South of France

Last week I attended a seminar at the International Wine Center that focused on the wine of southern France.

Make that the South of France, the new marketing push from Sopexa, the biggest food/wine marketer in France. The seminar was more than a commercial and contained information valuable to anyone studying wine, as well as a tasting with some impressive sommeliers. There was André Compeyre, who worked for Alain Ducasse and is now a consultant for the Les Halles restaurant group (where I had a realy good steak frites on Monday, but that’s another story) and the ubitiqutous Jean-Luc le Dû, former sommelier for Daniel and now the owner of his own shop in Manhattan.

First the info: the trade groups for the wine of the Langeudoc, Vin de Pays d’Oc and the wine from Roussillon joined forces in June 2006 to create one umbrella brand South of France in order to promote their wines.This accomplished a few things for them. A couple being getting rid of the words Languedoc and Roussillon from the marketing world.

Personal aside. I did a brief exchange program in high school in Montpellier, which is in the Languedoc region of France, kind of central southern border. And I learned that its called that because there they spoke the language of the west: langue=tongue; oc, like occidental,=west.

Anywho, the region has a few image problems to overcome. In the wake of oidium, a rot, in 1870 and phylloxera in 1895, the region’s vineyards were devastated and expediancy dictated the planting of fast growing and high yielding vines, like carignan. Result: excess production and low market prices. (A lot of this information comes from the 43-page printout of a power point provided by Sopexa.)

Another interesting bad PR image to overcome is the recent activity of CRAV, Comité d’Action Regionale Viticole, a violent radical union that stages dramatic protests and strikes to protest government policies regarding wine from the southern region. I came across CRAV during my reasearch for my last paper for the diploma on cooperatives. Truly a wacky group.

In the ’80s the region started restructuring vineyards by planting higher quality varieties more suited to the climate and in 1987 Vin de Pays d’Oc was created by Robert Skalli and Jacques Gravegeal. I found this interesting because I have bought some Skalli wine, a pinot noir from Corsica, for the restaurant. An explanation of VdP:

French expression meaning ‘country wine’ which was adopted for an intermediate category of wines created in France in 1973, and formalized in 1979, to recognize and encourage the production of wines that are distinctly superior to basic vin de table, and which, in theory at least, offer some stamp of regional identity.

This is the opening sentence of a long entry in the Oxford Companion to Wine, edited by Jancis Robinson, the first woman to achieve Master of Wine.

See, this is what get wine geeks so excited. Not only is it about wine, a beverage, it’s about history and business and geography and agriculture — how we feed ourselves– and pleasure.

More on the 10 wines we tasted in the next post. For me this is invaluable because I did Unit 3 of my diploma home study and missed the input of other wine lovers during tasting. It’s easy to get what wine makers call “cellar palate”.

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