24 June 2015

Malbec: What Does The World Think?

Welcome to the home of the "French Paradox"!  My trip to Cahors with Malbec Days was sponsored by the AOC - and they hosted over 100 wine professionals from around the world.  They were obviously on a mission to spread the word about what makes the region special, but it was also intriguing to see what the perception was of the job WE are doing as ambassadors in the wine world.

Here is my small group from the USA, with our fearless leader, Michael Littleton of Bird Rock Imports, my liason for many great Southern French wines.  We are standing on the edge of the Lot River, the heart of the region.
 Michael is being filmed here as part of a documentary on what makes Cahors special.    My group is behind him, researching soil structure in the plateau.

Here is a great video of our program, featuring clips from some pretty great US Sommeliers:
 But let's talk about why all of us are HERE.  As we learned in seminars with winemakers, historians, and journalists, winemaking in Cahors predates the birth of Christ and is presently very chic.  Why would an appelation with such sex appeal need to go to such trouble to inform us of its charm??

That's because this region was at the height of its popularity before 1800.  It fell off the radar and Malbec didn't become popular until French expats in Chile and Argentina started exporting.  It might be a trendy grape variety at the moment, but if you search the web for "Malbec," half of the results will only mention Argentina.  So Cahors might be the capital of Malbec, but the average consumer is not aware of it.

I went to a seminar projecting Malbec's future internationally with wineries who grow the grape in the United States, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and France.  The counries with the smallest number of growers of Malbec were New Zealand (21) and South Africa (25), but they are also learning how to compete in the global market.
Now we get to a seminar I found it hard to stomach: "America the Fickle." Led by Roger Voss, European Editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, we were reminded why people hate selling wines in our country.  Roger explained that Americans "buy with their eyes and dollar signs."  Where most consumers search for quality within their budget, we buy by label, then price, and THEN consider if the wine is good.  Sight is more important than taste.  Also wines over $15 are hard to sell in the US, and most French wine is higher than that level.  Another hurdle to overcome is that so few Americans speak French; Roger suggested it would be easier to sell French wines with Spanish labels!
And my new favorite term in the wine world:   The "Kardashian effect": Americans are always in search of the latest thing.  68% of wine sold in the states is from California, and the majority of that is bought by brand.  My takeaway from this is that consumers are so unsure of their decision-making when buying wine they want some kind of assurance that they are making the right choice.  If they don't know the brand name, it needs to have a buzzword they recognize:  Argentina and Malbec are two current buzzwords.  Our job now is to make Americans aware that Cahors is the original Malbec.

Here are couple of interesting tidbits about Malbec worldwide:
-Malbec has been grown in Chile longer than Argentina
-In the US, it is grown in CA, WA, OR,NY, VA, CO, and NJ
-In 2014, its only mention on social media was on Twitter
-There are 120 growers currently with plantings in Australia
-It was in a famous drink made in Russia in the 1700s
-1/4 of all the wine grown in Argentina is Malbec
Shown: the local farmers market (note the beautiful jars of duck fat for sale).  The AOC has been developing the market outside of the area for the past 30 years, and I hope that my colleagues and I can help take this promotion to the next level with a newfound passion for these wines with some of the oldest and most consistent pedigree in the world.

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