An American in Cahors (Feb 2011)

For many people (including my parents), the idea of our coming to Cahors, France for a chance to learn something new was a bit of a head-scratcher. For some, the assumption was that I had a confirmed “internship” at one of the Malbec-producing wineries here in the Lot. For others, the feeling was that I would be immersing myself into Malbec, tasting through the 280+ wineries on a precise schedule. Now that I’m here, wine in hand, it’s time to give you the real scoop.

It would be a lie to say that Cahors being the birthplace of Malbec didn’t enter our minds. Or that this didn’t totally line up with the fact that we believe Malbec to be part of the future of Sierra’s high-elevation foothill vineyards. Or that the rolling hills of the Lot (this region of France) with its oaks and cedars intermixed with diverse agriculture have an uncanny resemblance with our own backyard in California. It just seemed that the stars were aligning as to where we went on our trip.

In actuality, though, our thought was more to have a sabbatical, away from the business, with an opportunity to give our girls an experience of a different culture. I got to do this at nearly the same age as our youngest by living in Zaire, Africa for two years, and I’ve always felt this was a life-changing event (thank you Mom and Dad). So our children are blogging and Skyping with their school classmates at home, giving them (and us) an idea of how American youngsters view the culture here.

Perigord Black Truffles

But, now that we are here, we are certainly enjoying the time together as a family, having had incredible experiences in just the first week. We’ve made crepes with our elderly neighbor downstairs (all in French, of course), we’ve met incredible people (all wonderfully gracious), entertained French guests twice in our apartment, made three complete dinners using a gift of four Black Perigore Truffles (something not possible in the US since you can’t get these truffles fresh, and we can’t afford the price of $1,400 per kilo here!), attended the truffle market in the little village of Lalbenque (a cultural event in itself), and more.

But for us, it has mostly been settling into life here in Cahors. Our dinner decisions are based on the open-air markets on Wednesday and Saturday. We are eating later and later (a comment from our French guests that 6:30 for dinner is very early), going to bed as others do around 11:30pm and getting up at 8am instead of 6. We can’t eat fresh croissants everyday as it will soon impact our girth, but when we do eat them, we get the ones made with extra butter! Getting into a routine is paramount, working on winery stuff and homework (for the kids) for the first 4 hours of the day, and then exploring the area the rest of the day.

As for Malbec, it’s plentiful here, and we drink a different producer every night. We’ve found out so far that styles and quality are all over the board. Several have been more angular in nature with leaner bodies and less fruit-oriented, but with fairly stiff tannins on the finish (regardless of age). Tasting these wines dictated that I learn the French wine terms for “body” and “palate” and “full” for better discussions with the wine merchants here.

In our next flight, the wines were richer, more akin to what we find in California, higher in price with more extracted dark fruit. We heeded the instructions to decant some of them for an hour or so to tame the tannins a bit, and definitely paired them with our truffle recipes for amazing results. Whether lean or rich, however, the Malbecs of this region seem to have a commonality of an underlying smokiness that we have yet to taste in our wines.

Part of the plan of narrowing down the wines to sample is asking every person

Cahors Winter Vineyards and Soil

we meet (of which many are in the wine and or food industry here) what they think are the best producers of Malbec in the region. For us, we need to find the producers of styles that fit within the qualities our terroir, and that will take some time. But it’s amazing how much people know about the wines here. I can only hope that our region, within the next 700 years, will have the same depth of knowledge (for the local products…wine, paté, truffles, etc.) as we find here.

We’re making headway on the wines and enjoying the journey as a family. And for that, the trip has already been a complete success!

Stay tuned for more….

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11 Responses to An American in Cahors (Feb 2011)

  1. I propose to have a lunch together in Cahors this week.
    Jérémy, marketing manager of Cahors Vineyard


  2. Pingback: Blackisphere » Blog Archive » « An American in Cahors » … raconte son expérience sur son blog

  3. Lisa says:

    I am so happy to read this! I am a longtime Malbec lover and have always suggested that people explore the phenominal Malbec that Cahors produces! I am a club member of Madrona and am visiting the tasting room today! Thank you for all that you bring to the experience that is Madrona Vineuards,your passion is evident and appreciated!



  4. Loved reading your post! What an amazing experience, not only professionally but as a family too. I am not familiar with Cahors but will be checking it out on a map. You are living a life (if even for a time) that so many Americans (like me!) simply dream about. Enjoy it all. I look forward to your next post!


  5. Keith and Chris says:

    What an experience for you and the kids! As someone else posted, you are experiencing everything that alot of us wine-loving Americans can only dream of. Thank you for all the research and hard work that makes Madrona wines so enjoyable.
    All the best. Bon Chance!
    Keith & Chris in Indio


  6. Anne Clodfelter says:

    We discovered Cahors about 5 or 6 years ago (maybe 10 – time flies when you’re having fun). We go to France once a year and really enjoy the “small” towns. Cahors is a gem! We talked with the senior Bushes when we were at the barrel tasting the end of January (we drove from Indiana – are we certifiable or what?) and they said that you were leaving on Tuesday for FR and Cahors. Keep us informed! What a wonderful thing to do with your family!

    Sincerely, Anne Clodfelter


  7. mateo munoz says:

    How fab!! we spoke briefly at a weekend pouring just before christmas..I am making wine in W. Sac…Crestwood Monarch Winery …wanted to speak with you about a petition I am working on for TTB recognition for Tinta Amarella which I notice you grow and use in your New World Port…(nice write up by M. Dunne today…congrats)..anyway, maybe when you’re back we can chat…I am still in the drafting stage…Have fun and enjoy your time with family and our extended winemaker community…mateo.


  8. Lene and Ken Snell says:

    Interesting that you it happened to be Cahors. I am Danish born (the Lene part of us) and heard about Cahors when the Danish queen married Count Henri Laborde de Monpezat from the Cahors region of France. The count’s family estate was le Cayrou in Cahors and the Queen and Prince own their own chateau Château de Caïx in Cahors which has about 21 hectars planted with grapes. Sometimes it is a small world.
    Happy days to you and your family. Hope to have some interesting conversations when you get back.
    Best Regards,
    Lene Snell


  9. Jere Fass says:

    Thank you for sharing! (My) Paul and I will live vicariously through you. Malbec is seriously one of our favorite wines – one that we first were introduced to at your Quintet blending many years ago. Cheers!


  10. Paula says:

    What’s with 700 years? Give us a little credit…I’ll bet it will only take about 650. What a wonderful experience you’re having, and literally “drinking in” everything. Hope you’ll share some of those truffle recipes eventually.


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