The Story of Cahors Wines

One of the oldest wines in Europe

The conquests of the Roman Empire brought grape vines to the Quercy region over 2,000 years ago. The resulting wines rapidly became so good as to damage Italian wine production. In 92 A.D., the emperor ordered the Cahors vines pulled up, but he was not obeyed.

An exporting pioneer

In 1152, the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine with Henry Plantagenet, the future king of England, encouraged the development of winegrowing in Southwest France, especially in Cahors. The production of “The Black Wine of Cahors”, extremely appreciated by the British, grew considerably during this period. Henry III of England “enjoined in 1225 the authorities of Bordeaux not to stop nor to impose a tax whatsoever on the wines that the merchants from Cahors, under his protection, were bringing to Gironde” (“Patent Rolls of the Reign of Henry III. A.D. 1216-1225,” p.528). In addition, the pilgrims of Santiago de Compostela would enjoy the wine of Cahors during their stopovers at Rocamadour, and contributed to its renown throughout France and elsewhere. Cahors wine sales reached their apogee in 1310 with a production of 850,000 hl, representing 50% of exports leaving from the port of Bordeaux (Study on Cahors Winegrowing Terroirs by the Association d’Expérimentation de la Ferme Départementale d’Anglars-Juillac).

Rivalry with Bordeaux

Unfortunately, this long period of prosperity came to an end with the One Hundred Years War. Cahors wines were discriminated against in favor of wines from the Gironde until the 18th Century. However, Cahors remained a renowned wine, appreciated by the likes of François I, who asked for a vine bearing “Cahors” grapes to be planted at Fontainebleau, and Peter the Great of Russia, who imposed it upon the Orthodox Church.

Fall from grace

The region represented some 58,000 ha in 1866 (Study on Cahors Winegrowing Terroirs by the Association d’Expérimentation de la Ferme Départementale d’Anglars-Juillac). But starting in 1865, a microscopic aphid, phylloxera, infested all of France’s growing regions within less than twelve years, destroying the entire wine region of Cahors.

Rebirth

Despite this disaster, the wine sector survived, but the hybrid grape varieties that were planted only produced pale copies of the original Cahors wines. Fortunately, in 1947, a group of winegrowers decided to establish the Parnac Cooperative Winery with the objective of restoring the Malbec variety, the grape originally used to produce Cahors. Seedlings were acquired from an estate in Bordeaux, and the current vineyards originate from these plants. As a result of these efforts, the wine of Cahors was promoted to V.D.Q.S. (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure) in 1951. Alas, the frost of 1956 once again ruined many winegrowers in the area. But none of them despaired and all got quickly back to work, founding the Cahors Wine Brotherhood along the way in 1964. Finally, in 1971, Cahors’s mere 440 ha of vineyards were elevated to the prestigious rank of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. Presently, the AOC Cahors includes some 4,500 ha.

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