by Liz Thach, MW
Many global wine regions recognize the benefits of working collaboratively with other regions, even forming associations and alliances to travel and market together. However, in some cases, it may be more prudent to strive for autonomy in order to achieve a competitive advantage through marketing distinctive features. This appears to be the case in the South of France, where after being marketed globally for more than 30 years as the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, many Roussillon winemakers are now seeking an amicable divorce from Languedoc.
“We are different,” proclaims Eric Aracil, Deputy Director of the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon, “and it is time that our wines stand on their own as a distinctive and separate region. We are friendly towards Languedoc, and want to remain on good terms with them, but we want to market our wines separately.”
Map Caption/Credit: Major Wine Appellations of Roussillon
Roussillon wine statistics support this premise in that they only produce 15% of the wines from Languedoc-Roussillon, and are 61% AOP, or higher quality appellated wines that are not part of the vast “wine lake” or Vin de France that makes up a large part of Languedoc. Roussillon also claims to be the oldest home of Grenache in France, with 38% of their production devoted to the three colors of Grenache: Noir, Blanc, and Gris. From this they produce delicious dry white, red, and rosé wines, as well as their fortified sweet wines, called Vin Doux Naturel (VDN). Of these legendary sweet wines, which they can trace to the year 1285, they produce 80% of all of France’s VDNs.
Justin Howard-Sneyd, MW, Founder of Domaine of the Bee with a focus on dry red blends made from Grenache Noir, Syrah, and Carignan, agrees that Roussillon should differentiate itself from Languedoc. “This region is different. Traditionally much of Roussillon was owned by Spain with the people speaking Catalan, whereas Occitan was the language spoken in Languedoc. Though we may use some of the same grapes, the culture, food, and winemaking are different.” Interestingly in 2016, the French government renamed the Languedoc-Roussillon region “Occitanie,” in partial recognition of the ancient language of Languedoc.
Another differentiating factor is that Roussillon has the highest percentage of organic and biodynamic vineyards in France by hectare, according to the Vins Du Roussillon Wine Council. Part of this is due to the unique climate with 316 days of sun, 22 inches of rainfall and beneficial winds blowing from eight directions. All of this helps to lower disease pressure so the vines thrive under organic farming conditions. Roussillon also claims 28 centuries of winegrowing “know how,” given that wine grapes were first planted on their shores in 624 BC by the Phoenicians.
Today Roussillon has 420 wineries and 29 cooperatives, and the region has received numerous top ratings and awards for both their sweet and dry wine. In 2019 its capital city of Perpignan was named European City of Wine. However, despite its desire to stand out and be different in the world of wine, it is possible this wish may not be granted from a financial perspective. “If the French government continues to link us to Languedoc as one of its 19 administrative regions,” said one Roussillon winemaker, “then funding for wine marketing will be combined together.”