The Malbec Maestro.
Having established himself as a pioneer of Argentinian Malbec, Hervé Joyaux, Red Winemaker of the Year 2018, has now focused his sights on the origins of Malbec in Cahors.
In the 1990s, Hervé Joyaux moved from Bordeaux to Argentina, taking with him his old world wine expertise and inspiration. After more than 20 years, he has created an internationally recognised range of wines under the Fabre Montmayou and Vinalba labels from both Mendoza and Patagonia. His role as a Malbec pioneer in Argentina was recognised this year when the International Wine Challenge awarded him the title Red Winemaker of the Year for his outstanding work and his championing of Malbec both in Argentina and on the global stage since the early 1990’s.
Malbec is now considered as the emblematic grape of Argentina, but this was not always the case. When Hervé first visited Argentina in 1990, just 10,000 hectares were planted with Malbec. By 2017 this had risen to 41,000 hectares, over a third of Argentina’s planted red grape varieties.
Hervé immediately saw the potential of older plots of Malbec in the Lujan de Coye and Valle de Uco and purchased some of Argentina’s oldest Malbec vineyards here (planted in 1908). He built his first winery, Fabre Montmayou, in Vistalba, Luján de Cuyo in 1992, surrounded by the very first 15 hectares he purchased. They have now planted more vineyards in the Gualtallary area of the Valley de Uco region and source exclusively old-vine vineyards in the best wine growing areas of Mendoza for Fabre Montmayou.
Fabre Montmayouwas the first winery to launch a high-end Malbec on the American market. Hervé’s wife, Diane, joined the team in 1997 and her passion for wine and her marketing skills have developed sales all over the world, creating a sound reputation for their wines.
Their adventures have taken them to Patagonia, on the southern point region of South America, where their vineyards lie between the Andes Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean in the Alto Valle of the Río Negro area. At latitude of 39 degrees south, the climate is similar to the Northern Rhône, giving wines with a very complimentary style to Mendoza.
Today, the vineyards of Fabre Montmayou extend over 450 hectares, across Mendoza and Patagonia.
When Hervé and Diane decided to invest back in France, this passion for the expression of Malbec across different terroirs led them back to Cahors, the origin of the Malbec grape. In 2017, They became the new owners of the Vignobles Saint Didier Parnac, Château de Grézels and the Prieuré de Cénac offering them access to the range of some of the best terroir Cahors has to offer.
It is a very different challenge to Argentina, the climate, the terroir and the elevation, but it was this diversityof terroir that seduced them.
The challenge was all the more painful due to the inclement weather of 2017 where frosts destroyed a large part of their production. The 2018 now in the cellars is looking great, the dryer climate here meant mildew was less of an issue than in nearby Bordeaux and Bergerac.
The 2016 wines are Hervé’s first expression of Malbec in Cahors, where he was able to work with the specificities each soil gives to the Malbec, creating blends across his range. There is so much more to the notion of blend than simply bringing together different grape varieties. Here the different expressions that the diverse terroirs bring to a single variety are blended to create the wines.
Hervé simplified the soils into three main types for me: Le Cause is a high limestone plateau from the Jurassic period, with steep slopes rising from 250 to 350 metres above sea level (a bit different from Valley de Uco!).
A valley, where the Lot River has deposited alluvium material as it meandered across the valley floor, surrounds this plateau. Between the two are a series of terraces on the slopes.
For such a successful wine maker Hervé remains very humble, he has worked closely with local wine makers to understand the interaction of the local weather and this diverse terroir so very different to Argentina.
Investment across these three emblematic terroirs of the region allow Hervé to create a range of wines, that are 100% Malbec, each a different expression of their terroir. Château Saint-Didier Parnac is located in the valley, Prieuré de Parnaclocated on the hills of the Cause and Château de Grézels located in both the valley and on the Cause.
Le Prieuré de Cénac
Visiting The Prieuré de Cénac, I immediately saw why Diane and Hervé fell in love with it. This is the highest of their vineyards, on a limestone promontory, 300m above sea level, with 360° views over the surrounding vines. It is unique and takes some getting to. Originally a priory where the monks lived, they certainly chose the right place to get away from it all. The wines of Le Prieuré are the flagship wines of Hervé’s Cahors collection.
The balance of fresh fruit and power is the signature of all the wines including the Prieuré de Cénac and the second wine la Mission de Picpus.
The beautiful under ground cellar dating from the late 18th century, is a witness to the age of the site as is the Virgin Mary statue in its grotto at the crossroads of the Saint Jacques de Compostella route. This grotto is the inspiration for the name of their top cuvee, La Vierge de Cénac. At once an elegant yet powerful 100% Malbec, it is made from a specific plot where the presence of iron and manganese in the clay topsoil give a mineral freshness to the power of the Malbec.
Chateau de Grézels is a medieval fortress high above the Prayssac River that takes it’s name from the Gréze. This old Occitan word describes the eroded pieces of limestone from the Cause plateau that have formed cones of limestone screeat the foot of the slopes. They cover the third terrace and are the deepest and best-drained soils of Cahors. Hervé is very excited by this Gréze as some of the most famous wines in the world come from this type of soil. It gives finesse to Malbec, whereas the clay-sand soils nearer the river give fruit and power. The vineyard surrounding the chateau also has plots ofland in the valley and on the Cause, where the red soils show the presence of iron. Some of these plots are ancient vineyards that were overrun by forest after the phylloxera crisis, and only returned to vines in the 1980s, as part of the on-going renewal of Cahors. When I was there Hervé was putting the finishing touches to the brand new cellar at Grézels fr the 2018 harvest.
The Château Saint-Didier sits in a meander of the River Lot, where the wide valley is covered with vineyards descending gently from the Cause to the river. Here the soil of the first terraceis made up of fertile alluviums, silty sands that give light and fruity wines. Just five meters higher is the second terrace; a limestone subsoil where the pebbles mixed with clay give the wine structure and depth. Higher still, the third terrace is stony and well drained with deeper clay where the fruit ripens easily giving density and definition to the wines.
The wines from Château Saint-Didier are made from a selection of plots across all three terraces. Here it is blending terroir he is blending, not varietals, to gain the elegance and complexity he is looking for.
Château Saint-Didier is also where the winemaking currently takes place for Prieuré de Cénac and the wines from the Latis and Calos brands, made in their dedicated cellar there too. The beautiful vaulted cellars of Saint Didier, built in about 1760 offer ideal barrel ageing conditions for the wines.
The latest creation of Vignobles Saint Didier is Calos, a local name for the terroir of gravel on the slopes of the plateau. Hervé has selected plots from their vineyards along the terraces that give the best expression to the Malbec – these wines are 100% of the local grape.
Calos offers a Reserve and Grand Reserve. The Grand reserve is bottled in a Burgundy bottle, emphasising the fact that it is a single varietal not a blend as in neighbouring Bordeaux. There has been a tension between Cahors and Bordeaux since medieval times so this is a cheeky nod towards Bordeaux, where Hervé originally hails from. The same wines are available in some markets under the name Latis, also available as a Reserve and grand reserve
Just as in Argentina and Patagonia where Hervé has a crafted a large range to expresses the diversity of terroir and climate there, his aim is to the same in Cahors. This range of styles and price points from the historic terroirs of the region allows consumers to discover and understand the diversity of the Malbec of Cahors.
His Cahors style of Malbec has finesse and minerality compared to Argentina where the consistent warmth, the cool nights and long growing season give fleshier, softer wines.
The generosity of Hervé Joyaux and his enthusiasm for Malbec, rediscovered in its home territory, shines brightly through these wines. There is a wind of change in Cahors and once again this red winemaker of the year is at the centre of an exciting wine regeneration.
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