Q&A With Tim Atkin

Does the pace of change in Occitanie reflect global winemaking trends? Is there anything you have noticed?

Tim Atkin: Occitanie is such a large and varied region, with so many producers, wine styles and grape varieties. The region has broadly followed the winemaking trends we’ve witnessed over the past decade in many other parts of the world. There is less reliance on oak – especially for more premium wines – earlier picking, less tannin extraction in the reds and, most important of all, a greater focus on terroir, identity and a sense of place. There is also the rise and rise of both red and white blends, which has always been one of the region’s strengths.

Are we at last seeing positive developments after these slow years hit by the pandemic?

TA: Yes, we are, and the region is well placed to bounce back now that tourism has opened up again. I always tell people that the best way to taste and appreciate what’s happening in Occitanie is to do so in person. The pandemic changed the way many people think about the sort of wines they want to drink. More of us are turning to wines with a strong identity, often from landscapes that speak to us in a particular way.

What’s new in terms of initiatives to progress sustainable viticulture – what stands out?
TA: It’s very positive that so many of the wines in this year’s Top 100 were made sustainably or organically.
Occitanie benefits from a warmer, drier climate and is ideally suited to this type of viticulture. That’s part of a broader picture of greater responsibility on the part of many wineries. It’s not just about using fewer chemicals, it’s also about conserving water and energy. Occitanie is in a position to lead the world in this respect.

Now that international travel is opening up, where would you recommend a visitor starts, to get a modern snapshot of the region and its winemaking?

TA: You are spoilt for choice! Languedoc alone is an amazing holiday destination. I’m a city person so I recommend Montpellier and Narbonne if it’s culture you’re after. There are some great beaches too, but the true glory of Languedoc resides in its landscapes. Go hiking and find places where you are on your own with nature in some of the most beautiful vineyards on Earth. Vineyard and winery visits are easy to organise, especially if you want to try out a few words of French. It’s a very hospitable region. Take a copy of this Top 100 guide with you!

Some of the region’s winemakers are visiting the UK to promote their wines. What kind of information are they sharing with the UK trade to help us appreciate the wines more?
TA: Passion is a word that is overused in the wine business, but I really think it applies to Occitanie. In Occitanie, producers will tell their stories, talk about their terroirs, traditions and grape varieties, and explain what makes their wines different. The best thing that producers do when coming to the UK is persuade us to go and visit them in France.
Vive l’Occitanie!