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02.25.2006

The Uber Appellation: South of France

I remember hearing about this about eight or ten months ago, but now apparently it is official. France has taken one tiny step towards modern wine marketing. In a slightly odd, but I predict successful move, a whole new class of wines are now eligible to be labeled "Sud de France," or South of France. This is not a new Appellation d'Origine (yes my title is a little misleading), but a brand or labeling scheme that unites all 19 of the different appellations in the Languedoc Roussillon, plus nearly 15,000 village producers under a single designation. Now any wine produced in this region has the option of also including a blue banner with the South of France designation around the neck of the bottle.

This is the first such labeling scheme that I've heard about, and as the Languedoc is the largest wine producing region in France, it has has the potential to affect a lot of wines. Will the impact be dramatic? I don't think so, but I think it will help some of these wines in international markets, and it is a first step in the right direction towards allowing French wines to have alternate labeling in addition to or even instead of their traditional designations.

Whether more established producers of higher-end wines end up using these ribbons will be interesting to see, but I certainly expect a lot of the lower end wines (and there are a lot of them from this region of France) to adopt the new convention.

Perhaps my French readers will also have some perspectives and additional information about this effort.

Comments (8)

Jack wrote:
02.25.06 at 11:30 PM

Isn't the key question here whether they can put the varietal of the grape on the label as well? Otherwise they might as well put South of Mexico on the label, as the world's wine consumers will just be more confused.

(And the funnier question is, what does South of France mean? The Mediterranean Sea appellation?)

Marcus wrote:
02.26.06 at 2:43 PM

Jack hits on a key point I think. It's nice to know the variety of grapes used in Midi wines -- I know I often search them out either on the back of the bottle or on the Internet -- but the need to brand the wine by grape is in a way quite silly. Ultimately, varietal labelling would create a false impression since Southern French wines are more about style and blending rather than any one particular grape variety. If the blue ribbon initiative avoids the urge to label this, then I support it.
Why New World consumers can't get their heads round the idea of blends is frustrating to me. This is a special craft and valuable winemaking tradition. I am especially peeved when no mention of a grape actually prevents wine buyers from trying the stuff. It's like eight-year-olds at the dinner table: if they can't identify the vegetable, they just don't want any part of it. What ever happened to wine and maturity?

02.26.06 at 4:53 PM

I don't think this will replace the existing AOC and Vin de Pays appellations. So Vin de Pays will continue to put the varietal on the label and the AOCs will still be regulated by their own rules. Actually, "South of France" is more a branding name based on the fact that it is better known than "Corbières", "Minervois", "Faugères", etc.
There is also a plan to create a "Languedoc" AOC this year for the same simplification and branding reasons, that will include all the existing AOCs of the region.

Tony wrote:
02.27.06 at 1:05 AM

I think Marcus is absolutely right. It is nice to know the general grapes used in an area, but I don't want to restrict a great wine maker from using whatever he/she thinks is best for any given year. The Producer, vineyard, region, and vintage is all much more important than the grape.

Nick Breeze wrote:
02.27.06 at 1:36 AM

I think this is the first positive step that any French region has taken to understand their foreign consumers. It seems that any amount of over simplification to get inside the tight nut of the general English speaking nut is worth pursuing! We enjoyed a great tasting of wines from Roussillon last November and it is good to hear that they are getting to grips with a marketing plan. Well done!

Iris wrote:
02.27.06 at 2:15 AM

It's like most of you stated: just a over-all brand name, to have one geographical flag, which allows people as far away as the states, to imagine, where the wine comes from. It's for AOC wines from the Languedoc Roussillon, Vins de Pays and Vins de Pays d'Oc. For the moment, anybody will stick to his rules: Vin de pays will be allowed to mark the grape variety on the label, AOC are not allowed to do so, because normally, they are supposed to be blends to be "authentic" AOCs (mostly Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre for the reds and Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne for the whites - with a certain flexibility for the pourcentage of each). A classical Côtes du Rhônes Sud may be assembled of 13 varieties...

If you are in the appellation area at Faugère and you want to bottle a 100% Syrah, normally, you are not allowed to the AOC label, you can bring it out as a Vin de Pays - and then you may put the variety on the label. You are always allowed to put more information on the back label...

It will be interesting to see at the Prowein trade far at Duesseldorf in the end of march, how this new promotion will be executed and by whom.

Arnaud H wrote:
02.28.06 at 7:07 PM

From what I've read, this "Sud de France" label is only about international marketing, and is an initiative of the Languedoc-Roussillon ara. It was announced by the president of the Languedoc-Roussillon rgion, a local government official, along with a 12 million euro package to boost exports of Languedoc-Roussillon wines. The local wine producer organizations will contribute another 8 million euros.
Note that the Vins de Pays d'Oc already represent a huge chunk of France's wine exports. They're often relabeled in the US according to their varietals.

Bertrand wrote:
03.02.06 at 4:35 AM

I think "sud de la France" has no connection on consumers even out of France. It would be more efficient to add "produced in the Languedoc" for Faugères, Fitou wines, etc.. for example, or "produced in Provence" for Bandol wines. Same for "Produced in the Loire" which would allow foreign consumers to relate to the many small appellations of the Loire Valley.

Loire, Provence, Languedoc, have some sort of identity in the imagination of wine buyers, not "south of France".

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