Green is the future for reds and whites in the vineyards of Southern France

Foncalieu vines

Foncalieu vines - Credit: Archant

Liz talks to several producers in the Languedoc-Rousillon who put sustainability and the environment at the heart of their wine-making

Foncalieu vines

Foncalieu vines - Credit: Archant

England has just celebrated its annual wine week, and the wine industry here is booming.

But its importance in the national economy is tiny compared to so many of the world’s wine-producing nations.

In France, 85,000 businesses are involved in making and distributing wine. They’re too important to lose as a result of the coronavirus crisis, and there’s government aid of 170 million euros. But particularly encouraging for UK lovers of the flavours of the warm south is a more specific initiative.

A host of bodies in Occitanie – the region which includes the world’s biggest vineyard, Languedoc-Roussillon – have put 34 million euros into a recovery fund.

It will help growers continue to produce ever-higher-quality wines and export them to appreciative drinkers worldwide. And it will support the increasing emphasis on environmental issues: green must be the future of wine.

Almost half of Languedoc-Roussillon’s growers are sustainably certified – High Environmental Value or Terra Vitis, which aim to minimise use of pesticides and herbicides, promote biodiversity and take care of essential resources.

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Beyond that, the region has more than a third of France’s organic vineyard area and biodynamism is burgeoning.

To understand more, let’s meet some of the people involved, starting at one of the biggest producers, Vignobles Foncalieu.

The co-operative brings together 694 vignerons and exports widely. Wines of “spirit and authenticity” is its aim, says chairman Michel Servage.

To achieve that, sustainability is key – a quarter of its 10,000-acre vineyard area is HVE certified, and new disease-resistant grape varieties are appearing in its portfolio. Members’ organic acreage is increasing sharply, with a new Green Gang range of wines from transitional vineyards.

Foncalieu has been in business for more than half a century. Domaine Gayda, based near Carcassonne and with vineyards stretching into Roussillon, dates back only 17 years, yet spreads more than half of its annual 1.3 million bottles through 41 countries.

It is moving on from organics to trial biodynamic practice. Innovation is important – both in varieties planted, for example chenin blanc, and in wine tourism.

The effort and investment required to create a “positive environmental track record” is worthwhile, argue Stéphanie and Olivier Ramé, who are progressing towards organic certification for their 1.5-million-bottle Maison Ventenac operation in Cabardès.

“It forces us to constantly improve,” says Olivier.

But the last word must go to the Fabre family, independent wine growers in Languedoc since 1605 and pioneering advocates of organics.

“We hope we can set an example for the rest of the winemaking world to follow,” says winemaker Francis Fabré.