CO-OPERATIVES OF THE LANGUEDOC - CAN THEY SURVIVE?
or Die ~ the turning point for the Co-operatives
in the Languedoc region of southern France, an area of wine
production surpassing any other in the country, there is a
struggle for survival for the old village 'Cave Co-operatives'
trying to exist in the Twenty-first century with the onslaught
of international competition in an over abundant marketplace.
run on the French 'Socialist' ethos, the co-operatives have
been stuck in a time warp, especially those in rural Languedoc.
Many now are literally dying on their feet, ugly edifices
of mid-1900's co-operative austerity stand crumbling, leaving
the villagers wondering what has happened to their income
and jobs. Once a secure and established way of life for generations,
progress and changes in taste, have taken the rug away from
under them and many who do not understand, resort to rioting
in anger against the Government expecting ever more help to
come their way.
years the growers have stuck to the old techniques of vine
growing and continued to use old traditional grape varieties
and totally ignored the quality of the grape in favour of
quantity. Simply the greater the weight of grapes they delivered
to the 'Cave' the greater their income, therefore the growers
had little interest in what happened after that and the quality
of the wine produced. For years, people all over France (tourists
included) actually drank it too, as 90% of all French table
wine was produced in the Languedoc; it culminated in the wine
lake of the 70's and 80's.
that drinkers of wine have become hugely more discerning with
the competition made available throughout the world from 'New
World' wines and beyond, there is now no place, or excuse,
for producing poor quality - hence the problem. For many of
the older growers it is too late to change their ways and
'grub-up' their land in favour of new vines (even with subsidies),
so they retire and probably achieve more money for their land
than a lifetime's earnings in one go. Some of the younger
ones are giving up too, particularly those who do not have
the passion and dedication required, and attempt to find easier
ways to make a living.
as a result, some of the vineyards surrounding many of the
villages have been sold off to satisfy an increasing demand
for cheap characterless housing to accommodate a population
in flux. The older folk scale down, often the northern Europeans
move into the more traditional buildings the older ones have
vacated and the younger generation move on to the cities as
there is little or no employment left in the rural areas that
once provided employment for generations of families.
future for the wine co-operatives of the Languedoc
all is doom and gloom however. Out of this massive
change there is quite a Renaissance, particularly in the Languedoc
where there is a burgeoning pride in the "new attitude"
co-operatives where groups of young forward thinking growers
are replanting, re-blending and bringing new life to the business.
Some co-operatives are becoming far more selective about the
quality of grapes that they accept from their growers and
are introducing grading systems awarding those with the best
quality grapes with superior returns. There is strong competition
however as many of the younger generation with the determination
and will to produce internationally competitive flavours,
have broken away completely from the co-operative system finding
it too restrictive and so they are not just growing vines
and producing grapes, but are involved with the whole process
from planting the vines to bottling the wine.
the Co-operatives to survive at all, they have to make huge
changes otherwise the structure of employment, social welfare
and support that is the life-blood of many of the rural communities,
may disappear forever. History will decide what happens but
without doubt at the present time the most exciting wines
are coming from the independent families (this will be covered
in the next chapter.) Partly because it is an area where EU
laws are less confining and they are not restricted by the
same appellation laws of richer regions further north and
are not bound by the traditional ways of the co-operatives,
this new generation of vingnerons are developing and perfecting
wines that are full of character, distinction and balance
that are ready to be judged internationally in their own right.
The new, varied and exciting Wine production culture of the
Languedoc is ready to take on the rest of the world, if it
just gets the right recognition and marketing that it deserves.
article was provided by GoHolidayFrance organisers of Cooking
Holidays and Wine Tours in the Languedoc region of France
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