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One of France’s most recognized wine regions, Languedoc is known for producing wines of the highest quality, with bottlings that are both versatile and offer great value. Perhaps lesser known, however, is Languedoc’s long-standing commitment to organic farming, which is tied to the region’s rich viticultural past and shapes its sustainable vision for the future.
Lined by the Mediterranean Sea, Languedoc spans the Spanish border to Provence. It’s located in the coastal Occitanie region, which is home to the highest percentage of organic (bio in French) vineyards in France. Around one-third of the country’s organic plantings are here—that’s around 10 percent of organic plantings worldwide.
Thousands more hectares are currently in conversion to organic farming practices, and other vineyards are certified biodynamic or High Environmental Value (HVE, an important sustainability certification in France). In Corbières alone, 2,000 hectares were certified HVE in just under five years. In Terrasses du Larzac, almost 80 percent of appellation plantings are certified organic. And in Faugères, environmental specifications are written into production guidelines. This represents just one element of many in the region’s dynamic sustainability movement, which promotes constant growth, renewed commitment to the environment and the industry’s responsibility to protect it.
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Sustainability Beyond Organic Winemaking
While farming and winemaking certifications are useful to communicate a producer’s values to the consumer, these certifications are only part of the story in the vibrant landscape of Languedoc.
David Latham is the proprietor of Château Saint-Estève, where he and his family produce Corbières Boutenac and AOP Corbières wines. The winery is certified HVE and is in the process of converting to organic farming, which will be complete in 2023. But, as Latham says of the importance of committing to the environment, “bio or no bio, you can improve all the time.”
Despite Languedoc’s size and influence, its “winemakers are always defending the quality of their product,” said educator Claire Henry on a recent press trip to the area. “They don’t want to be considered as quantity winemakers.” This is reflected in thoughtful hillside plantings and the replantation of vineyards with the future—not necessarily higher yields—in mind.
At Château Ciceron in Corbières, for example, proprietor Claude Vialade’s 10-hectare vineyard has been planted with what they call “22nd-century winegrowing techniques” to address global warming and water diminishment. This focuses on the production and quality vinification of varieties that can be grown with low moisture inputs. The goal of the region is not simply to produce more wine, but to produce delicious wine that reflects the priorities of the culture while protecting the environment and the community.
“Languedoc is without question a hidden gem of the wine world. The ethos of Languedoc, which is centered around innovation and environmental consideration, makes their wines as enjoyable mentally as they are physically,” said Advanced Sommelier and SOMLYAY founder Erik Segelbaum.
Across the region, work is being done to safeguard and prioritize nature, with many estates embracing agroforestry, planting hedges to protect animal species and experimenting with rainwater collection. An écopont near Narbonne allows wildlife to pass over the roadway safely, permitting secure movement of fauna throughout the winegrowing area.
Environmental Innovation has Origins in Languedoc
To paint a complete picture of the ecological and environmental priorities that built and sustain Languedoc viticulture and its winemaking families, one only needs to look at the region’s past.
Like many Old World wine-growing regions, Languedoc has a long history of innovation. Since it was first settled by the Greeks in the 5th century BC, Languedoc has been responsible for many of the global wine industry’s most progressive milestones.
It’s in Languedoc that physician Arnaud de Villeneuve discovered wine fortification in the late 1200s, and where Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire in Limoux created the world’s first sparkling wine in the mid-1500s. Languedoc is also where the world’s largest all-organic wine fair, Millésime Bio, was founded in 1993, setting the region on the path to its current status as the largest producer of French organic wines.
Exploring solutions to vineyard preservation in the face of environmental change, however, started even earlier than the 1990s. Botanist Jules Émile Planchon was the first to graft European vines onto American rootstock during the phylloxera blight in the late 1800s.
And disease-resistant grape varieties, still in development today as tools to mitigate climate change, were first researched here by Alain Bouquet forty years ago—before global warming was even on the public radar. France officially recognized these grapes for winemaking in 2021, and they are now considered up-and-coming varieties. Souvignier, Cabernet Kortis and Muscaris show particular promise for Languedoc cultivation.
The Institut Agro Montpellier first envisioned “the vineyard of the future” in 1998 and has since built a resource for education and the research of forward-thinking soil health, diversification of plant material and proactive vineyard management techniques. Today, its campus is home to a collection of 275 grapevine varieties, hybrids and rootstocks under study, placing Languedoc at the center of strengthening tomorrow’s vineyards.
A Haven for Forward-Thinking Vintners
Languedoc has welcomed enterprising and young winemakers from different parts of the world to be part of its thriving landscape of diverse growing sites and hospitality offerings. New winegrowers who have switched careers, dynamic co-ops and family estates all make up the open-minded collection of people now cultivating wine in Languedoc.
For the consumer, this means many exciting options to explore. For the buyer, Languedoc wines are high in quality and value, which makes them perfect for by-the-glass offerings and restaurant wine lists. There is not one single style of organic Languedoc wine, but many options for every meal or occasion. For example, bubbly traditional method wines from Limoux are crafted in both light and structured releases, and are considered some of the best value in French sparkling wine. Herbal and concentrated Corbières reds are crafted with restrained alcohol and light or no use of oak. Textured and fresh white blends and rosé in every shade explore the diversity of the vineyard with a focus on food-friendliness.
“Languedoc wines can compete with virtually all categories from sparkling to sweet — and everything in between — at a fraction of the price of their competitors,” Segelbaum explained. “Languedoc whites show intensity and balance; its reds show freshness and terroir; and, best of all, the value proposition across all categories is absolutely unmatched anywhere else in the world.”
Languedoc is not fixed in time, ensuring that reinvention in the name of taste, quality and innovation will always deliver something new in the glass and on the table. Wine buyers will continue to discover abundant options from growers and winemakers who consider organic farming to be just one piece of their commitment to the environment—and, also, to viticultural excellence.
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