RETHINKING CAHORS TERROIR AT TERRACAË
FEBRUARY 1, 2020 | BY MATTHEW BROWMAN
Did you notice the label? The words “Cahors” and “Malbec” have equal real estate and the same style. This sums up how Pascal Verhaeghe and Frédéric Brouca are rethinking Cahors terroir at Terracaë.
Terracaë is the charming, honest, precocious vinous lovechild of two giants of the south: Pascal Verhaeghe of Chateau du Cèdre in Cahors and Frédéric Brouca of Faugères in the Languedoc. The Terracaë is their friendly rom-com version of an otherwise film-noir style. Cahors wines are best known to be inky, tannic, chewy, earthy beasts. If any fruit is to be found, it’s dried dark berry and plum, while stone, ash, bark, and dirt typically occupy the lead roles. Indeed back in the folds of history, the famous “black wine of Cahors” was boiled down to concentrate its colour and structure.
This fresher, more fruity, yet still deep style begs the question of Cahors’s “real” terroir, and if our typical characterization of wines as “traditional” or “modern” needs rethinking.
Traditional and modern are not opposites
Wine commenters (this one included) often refer to traditional and modern winemaking as somehow opposed. We wonder if modernity is the enemy of terroir and suggest that technology (and the forces of media coverage) are pushing wine styles towards a global flavour. We question if the grape should talk more about itself than tell the story of its home.
Strangely, we often imply that traditional is better for the historically great regions while modernity has worked wonders for the lesser ones. Maybe it’s a matter of context and defining our terms—if “traditional” means poor hygiene, a lack of understanding of the process, and over-exposure to oxygen, then that’s bad. And if “modern” means over-manipulating the fruit, using additives (like tannin or oak extract) to mask poor berries or cover flaws, and creating a homogeneous style, then that’s probably bad, too.
But maybe the movie isn’t Traditional versus Modern.
Maybe, the two team up to fight villains like stale, vinegary wine or battle the impending zombie-clone apocalypse of mass-produced, grape-based fermented beverage. Together, they can let the fruit express its pristine individuality while dazzling us with its origin story. It’s like shiny Oxfords with dirt caked in the soles.
Another Malbec-growing, site-specifying, minimal manipulating terroir fanatic holds this view. Sebastian Zuccardi of Familia Zuccardi in Mendoza claims that his irrigation enhances terroir. Few purists would accept that this claim holds water. But it’s the way he thinks about it that we should pay attention to.
Let’s look at the gentlemen behind Terracaë to figure on this.
Pascal Verhaeghe—Zen and the Art of French winegrowing
Pascal has farmed Chateau du Cèdre’s 27 organic hectares in Cahors since the 1980s. The Wine Spectator listed du Cèdre as the first of four “Malbec Icons” in France in 2019. Their top wine, the GC, typically retails around $160 and the line receives mid- to high-90s in the point ratings, particularly from Wine Enthusiast.
Pascal takes a Zen approach to his winegrowing. While he depends on lessons from every previous harvest, he approaches every vintage anew. In his words, he constantly “learns and unlearns”.
Frédéric Brouca—A New Hope
The thought of someday farming grapes was part of Frédéric’s childhood vision. Nonetheless, he pursued a finance degree in his young adulthood. In 2012, he and his wife, Emilie, bought 25 hectares of organic vineyards in Faugères in the Languedoc.
Already fanatical about healthy land, organic viticulture, and natural processes (read: “terroir”), Frédéric found his calling with the Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, and Mourvèdre planted there.
The common link—Burgundy backgrounds
Freddy and Pascal were not always vignerons. While they may both be southern French wine growers used to a Mediterranean climate who work with long-ripening, thick-skinned, dark grapes, they share a common inauguration: they both began with Burgundy.
Frédéric turned down a bank job upon graduating with his finance degree to broker Burgundy in America and Asia. His and Emilie’s work took them through California, Oregon, New Zealand, Spain, and India. He even worked a stint at Creekside Estate in Niagara, Ontario. It was about 10 years after he started to broker the Burg’ that they bought their land.
And while Pascal grew up on a vineyard, he consciously chose to farm grapes after some key experiences in his early adulthood. He was friends with Jean-Marie Guffens of the Burgundy negociant Verget. On an impromptu visit, he by chance had his first harvest experience with him in 1980. He then learned winemaking in Mâcon-Davayé near Solutré followed by a stage at Saintsbury in California who are famous for their Pinot Noir.
Together, the two bring to Terracaë an approach unique for Cahors:
- The grapes come from a single vineyard on Cahors’s highest terrace with the poorest soil quality. Single-site and single-grape winegrowing (versus multi-site and multi-grape blending) is a Burgundian hallmark unusual in the southwest.
- Their winemaking approach leans away from intervention and manipulation.
- They insist on organic farming and natural methods in the vineyards.
- They pick early and age in neutral vessels (stainless steel and large, old oak barrels) rather than allowing longer hangtime and small, new oak barriques.
This all adds up to that more vibrant, deep-fruited style. The wine both speaks of its place cleanly and purely while expressing its Malbeciness.
Mission Impossible accomplished?
A wine can be authentic and atypical, and tradition and modernity meet in the now. When done right, we shouldn’t be able to separate the dancer from the dance.
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