One of my favourite wine “bibles” is Rosemary George’s book “The Wines Of The South Of France – from Banyuls to Bellet”. In fact, if it weren’t for that book, I may never have got myself into the wine business in the first place. Whilst on our regular family holidays to the south of France, I had started visiting a few wine growers - mostly local cooperatives, but also the occasional independent grower. But Rosemary’s book opened up a whole new world of growers I never previously knew existed, one of which happened to be Guy Vanlancker at Domaine La Combe Blanche.
It was on our holiday of 2003 (remember that heatwave?) that I first met Guy. We had departed from our gite in the hills of the Minervois at around 8 am on a Saturday morning, fully intending to make our 8.30 pm ferry from Calais to Dover. The 650-mile trip was just about do-able in the 12 hours available to us, always assuming we could make good progress in the first 100 or so miles (this was in the days before the opening of the Millau Viaduct, when 2 or 3 hour hold-ups were possible on the bottleneck through Millau itself). We hadn’t been in the car for too long before I announced to TLD that I just wanted to make a short detour to La Liviniere, to see if I could manage a quick tasting with this wine grower I had read about in Rosemary’s book. I had tried a few days earlier, but didn’t manage to track down this somewhat elusive man. So I thought I’d catch him early – 8.30 on a Saturday morning early! And this time I was successful. I won’t tell you the whole story, since that is not really the point of this post (but if you want to read all about it, it’s on my website). Suffice to say that, an hour and a half later, after an extensive and very educational tasting, I emerged from Guy’s cellar with the urge to sell his wines in the UK. And the rest, as they say, is history.
With Guy Vanlancker outside his cave on that fateful day in August 2003
We never did make that 8.30 pm ferry – by the time we should have been boarding, we were just passing through Clermont Ferrand (about 450 miles from Calais) having been caught up in the mother of all traffic jams going through Millau.
But back to the book…..
I still like to thumb through it occasionally, especially if I want to check the history of some or other wine grower, or to see if some new grower I have discovered is actually in there. Problem is, more often than not, they aren’t in there. The book was published in 2001, which effectively makes the content at least 10 years old – and therefore 10 years out of date. Great book though it is – and my copy is now pretty dog-eared – it no longer serves the purpose that it was designed for, which is to give the reader an insight into who’s hot and who’s not in Languedoc, Roussillon and Provence. These are wine regions that are constantly in flux, with new and exciting growers emerging at a rate which is hard to keep up with, even for those with their fingers on the pulse. Another excellent book, Paul Strang’s"Languedoc-Roussillon - The Wines And Winemakers”, published in 2002, is similarly out of date.
So the question is, has the Internet taken over people’s lives to such an extent that the printed form is no longer relevant? Personally, I don’t think so. The Internet is a wonderful thing, and there isn’t much – if anything – that you can’t find out from it, if you search hard enough. But I love my wine books and still refer to most of them on a fairly regular basis, even though many are – to some extent or another – out of date. And I know that plenty of other wine enthusiasts feel exactly the same.
For the past couple of years, Peter has been steadily compiling a much bigger and more comprehensive (and of course up-to-date) second edition of Gorley’s Guide. Although he resides in London for much of the year, he also owns a house in a village on the fringes of the Minervois and Saint-Chinian regions, which he visits several times a year, mainly with a view to visiting more and more growers and keeping what he has written as topical as possible. All he needs now is a publisher, which is easier said than done. Frankly, unless your name happens to be Parker or Robinson (or one of a handful of other well-known wine critics) you really do have your work cut out. Peter tells me that he has been offered some assistance (to the tune of about one-sixth of the potential cost of publishing) by the powers that be in the Languedoc-Roussillon regional government. Which is all well and good, but where does the other five-sixths come from?
Truth is, despite the fact that the Languedoc-Roussillon region is arguably the most dynamic and constantly evolving/improving wine region in the world, its wine growers are suffering more than most from the lack of exposure to the world’s wine markets. Life can be tough, even for some of the region’s best vignerons. And we all know that France as a whole is steadily moving down the charts in terms of market share, especially in the UK. And I guess the fact that the current occupant of the Élysée Palace is teetotal doesn’t help the French cause one bit. The massive marketing campaigns by many of the emerging wine regions throughout the world ensures that they have made huge advances in sales, leaving all but the “classic” wine regions of France trailing in their wake. Is this because they make better wines? Not a bit of it!
So does Languedoc-Roussillon have the wherewithal to fight back? Well, the fact that the Maison de Languedoc-Roussillon has an office and shop/tasting room in a central London location proves that there is money available to be spent on the marketing of its wines. And it would surely take just a small fraction of that budget to get Peter’s new book published and provide a much needed shot in the arm for the region’s winegrowers. I therefore plan to write to M. Georges Frèche, the President of Languedoc-Roussillon, asking him to consider providing the necessary funds for the publication of “Gorley’s Guide 2”. Meanwhile, I have created a Facebook group, called Campaign for the publication of Gorley’s Guide 2 - The Wines of Languedoc-Roussillon. If you at all interested in this issue (and I guess you might well be, since you are reading this blog) and have a Facebook account, then I would urge you to join this group. The more people that join, the more chance we will have of getting the people with influence to listen.
In the coming days and weeks, I will be contacting wine growers, merchants and journalists, with a view to asking them to add their names to the campaign.