The Winemaker’s Rebellion in the Languedoc
During May I was in the south west of France for work, and when discipline allowed it, to drink. Our base was in a small town near Agen, but I took the oppurtunity to sample wines from the Languedoc which is effectively the next production area to the east, where value is good and some rarities are to be had, such as the delicious white Picpoul, which I’d recommend as an accompaniment to delicate fish.
Whilst researching the history of the zone I unearthed a lot of documentation around the winemakers rebellion which spread like wildfire through the region in 1907, catalyst for the Appelation (AOC) system. Many small producers had their backs to the wall due to a collapse in the market price. This precipitous decrease was provoked by winemakers elsewhere adding sugar to the must so as to increase the alcohol levels of their wines, a process known as chaptalization. As the economic situation tightened, producers set up committees to protest at what they regarded as a scam, led by Marcellin Albert. Mass demonstrations involving up to 180,000 people were held in towns such as Perpignan and Narbonne. Town councils resigned, a tax strike declared, police stations attacked, and winemakers marched singing the Internationale. Barricades were erected in many towns and Clemenceau — a Prime Minister with great repressive zeal — sent in the army. On June 19th 1907, soldiers shot dead at least five people in Narbonne, and the rebellion was repressed. Shortly afterwards the AOC system was established so as to better control the tricks of adulteration which were in wide use, although it was to be another thrity years before an institution was set up to manage the system.
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