||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (March 2013)|
Prehistoric and antiquity
It is considered to be the oldest winemaking area in the old Languedoc region of France (now known as the Languedoc-Roussillon and the Midi-Pyrénées in the south of France) as the vineyards have been cultivated since ancient times. The vineyards were developed during the Roman presence in France, notably at the time of the development of the Via Domitia, the first Roman road to link Gaul and Hispania. The wines produced at the time were exported in ceramic vases known as amphoras, across the Mediterranean Sea, and were very much appreciated in Rome. They are mentioned by Cicero and Pliny the Younger in their stories.
During the Middle Ages, the monks saved a part of the vineyard as at the time, wine was produced by abbeys and monasteries. Towards the 18th century, the Benedictine monks developed the vines in the Vernazobres valley, a tributary of the Orb River, near Saint-Chinian.
The vineyard in Languedoc developed as a result of the opening of the Canal du Midi at the end of the 17th century. The wine could then be exported towards the north of France and the rest of Europe. In the region of Saint-Chinian, the decline of smaller industries has worked in favour of the wine-making industry. The profits and workforce have been transferred to this industry.
The 19th century saw the vineyard size of Languedoc reach its peak. Thanks to the development of rail transport and the increase in railroads, the wine of Hérault can be efficiently dispatched towards the north of France and Europe. The large wine producers are often have wine-producing châteaus known as "folies". Béziers claims to be the "wine capital of the world".
After the Second World War, and since the 1970s in particular, the Languedoc region has regularly suffered from the problem of overproduction. It therefore has had to try to change its wine-making policy and promote quality over quantity. An improved variety of grapes is used, which are taken from other French regions.
In 1951 Saint-Chinian was classified as a Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS), the second highest category of French wine.
In 1982 the area was awarded an Appellation d'origine contrôlée, AOC Saint-Chinian. The application for the appellation was supported by Raoul Bayou, parliamentarian from Hérault and past mayor of Cessenon.
At the turn of the millennium, the Languedoc region went through a serious wine-making crisis: overproduction, bad sales and competition with wines from the New World and the Southern hemisphere on the international market. A number of co-operative wine-makers have found themselves in great financial difficulty and have received help from the French State or the European Union. There has been a number of demonstrations in the region, some violent, with support for elected locals often coming from wine-making communes. Some wine-growers are constricted to picking only their own vines.
In 2004, the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine recognised the existence of two under-appellation communes: Saint-Chinian-Berlou and Saint-Chinian-Roquebrun. 2004 also saw the introduction of the Saint-Chinian Blanc appellation.
The Saint-Chinian AOC is situated at the foot of the edges of the Massif Central, the plateau of Espinouse, to the west of the department of Hérault, between Béziers and Saint-Pons de Thomières. It is exposed towards the Mediterranean Sea. To the North, it is bordered by scrubland. To the South, it goes past the wine-producing plain of Béziers. It is crossed by the Orb River, and its two tributaries, which provide the water for the Saint-Cinian vines, and the Lirou River, which provides the water for the Puisserguier vines.
The ground of the AOC Saint-Chinian is split into two distinct sides. To the north of the appellation, the soil is composed of schists, just like the soil at the Faugères area. The wines produced on these schists are of a deep colour, very expressive in the mouth, fruity and a little acidic. It is these wines which are reminders of the scrubland and are preserved for quite some time. To the south of the appellation, beyond the village of Saint-Chinian, the soils are quite clayey and chalky. The ground is even chalkier towards the villages of Assignan and Villespassans; whereas the marl clay-chalky soils dominate in the villages of Cazedarnes, Puisserguier, Creissan and Quarante. The wines produced on this type of soil are weaker and less robust.
The vineyards stretches over the communes of: Assignan, Babeau-Bouldoux Berlou, Causses-et-Veyran, Cazedarnes, Cébazan, Cessenon-sur-Orb, Creissan, Cruzy, Ferrières-Poussarou, Murviel-lès-Béziers, Pierrerue, Prades-sur-Vernazobre, Puisserguier, Quarante, Roquebrun, Saint-Chinian, Saint-Nazaire-de-Ladarez, Vieussan and Villespassans.
The grapes used at Saint-Chinian are Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Lledoner Pelut, Mourvèdre and Syrah. Syrah (used to ameliorate the wines), Mourvèdre and Grenache represent approximately 70% of the grapes grown on the land. The Carignan grape is used in the making of red wines, while the Cinsault grape is better for the making of fruity rosé wines. Certain wine-growers offer 100% Carignan vines, but as Vin de Table as these products, which are not blends as required by the AOC regulations, cannot be sold under the Saint-Chinian AOC designation.
Particularly in the South, the vines are trained using metal wires and are attached to them, whereas in the North, they use the “goblet” vine training system on sloping vineyards.