they should care less about the AOC ‘stamp of approval’ and just get back to making great wine, which they definitely know how to do.
In whole, the trip was a very beneficial experience. I got to see up close the process of making wine, and the hard work that goes into it from planting all the way to bottling. The people of the Languedoc were gracious, kind hosts and their hospitality will never be forgotten. I drank great wine, met great friends, and got to see a part of the world that I may never have been able to visit before I worked with wine. Not a bad week out of the office if you ask me.
Stop by UGCH tonight from 5-8 to taste some of my favorite AOC wines from the region – these are the wines that truly show the brilliance of Languedoc’s region and winemaking. I’ll also be pouring a Vins de Pays, to show how one out-of-the-box winemaker has translated his vision into a more modern Languedoc wine.