Update on Cahors Malbec and Black Wine

by Eve Resnick on February 25, 2009

in General

In Wine Brands, I devoted a long section on the marketing strategy of the Cahors Vintners association and their black wine. Over a year has passed since this writing and it’s time to update the information. Let’s see what happened when my interest in Cahors wines started in 2006. Though well-perceived as a high quality wine, Cahors was losing ground on the international markets. It needed a new marketing strategy. In 2006, the professional association of Cahors winegrowers (Union Interprofessionnelle des vins de Cahors – UIVC) launched a new marketing campaign around two major concepts:

– Cahors is Malbec.
– Cahors is black.

The goal: to be different in order to be more effective in international markets, and to counter the competition of the red wines. “Cahors is black” refers to the history of the wine. The Malbec grape growing on the Cahors terroir produces a very dark wine: Cahors is not red, it is dark. That is why, since the Middle Ages, it has been known as the “black wine”.

But is black a trend in the wine business? To answer this question, on the initiative of their new Marketing Director, Jeremy Arnaud, the UIVC organized a convention there in February 2007 on the theme of the “Black Paradox”, and invited a college Professor, Michel Maffesoli, some wine professionals and a writer whose work studies colors and their meanings. Black also connotes the night, dreams, and mystery. When associated with wine it generates an emotional link with the product, which is often linked to younger consumers.

The second strong point of the Cahors wine is its grape, the Malbec. For many centuries in France it was called “Auxerrois”, but the Cahors grape is, in fact, the trendy Malbec. Malbec is one of the most sought-after grapes in Argentina and in many countries. It is popular in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Cahors has the privilege of being one of the most ancient and one of the best terroirs for Malbec. Marketing the wine as a varietal wine with a special twist has great promise in the international market. Especially since, historically, the Argentinian winemakers cannot describe their wines as black.

Creating attention through a convention, and generating studies in French, does not carry any weight in the international market. That is why the UIVC created two blogs, frenchblackwine.com and frenchmalbec.com, open to contributions from wine consumers, winegrowers and anybody else wishing to comment. Thus far the result of the campaign has been fairly successful. The February 2007 convention drew the attention of many journalists and professionals and also resulted in an agreement among the winegrowers on the two major axes of the marketing strategy.

In April 2008, Jeremy Arnaud organized the First International Malbec Days in Cahors. Argentina was the guest of honor. The manifestation drew a lot of attention to Cahors as the birth place of Malbec. After this international success, Cahors launched a three-year campaign to market its Malbec wines on the US market. The tagline of the campaign is: Cahors, the original Malbec!

Why such a campaign when the US are in one of their worst financial crisis? Americans are familiar and fond of the Argentinian Malbec, fruity and easy to drink. They are becoming aware of an other Malbec region, Cahors where Malbec originated centuries ago and were reborn in the second half of the 20th Century. Many journalists recognized the qualities and the originality of French Malbec: The Wine Spectator and The Wine Enthusiast selected two Cahors Malbecs in their 2008 Top Wines of the Year. The Boston Examiner wine critic Julia Timakhovich resumed brightly what makes the specific quality of French Malbec: she liked the wine for “its unusual coarse texture, leathery feel on the mouth, and very subtle red fruit reminiscent of blackberries—very unlike the fruitier, juicier Malbecs from Argentina” as well as its good pairing with red meat.

Considering the growing success of the Cahors French Malbec and its potential on the US market, the professional Vintners Association of Cahors is launching a 3-year plan to reach the US market and increase their market shares. The Cahors wines are the only French wines that increased their exports in 2008, which is a great accomplishment in those difficult financial times: their exports grew by 3,7% in volume and 6,4% in value, according to the latest Ubifrance figures.

A lot of actions are going to take place in the US from 2009 to 2011: tastings, events, on line events. Many surprises are in store for French Malbec lovers and drinkers. Let’s Julia have the last word on that subject: “They fly under the radar of wine connoisseurs, don’t occupy a lot of shelf space, and don’t adorn the front pages of wine journals. Hence they are usually not expensive. But they provide a good return on investment.That is, after all, Malbec’s native land. It’s like drinking history…”

{ 1 comment }

1 John and Aileen @ Mas de flory February 28, 2010 at 10:13 am

I live in the Lot AOC Cahors region and find it commendable that they are finally getting their act together for the export market.
However as a wine and cycle tour owner visiting numerous domaines there is no help regionally at all. A visit to their office merely results yet more posters or leaflets. Our tours mostly include Americans but from our own advertising not theirs.
Fabulous wine – though it does mean a Bordeaux seems a bit thin!.

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