The real birthplace of Malbec is found in this little publicized French region. Steeped in history of with Roman Empire and the ruling class this is must-see for wine lovers.  Read on to see why it is so special.

Cahors was producing wine 2000 years ago when Romans conquered the region. At Chateau Chambert the archives show back in the 13th century the estate was already producing wine. Today Chambert covers a total of 270 acres made of: forests, wild land and the vineyard and will soon be opening rooms for an overnight stay. We speak to Chateau owner, wine-maker Philippe Lejeune about the regions fascinating history and his biodynamic wines.

-In Conversation with winemaker Philippe Lejeune / Chateau Chambert-

Q: Cahors has a great history – and while the world thinks of Bordeaux perhaps we should be thinking Cahors? 

A: Absolutely: Cahors is a bit remote from any major city in France and therefore always suffered of that ; even wine professionals find it difficult to arrange a visit within their tight schedule (they always first go to Bordeaux or Languedoc but very seldom just for Cahors)…the outcome is many people today suddenly discover the great wines and the great diversity Cahors offers.

Q: Argentina often gets the recognition for Malbec. What do you want people to know? 

A: I want people to realize Cahors is the birthplace of Malbec and it offers many different Malbec expression than Argentina.

Q: What makes Chateau de Chambert so special? 

A: To picture Cahors, imagine a small version of the Grand Canyon: most wineries are in the valley near the river (that’s were most vineyards get replanted after the phylloxera period: easier to work, higher yields) while Chambert is at the top and near the Canyon’s edge: this is where Cahors historical vineyards where centuries ago because of its poor soil of limestone that produces intense and elegant wines with lot of freshness. Nights there are colder than in the valley, helping grapes to ripen in a more crispy way. Chambert is a legacy of Malbec wines produced on high altitude limestone soils…and of course it’s because I love such elegant wines profile that acquiring Chambert 15 years ago was a no brainer!

Q: Tell me about how your started your craft?

A: I wanted to produce wines of great identity and for that I needed  to fully understand each plot Chambert has; this took many years and vintages and I also asked a consultant to help me in that task for faster learning all aspects of vineyard agronomy and winemaking.

Q: What makes your vineyard so special? I hear soon we can book rooms and stay overnight there, count me in. 

A: Chambert is a fantastic place that is vibrant of beauty and relaxing: pictures don’t convey that feeling, only visitors that have come to Chambert understand the magic of the place ! Then wines produced all come from the estate’s vineyard (it’s all old vines), they are delicious and elegant ; as I perform fermentations using estate’s wild yeast it’s adding complexity and identity you never get otherwise. Also I have an on-site Lab so I monitor every tank under fermentation and don’t let nature produce maverick wines! There are thousands of tiny decisions and winemaking details I handle over the year and sharing this with visitors is rewarding for me and inspiring for them…this is why bedrooms and the SPA are needed: people want to stay and leave a bit of the dream too!

Q:There’s a difference between the Malbecs of France V.S. Argentina. Can you explain?

A:There are many aspects to clarify when comparing wines so I’ll slightly over-simplify: Argentina weather is much warmer producing big & rich wines, high ABV while Cahors has a much cooler weather producing lighter wines. The soil also has a major impact : Cahors has lot of limestone like at Chambert producing elegant wines that express the Malbec with more floral notes and not necessarily dark ripe jammy fruit. Cahors valley wines are on different soils and are fuller (making them somehow closer to their Argentinian cousins). These are global markers but when you dig a bit even one estate can produce many different variations : at Chambert I have over 50 concrete tanks during fermentation with each one holding one specific plot of Malbec…tasting these 50 tanks is the best experience for understanding the symphony of Malbec you can have. And YES, 50 is a lot of tasting, this is why we need the hotel!

Q: Being biodynamic are we less likely to get a hangover?

A: I’m not aware of independent reliable study so I only have my opinion from my own experience drinking all sorts of wine s for over 30 years. It’s a common idea that sulfites are the root cause for hangover ; I suspect it’s a  bit more complex than this (orange juice has way more sulfites than wine!). I think sulfite may be part of the equation but I suspect it’s more the complex chemistry the cocktail of sulfite and pesticides creates in our body. I’ve had some wines with high level of sulfites (sweet wines) but organic and didn’t experience hangover ; however I had this on various occasion (mostly with white wines that have usually more sulfites than red wines). I’ve never had that with biodynamic wines, not just mine.

Q: What do you like to pair it with?

A: Malbec pairs very well with meat but Chambert wines having a delicate body and good acidity allows delicate dishes from white meat or even some cooked seafood ; it’s a large spectrum and this allows to play in many ways with the pairing. An easy pairing is grilled meat with gravy but this is far from being the limit!

Q: Can you explain how this winemaking process is actually good for the environment?

A:  When you are in Biodynamic agriculture you care a lot about the vineyard environment as well as the vine’s health. Therefore we focus a lot at maintaining the vineyard and surrounding (our forests and fields) in a well balanced order. Biodiversity is one of the fundamental keys for having nature (and the vines) at their best ; this means we ensure we have all sorts of insects, wild animals, plants, trees and life forms as much in the vineyard than in the ground. We also take actions to correct the human footprint that can unbalance the space (ensure we replant trees and bushes if needed). 

Philippe Lejeune is a French entrepreneur ; he owns a high-tech semiconductor company and has been living abroad for 10 years (USA and Europe). He returned to France in 2007 and bought the Chateau Chambert vineyard in Cahors, the birthplace of Malbec where he’s been producing Biodynamic wines since.

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