Posts tagged: aoc

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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Visiting Vineyards in Corbieres – Top 5

I’m really pleased about how many winemakers in the Corbieres are sponsoring and attending VinoCamp Languedoc on March 19th, 2011.  And after tweeting about the appelation’s enthusiasm, Jamie Goode asked “Which would be your top five corbieres producers for punters to visit?”

twitter screenshot of jamie goode asking about corbieres vineyards

I love the question and I think the answer is worth writing up on this blog in more than 140 character and a slightly more searchable format.  A big thanks to Jamie for asking.

Keep in mind that these are not the only domaines in the Corbieres.  They’re not even my personal top 5 since many of my favorite places are more fun for the engaged wine lover and less fun for your average wine drinker.

This is a list of 5 that are perhaps best-suited for your typical “punter”.  British slang which, to me, implies that the visitor is not a wine professional but just a curious person on vacation who enjoys the occasional glass of wine.  And if anybody gets offended that I didn’t put them on the list, they can always just email me.

Top 5 Corbieres Producers to Visit

  • La Voulte Gasparet, Boutenac – Boutenac is one of the grands crus of the Languedoc now, a special subsection of the larger Corbières.  La Voulte Gasparet is a family estate that receives people for tastings with regular opening hours.  You can also peek around their barrel room if you ask nicely.  While you’re in the area, you might also try to drop by Domaine Fontsainte.  These are estates where you’ll taste with the actual winemakers.   Some other famous properties in the area like La Forge (one of Gerard Bertrand’s) don’t open the doors to the general public :-ç  but you can always try to call and arrange a tasting.Château la Voulte Gasparets
    11200 BOUTENAC
    (0)4 68 27 07 86
  • Chateau Le Bouis, Gruissan – Le Bouis is a gorgeous estate in the northeast of the Corbieres.  You can see La Clape from their vines, but they’re still technically Corbieres.  They’ve got a restaurant, rooms, and lots of concerts and animations during the summer.  Also, proximity to Narbonne and the beach make this an easy destination for people to plan into the itinerary.  I don’t know what the winery tour is like since I just get tend to get distracted by the restaurant and beautiful landscapes.Route Bleue
    11430 Gruissan
    (0)4 68 75 25 25
  • Domaine Baillat, Montlaur – This is probably the most authentic independent winemaker on the list.  It’s hard to pick just one since the Corbieres has literally hundreds and hundreds of independent producers.  But Christian Baillat speaks English, German, French and even Occitan.  He’s a quirky, organic producer and he participates with WWOOFing programs that bring kids in from overseas to learn about winemaking.  You’d best call ahead.31, avenue de Malbec
    11220 Montlaur
    (0)4 68 24 08 05
  • Castelmaure, Embres & Castelmaure – Since this question was inspired by me fawning over the famous cooperative, I would be remiss not to include them.  But this is going to be a gift shop tour.  That means you go into a nice room where they hold tastings (and it will be conveniently close to a cash register).  If you’ve got a group of 10 or more, you can call and make a reservation to visit the actual winery.4, route des canelles
    11360 Embres & Castelmaure
    (0)4 68 45 91 83
  • Mont Tauch, Tuchan – Another popular cooperative, and another gift shop tour.  Again, groups of 10 can call ahead to get a winery tour.  There are interactive displays and videos all around the shop, free tastings, and that ever present cash register.   The strength of these co-op tours is that they’re unintimidating.  You go in and taste.  You don’t have to say anything clever as you sip through their wines.  If your toddler starts to throw a fit, you can always just leave.Les Vignerons Du Mont Tauch
    11350 Tuchan
    (0)4 68 45 41 08

Google Map

corbieres wineries map

Not really a producer, but…

  • Terra Vinea, Portel – You might be thinking this is more than 5 recommendations.  But honestly this last one isn’t a recommendation so much as a mention.  Terra Vinea is a tourist destination devoted to wine.  I cannot recommend it as I have never been.  But here is a promotional video that you can watch.  You will quickly determine whether it is the place for you.

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Pic Saint-Loup Les Nobles Pierres – Languedoc, je t’aime 19

La fin de notre dégustation dans le Pic Saint-Loup au Château de Lascaux avec Jean-Benoit Cavalier: deux millésime du même vin rouge dans l’AOC Pic Saint-Loup. Très bon! Ceci est la deuxième partie de notre rencontre au Château de Lascaux. Retrouvez la première partie de notre dégustation des vins du Château de Lascaux ici.

Les vins:
Les Nobles Pierres 2004, Château de Lascaux, AOC Pic Saint-Loup
Les Nobles Pierres 2005, Château de Lascaux, AOC Pic Saint-Loup

Notes: Syrah, Grenache blends with something like 18 months in large volume barrels. Le 2004 été ouvert le soir d’avant.

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