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Spring has eventually arrived in the Languedoc The vines stand naked in serried ranks lovingly pruned and waiting for the warmth of the sun to arrive. The almond trees line the roads, their pink blossom heralding the start of warmer weather. The winter landscape is bare but beautiful. The sap will rise in the vines soon and plump buds will force their way out of the knarled wood. Over the winter the Vignerons and their field workers have handled the vines with respect and care. Long back-breaking hours have been spent preparing the land and arranging stones around the bases of the vines to keep in the warmth of the winter sun and to keep out the chill of the night.

Pruning the vines Pruning the vines

There has been little rain since September, but the farmers in the South of France are used to long periods of drought but a greater problem is concerning them. The winter has been mild and if the buds develop too quickly, they can be ruined by heavy unexpected rain or a sudden return to frosty conditions. The parched vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see and the farmer's wait and hope. The wild asparagus is being gathered and we are just waiting for a kiss of heat from a gentle sun and the vines will be reborn again, but not too soon, we hope.

The vines have to fight for life in this Mediterranean region; the roots of some fifty year old plants plunging fifteen feet below the ground. The area below ground is watered by a giant delta of underground streams from the Montagne Noire and beyond. The vines struggle for survival which results in the flavours of the wines being strong, full and robust. The Syrah gives the wine a full bouquet of summer fruits, Grenache the spicy tones of pepper and herbs, Mourvédre the smoke enhanced undertones.

Although the Appellation Controllé in each region have strict guidelines governing the variety of grapes that are grown in a particular soil (terroir), the Vigneron's are given the freedom to produce their own blends of wine within these restrictions and create their own individuality. In September the superior grapes are hand picked with a double sorting and then with temperature controlled maceration they are stored in large concrete vats called cuves.

After a few months when the fermentation process has ended the wine is often stored in oak barrels for up to twelve months. The Vignerons themselves are kept busy all through the year but this mid-way stage is the time to start tasting the result of last autumn's harvest and discover the promise of what flavours will develop after aging. This is often when the services of an Oenologue is employed. These individuals are hired for their expert advice, just to taste and recommend the perfect blends for that particular year's production. A tiny amount of wine is drawn off, tasted and measured for alcohol content and then the potential for an exceptional year or a failed crop is realised. The wine grower is only as good as his Oenologue whose skills can be likened to an artist, or a chef accustomed to the nuances and subtleties of flavours that will combine to create a harmony of flavour and an excitement to the palette.

A few wine makers make the "assemblage" before the wine has matured, believing that if the different varieties ferment together, the result is a more interesting and complex wine. However, many of the younger Vignerons are now maturing each grape variety separately and only assembling the cépage when each variety has developed to its full potential. Vintages of past years can also be used, creating a mature harmony with a younger wine.

The climate in the South of France is more or less constant so there are not such dramatic fluctuations in the quality of harvest as there is in Bordeaux and Burgundy. None the less, the market in French wine is often judged by the terrain and the "good and bad years". In the South there is a more "laissez faire" attitude. Along with the Gallic shrug comes a smile with a sunny optimism, tomorrow is another day, next year is another year. They call one of the dessert wines down here "L'Or de Bacchus", life is gold, it encompasses the richness of the sun, the fertility of the land and the plentifullness of the sea.

At home we sometimes do not appreciate the dedication to perfection that these producers go to. Their passion is passed to the next generation and, far from leaving this poor region behind, the Daughters and Sons are returning from work experience around the World to breathe new life into this fabulous area. Please take time to search for Languedocienne wines, you will not be disappointed.

Wine tour

This article was provided by GoHolidayFrance organisers of Cooking Holidays and Wine Tours in the Languedoc region of France

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