Languedoc has been an important winemaking centre for several centuries, with the port of Sete and the link to the Atlantic via the 17th Century Canal du Midi providing key trading routes.
Going further back, there is evidence of Roman winemaking in the area. The ruins of a first century AD winery lies near Clermont l’Herault west of Montpellier.
The Mediterranean climate and plentiful land with soil ranging from rocky sand to thick clay has long been considered very suitable for the production of wine.
However, Languedoc-Roussillon’s heritage has often been overlooked in the modern era, because the region gained a reputation for producing quantity over quality. In the 20th Century, very little wine in the region was classified as appellation contrôlée until the 1980s, when a new focus on quality began to emerge.
There have been many growing pains for Languedoc-Roussillon in the last 150 years.
Vast swathes of vineyard were destroyed by the deadly phylloxera bug in the late 1800s, and most of France was also hit.
It was actually a botanist from Languedoc, Jules Emile Planchot, who is credited with fighting back against the phylloxera bug after working with colleagues to discover American rootstock was resistant to the disease.
1907 and the rise militant winemakers
Languedoc has also been a hotbed of political protest; it is considered the birthplace of French socialism.
In 1907, thousands of winemakers poured into the streets of the region’s major cities to complain at cheap wine imports, mainly from from North Africa, that they deemed illegal, in part because of the added sugar in the wines.
French troops were sent in to control the situation, but shots were fired and six people died. There was another death in 1976, during more winemaker protests in the region.
Languedoc is home to one of the only militant winemaker groups in the world, named the Comité d’Action Viticole – or more recently, the Comité Régionale d’Action Viticole. Known as CRAV, bands of producers have intermittently attacked foreign wine lorries, storage areas and government buildings in the area.
21st Century and beyond
These days, CRAV still exists but has become increasingly marginalised.
Today, the face of Languedoc-Roussillon wine has drastically changed. More commercially viable grape varieties have been planted and new appellation classifications come to the fore. Names such as St Chinian, Faugères, Corbières, Pic St Loup and Terrasses du Larzac are increasingly known among sommeliers and wine lovers – and the wines are often tipped as good value bets on restaurant lists.
Tourism has also surged. Long sandy beaches and striking scenery complement the region’s mix of old and new in its cities, such as regional capital Montpellier and also Nimes, Narbonne, Carcassonne and Perpignan.