A brief history of the vineyard
It is quite an euphemism to say that wine is a great part of the french art de vivre, when French wine culture existed way before the country actually did.
The first vines were introduced in France around -600 BC in Marseille by the Phoenicians.
And wine culture spread quickly.
With the expansion of the Roman Empire, viticulture gradually developed throughout Gaul. (Entirely ? Well, yes… Even that one small village of indomitable Gauls didn’t fight against the invaders’ potion.)
The vine spread during the 1st century in the Rhône valley, then appeared in the 2nd century in Burgundy and Bordeaux. It then reached the Loire Valley in the 3rd century, Champagne and the Moselle valley in the 4th century.
Christianity has played a major role in spreading vines and wine throughout France. Important wine estates were attached to the abbeys and the taste of sacramental wine during mass contributed to this development. The French popes residing in Avignon in the 14th century developed the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard.
In the 19th century, the research works of Louis Pasteur finally made it possible to better control the alcoholic fermentation, leading France to modern techniques of winemaking.
But the most striking event in recent history is definitely the phylloxera crisis that occurred in 1864. Ten years after its accidental introduction into the Gard region, the aphid had already ravaged the majority of French vineyards. And after years of research, the vines were finally uprooted and replaced by immunized American rootstocks, on which the French grape varieties were grafted.
Today, France is the second largest wine producer in the world and also the second largest consumer of wine in the world behind the United States, and ahead of Italy.
Extent of the vineyard
The French vineyard extends over 750,000 hectares, which represents 11% of the world vineyards surface (CNIV, 2019). In 2019, France produced 17% of the world wine production. It is the second largest producer in the world behind Italy.
Typical grape varieties and wines
The French vineyard produces more than 3000 different wines and counts over 1300 different denominations in 80 departments and 16 major vineyards. ¾ of the wines produced are still wines, 55% of which are red, 26% white and 19% rosé (CNIV, 2019).
Wines of France are classified by appellations: Alsace, Bordeaux, Beaujolais, Burgundy, Champagne, Corsica, Jura, Languedoc, Loire, Provence, Roussillon, Rhône and South-West.
The main wine regions are
- Alsace: where they mostly vinify Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Sylvaner… The famous appellations are Alsace wine, Alsace grand cru, Crémant d’Alsace.
- Beaujolais: Gamay is the main grape variety cultivated in the region (98% of the vineyard). But there are no less than 12 appellations (including Brouilly, Morgon, Saint-Amour…).
- Bordeaux: the region has around sixty appellations (including Médoc, Graves, Saint-Émilion). Bordeaux wines are made from many grape varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon, Sémillon, Muscadelle…
- Burgundy: a region of complex wines, with a hundred appellations (Côte de Beaune, Côte de Nuits…). Burgundy wines are made from 4 grape varieties: pinot noir and gamay for the reds, chardonnay and aligoté for the whites.
- Champagne: a region that is famous for its royal wine: Champagne. It is the only appellation of Champagne. And therefore, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier are the most cultivated grape varieties there.
- Corsica: has 9 appellations (Ajaccio, Calvi, Sartène, Figari…) The Sciaccarellu, Niellucciu, Vermentinu grape varieties are grown there…
- Jura: with its 2000 hectares of vines, it is the smallest wine region of France. Yet its wines have a worldwide reputation: orange wine and straw wine, made from many grape varieties: Poulsard, Trousseau, Pinot Noir, Savagnin, Chardonnay…
- Languedoc-Roussillon: the major grape varieties are Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre…
- Provence: the world’s leading rosé-producing region. Provence counts 9 appellations and produces famous wines such as Cassis wines (white) and Côtes de Provence (red). The main grape varieties grown are: Vermentino, Clairette, Ugni Blanc, Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Carignan.
- Savoie and Bugey: 6 appellations. Jacquère, Roussane and Mondeuse are mostly grown there.
- South-West Region: 18 appellations. There you can find grape varieties such as Tannat, Négrette, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Malbec and Mauzac.
- Loire Valley: 69 appellations. The region produces a lot of white wine, and grows Sauvignon, Chenin, Melon…
- Rhône Valley: The major grape varieties of the region are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault (reds), Marsanne, Roussane, Clairette, Grenache blanc and Viognier (whites).