Ferocious Focus,  France,  Winery

Cahors: Struggle and Innovation

The last two posts of ferocious wines focused on rootstocks (see here and here). In this post, I want to briefly introduce Cahors, France, a wine region nearly devastated by phylloxera.

Cahors is a red wine made from grapes grown in or around the town of Cahors, France. Cahors, the region, received appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status in 1971. Under the AOC, the dominant grape variety is Malbec, which must make up a minimum of 70% of the wine. The AOC wine may be supplemented by up to 30% Merlot and/or Tannat. There is also some white and rosé wine produced in the same area, and it is sold under the designation Vin de Pays du Lot.

Cahors enjoyed a great reputation from the Middle Ages until the late 19th century. Its “black wine” was popular in both England and Russia. At the time, there were nearly 40,000 ha/ 100,000 acres of vineyards in the region. However, phylloxera reduced this to less than a tenth. Things go very poorly for Cahors from here. Here’s how it went down:

1876: Phylloxera discovered in Cahors and vines start to die en masse.

Around this time, vineyards also hit hard by mildew and Blackrot.

1885: Grape growers who had replanted vines on American rootstocks to counter phylloxera find that the American rootstocks cannot survive in Cahors’ limestone soils. Producers start to blend non-grape wines to maintain production volumes. Quality obviously suffers.

1920s: Seyve-Villard and other hybrid varieties are planted. These seem to work against phylloxera and save the local industry. However, the hybrids are not suitable for high quality wine and this leads to a focus on the production of mass market wines.

1956: Frost wipes out almost all the vineyards in the region, which needed to be replanted en masse. Vineyards are replanted with Malbec, Merlot and Tannat grafted on phylloxera resistant rootstocks.

1971: As mentioned above, Cahors AOC is created. At the time, there are only 440 ha/ 1090 acres of vines in the area.

From receiving AOC status and through the 1980s, Cahors has focused on rebuilding its wine industry. For the most part, it focused on the mass production of bulk wine. Today, however, riding on the popularity of Malbec out of Argentina, it is also building its reputation for quality wines. During my visit, we stopped at Chateau Lagrezette, which is considered one of the top wineries ins the AOC. The Malbecs were ripe and velvety. The winery was also spectacular–three levels built into the side of a hill.

The region is also effectively utilizing tourist centers to promote its wines. The tourism office in the center of Cahors has an adjacent tasting room. There we enjoyed two different flights of Cahors AOC wines while speaking to an incredibly knowledgeable staff person. It was the perfect way to introduce and promote Cahors as a quality wine region.

Nearly devastated by phylloxera, Cahors wine today is a story of struggle and innovation.

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