Roussillon, one of France’s sunniest regions, is situated in the Deep South West near the Spanish border, cradled by the Mediterranean Sea, the Pyrenees and the Corbières mountains. Wines from Roussillon are often linked with neighboring Languedoc, labeled as wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The hyphenation might suggest that wines from Roussillon are less important, even less significant than those of Languedoc, but this is misleading and not the case. Roussillon might be smaller than Languedoc when it comes to size, but today, viticulture professionals and vignerons from Roussillon, work painstakingly to produce a diverse range of wines of varying colors including dry wine and their speciality, vins doux naturels (VDNs) also known as sweet fortified wine. Unlike Languedoc, Roussillon is considered a Catalan region because of its proximity with Spain; the red wines from the region are thus often compared to Spanish versions rather than French wine.
The History of Roussillon, France
Roussillon is an ancient wine region exploited by the Greeks as far back as the 7th century BC. In the last decade or so, Roussillon wines have made a dramatic change of style, moving positively from a reputation of a poor quality wines produced en masse to wines of quality. Estates here are much smaller today with winemakers employing modern techniques and improved know-how on how to produce less yields as before.
Vignerons in Roussillon are blessed with great terroir. The winds here are strong, a good thing, as it offers a natural protection against pests.The region is typically falls into Mediterranean Climate, with really hot, dry summers and mild winters. Enclosed by mountains, sea and three rivers which run through the plains of Roussillon, the area is surrounded by a varied landscape. The soil composition too is somewhat diverse with predominately schist, limestone and clay soils. Schist, metamorphic rock is very similar to slate; it retains heat and is rich in magnesium and potassium.
Roussillon's Viticultural Industry Thrives
Roussillon now boasts 2,000 winemaking families, 25 cooperative cellars and 345 private cellars. The region grows as many as 23 varieties of grapes with 14 Appellations d'Origine Protégée (AOC) and 3 Indications Géographique protégée (IGP).
Roussillon has always been known for its sweet wine and is France’s leading producer of Sweet Fortified Wines. Some of the best dessert wines such as Muscat de Rivesaltes, Maury and Banyuls are produced in Roussillon. The most common white grape varieties are the two varieties of Muscat – Muscat a Petits Grains and Muscat of Alexandra and White Grenache.
What makes these wines sweet? Roussillon wine makers have mastered the art of mutage, a vinification process where not all the grape sugars are converted to alcohol. The secret is controlling the fermentation process by adding a certain amount of alcohol, thus allowing the wine to keep much of its natural sugar yet maintaining an alcohol content of between 15 to 18%.
Today, Roussillon is also recognized for great dry red wine. The red varieties most used for red wine in Roussillion are Black Carignan, Black Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Conseil Interprofessionnelle des Vins de Roussillon (CIVR) the Interprofessional Council of Wines of Roussillon say, “On average, the aging of red wine is done for two years. Traditionally it corresponds to the maturation of wine in reservoirs before bottling.”
Roussillon Viticulture & Cooperatives
At Domaine Revelh, one of the smaller estates in Roussillon the owners make only red wine with Carignan Noir, Grenache Noir, Syrah and Macabeu varieties . Vigneronne Cécile Krebs- Costa said “we are more traditional, we like our wine to be very fruity so we don’t store our wines in barrels after vinification.”
The boutique owners like many vignerons in the region are members of Vignerons Independents a trade organization which promotes and helps small and independent wine producers. Wine producers in the region can choose to be private wine producers that make and sell their own wine while others are members of a wine cooperative, a great French tradition for sharing production costs and working with others. Wine négociants are French wine merchants, wine professionals who sell wine under their own name. The wine might be from their own vineyards or produce bought from growers or winemakers.
In 2011, The Conseil Interprofessionnel Des Vins de Roussillon (CIVR), the trade association for Roussillon wines, launched their very first campaign to promote wines from the region to the US.
Much has happened since. CIVR now reports:
"Exports figures to the US market in volume have been constantly rising since 2010 (+117% in volume in the five last years and +15% for the price). In 2015 US market share represents 11% of Roussillon exportations in volume. The United States is now the fourth largest export market (in volume) for dry wines in the world and the first export market for Fortified Sweet Wines outside the EU."
And in May 2016, twelve producers from Roussillon traveled to Hong Kong for the Vinexpo
Obscure in the past and dominated by cooperatives rather than individual producers, these exciting wines are now ready to put Roussillon on the wine maps of the world