Grands Crus du Languedoc – A defense at the CIVL

Ever since the CIVL (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc) announced the new grands crus / grands vins du Languedoc system, people have been asking me for more details about the plan and for a justification of the entire policy.

After a really amazing week tasting wines, visiting the various appellations affected by the new system, and listening to winemakers and representatives from the interprofession, I finally feel like I’m capable of answering your questions.


What is the hierarchy?

The most basic question I’m asked is “Which wines are grands crus?”  This seems like it should be simple to answer, but the answer has shifted more than a little over the past twelve months.  AOCs and subappellations have dropped off the list of candidates and others have hopped on.

Here is the definitive list of wine producing areas that have applied for grand cru status and who have been approved by the CIVL:

  • AOC Corbières Boutenac,
  • AOC Minervois La Livinière,
  • AOC Languedoc Terrasses du Larzac,
  • AOC Languedoc Grès de Montpellier,
  • AOC Languedoc Pic Saint Loup,
  • AOC Languedoc Pézenas,
  • AOC Languedoc  La Clape,
  • AOC Limoux blancs tranquilles,
  • AOC Saint Chinian Roquebrun,
  • AOC Saint Chinian Berlou,
  • AOC Limoux effervescents*
* sélection par la dégustation

Here is a power point presented by Philippe Cros which confirms that information.  The asterisk on the sparkling wines of Limoux is still somewhat puzzling.  Philippe Cros explained that this concept was still developing.  But that certain Limoux sparkling would be grands crus without making ALL of them grands crus.

Is the hierarchy good?

Until now, I’ve maintained the relatively tame argument that the phrase “grands crus du Languedoc” can help wine buyers make a decision while they’re out shopping.  The main argument of the CIVL in most press releases has been that the new three tier system somehow simplifies wine purchases.  Presumably, people won’t need to recognize every AOC in the Languedoc as long as they’re familiar with Grand Vin and Grand Cru.

These arguments are okay, but they leave a lot of you unsatisfied.  This week, I heard a really amazing impromptu presentation that really impressed me. You will be happy to know that the FlipCam was on.

We were listening to Philippe Cros present the general outline and structure of the Grands Crus / Grands Vins system.  Lincoln Siliakus asked why the hierarchy was a good idea.  The question was answered to some extent, but you could still feel dissatisfaction (especially amongst the anglophones in the audience).  And suddenly Jean Philippe Granier, responsable de la communication de l’AOC Languedoc, stands up and walks to the front of the room with a passionate defense.  What I love about this argument is that it isn’t about market analysis or communications.  It’s about history and culture. It’s about men and women who make wine coming together to create something truly special.

Basically, Jean Philippe is asking that we stop looking at the hierarchy as some imposed plan by the interprofession.  Instead think of it as a way for winemakers to get together and defend a territory and its products by working together to create a consistent level of quality and price.

He asks us to consider the winemakers of Picpoul de Pinet.  They got together and said they could do something really special there, but they had to agree on a few ground rules.  They can all use the same phrase to identify themselves, but they can’t sell under a certain price, and the wine has to be of a certain quality and character.

Now, Picpoul de Pinet did it on their own.  They didn’t need the CIVL hierarchy.  But a lot of appellations will benefit from the system.  Or at least that is the hope.  The Grands Crus, Grands Vins dynamic allows for producers to organize themselves and present their top range wines in a unified and logical way.

Another interesting idea discussed in the video is that the hierarchy is less a pyramid and more a set of Russian nesting dolls.  The small amount of Grand Cru wine doesn’t preside over the Grand Vin or AOC Languedoc.  It is a beautiful and intricate product that sits within the Grands Vins and those sit within the AOC Languedoc.  Interesting idea.

Is the hierarchy real?

The last common question is about whether this initiative is real or not.  The Grand Cru systems in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace are validated by the INAO.   This Languedoc system is put forward by the interprofession and is mostly a question of Intellectual Property rights for the moment.  The CIVL owns the rights to the phrase “grands crus du Languedoc” as well as “grands vins du Languedoc”.  They’re putting something into effect on a marketing and communication level.

In the meantime, the CIVL is also pushing for INAO validation.  It is anticipated that the system will be accepted although the wording of Grands Crus is a bit contentious and might require a little more political maneuvering.

Jean Philippe Granier

Is the hierarchy perfect?

While I’m very moved by Jean Philippe’s impassioned plea, the CIVL hierarchy has strengths and weaknesses.  The CIVL cannot play favorites.  It has to support entire appellations or nobody at all.  While individual wineries can be sanctioned and lose their appellation status, this is a rarity.  Also, certain wines that everybody acknowledges as grand cru (Daumas Gassac, Grange des Peres, etc.) will be excluded from the system because they’re not in an AOC.  Or the entirety of Faugeres which decided they didn’t need the CIVL and stopped paying dues. (edit: pending confirmation) So the CIVL might not be the perfect agent for this sort of plan.  But they’re still damned good at it.

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