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Pioneering spirits in France's 'Wild West'

The Languedoc-Roussillon in the South of France is an exciting wine making region unlike any other in the Old World and one which is rapidly becoming known as the French “Wild West”. Here creative winemakers have the liberty to change the rules and use the region's diversity of terroir to bring a surprising range of new ideas to market.

The Sud de France brand now bears a rightly deserved strap line Sud de France from Languedoc-Roussillon: where creativity meets diversity. Launched to the trade in 2006, the Sud de France umbrella brand was created to represent the quality food and wine products of the southern French region of Languedoc-Roussillon.

Comprising around 325,000 hectares under vine, over 30 grape varieties, production yields which have halved in the last 20 years (average yields today are 42 hl/ha) and, with more than 60 IGPs (formerly Vin de Pays) and 30 appellations, Languedoc-Roussillon is the world’s largest single wine-producing region.

It is the diversity of Languedoc-Roussillon’s terroir which allows its 3,757 privately-owned estates and 343 cooperative wineries to showcase their know-how and produce red, white, rosé, varietals and blends, sparkling and sweet fortified wines, with a creative scope that is unparalleled in the “old world”. And this creativity extends beyond the product to refreshingly new ideas in marketing, label designs and packaging concepts.

The region is home to pioneering winemakers who have championed innovation in wine making techniques with the development of new products such as lower alcohol/low calorie wine, and experimentation with unusual grape varieties as well as reviving and developing old favourites, such as Carignon.

Lower alcohol wine production
Les Domaines Auriol, for example, produces lower alcohol/low calorie wines, including the So'Light range which is 9% abv (6 grammes sugar/litre, 65 calories a glass) and made using a de-alcoholisation process called reverse osmosis – the result of research carried out in association with INRA – Pech Rouge, the French scientific institute for agricultural research based in Languedoc-Roussillon.

Significant improvements have been made to the quality and aroma of these wines since their launch last year following customer feedback.

Domaine La Colombette, however, has been a pioneer of lower alcohol wines since 2004. Francois and Vincent Pugibet are the creators of Plume de Colombette, a 9% abv wine. In the belief that you must have a high quality wine to begin with, they have cultivated world-renowned grape varieties which are harvested at full maturity. At the end of fermentation the alcohol level is reduced using the reverse osmosis process, which they say enables all the flavours to be retained and increases the freshness of the wine.

0610_GammeMini.jpg Pierrick Harang is a young oenologist-winemaker who in 2008, after 9 years of experimentation, brought to market under his own PH wine label a range of naturally light, 87 calories/glass, varietal wines made from grapes grown according to specific viticultural techniques ie. not by removing alcohol after vinification. 0610_Petit-Balthazar-Merlot.jpg

The PH Mini 11% range – a white, red and rose – was named after the Mini Cooper car but will be on sale in the UK Cooperative and Waitrose stores later this year as Le Petit Balthazer (above right).

Winemaker Anne de Joyeuse is the creator behind the Social Club range of 10.6% abv wines that have no residual sugar, thanks to grapes picked before maximum maturity.

Packaging and presentation
Sud de France winemakers have also broken new ground in packaging, from bottles and BIBs through to pouches and PET.

The Pouch-Up, for example, used by Languedoc company Jeanjean, provides practical consumer convenience, saves on materials and is lighter in weight.

The 1.5-litre pouch weighs just 35g which means an 80% saving in transport-related carbon emissions compared to an equivalent two 75cl glass bottles. The pack's multilayer film construction protects the wine and the single gusset at the bottom allows it to stand up. The film is also compatible with high-resolution printing to ensure a quality brand image and shelf stand out.

Also with lightweight advantages is the completely recyclable PET (polyethylene terephtalate) bottles which are being used by Nîmes-based Union des Vignerons des Garrigues (UVG) for the wines of group member les Vignerons de la Voie d’Héraclès.

These new generation 1 litre and 25cl multilayer PET bottles are manufactured using the more energy efficient cold blow method which also makes them more oxygen-proof for a longer shelf life than those produced using the hot process. The bottles take either aluminium or plastic screw caps. (see also article PET bottle push for organic wine).

Christine Cornil, UVG export manager, points out that there have been issues of size with the industry standard 75 cl bottle because the 75 cl PET is so much smaller than the traditional glass bottle. It has a much lower profile that does not look so good on the shelf compared with neighbouring bottles.”
However, she says the litre bottle UVG is making is the same size as the traditional glass bottle yet provides 33% more volume, which should appeal to retailers.

Her latest iniative is to add braille to the surface of the bottles and, for cruiseliners, a special non-roll set of 'feet'.

Roland Olvers at Val d'Orbieu is promoting wines in single serve TetraPak 25cl cartons with a specially designed straw that has a perforated mouth piece designed to 'spray' the wine over the tongue to emphasise the flavour and aroma. He believes it will take a big name brand/event to get this idea accepted and understood by consumers. It has taken a Euro 150m investment in packaging machinery to launch.

Other innovative ideas from Sud de France wineries include: a five-litre “fût pour la fête” (party barrel) from La Cave de Gallician; stylish, chunky-square bottles for Mont Tauch’s brand-new Maury wines; rosé in all its many forms (from magnums at Val d’Orbieu, to light-hearted bikini-branded bottles from Dom Brial; bottles and labels made from recycled materials at the cave coopérative Cap Leucate; a series of artist-designed barrel-shipped bag-in-box wines from Puech Haut, and a Lily Rose cuvée from the Cave Coopérative de Fontès with labels designed by world-famous cartoonist Philippe Franck of Largo Winch fame.

The Sud de France is a wine region that is free and able to develop novel, yet high quality, products for the new generation of discerning young wine consumers looking for something different, something new, and something more suited to their modern lifestyles.



1 June 2010 - Felicity Murray