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Vine rebel: How Pays d’Oc IGP is blurring old and new to become one of wine’s most exciting labels

Imbibe

Imbibe

26 December 2019

Stretching the length of France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region, Pays d’Oc IGP shines out from the intricacies of Old World appellations. This rebellious indication géographique protégée is making a name for itself as Europe’s gateway to vinous freedom.

By blending inherited traditions that stretch back several centuries with modern technologies introduced by the youngest generation, Pays d’Oc IGP’s winegrowers have developed a contemporary, dynamic and diversified production.

Diversity is key

The Languedoc-Roussillon boasts some 240,000ha planted to vine, half of which are destined to make Pays d’Oc IGP wines. These – spread across the Gard, Hérault, Aude, and Pyrénées-Orientales departments – are mostly characterised by a Mediterranean climate, which helps winemakers minimise the use of treatments and the grapes to easily reach full maturity.

Climate conditions, however, are far from being homogenous. A combination of altitude, oceanic and continental influences, and a staggering diversity of soils mean that the Pays d’Oc benefit from a wide range of paleoclimates, which winegrowers strive to express through the production of varietal wines.

Indeed, although blends are present, it’s with varietal expressions that producers can really benefit from the Pays d’Oc IGP label, thanks to the impressive list of 58 grape varieties allowed. This staggering amount of permitted grapes shouldn’t surprise: before the great phylloxera outbreak, more than 150 different varieties were cultivated in the Languedoc-Roussillon.

‘Pays d'Oc IGP is the French leader in quality varietal wines with certified origin,’ says Florence Barthès, director of Inter Oc (the organisation that promotes Pays d’Oc IGP wines). ‘Our intrinsic distinction, which is also our DNA, is the promotion of the grape variety, an essential reference point for consumers.’

Our intrinsic distinction, which is also our DNA, is the promotion of the grape variety, an essential reference point for consumers

Florence Barthès

Today, in the Languedoc-Roussillon, the most planted red grapes are Syrah, Grenache Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but Nielluccio, Tempranillo or even Mondeuse have their share of acreage too.

Likewise, among the top-planted white varieties are the noble Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat à Petit Grains, and Viognier yet more unusual gems such as Alvarinho or Altesse are used too.

Vinous freedom

The complicated and fascinating patchwork of soils, combined with the vast array of varietals planted, make for the Pays d’Oc’s potentially endless permutation of styles and exuberant liberation from strict tradition.

Such stylistic freedom has now become the label’s trademark, and thanks to its producers’ enthusiastic creativity, we can now enjoy wines that boast a vibe – and often winemaking techniques – more akin to the New World, while at the same time benefiting from the Old World’s millenary tradition and culture.

Guy Andrieu, winemaker at the Anne de Joyeuse, claims that they’ve planted Syrah because their soils are similar to those of the Rhône Valley, but then cold-macerate its fruit on the skins before fermentation, demonstrating what an influence the New World is having on Pays d’Oc IGP producers.

While style varies considerably, however, high quality is consistent across the board. ‘Quality’ isn’t a mere catchword in the Pays d’Oc, quite the opposite: a panel of external tasters operate a systematic administrative and organoleptic control of the wines before they’re granted Pays d’Oc IGP status. This means up to 900 samples officially sampled each week by a pool of professional tasters.

A land of wonders

The Languedoc-Roussillon is one of the world’s most naturally diverse wine regions, stretching alongside the Mediterranean sea from the Gard department down to the Pyrenees. Some vineyards are kissed by the Mediterranean sea, while others grow by the Cévennes mountains, several miles inland. Add to this an incredible gastronomic offering, an average of 300 days of shining sun a year – and the growing reputation of Pays d’Oc IGP label, of course – and you’ve got the winning recipe for one of Europe’s most exciting wine destinations.

‘The offer is multiple and qualitative,’ explains Barthès, ‘Pays d'Oc IGP wines are created throughout the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, so wine lovers can visit and taste as they please... combined with excellent restaurants and hotels on the estates, wine lovers come back year after year.’

Indeed, building on such a great potential, Pays d’Oc IGP winegrowers have been working hard to step up their tourist offer game.

Jean-Claude Mas is one of the region’s pioneers of luxury hospitality in the winery. His Domaines Paul Mas, comprising some 12 estates and an award-winning restaurant, Coté Mas, are really a must-visit.

Former rugby player-turned winemaker Gerard Bertrand is another key personality of the Pays d’Oc vineyards. Bertrand owns 13 estates across the Languedoc-Roussillon, with Château L’Hospitalet being one of the most impressive. With its charming 3* hotel, L’Art de Vivre restaurant – captained by chef Laurent Chabert – and its modern wine shop offering an extensive selection of southern France’s finest labels, Bertrand’s Château L’Hospitalet has become an unmissable stop for any oenotourist venturing in the region.

Pays d’Oc IGP isn’t simply a denomination; it’s rather a vinous treasure box whose inside houses a multitude of styles, great quality and affordable prices

Meanwhile, a few kilometres inland from L’Hospitalet, lies Château de Pennautier. It’s one of the oldest winemaking châteaux in France, dating back to the 17th century. Pennautier offers a restaurant, a boutique wine shop, and luxury accommodation, plus bespoke packages to visiting oenophiles. People can go and explore the vineyards, then spend the rest of the day touring the historical town of Carcassonne, just a stone’s throw away.

Last but not least, Domaine Gayda, which was founded only 12 years ago but has quickly attracted increasing interest from wine lovers and professionals alike, thanks to its impressive wine cellar, Côté Resto restaurant and five boutique gîtes.

With their passion for hospitality, these outstanding estates are driving the enthusiasm that surrounds Pays d’Oc IGP territory, and turning oenotourism into a springboard for its wines – wines that offer a fresh spin on French oenological production, combining authenticity and real sense of place with innovation and a liberating free spirit.

Pays d’Oc IGP isn’t simply a denomination; it’s rather a vinous treasure box whose inside houses a multitude of styles, great quality and affordable prices.


Discover more about Pays d'Oc wines here.

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