Curious Small Sips #23: Wine Lake

It sounds idyllic doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want a dip in an antioxidant-rich body of violet-tinged Cabernet Sauvignon or slightly sparkling Chenin Blanc? Alas, the real wine lake is actually far less glamorous than that and won’t offer any anti-ageing solutions. Some mistakenly believe that the term ‘wine lake’ with regard to Languedoc-Roussillon, arose because  the region produced mass volumes of wine for French troops during the First World War but it was actually coined around 2005, and refers to a surplus (or perceived overproduction) of wine in the European Union. The wine lake was not confined to Languedoc-Roussillon, which was the first French region to be introduced to vine growing by the Romans and uses roughly a third of all France’s grapes, but also appeared in other vin-de-table producing winegrowing regions in France and in countries such as Spain and Portugal.

In 2007 it was reported that 1.7 billion more bottles of wine had been produced in France over the previous few vintages than were required and this resulted in the introduction of a practice called ‘emergency distillation’ whereby excess wine was turned into industrial alcohol (ethanol) and used in car production and in factories. Solutions proposed included reducing production by uprooting vineyards across France but it met some opposition, particularly in places like Bordeaux. After all, once old vines are ripped up there is no way to capture again what has been lost. Winegrowers were awarded subsidies from Brussels to continue to make a livelihood in the face of rising costs but the wine lake showed no signs of being drained. Winemakers from Languedoc-Roussillon have worked hard over the last twenty years however, to prioritise quality over quantity and quietly rebuild the region’s reputation, so even if you can’t physically bathe in the wine lake you might still find some affordable enticing wines to try.



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