Cahors, fully committed to the 21st century
By Jean-Paul Burias - Photographs: courtesy of the estates, posted on 23 January 2023
In 1971, Cahors was awarded appellation status with 500 hectares under vine. Half a century later, this benchmark appellation in South-West France now boasts nearly 4,500 hectares of bearing vineyards spread across 45 localities. This quantum leap in acreage is a genuine symbol of success…
A loop of the Lot near the village of Albas.
Nestled in a meander of the Lot, the town of Cahors displays its monuments passed down from Antiquity and the Middle Ages amidst the steep hills and dizzy heights of the limestone plateaux. Behind its historical legacy lies a wine region steeped in history and tradition, reflecting an outstanding cultural heritage. Created in 1971, the Cahors Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) superseded VDQS or Vin délimité de qualité supérieure status. In the heart of the Quercy region, famous for its other regional specialities – truffles and foie gras – Malbec has become a go-to varietal. Unknown just twenty years ago, this black, charming, authentic grape has become fashionable on every continent. Originally from Cahors, it accounts for a minimum of 70% of each wine; Merlot and Tannat can be added to the blend, but only up to 30%. The range of wines on offer – all of them red – allows the appellation to capitalise on the identity of this distinctive grape variety and a wide array of vineyard sites, already popular with the King of France, François I, in the 16th century. Both of these attributes combine with an affordable range of prices and wide variety of labels and styles. The wines display a hallmark style and authenticity with appealing rich, powerful aromas and generous tannins. These 21st century wines are skilfully made using expert techniques, and stand in stark contrast to the rustic Cahors of the 1980s. They flirt with the excellence of their prestigious neighbours in Bordeaux and other South-West appellations.
Château Eugénie: a rich, varied range of wines
Nestled on the terraces of the Lot valley, halfway up the hillsides on the limestone plateaux, Château Eugénie’s vineyards bask in generous sunshine and thrive on an impressive array of soils that lend the wines their signature style. Stemming from a long line of passionate winegrowers, it has belonged to the Couture family since 1470, according to local archives, and they have made it a benchmark within the appellation. “Malbec is internationally recognised and has a real identity in Cahors”, explains Jérôme Couture. “It is a flagship grape variety in the South-West, with a genuine international reputation”. Export sales, which account for 20% of volumes, are mainly in Canada, the United States and Europe. This success is epitomised by four recognisable labels: supple and fruity Tradition; the indulgent Tsar Pierre Le Grand; the structured and distinctive Réserve de l'Aïeul; and Haute Collection, a silky, complex wine.
Jérôme Couture in his winery.
Château Vincens: family expertise
The history of this benchmark estate began in 1919 when the first plot of vines was bought by Prosper Vincens after he returned from First World War. In 1982, Michel and Danièle Vincens decided to leave the co-operative winery where they had been taking their grapes for many years, and embark on the great adventure of making their own wine. They created Domaine des Vincens, which a few years later became Château Vincens. The present-day property extends over 43 hectares of vines planted on predominantly limestone plateaux at an altitude of 300 metres, overlooking the Lot valley. Isabelle Vincens and her brother Philippe, the third generation of winegrowers, have played their part in expanding the estate and bolstering its reputation by combining technical performance, respect for vineyard sites and the elegance of the finest Malbecs. “Malbec is a real advantage in export markets," explains Philippe Vincens. “It is known worldwide, partly because of the wines of Cahors, but also thanks to considerable investments by the top Argentinean companies across the globe. Our importers are now delighted to be able to introduce their customers to its birthplace, Cahors. As the styles are very different, being able to show the products side by side is very worthwhile for them”. The wines are affordable, modern, balanced and more complementary to each other than rivals. In export markets, which for this estate account for 40% of production, they also offer a very appealing addition to the range.
Michel Vincens, The founder of Château Vincens with his femme Danièle in 1982.
Vignobles Pelvillain: Malbec as a legacy
“I have vines in my blood, I am destined to be a winegrower”. Didier Pelvillain is a key figure in the Cahors wine industry. In 1978, he joined the family-run vineyard established in the 19th century, before taking over at the helm in 1993 with his two brothers Arnaud and Francis. In 2013, they bought Château du Théron, bringing their total area under vine up to 52 hectares, along with a trading company. Since 2018, Didier Pelvillain has been the sole manager of this benchmark estate. A grand master of the Cahors wine brotherhood, he is a tireless promoter of the appellation, spreading the word far and wide about its many qualities. “Winegrowers have done a lot of work in their vineyards and their wineries to draw out the quintessential qualities of Malbec and its vineyard sites,” he explains. “Its excellent value for money is a real bonus, especially in export markets. Cahors is a small appellation with a superlative grape variety, but it is still considered in France to be a very tannic, robust wine. We have to be very proactive in our communications and publicise the way our wines have been resurrected so that we can safeguard our place at the heart of the top French wine regions”. The estate’s vineyards span three different vineyard sites within the appellation: terraces at Château du Port, the Cénac limestone plateau in Albas and rolling hills at Domaine du Théron in Prayssac. “Most of our established markets are stable, with 30% of our sales in export markets”, adds Didier Pelvillain. “However, the impact of the different crises affecting France and Europe is starting to be felt this year”. This has not affected the wines, though, which remain at the pinnacle of quality.
Didier Pelvillain in his vineyards.
Didier Pelvillain in his winery.
Château de Gaudou: where Malbec is pivotal
With its traditional Quercy dovecotes, Château de Gaudou looks out over a 60-hectare vineyard. Fabrice Durou, the seventh generation of winegrowers on this family estate, has been running it since 2000. His standards are uncompromising in his constant quest for quality - he has chosen to reduce yields and takes a hands off approach in the winery to maximise the quality of his wines. “Our motto is to convey emotion, conviviality and sharing”, stresses Durou. “We are the Old World version, where Malbec grows in its original cradle with very restrictive collective specifications. It is grown using ancient customs which lend it growth status on a global level”. Over the years, Malbec has garnered a great reputation and become a real asset for exports. Château de Gaudou produces wines whose freshness, fruitiness, appetising and very varied flavours boast real appeal.
Château de Gaudou.
Château de Gaudou : emotion, conviviality and sharing!
“Malbec is the pivotal aspect of our work where we are on a constant learning curve”, adds Durou. “The region’s winegrowers are very dynamic when it comes to selling direct to consumers, attending major exhibitions in France and abroad. South American producers have strong ties with the North American market, and this has popularised Malbec throughout the New World, opening up even more opportunities for us. Although we didn’t initiate the trend, our wines are accessible both for a broad-ranging consumer audience and connoisseurs”.
Fabrice Durou in his vineyards.
Clos Triguedina: masterful Malbec
The Baldès familly.
Clos Triguedina has been home to the Baldès family since 1830. It is the epitome of Cahors with its heritage steeped in the history of people and wines. It is also the spot where pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela would stop to eat. The estate, which is often considered as one of the original cornerstones of the appellation, is the culmination of work by seven generations of winegrowers who have ensured its continuity and development. Jean-Luc Baldès and his wife Sabine have seamlessly slipped into this role at the estate’s helm. Regularly celebrated by the press and awarded by judging panels at national and international competitions, they have nurtured their wines all the way to the pinnacle of the appellation. “Cahors wines have benefited from a continuous improvement in quality over the last few decades, and their sales have been driven by constant canvassing by the estates”, believes Sabine Baldès. “Malbec is a real bonus in export markets, but it is not always the only angle of approach. We can showcase our winegrowing expertise, history, family or even the vineyard sites. Our sales momentum is fuelled by the consistent quality of the wines and the diversity of the range”. One of the estate’s USPs is that it produces modern yet traditional, powerful yet elegant wines at affordable prices. “A fine wine can be drunk young but also kept for a long time”, says Jean-Luc Baldès. “We specialise in very age-worthy wines. In 2021, we released bottles and magnums of 1971 Clos Triguedina for the 50th anniversary of the appellation”.
Jean-Luc Baldès tasting his wines.
Jean-Luc et Sabine Baldès tasting their wines.
Château Nozière: capitalising on terroir
Ideally situated on sunny terraces in Vire-sur-Lot, this 55-hectare property is one of the most beautiful vineyard locations in the Cahors wine region. Claude Guitard and his son Olivier grow Malbec, aka Côt and Auxerrois, over a mosaic of vineyards, lending the wines their typicity. “Our objective is to gain an in-depth understanding of our vineyard sites so that Malbec can express its full potential”, says Olivier Guitard. “Cahors’ success stems largely from the dynamic mindset of its winegrowers. The variety of wine styles and production models is extensive, and this leads to healthy competition between producers, and a good reputation has been garnered over the past few decades. Malbec has established itself as a calling card in many countries. It makes up for the lack of awareness of our small appellation abroad”. Drawing on their remarkable expertise, Claude and Olivier Guitard approach their task like two alchemists driven by excellence. “Our aim is to fully get to know our grape variety and above all our vineyard sites so that we can create a coherent range of wines”, says Olivier Guitard. “We strive for good ripeness to produce fine, palatable wines with silky tannins and no astringency even in the most powerful wines. There are real opportunities in export markets which have yet to be fully leveraged”.
Claude Guitard and his son Olivier.
The Guitard family.
Château Famaey: exports squarely in its sights
Set in the heart of the Cahors appellation, Château Famaey unfurls its 40 hectares of vines across the terraces of the Lot valley. The vineyard benefits from outstanding clay and gravel soils and abundant sunshine. Single-vineyard selections on the different terraces promote site-expressiveness and allow each wine to encapsulate its history. Luc Luyckx and his business partner Marc Van Antwerpen arrived in Quercy in 2000 from their native Belgium and quickly fell in love with the region.
Luc Luyckx and his son Maarten.
They have made a pledge to the environment and were certified HVE level 3 (High Environmental Value) in 2019. They lavish constant care on their vines and respect for nature is a pillar of their winemaking process. Yields are carefully capped to produce rich, earth-friendly and authentic grapes, with natural harvesting methods for their top vineyards. Since 2007, Maarten Luyckx, who is just as passionate as his father Luc, has been in charge of winemaking and is committed to making the family estate progress a little more each day. “The success of Cahors stems from the arrival of a new generation of winegrowers whose overriding ambition is to produce quality wines”, he comments. “The Argentinians have done a huge amount of marketing on our original grape variety and have established a global name for it. Now we can leverage that publicity with our Malbec, which is an asset for exports combined with the image of French craftsmanship”. The estate produces classic wines using traditional winemaking techniques, which are matured in concrete tanks and barrels, alongside more modern fruit-driven pours matured in amphorae. Of these, 70% are exported to China, Vietnam, the United States and Belgium, the property’s largest markets.
Luc Luyckx in his cellars.
The Luyckx family.
Château Lamartine: finesse and freshness
The team at Château Lamartine.
The impressive story of this flagship Cahors began in 1883. The original house was built on the site of a hundred-year-old oak tree that was used as a meeting place for a certain Martine, cleverly shortened to Château Lamartine in later years. Its 37 hectares of vines are planted on the oldest terraces of the Lot valley where they face South, allowing the Malbec grapes to fully ripen. On clay and limestone soils, the Gayraud family takes great care growing their vines and maturing their wines. In 2016, Lise Gayraud and her brother Benjamin, the fourth generation of winegrowers, took over from their parents Alain and Brigitte. “Our brother and sister duo, which we even turned into a wine label, is our strength and our vineyard sites are our treasure”, feels Benjamin Gayraud. “Our principles focus on constantly improving our sustainable credentials and producing ever finer wines. Our success can also be ascribed to the quality of the wines, which continues to grow, and Malbec, which has brought us international recognition”. The varietal generates real opportunities in export markets, which account for 50% of sales, particularly markets where Argentinean wines are also marketed, such as the United States and Great Britain. Importers who have been loyal for several years also factor into the equation. “Cahors’ value for money is an undeniable bonus, but it is more in relation to other fine French wines than other South-West appellations”, comments Lise Gayraud. “We produce 200,000 bottles a year. Our four-strong range of wines offers distinctive consistency, great finesse and freshness”.
Benjamin and Lise Gayraud of Château Lamartine with their parents Alain and Brigitte.
Lise and Benjamin Gayraud at the helm of Château Lamartine since 2016.
History in the making
Cahors produces 20 million bottles a year and has undeniably leveraged the potential of Malbec. It is the varietal’s historical capital and the appellation is its second largest producer in the world after Argentina. The area’s identity, which has strong ties with particular vineyard sites and this black grape variety, has for some years now conveyed an image of quality. This is a testament to genuine progress which has stoked growing demand from consumers. “With Cahors, consumers are buying into a characterful wine that is full of substance, it is balanced, mouth-filling and refined. There are several reasons for this success”, claims Armand de Gérard, marketing and communications director with the Cahors wine marketing board. “First of all, winegrowers have focused heavily on quality in their vineyards and wineries over the last twenty years. Malbec is certainly beneficial in export markets, where it is very popular, with around 35% of volumes, in its three main markets that are the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Exports are also developing in other countries albeit with lower volumes”. The great variety of vineyard sites – some of them limestone others marl, clay-silica and siderolithic – along with the overall standard of quality and the potential of the appellation to produce fine wines, make it undeniably a regional powerhouse. Cahors wines also stand out from other fine red wines from South-West France or Argentina for their freshness and liveliness. This lends the wines a very pleasant sensation of lightness on the palate and also gives them remarkable ageability. Their styles now run the gamut, which is certainly the sign of a top wine region and the culmination of work by winegrowers to achieve quality. Since the 1950s, Malbec selection has been unique, vineyards have been replanted to high densities with very good leaf exposure, and there has been considerable investment in hygiene and quality winemaking techniques, with equipment including stainless steel tanks and temperature control. “The age of our vines is now at its peak and we have good knowledge of the best combination of grape variety and vineyard site”, concludes Fabrice Durou of Château de Gaudou. Having virtually just one variety to work with – with a requisite minimum of 70% Malbec in blends – could have been a disadvantage. But in actual fact, it also makes Cahors winegrowers experts in growing the varietal. And with global warming and other aspects factored into the equation, this unique grape variety still has many surprises in store.
7th generation winegrower Fabrice Durou of Château de Gaudou aims to convey, emotion, conviviality and a sense of sharing his wines.
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