As wine lovers, we are always looking for that unicorn wine region – the one still on the rise, just a little bit undiscovered but not so obscure as to be inaccessible. The one that feels simultaneously new and exciting, yet comfortable and appropriate in all contexts.
One of these coveted regions is AOP Languedoc. Tucked between the warm sun of the Mediterranean Sea and the cooling Atlantic winds sits this appellation that combines richness of French viticultural history, the warmth of Southern French joie-de-vivre, and the excitement of innovation. There is an evolution happening in AOP Languedoc that touches not only on the wine in our glass, but also on a spirit of entrepreneurship and a commitment to the future of winemaking.
This movement is plain to see in the numbers. Officially established in 2007, AOP Languedoc is the largest appellation in the greater Languedoc region in the South of France. The area has seen a 250% growth by value, and 175% growth by volume in the last eight years in the United States – its number one export market. A region historically overshadowed by its more famous wine neighbors, AOP Languedoc is on a rapid ascent, now claiming its rightful position on the global wine stage.
The Heartbeat of AOP Languedoc
AOP Languedoc’s growing area extends from Nîmes on the Mediterranean Sea to the Spanish border, meaning there is no one distinct climate that defines the region. Instead, a diversity of nature defines AOP Languedoc. The varied tapestry of terrain includes coastal vineyards, hills, and mountainous landscape, all bound by the distinct Mediterranean influence and more than 300 days of sunshine each year. This combination results in a wide range of styles and grape varieties, all of which individually and collectively contribute to the engaging personality of the region.
Locals and those familiar with the appellation speak of the “higher vibration” of the land, a sentiment underscored by the region’s new marketing tagline, “Good Vibes, Good Wines.” Indeed, AOP Languedoc’s terroir is defined by a unique and dynamic energy, which both literally and spiritually informs grape growing and winemaking here.
“The concept of vibration — being in tune with all aspects of our surroundings — is our way of sharing the character of Languedoc with those who admire beauty and good living, those who demand the best quality for their wines, and those who seek authentic, natural experiences,” explains Jean-Benoît Cavalier, President of the AOP Languedoc association, in a press release. “Everything in our region, from the terroir to our wines, reflects this concept of vibration — the colors, light, sounds, and smells that connect us to our senses and our emotions. Through these vibrations, our wines reflect our region.”
The People of AOP Languedoc
There’s an enterprising spirit among producers in AOP Languedoc, which encompasses 531 winemaking communes with a reputation for quality. The appellation also offers an exciting blank canvas of winemaking potential, with more than 15 grape varieties approved for blends or unique single-varietal wines. As a result, one feels a distinct sense of joy when speaking with those who have a hand in crafting the wines of the region.
“The growers and winemakers of the [AOP] Languedoc appellation have embraced the region’s ability to grow healthy grapes and produce terroir-driven wines,” says wine writer Kristy Wentz. “A big shift has taken place from quantity to quality in the past several decades, and both today and heading into the future we’re going to see more proof of the area’s natural quality, as well as the talent that has grown up in or been drawn to the region.”
In fact, the scene happening in AOP Languedoc is attracting talent from other parts of France, as well as other winemaking regions who are bringing new ideas and ways to think about and produce wines. This sense of excitement among makers in the region is a huge part of its magnetic appeal to new and seasoned wine drinkers alike.
“Winemakers in AOP Languedoc want to produce wine for every consumer, not just for speculation or [serious] wine consumers,” says Olivier Legrand, director of Vins du Languedoc (CIVL). “The DNA of the region is to produce vibrant wines at any price point, bringing that which is at the heart of wine consumption: happiness and emotion.”
The Renaissance of AOP Languedoc: Experimentation and Entrepreneurship
Like many, AOP Languedoc’s winemaking practices once revolved around quantity and high yields. In the late 1800s, the Languedoc produced the largest volume of table wine in France. However, in the early 1900s, thanks to the leadership of a few visionary producers, as well as research into soil composition, viticultural practices, and winemaking techniques, a new movement toward quality in the entire region began – a movement which is alive and well today.
But it’s not your typical movement focused on quality. Rather than aimed solely at making premium wines with top scores, AOP Languedoc winemakers focus on experimentation and pushing the frontiers of modern winemaking for a contemporary consumer – including today’s younger consumer. Not only are these winemakers experimenting with new trends and production methods — including alternative vessels, the use of amphorae, and natural winemaking techniques — they are also elevating traditional processes as well. Winemakers are focused on coaxing more freshness from wines to make them more approachable in their youth; and they are being more deliberate in their blends, really digging into what each grape brings to the mix to go beyond your typical – and often expected – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre blend.
“When it comes to the evolution of the wine [in AOP Languedoc], we notice two developments,” explains Anaël Payrou, director of the Cave Coopérative, Le Cellier des Demoiselles, in Saint Laurent de la Cabrerisse. “More and more drinkability with a reflection around the alcohol levels; and – which may seem contradictory – an increase in quality with bottles at more than 50 euros.”
“I’ve found the winemaking spirit of AOP Languedoc to be dynamic, thoughtful, and one of both tradition and modern winemaking techniques,” adds Wentz. “Rather than let rules and regulations limit them, they experiment with grape varieties, winemaking techniques, fermentation and aging vessels of various types, and, above all, they listen to and respect the land.”
The Promise of Tomorrow: Sustainability Efforts and Beyond
While it’s an exciting time in AOP Languedoc for wine, the appellation is by no means resting on its laurels, assuming the job is done. Producers have set lofty goals for sustainability and are doing the heavy lifting now to reach them.
30% of AOP Languedoc producers are certified sustainable, with the goal of reaching 60% environmental certification by 2028. 15% of all producers are certified organic, although a far larger percentage practice organic farming without formal certification.
“They take sustainability seriously, ensuring the health of the vines, soils, and earth are at the forefront of decision-making,” notes Wentz.
Unlike large-scale commercial operations, many of these choices are both difficult and expensive for smaller, family-run businesses; and yet these wineries make these tough choices nonetheless, believing in doing the right thing not only for the land, but for generations to come.
“As we continue to face problems related to climate change, we also continue to study the land and monitor changes closely so that Languedoc remains one of the best appellations for wine production,” says Payrou. “In the $10-$20 price range, this means structured wines that can be drunk with pleasure; fresh wines perfect for sharing. For wines over $20, this means local wines with their own identity that can compete with all the appellations of France or the world.”