Getaway. Wine tourism in the Midi Rouge

The imposing facade of stone and red brick stands out against the cloudless blue sky of the Languedoc plain. The building owes its registration as a Historic Monument to its symbolic significance. It was here, in 1905, that the first cooperative wine cellar in France was created. A few years earlier, nearly half of the town’s winegrowers had already decided to unite to free themselves from the tutelage of merchants and face social and economic difficulties together. At the end of the 19the century, the phylloxera crisis, an aphid from America, destroyed almost all European vineyards. Once the solution has been found – the European varieties are grafted onto American vine plants, which are naturally resistant to insect bites – the vines have to be “wet” to quench the thirst of the bourgeois as well as the worker.

jean jaurès welcomes the initiative to pool the production tool and buys a share in the company.

The fertile plains are covered with vines. The State also favors the massive imports of wines from Algeria, which are used to cut the metropolitan picrate, and authorizes that they be added with sugar to raise their alcohol level cheaply. Fraud and the manufacture of tampered jajas (made with beet sugar, in particular) are becoming commonplace. To increase production, the musts are added with water. In cafes too, the barrels are “elongated”. Juicy practices that offer brokers, traders and retailers comfortable margins on the backs of winegrowers.

Make freedom rhyme with solidarity

In Maraussan, the self-proclaimed free winegrowers are struggling to find business opportunities. The activity develops and they decide to build a wine cellar to guarantee a homogeneous quality production. On the pediment of the building, the motto « All for each, each for all » displays in large letters the purpose of the project: to rhyme freedom with solidarity. In the vats, the fermented grapes have a scent of social revolution. Jean Jaurès goes to the site to welcome the initiative to pool the production tool and he will buy a share in the company. His speech was published on May 7, 1905 in « L’Humanité », which he had founded a year earlier. The Tarn deputy finds himself on conquered ground: in this red Midi, the vast majority of cooperating winegrowers are Republicans with socialist streaks. No doubt many of them participated in the revolt of 1907, born of a new crisis of overproduction and a major fall in prices. The South sees red and it will take several laws to extinguish the immense protest movement. The manufacture and sale of falsified wines are prohibited and the legislator gives the right to unions to bring civil proceedings in fraud cases.

The « cathedrals of wine »

In the fifteen years following the founding of the Maraussan cellar, 79 “wine cathedrals” were created, including 27 in Languedoc-Roussillon. Their construction multiplied until the 1960s. Today, in the department of Hérault, 582 cooperative cellars have been listed, of which nearly 300 are still in operation. Among them, that of Maraussan, which merged in 1995 with other cellars to form the Vignerons du pays d’Ensérune. To taste the wines, head to the counter in Cazouls-lès-Béziers, a few kilometers away. From the cellar, a walk allows you to independently complete a loop through the vines and fields of thyme. In the distance, the Caroux massif draws the last buttress of the Massif Central. A few weeks before the harvest, the grapes do not seem to be suffering too much from the summer drought that has hit France. It is because the plants are irrigated, a practice that allows yields to be maintained, but whose sustainability must be questioned.

If you go through Paris, you sit down for a concert at La Bellevilloise. The first Parisian consumer cooperative, founded in 1877, was one of the very first customers of the Vignerons Libres. On the menu this summer, no wines from “co-op cellars”, but a selection of organic and natural cuvées. At the beginning of the XXe century, a natural wine designates a product resulting from the sole fermentation of fresh grapes, which is opposed to « artificial ». It now refers to juices where the inputs are intruders, first and foremost the famous sulphites, accused of giving a headache and masking the taste of the terroir. The requirement has gone up a notch and the societal commitment is now available in green.

Icon TitleThe Cazouline walk

  1. Departure from Cazouls-lès-Béziers (5 km from Maraussan). Take rue du Lavandou opposite the cooperative cellar. Rejoin the greenway by the small path. Turn left, follow the greenway for about 1 km.
  2. After the third wooden barrier, take the paved road to the left. Go straight ahead, continue on the dirt road. Drive past private property with laurel hedges. In the distance, on your right, the village of Maureilhan and its castle.
  3. At the second intersection, ignore the uphill red dirt road and take the path to the right. Arrived at the railway line, turn left. Cross the hamlet of Clairac. At the intersection, ignore the path on the right, go straight ahead. At the second intersection, continue straight ahead to reach the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Providence. Take the path along the chapel, straight ahead, for a few meters. Go past the olive grove. Go straight ahead until the RD14.
  4. Follow this road for 100 m and take the first path on your left. Ignore the first intersection, continue straight for about 1 km.
  5. Go along the vines and fields of thyme. At the crossroads, turn left and take the path on the right to join the greenway towards the cooperative cellar.


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