Sunday, 4 September 2011

Hérault varietal trends

In my last post I referred to this site Observatoire viticole of the Hérault. Maintained by the Conseil General de l'Hérault it's packed full of data and statistics on all matters relating to the grape in the department. I've been pondering the area planted by vine in 2009 (most recent data) compared with 2004 (oldest data published).

The bare statistics are quite something. 15% of the department is under vines, but as a majority of the terrain is mountainous then where they grow they're dense. If all the vines were in a single square vineyard the sides would be over 30 Kms wide.

From 2004 to 2009 the total surface under vine has declined by more than 13%. In 2004, 99% of the vines consisted of 37 varieties with the remaining 1% is classified as "autres". In just 5 years four varieties have dropped from the list - Servant (blanc), Terret noir, Auban (noir) and Grenache gris.

Back in 2004 Carignan noir was the most widely planted at about 22% of the total, but has declined to barely over 15% - a fall of 40% and accounts for over two thirds of the nett vine loss. While this is alarming, at least 14000 ha (hectares) remain out there - plenty for independent start-ups looking to make something interesting. The other big losers are the reds Aramon, Alicant and, perhaps surprisingly, "king" of the rosé Cinsault loosing more than 30%. Grenache has lost 900 ha or 8%, but at least this is less than the average (13%) loss.

Just picked Grenache vines at Domaine Ribiera Aspiran 23rd August 2011

Just 8 varieties take up nearly 80% of vineyard space - Syrah, Carignan, Merlot, Granache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault plus two whites Chardonnay and Sauvignon. All big global players except the Carignan of course, but at a time when the world is warming up only three are Mediterranean varieties. Sauvignon has shown the most growth in 5 years of over 37%, Chardonnay expanding some 8% and Syrah a slight increase at just over 1%. The other five are in decline.

Other big winners are Pinot Noir, more than doubling in 5 years but only to a modest 522 ha and driven totally by the premium price for the name - the big case of Pinot Noir fraud in 2010 illustrates this. More aligned to the potential for interest and quality late ripening heat lover Mourvèdre is up 5%. Of the whites, and presumably mirroring the overall increase in white production, is a welcome increase in the Mediterranean varieties Roussanne, Marsanne and Vermentino. Starting from a higher base, Picpoul and Viognier have seen double digit growth with over 350 ha planted between them. Colombard, which didn't appear in the 2004 charts, has stormed in with 383 ha.

These are statistics for part of the biggest vineyard in the world and as such will have little bearing on the fine wines that merit talking about for pleasure. The vast majority of production goes into anonymous blends and big brand names. However, the increase in better known popular varietals, and especially the whites, must be creating a good base for competing in world markets with a more locally identifiable product.


  1. Very interesting. I know that in the village where we stay some producers sell Cabernet etc to big négociants and it is relatively easy money, can't blame them. However, even from good producers the international varieties still seem dull to me, perhaps that's my prejudice.
    I was surprised to see Grenache Gris has disappeared as Jonathan Hesford at Treloar and others have been singing its praises so much recently I had assumed it would be more widely planted. Alicant too provides some good easy drinking.
    As Leon said in reply to your earlier post Carignan is exciting whilst Roussanne, Marsanne and Vermentino offer complexity and excitement.
    I'm not totally anti the international varieties, Turner Pageot's Sauvignon is a their best wine(in my opinion) though not at all typical of the grape of course.
    Good reading Graham, thanks

  2. Interesting that Merlot and Cabernet feature so highly in the league table. Apart from the few decent growers who are making exciting wines from Cabernet (and to a far lesser extent Merlot) I guess most of it goes into the cheap and cheerful IGP's produced by the big coops and negociants. Oh and to Bordeaux, of course....... ;-)

  3. Alan - re. Grenache Gris, these are figures for the Hérault. I don't have any for Roussillon to hand, but Grenache (N/B/G) has a better stronghold there.
    For a Grenache Gris I'd strongly recommend the Domaine Jones Blance (see

  4. Cheers Graham. I am just surprised that the variety hasn't expanded into Hérault but tradition I suppose.
    You won't be surprised to hear the weather here is awful and I am missing the Hérault tremendously. Enjoy.