One needs to sit down when you think about the volume of wine that is produced in this sun drenched part of France. The Languedoc’s wine production exceeds that of Bordeaux, of Australia, of South Africa and Chile combined, mind boggling - I think I need a glass of wine, so we found a small village that cooked fresh local cuisine and sampled a few of the local wines that can only be found in these village brasseries and local wine shops.
The region comprises some 290,000 hectares of vines, this equates to ten times the size of New Zealand under vine.
Today, and for several years now Languedoc-Roussillon’s wine production is all about quality rather than quantity: In the past this area was infamous for its' poorer quality viticulture with high production yielding large quantities of ‘vin de table’. This is no longer the case for many wineries, yields have been significantly reduced and quality is now their focus.
To accommodate all of the options available to winegrowers and winemakers here, there are some thirty appellations and crus included within the Languedoc region, including white, red, rosé, sparkling and sweet wines.
There are roughly 2,800 producers in Languedoc-Roussillon; between them, they make around two billion bottles of wine a year.
There are 15 main wine regions (each made up of many domains) in Languedoc-Roussillon, these appellations include; Coteaux du Languedoc, Faugeres, St Chinian, Corbieres, Minervois, Fitou, Muscats du Languedoc, Limoux, Collioure, Cotes du Roussillon and Banyuls to name but a few and many more areas of Vin de Pays.
The soils and ‘terroirs’ area are varied, from Schist, Sandstone, Marl, Gravel, Pebbles, Limestone, to Granit and Alluvial soil; thus making many splendid and diverse styles of wine. Working in harmony with the modern varietal approach and a new wave of young, passionate and dynamic winemakers have established themselves.
In this vast area there are many different grape varieties, the reds include Carignon, Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. The whites, Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Marsanne, Roussanne, Vermantino, Mauzac, Chenin and Clairette.
The region stretches from the Spanish border in the west to Nimes in the east, an area sandwiched between the mountains and the Mediterranean ocean. I had the fortune of taking the train from Barcelona in Spain through to Nice in France last year 2008, definitely one of those train-trips of a lifetime.
A new banner, 'South of France' has been created to cover the whole of the Languedoc-Roussillon area. Set-up in the hope of creating a single, defined, modern identity that will enable the Appellation and the ‘Vin de Pays’ producers to work together to present a united message to the world's wine market.
The breathtaking landscape of sea and mountains, together with the sunny climate and the rich local flavours of Mediterranean cuisine, express the characteristics of Languedoc's unique and wonderful wines.
So after a full day of travelling, vineyard, winery visits and tastings - it was time to find a hotel, restaurant to take it all in - and sample some more of these dynamic, early drinking styles of wine.
So we found our way to ‘St Guilhem’ and a small hotel ‘Le Guilhaume d’Orange’ hanging to the steep sided gorge of the Hérault River and enjoyed the evening until we found ourselves closing up the place then waking up before we even had time to fall asleep to hit the road again.
If you have a wish list of places to visit before you move on from this mortal-coil - ‘St Guilhem’ should be on your list, plus sampling some local Languedoc cuisine and wine on a summers afternoon.