Region Profile: Pays d'Oc

Pays d'Oc is the IGP for red, white and rosé wines that are made in a large area on the southern coast of France. The catchment area for the IGP corresponds roughly to the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region – one of the largest winegrowing areas in France. The region covers all the wines that are not made under the strict laws that govern the AOC-level appellations in the regions: among them Corbières, Minervois and the Languedoc appellation itself.

The Pays d'Oc IGP is arguably the most important in France, producing the majority of the country's IGP wines. Five separate departments fall under the IGP (the Hérault, Aude, Gard, Pyrénées-Orientales and six communes in southern Lozère), which is delimited by administrative boundaries rather than geographical ones.

The walled city of Carcassonne
© Wikimedia/Greudin

As such, a range of terrain is covered by the denomination, from the southern mountain ranges of the Massif Central to the river-crossed coastal plains of the Camargue. Vineyards jostle for space in the garrigue-strewn landscape.

The Pays d'Oc area has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters. Most of the rainfall is compressed into spring and autumn.

Dry, continental winds from the northwest bring cooling influences to the vineyards, as well as reducing disease pressure. This is interspersed with warm winds from the south which can bring much-needed rain.

The variation of terroir in this region is vast, however. This is reflected in the diversity of the AOC appellations which produce everything from dry white wines, as in Picpoul de Pinet, to intense, fortified red wines like Banyuls. The same is true of the wine styles produced under the Pays d'Oc IGP, which has a long list of permitted grape varieties.

Mediterranean grape varieties like Grenache and Cinsaut are joined in the vineyards by more famous French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. Most Pays d'Oc wines are labeled varietally, a New World trend that has been incorporated in many IGP laws. In all, 63 different varietes are permitted in the IGP.

The region is also trialing other disease-resistant varieties including Cabernet Cortis (a hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and Solaris developed at the Freiburg research center in the early 1980s), Cabernet Blanc (a Swiss hybrid developed by Valentin Blatter in the early '90s from Cabernet Sauvignon and a disease-resistant variety – likely another hybrid) and Soreli, a recent white hybrid.

Due to the high quality of the terroir and the restrictive AOC laws – particularly those surrounding permitted grape varieties – many of the best (and most famous) wines made in the Languedoc-Roussillon region are labeled as IGP. Wines such as the Cabernet Sauvignon-based Mas de Daumas Gassac and the Domaine de la Grange portfolio command high prices and are widely sought after – qualities not usually associated with IGP wines.

Around 115,000 hectares of vineyard fall under the IGP classification (just under half of the entire vineyard surface of the Languedoc-Roussillon) which comprises 200 cooperatives and 1200 private producers. Maximum yields are set at 90hL/ha (9000L per hectare) for red and white wines, and 100hL/ha (10,000L per hectare) for rosé.

The region's viticultural history dates back to Roman times but the area is also know for its progressive approach to wine production. The Charmat method of producing sparkling wine was developed by Jean-Eugène Charmat at Montpelier in the early 1900s and, as mentioned, many producers adopt a New World approach to production and marketing. Some domaines will even bring in winemakers from Australia and New Zealand.

Pays d'Oc IGP wines were previously labeled as Vin de Pays d'Oc (established in 1987), although since 2009, the VDP category has been phased out of French wine laws. It has now been replaced with Indication Géographique Protégée, a category designed as part of a standardised wine-labeling convention in the European Union.