A vineyard steeped in history
Greek and Roman influence
The vineyards owe their existence to the Greeks and Etruscans. It was they who planted the first vines some six centuries BCE having discovered in the Languedoc the ideal climate and land to cultivate them. Shortly afterwards, when the Romans colonized the region, they carried on planting here. During this period, the “Narbonne” province – as it was then known – underwent unprecedented development most particularly with the formation of a highly effective commercial network. Languedoc wine was exported to Greece, the coasts of Turkey and Egypt. It wasn’t long before the “Narbonnaise” became one of the principle suppliers of wine to Rome.
The church’s predominant role
Undoubtedly fearing protectionism, in AD 92 the Emperor Dominitien issued an edict which slammed on the brakes of Languedoc prosperity by forbidding all vine planting in the Empire and, most especially, requiring the uprooting of half the vines in the provinces. Thus the “Narbonnaise” lost a large part of its vineyards. Fortunately the Church which saw the vines as a source of wealth and influence, moved in to save them. Starting in the VIII century, and led by St Benedict of Aniane, son of the Count of Maguelonne, a network of abbeys and monasteries was built around the vineyards – many are still active today. St Guilhem-le-Desert together with St Saturnin and Cabrières, Saint-Chinian, Valmagne, Fontfroide… and many others – all flourished thanks to the work of the monks in the vineyards. These magnificent buildings became centres where the cultivation vines and science of viticulture became an integral part of the taught patrimony and wine became the vital common currency.
Expansion of Mediterranean wines
In 622 CE, the spread of Islam forbad the consumption of alcoholic drinks, whilst between the VIII and XV centuries, the growing taste for wine meant British and Dutch markets found it easier to source their wines from Aquitaine. In 1432, King Charles VII’s Treasurer, Jacques Coeur, reopened trading relationships with the world around the Mediterranean. Wines, muscats, spirits, fabrics and materials once again headed for Alexandria where they were exchanged for spice, aromatic goods or gold. In the XV century, the construction of the Midi canal provided an impetus for the opening up of the region’s economic sector, especially the wine trade. By linking the Atlantic coast with the Mediterranean, the canal enabled wines from the region to become known and marketed more widely. On 27 September 1729 the States of the Languedoc submitted a decree for Royal approval setting out how wine and spirit production and trade in the Languedoc should be organized. It laid down the size and capacity of casks, how their production should be controlled, and the mark which should be branded on the base of each barrel. It was one of the first examples of organised regional wine production in France.
The rebirth of Languedoc vineyards
Languedoc vineyards’ great image and considerable reputation continued until well into the XIX century and the advent of the industrial revolution and railways. Vines were planted on the low lying plains providing cheap, easy drinking wines for the industrial towns of northern France. The phyloxera plague at the end of the XIX century did not spare the Languedoc. But, with the reconstruction of the vineyards came a new policy of producing quality – an initiative spearheaded by Paul Coste Floret. As from 1945 this policy led to the recognition of the vineyard area and terroirs, even before the creation of the INAO (National Institute of Origin and Quality). The first VDQS (superior quality wine) appellations emerged in 1945, to be succeeded by AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) in 1985.
The Languedoc continues its revolution
Nowadays, new challenges are hammering at the gates of Languedoc vineyards. Changing consumer tastes and world wide wine production mean there are new challenges to face. The year 2007 marked an important step forward with the launch of the Languedoc Appellation. Today it is at the heart of the reorganization which will affect the whole range of Languedoc-Roussillon AOCs, having as its principle aim to ensure clearer consumer visibility.