Vines and wine : an historic tradition
Throughout history, viticulture has played a major part in Sommières and its neighbouring villages. Recognized by the INAO in 2011, the “Sommières” terroir nowadays covers 18 communes
Viticulture : an important activity
Going way back in time, vines have always played a major role in the Sommières area,. Greek and Etruscan colonists planted the first vines in 6 BCE. The vineyards expanded under the Romans who exported their production to Greece as well as the Turkish and Egyptian coasts. Indirectly the Great Plague of the 14th century led to the development of vineyards and other agriculture in the Languedoc.
Success of Sommières area wines
After the 15th century vineyards extended further. The opening of the port at Sète in 1670 resulted in further growth. Producing vines was soon considered to be as important as growing cereals. The quality of Sommières wines became widely recognized, particularly those from the Calvisson and Langlade vineyards which were compared favourably with those from the Côtes-du-Rhône. At the time, Calvisson was among the large local vineyards devoted to the export market. Its reputation was such as to attract compliments from the writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Sommières – at a crossroad between plain and mountain – became a major trading centre. And during the reign of Louis X1V, gastronomy brought about the growth of a new “industry”, table settings. Languedoc glassblowers – whose headquarters was at Sommières – made a speciality of bottling and table glass. It was home, also, to many other professionals working in the wine field (barrel makers, dealers, traders in vinification equipment etc). The town soon became centre for the local economy which expanded into well known regional markets, particularly in the field of wine production. Its reputation was such that numerous traders were attracted to the Sommières wine market, thanks to its thoroughly dynamic approach.
Although the spread of oïdium seriously affected wine production in the middle of the 19th century, sulphur treatment, introduced in 1862, led to production recovery, which was further enhanced with the development of railways. Then, from 1873 phylloxera decimated the vineyards which shrunk from 562 to 15 hectares. Only one hectare survived in Langlade. Regenerating the vineyards was difficult and very gradual. By 1896 vines were covering 300 hectares. Then in 1907, Sommières, in common with the whole region, was hit by another crisis which was only solved thanks to parliament passing a law to repress fraud.
Hierarchies on the move
In 1985, the producers joined the AOC Coteaux du Languedoc, nowadays known as Languedoc, simultaneously developing stricter production rules than laid down in the decree. In 1991, they formed an association aimed at achieving recognition of the “Langlade” cru, which became known as the Terre de Sommières – recently simplified to become simply “Sommières”. The terroir has been recognized by the INAO as part of the AOC Languedoc decree under the geographic denomination of Sommières ( cf JO 15 November 2011)