This compilation of words, facts, stories and opinions aims to avoid rehashing all those exhausting been-said-a-hundred-times-before clichés about how vast the South of France’s wine regions were/are, while focusing exclusively on a small and unique part of it called the Roussillon among other names. All of that ‘biggest vineyard in France and the world’ hyperbole, which in fact is simply not accurate in this case but the Roussillon usually still gets stuck in with the whole of the Languedoc and now the greater region beyond, whether they like it or not. The Roussillon accounts for just 7½ % of that overall ‘region’, as the French understand it, in terms of vineyard plantings (about 20,000 hectares) and below two percent of total French wine production. This is just one good reason why it should be treated as a distinct entity in its own right, even if historically and stylistically it does of course form part of the French Mediterranean South.
In each area section and the producer profiles themselves, the idea was to paint dreamy impressions of raw vine-clad landscapes dotted with age-laden timeless villages, while contrasting their emotional history and deep-rooted culture with hard facts drawn from the past and present. This ‘work’ isn’t meant to be an exhaustive guide to everything everybody everywhere – inevitably some probably worthy names will get missed out – but very much a personal journey taking in many of the wineries and wines the region is famous for or that deserve to be better known. Whether the end result for the reader is seeking out and enjoying a once-mysterious bottle bought locally wherever they are in the world, and, with new insight, finding a colourful taster of the people, terrain and story behind it. Or for the more adventurous, to go and explore the stunning wild Roussillon wine region for themselves, helped along by some background information and opinion on where to find these winemakers. In addition, there are a few tips on where to eat and stay while sipping an inspirational glass, and other wine-related events, festivals and must-see sightseeing. 175 wineries are featured in this book running north to south across the region from Maury to Banyuls-sur-mer via Perpignan and just about everywhere else in between. It hopefully covers a heady mix of personal favourites including quirky ‘natural’ and classic traditional, ‘cult’ or most expensive and great-value alike, established and new-kid-on-the-block: the people and their wines. What they all have in common is catching my attention for a rich variety of reasons over the past fifteen to twenty years. There’s some background to and history of the Roussillon wine region touching on its vines and grapes and landscape and terrain, explanation and discussion of the different wine styles, areas and appellations (red, white, rosé Côtes du Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Côtes Catalanes, Maury sec, Collioure; and fortified Vin Doux Naturel wines: Maury, Rivesaltes and Banyuls), production techniques and other developments in viticulture and winemaking. Richard Mark James has spent more than half a lifetime faffing about in the wine world from tasting, talking, writing and blogging about wine, to translating, doing qualifications on it and even buying and selling wine. As well as passing long hours standing among vines watching them grow on the landscape, grapes being picked and transformed into fermented juice while gleaning words of wisdom from the people who do the real work farming vineyards and actually making wine. His blog is WineWriting.com with special guest FrenchMediterraneanWine.com, and he occasionally runs wine education courses and tastings in Belfast although does have a proper job too working in public libraries. In a previous life, Richard lived for nearly six years in Les Pyrénées Orientales, the Roussillon region’s official name or number ‘66’, where this particular wine adventure began.