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The South West is not an officially delimited area of France, it generally refers to all of the wine regions in the southwest corner of the country with the exception of Bordeaux and Cognac.
All of the regions have completely different terroir and wines produced, but they share a similar history of transportation issues that severely hindered trade. Most of those appellations (including Bergerac, Marcillac, Cahors, Fronton and Gaillac), have the unfortunate fate of being just upriver from Bordeaux, meaning that in order to reach the export market in the 16th and 17th centuries, they had to ship their wines via the Garonne or Dordogne rivers. The Bordelais, already smart business people, charged a tax on all non-Bordeaux wine that passed through their region, therefore putting everyone else at a distinct price disadvantage.
The other AOCs (including Madiran) were faced with navigating the treacherous Adour River to the Atlantic Ocean. Once there, they were rewarded by steep competition at the port from other crops from this agricultural economy, making the trip hardly worth the effort. Thus, winemaking continued in an isolated manner and mostly for local consumption without an export market to worry about.
Even today, there is still much to discover about the South West. Nearly every appellation works with a different blend of grapes, some, like Fronton and Gaillac, from native varieties not seen anywhere else in France. Old vineyards are being resurrected and new winemakers are taking up the craft. They have an eye towards innovation and the future but are firmly rooted in the past and traditions of their respective regions. Many have recently renewed their focus on the export market and quality overall has risen dramatically. And, as mentioned above, experimentation is prevalent so even producers with vineyards fully within an AOC may make a VDP wine. This is an exciting time to start tasting South West wines as it reinvents itself and its reintroduces its wines to the world.