CIVL Three Tier Hierarchy Rumors Dispelled

This post is meant to dispel a rumor that is circulating about the CIVL’s three tier hierarchy.  The rumor is that they have abandoned the hierarchy entirely.  I was shocked to read this so I sent emails to their press agency and the folks at the CIVL that I usually deal with.

The short version is: The CIVL is still pursuing its three tiered hierarchy.  A press agent has spoken with Jerome Villaret, director of the CIVL, and the project is still underway.  They are currently waiting on all the AOCs to decide what family they want to commit to.

I’m at the London Wine Fair right now so I will try to make time to communicate with Monsieur Villaret and let you know how that goes.

Here’s the email I received denying the rumor:

Après discussion avec Jerome Villaret, je te confirme que la segmentation est bien en route pour les AOC du languedoc avec les trois étages. Le travail est maintenant dans le camp des appellations qui doivent se déterminer et s’engager dans une famille. Jerome t appelle demain pour te donner des précisions sur ce sujet.
A ta disposition

Marie Gaudel – Clair de Lune

Here’s how the rumor started as far as I can tell:

a post on Jancis Robinson’s forum:

Well, Jancis, by the time your fingers had stopped tapping this article out, the CIVL project appears to be dead. There has been so much reaction to this senseless, dirigiste and political proposal, that the email fibre optic cables down here have been smoking. The proposal has been both rejected by local Syndicats, by growers and in fact was probably illegal anyway, as it’s only the INAO who can propose Grand Cru/Premier Cru status. Talk about proposing out of turn! Nul points!

Re reading this post, I see that the poster (Graham Nutter) probably meant the project was getting a lot of flak.  I don’t think he meant that the CIVL had abandoned the project.  But it was interpreted and retweeted and facebook status messages were updated and what have you.  And things spun out of control.

I think a lot of people want to see this project go away, but I assure you that very good sources say it troops onward.  There will be grands crus and grands vins du Languedoc sooner or later and the CIVL will be doing it their way.


Another chapter unfolds in the Grands Crus du Languedoc story.

A recent article in the Revue du Vin de France about the terroirs they believe to be Grands Crus du Languedoc shows disagreement with the CIVL classification.  Notably, they include the Cabardes (my appellation and the subject of my book “Wines of Carcassonne“) as a grand cru.  It makes me happy that the Cabardes made it onto the VIP list.  And while the disagreement between the prestigious wine magazine and the interprofessional organization seems like it could damage the promotional efforts of the “grands crus” system, it will only be noticed by wine nerds like me.

In more detail

cover rvf mars 2011So the RVF decided to name their top 11 grands crus. I was excited to see my own appellation named as one of the grand crus of the Languedoc. GO CABARDES! There’s a nice little portrait of one of my neighbors, Clement Mengus and they talk briefly about how we are the westernmost appellation in the Languedoc and we’re doing interesting things.

Now where this gets weird is that the CIVL doesn’t actually consider us a grand cru. And we don’t have the legal right to use the trademarked phrase “grand cru du languedoc” on our labels even though my wines meet all the requirements for the grands crus status. And apparently, experts agree that the Cabardes is a grand cru.

Part of me is a little worried about the mixed messages of this initiative. On the other hand, I should repeat that this worry is silly because only the nerdiest wine geeks will even notice discrepancies like the RVF-CIVL disagreement. The important part of this article is that people will read about my beautiful appellation and may be inspired to try our wines or to read other books about the Cabardes. Just as the important part of the CIVL grands crus initiative is that people will see “grand cru du Languedoc” on a wine label and some people will be inspired to try a bottle of Languedoc thanks to that initiative. That is the important thing. It’s much more important than the nervous rambling I get into when people start asking me serious questions about it.

Differences between the RVF and CIVL Grands Crus du Languedoc

PS, since people will ask, the RVF’s Grands Crus du Languedoc are:

  • Aniane-Puechabon (part of the terrasses du larzac)
  • Terrasses du Larzac
  • Saint Chinian
  • Faugeres
  • Pic Saint Loup
  • Pezenas
  • Corbieres Boutenac
  • Minervois la Liviniere
  • Fitou
  • La Clape
  • Cabardes
  • Notable differences include the strange specificity of Aniane-Puechabon, a part of the terrasses du larzac. This is especially odd since the terrasses du larzac themselves are just a specific cru within the AOC Coteaux du Languedoc. And so their number 1 grand cru is actually a subset of their number 2 grand cru, neither of which is technically an AOC. It’s also notable that the RVF included ALL of Saint Chinian instead of specifying certain crus within it like the CIVL did (eg roquebrun). Inclusion of Cabardes, as mentioned before, defies the CIVL’s initiative and makes me gleeful because I know we deserve to be a grand cru. The omission of Gres de Montpellier from RVF’s list might shock a few winemakers in the Herault since the Gres have been on the list since the CIVL’s earliest drafts back in the summer of 2010. Limoux’s still wines are also omitted although I’ve seen them on and off the list lots of times.

    If somebody has the official CIVL list that got released recently, please send it to me so I can repost. I’m having an absurdly hard time finding the official CIVL list.  Here’s an article from December that has a CIVL list that seems very accurate based on what I’ve heard in aoc meetings.

    chateau margaux cellar I just got to visit Chateau Margaux on their first full day of the 2010 harvest.  This is sort of a dream and it’s hard to believe that it really happened.  It was an authentic and intimate glimpse into the belly of one of the world’s most prestigious estates, one of the four (five if you count Rothschild twice) premier grand cru estates in Bordeaux.

    As you know O’Vineyards grows Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Cabardes region of France.  So we’re always talking about the potential of these Bordeaux varietals in the Atlantic Corridor of the Languedoc.  So it’s an exceptional opportunity to see how Chateau Margaux (arguably the most famous producer of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world) harvests and vinifies.

    That first photo up top is a partial shot of one of their TWO cellars.  They age the wine there for a full year (so that’s the 2009 being aged in the photo) and then they move it to the second year cellar.  Now why am I talking about large wine cellars?  Those aren’t unique by any means as large wine cellars exist around the world, but I think it’s a good place to start talking about Chateau Margaux.  cabernet sauvginon chateau margaux harvestWhile it’s very well-recognized that this estate produces some of the world’s most desired wines (the 2009’s are hitting 1000 Euro / bottle), what a lot of people don’t realize is how many bottles they make of it.  To produce that quality level on such a large scale is truly a wonder of the world.

    Down south, we have some cult wines and some famous wines, but production tends to be very small.  I’ll flatter myself through a brief comparison.  I like to think my wine is very good, but I have to acknowledge that I could never scale it up to produce thousands of cases per year.

    So how on earth do they scale up the production of this quality level?  Well, they have two identical harvest lines bringing in pallets of small fruit cases full of hand-harvested grapes.  The small crates full of grape bunches run up a short conveyor belt.  A person  empties the crates onto a sorting line where bunches that show any sign of rot are removed (although I spent a long time up there without seeing any which indicates a good harvest and/or a talented team of harvesters who only pick the good stuff).

    harvest chateau margauxThe conveyor belt drops the grape bunches into a machine I don’t know the name of photographed here (but the front of it says “VINOCLEAN”).  It is some sort of very fancy destemmer that takes the grapes off of their stems very nicely and bounces them down to another conveyor belt. One more machine that crushes the grapes very slightly before they are dropped into a stainless steel container.

    This container is brought to the winery by futuristic pallet jacks with built in scales so they know how much tonnage goes into each tank.  The stainless steel container is hoisted above by a winch and the grapes are carefully dropped into the tanks from above.

    As the pallet jacks wisked past us, Marie from Chateau Margaux reached in and grabbed some 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon for us to taste.  I get to taste before Parker now! ;D

    chateau margaux cabernet sauvignon harvest

    grapes hoisted by winch at chateau margaux

    And then there’s the whole process of fermentation where they are truly dedicated to maintaining the high reputation of their estate.  Needless to say, I took a lot of notes and borrowed a couple of the less expensive ideas for O’Vineyards.

    And then we had a really educational tasting of the 2009 and a few other wines followed by the most amazing meal in a very elegant dining room of the Chateau proper.

    I will talk more about this visit when I’m not so busy with my own harvest, but I thought it would be fun to share this technical side of the Chateau Margaux harvest intake while my brain is still in harvest mode.  It is rare to get such an unfettered glimpse into the process of a legendary wine estate.  Thanks again to Paul Pontallier for his excellent welcome at Chateau Margaux. And also a huge thanks to Barry and Stuart for making this visit possible.  What a fantastic experience!

    The CIVL (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc — but I’m sure you knew that ;D) has declared a new system of classification in the Languedoc to separate and celebrate the “Grands vins du Languedoc” and “Grands Crus du Languedoc”.  Articles in Harpers and Drinks Business for the full story.

    A lot of people have been asking me what I think about this and I guess I should take a moment to express my personal feelings about how the CIVL’s newly declared hierarchy.

    On the one hand, the Languedoc is certainly entitled to having some Grands Crus or terroirs/wineries that have proven themselves over time to be emblematic champions of the region.  It might seem absurd or capricious today to arbitrarily say that certain places or people are better winemakers than others.  But hey, fake it til you make it.  In a hundred years, the Grands Crus du Languedoc might seem  just as legitimate as the Grands Crus de Bordeaux or Grands Crus de Bourgogne (determined by the laws from 1855, parcel drawings of Cistercian monks, and other really legit old stuff).

    That said, it’s a pretty classic move for my dear region.  At a time when so much of the world mocks the complexity, capriciousness, and obsolesence of the Grands Crus system in other parts of France, we establish a long term plan to incorporate it into how we sell wine.  We’re about 200 years too late.  But hey, it can’t really hurt us.

    At worst, a couple of people (generally folks who are “in the know” about wine) will ridicule the effort.  But at best, we can seriously raise self-esteem in the area.  We have to throw our old defeatist attitude in the rubbish bin.  The Languedoc is GREAT.  And we have Grands Crus too!  Power to us.

    Now, what do we hope to gain from it?  Other than just being a positive mantra to sort of repeat to yourself as you wake up each morning?  I don’t know.

    When Frederic Jeanjean, President of the CIVL and owner of Jeanjean (edit: large groupe viticole based out of Terrasses du Larzac) says the strategy will “transform the Languedoc into a profitable, quality wine?making region”, I think that’s a little ambitious.  Really?  Calling certain wines and crus Grand is going to transform the Languedoc into a profitable quality winemaking region?  That’s a tall order.  What exactly is the strategy being referred to?  Well, the Drinks Business article alludes to “a detailed action plan of technical, economic and marketing strategies, which will provide a framework for its activities over the coming years.”  Let me tell you, that I have not seen much of that detailed plan of action.

    Short of checking the CIVL news site (which I really like), I don’t get much news from them at all.  You might assume this is some fault of mine, but let me clarify my relationship to the interprofession.  I am forced to pay dues to put AOC Cabardes on my wine bottles.  And a significant portion of those dues goes to the CIVL.  So I am a paying member of the Interprofession.  Then they also send you letters and try to get you to pay as an individual.  So they have my address.  But they don’t send me invitations to the assemblee generale.  Just more requests for me to make double payments on my wine production.

    Here’s the only thing I have received regarding the new hierarchy plan, copied and pasted from an email sent within the AOC Cabardes ODG (our syndicat):

    Premier niveau : LES VINS DU LANGUEDOC

    ð Niveau d’objectif : entre 3 et 4 € par col (prix TTC consommateurs) et pour les marques de distributeurs : 2,50 € par col (prix TTC consommateurs).

    ðPrix vrac d’objectif : 90 à 100 € l’hl avec un rendement de : 50 à 55 hl/ha

    ðPrix plancher d’objectif : 80€ l’hl.


    ðNiveau d’objectif :entre 4 € et 7 € par col (prix TTC consommateurs).

    ðRendement de 48 à 50 hl/ha

    ðPossibilité de repli en AOC LANGUEDOC (a priori pour le Cabardès sous réserve d’identification par l’INAO des parcelles complantées en cépages méditerranéens)

    Troisième Niveau : LES CRUS DU LANGUEDOC

    ðNiveau d’objectif : au-delà de 7-10 €/cols (prix TTC consommateurs au caveau)

    Les AOP du Languedoc seront réparties entre le deuxième niveau (les grands vins du Languedoc) et le troisième niveau (les crus du Languedoc) en fonction :

    – du souhait de positionnement des ODG de chaque appellation

    – de critères économiques précis garantissant l’homogénéité du segment de marché.

    Les critères économiques retenus en première analyse pour accéder au segment « crus du Languedoc » :

    – nombre de producteurs (entre 30 et 50 metteurs en marché),

    – volume de production (entre 25.000 à 35.000 hectolitres commercialisés),

    – rendement maximum (45 hl/ha : critères INAO 2008),

    – prix vrac (>150 €/hl) ou pourcentage des ventes directes (>70%),

    – prix consommateurs (caveau > 10 € TTC /  GD : > 7 € TTC ),

    – mise en bouteille en région restreinte de production

    And this is a CIVL powerpoint PROJET DE SEGMENTATION DE L’OFFRE DES AOC which ostensibly originates from that June assemblee referred to in the Drinks Business article.

    So I guess the plan is just to limit each tier to a certain yield, certain price per bottle, total number of producers, certain size of plantation, and quantity of production (although this should really be a function of yield and size of plantations).

    Anyway, this is a really long post just to say that I don’t really know what I think about this new strategy.  If the CIVL continues to operate in a way that even a winemaker like me who spends a great deal of effort trying to stay branché has no idea what they’re doing, I don’t see how this new system of classification can “transform the Languedoc into a profitable, quality wine?making region”.  A rose by any other name.

    But at the same time, I’m glad to see they’re sending out positive press releases and that people are reading that stuff.  Because hey, we deserve grands crus just as much as Bordeaux if not more.

    PS – One of the execs at the CIVL said that the new hierarchy will “mould the future of the Languedoc region for the next 15 years.” … Even that seems a little ambitious.  I feel like I’m probably going to have more impact on this region than some system of classification put forth by the CIVL (who has lost a lot of gumption in the Freche years) but I guess that’s a subject for another post.

    How to find us

    Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
    GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

    Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
    Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
    Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
    Wine & Food Pairing

    North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
    885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
    11620 Villemoustaussou, France
    Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

    1. Best by GPS.
      Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
    2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
    3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
    4. At the last juction, bear left. the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
    5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.