The English version of Picpoul de Pinet – the white Mediterranean vineyards of the Languedoc – by Marc Medevielle was launched last Wednesday evening in a swanky private members club in London’s Mayfair.
I first met Marc back in 1990 when I attended the Saint-Bacchus wine competition down in the Roussillon for the first time. His new book is about all things Picpoul – the grape variety (Piquepoul) and the wine (Picpoul de Pinet).
Intriguing Piquepoul, which was a major variety in the southern Rhône and across the Midi, until the 20th Century started out as a black grape. In time it changed to gray and then to white. Marc covers the vine plagues of the 19th century, Piquepoul’s role in the production of Vermouth and other wine-based aperitifs, then, later, the coming of VDQS status in 1954, although only 4000 hectolitres was declared that year sinking to just 1000 the following year. This is followed by the role of cycle shop owner Etienne Farras to persuade local producers around Pinet to replant Piquepoul. Farras recognised the happy and magical relationship between Picpoul de Pinet and the local oysters from the Bassin de Thau.
The arrival of machine harvesting in the 1980s made growing Piquepoul considerably more interesting commercially as the Piquepoul variety has an unfortunate tendency to drop its grapes once they are ripe. Consumption was also apparently boosted by the TV programme Dallas that showed women drinking glasses of dry white wine.
In 1985 thanks in the main to the efforts of Jean-Claude Bousquet and Jean Clavel, Picpoul de Pinet was promoted to appellation contrôlée status under the Coteaux du Languedoc umbrella. In the latter part of the 1980s production of Picpoul de Pinet moved beyond the coopératives with independent domaines appearing. Recognition and demand was boosted when posters for the annual jazz festival featuring world music in the neighbouring town of Mèze started to promote the local white wine.
Bousquet and Clavel were followed by Guy Bascou, who became the President of the Syndicat de l »AOC Picpoul de Pinet in 1998 – a post that he held for the next 20 years. Bascou played a major role in Picpoul de Pinet’s current success – In 2013 Picpoul de Pinet came out from under the Coteaux du Languedoc umbrella to become an appellation contrôlée in its own right.
Picpoul de Pinet has recently had a remarkable success in the UK, which rather mirrors the success of Muscadet in the UK market in the 1980s and very early 1990s. Hopefully Picpoul will not see the abrupt and brutal end of its boom that Muscadet witnessed. Currently a third of Picpoul de Pinet’s sale are in the UK.
Marc celebrates and notes the increasing influence of women in Picpoul as well as the move to offer some more complex wines in addition to crisp, lemony wine that accompany oysters and other shellfish so well.
Shellfish posts in the Bassin de Thau looking towards Sète
Restaurant Côte Bleue
The ideal place to drink Picpoul de Pinet is at the Côte Bleue in Bouzigues overlooking the Bassin de Thau towards Sète. Glasses of chilled white should be accompanied either with some local oysters or an assiette de fruits de mer.
Picpoul de Pinet – The white Mediterranean vineyards of the Languedoc – by Marc Médevielle, photos by Emmanuel Perrin, £25. The French version Picpoul de Pinet – Une odyssée viticole en Languedoc was published in April 2018 @ 25€.