Les Vignobles Foncalieu, one of the largest Union of Cooperative Winegrowers based in France, and describing itself as “the soul of the south of France”, may well be an organisation you had not heard of before. But as times change and both markets and palates evolve, then Les Vignobles Foncalieu is definitely a name to look out for.
Originally founded in 1901 with 123 winegrowers in the Languedoc region and sporting the logo “one for all and all for one”, its aim was to support the smaller growers whilst building a market for more blended and predictable wines, mutually helping each other to remain viable in what was the most turbulent of times. Now, rebuilt under the Les Vignobles Foncalieu name since 1967, and with over 1200 winegrowers from every region in the South of France, the same message and belief is as relevant as ever.
Les Vignobles Foncalieu is the only winegrower cooperative with a presence in all of the winemaking departments of the Grand Sud region, stretching from Gascony to Languedoc-Roussillon, and from the Côtes-du-Rhône to Provence. They have over 5,000 hectares actually under vine, and are the biggest collective landholder in the South of France. This gives them an unrivalled selection of grapes and wines to choose and develop. And all of this on top of each winegrowers ability to produce their own wines.
This union is as much a social enterprise as an economic one. Its social commitments include helping young people to get started in life, encouraging them to work together and helping them cooperate in their daily lives. Les Vignobles Foncalieu contributes to the development of the region, the preservation of the landscape and the overall quality of life across the whole Grand Sud region, which includes maintaining property as well as vines.
Les Vignobles Foncalieu has 85 staff that can be used within the group to help with development and brands as well as to assist every winegrower when needed. Extensive investment in computing and quality analysis of wines really helps the growers stay at the forefront of their art. Likewise shared knowledge and skills, along with training help maximise the harvests and vine growth throughout the year.
The Head Winemaker for Les Vignoble Foncalieu, Delphine Glangetas helps build Foncalieu’s global outlook, having worked in France (Jura, Alsace, Sancerre) and in Australia. With experience working for boutique wineries and also larger organisations such as Yalumba, she is perfectly placed to understand both the detail and the bigger picture. Roughly put, she can tell whether a wine is good, and also whether it will sell.
I met with the UK On Trade Manager Marie-Annick Consola at a tasting in London of Le Versant range of wines from Les Vignobles Foncalieu. She explained how the intention was to build up the brand name for Les Vignobles Foncalieu by delivering the best wines, consistently at a price point the makes sense, and the focus on the Le Versant range was the most natural way to expand.
Nearly half of the branded wine produced by Les Vignobles Foncalieu is from their Le Versant range, which is bottled in elegantly simple but stylish bottles. The range consists of nine varietal wines; a Sauvignon Blanc, a Viognier, a Chardonnay, a Grenache rosé, a Marselan rosé, a Pinot Noir, a Merlot, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon all classified IGP Pays d’Oc.
‘Versant’ is French for ‘hillside’, and the expressive wines in this collection are produced from the vines with the best exposure, planted on the slopes of the Languedoc’s maritime terroirs, near Carcassonne.
The Versant range is composed from the finest grape varieties, and is aimed at a demanding clientele who seek out fine wines at specialist merchants and high-class restaurants. With the often confusing wines delivered to diners tables, Le Versant is a name that implies and delivers quality, whether in a red, white or rosé.
Current production is 300,000 bottles, 50,000 of which are shipped to the UK, which is the current largest market, the remaining bottles going to over 23 countries, including healthy sales to China.
The awards already garnered for the range is impressive. Follow the links for a review of each wine.
• Le Versant Sauvignon, Pays d’Oc IGP, Blanc 2012, Argent CGAP 2013
• Le Versant Viognier, Pays d’Oc IGP, Blanc 2012, Or CGAP 2013
• Le Versant Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc IGP, Blanc 2012, Bronze CGAP 2013
• Le Versant Pinot, Pays d’Oc IGP, Rouge 2012, Argent CGAP 2013
• Le Versant Merlot, Pays d’Oc IGP, Rouge 2012, Or CGAP 2013
• Le Versant Grenache Rosé, Pays d’Oc IGP, Rosé 2012, Bronze CGAP 2013
Les Vignobles Foncalieu never seeks impose its style on its members’ wines. But they do have an assembled team of skilled winemakers who can create wines that deliver consistency and quality with a practical quantity that their 1200 members can benefit from. These currently include:
The Grands Vins collection was established to pay tribute to the history of the extraordinary region of the Grand Sud. These wines are the fruit of painstaking attention to detail by member winemakers, produced in the Atelier des Grands Vins and offer the ultimate expression of Foncalieu’s combined expertise.
Minervois, produced in a limited edition of 7,062 bottles is a wine born of longstanding friendship – a friendship which has united winemakers Luc Torrecilla and Philippe Agnel since they first met at school. Le Lien is their shared treasure, a treasure they are passing on to Romain, Luc’s son, so that the fruits of their expertise are never lost.
Saint-Chinian, produced in a limited edition of 3,600 bottles. This wine is an expression of the ties which bind a man to his terroir. Michel Cazevieille has poured his heart and soul into this excellent red, produced beneath the clear skies of Saint Chinian. A new ‘apogee’ for Les Vignobles Foncalieu.
Coteaux d’Ensérune, produced in a limited edition of 12,996 bottles, achieves true excellence thanks to the work of the 11 winemakers who contribute their efforts and their personal flair. Les Illustres is probably one of the best wines you will ever drink.
Corbières-Boutenac, produced in a limited edition of 2,400 bottles, is a wine carefully sculpted by three friends, Gilles Ferrand, Fabrice Oliver and Marceau Lacombe. With yields as low as 15 hl/ha, this 100% Syrah demonstrates why the Boutenac terroir has been elevated to its own appellation.
The Enseduna range, produced by the Vignerons du Pays d’Ensérune, is an expression of this ancient terroir located in the heart of the Languedoc, between the Mediterranean and the Montagne Noire.
The aim of the Enseduna range is to promote heritage varieties such as Malbec, Petit Verdot and Marselan for reds, Vermentino, Muscat Sec and Marsanne for whites and Cabernet Franc for rosés.
The Enseduna Prestige range offers original three-variety blends, such as the red Syrah/Merlot/ Marselan and the white Chardonnay/Marsanne/Viognier.
The Versant range is composed from the finest grape varieties, intended for a demanding clientele who seek out fine wines at specialist merchants and high-class restaurants.
Saint Gervais is a small appellation nestled in a terroir of rare quality. Christened one of the Côtes-du-Rhône Villages as far back as 1974, it is now considered to be one of the most exciting named villages.
Planted at altitude and on terraces in the heart of the Garrigue, the wines produced here are smooth masterpieces boasting firm tannins and spicy notes.
Les Vignobles Foncalieu recently purchased the Château Haut Gléon to help boost its image and visibility, and it is now used to hopuse and take wine buffs as well as just the wine curious on tours of the region. I’ll let you know more when I find out.
Les Vignobles Foncalieu
Domaine de Corneille