Winemaker Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux unravels the origins of the Malbec grape variety in the French town of Cahors

The vintner and owner of Château de Mercuès and Château de Haute-Serre shares the allure of its unique terroir and resurgence in recent decades.

Vigouroux is the fourth generation of a vintner family in Cahors dedicated to Malbec since 1887 (Photo: Patrick Goh/ The Edge Malaysia)

Did you know Malbec, often associated with Argentina, actually originates from Cahors in southwestern France? Cultivated since the time of the Roman Empire, this grape varietal flourished until the end of the Middle Ages before disappearing completely because of war, famine and the phylloxera plague.

The wines of Cahors used to grace the tables of kings, popes and Europe’s affluent, making it a viticultural gem by the 13th century and surpassing even Bordeaux in size. In recent decades, Cahors has experienced a renaissance and managed to reignite interest in its wines, if the more than 200 thriving wineries are anything to go by.

Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux, owner and winemaker of Château de Mercuès and Château de Haute-Serre, was in town recently to introduce his wines to the growing Malaysian market. For him, nothing brings more joy than sharing a bottle of wine over a meal with good company.

“Hospitality is an important component of wine-drinking, especially when inviting someone — be it family, friends or clients. The key is to carefully consider which bottle to share — a gesture that goes beyond a mere choice of wine. It’s an act of hospitality and an expression of our kindness and humanity for those who appreciate the pleasure of good products.”

No one understands this better than Vigouroux, the fourth generation of a vintner family in Cahors dedicated to Malbec since 1887 and who grew up amid the vineyards of his forebears. Following the phylloxera disaster and driven by a firm belief in the terroir’s exceptional quality, his father Georges (whom this son proudly refers to as the pioneer of Cahors’ renaissance) was the first in the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) to replant Malbec vines on the plateau. Cahors gained its AOC status in 1971 and it refers to standards set for wines made in France.


Cahors wines distinguish themselves from Argentine Malbec, with an elegant structure, earthy tones, robust tannins and dark fruit (Photo: Patrick Goh/ The Edge Malaysia)

“When my father bought the original Haut-Serre vineyard in 1971, I was four years old and grew up alongside the vines. By the age of 10, I expressed my desire to live here forever. True enough, I spent all my life at Château de Haute-Serre because this place is my home; it’s where I truly want to be. I also still remember what my father said: ‘If you choose to live here, you must make wine, cultivate the vineyard and manage it with care.’”

The landscape in Cahors is breathtaking, he tells us. He rode horses, wrote a lot, and the estate was his playground. During the summers in his mid-teens, when the chef at the château was on holiday, he would work with the team at the vineyard, and that is how his passion grew. “I am, after all, the grandson of a farmer and, naturally, I have a connection with the land. I just love the countryside.”

The vineyards here are situated along the Lot River on its meanders and slopes, which serve as a thermal regulator, on pebbly and gravelly soil. Located between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, it experiences rainfall and humidity levels that are optimal for the quality of the vines.

“It’s a region with different kinds of terroir, dominated by two distinct types. First, there’s the valley with pebbles, a soil from the former quaternary that is less than a million years old and consists of clay, limestone and gravel. The other is the elevated plateau dominated by Kimmeridgian soil, featuring red clay that is rich in iron. Both terroirs consist of small blocks with rare blue clay, which is just amazing.”

His knowledge flows effortlessly. After all, Vigouroux received training in accounting and management before pursuing oenology at the University of Toulouse. It was another piece of fatherly advice he heeded, if he wished to take over the reins.

In 1983, Georges acquired the renowned Château de Mercuès, a property of unparalleled charm featuring a vineyard and castle on a unique terroir. The 13th-century castle served as the former residence of the bishops of Cahors. Here, Vigouroux and his father engaged in experiments with high-density plantings.


Château de Mercuès is a beautiful 13th-century medieval château overlooking the picturesque Lot valley and Cahors vineyards (Photo: Château de Mercuès)

Throughout his work, this faithful son of the soil has introduced many other innovations that have increased the quality of wines produced including high-density replanting, grassing between the vines, leaf-thinning, yield control and in-depth experimentation with oak regimens and fermentations.

Does he remember his first sip of wine? “It was more than one!” He laughs. “I was probably about nine or 10. My father always had wine tastings during his lunch. We didn’t have any mobile phones then and the phone rang in the cellar. Both my parents left me alone to attend to the call. My father had about five glasses of wine on the table and I tried them all. Upon their return, I confessed to having a sip of all the wines and my mother said, ‘You can’t go to school now.’ That was the first time I had wine.”

The happiness he felt then mirrors the joy he shares today, introducing his best wines to local trade partners during a three-course meal at Quin @ The Five, Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur. Cahors wines distinguish themselves from Argentine Malbec, with an elegant structure, earthy tones, robust tannins and dark fruit, as exemplified by Château de Haute-Serre Georges 2019, Château de Haute-Serre Geron Dadine 2018, and Château de Mercuès Les Evêques.

An exceptional wine in the lineup was the Château de Mercuès Cuvée 6666, described by Vigouroux as the Malbec diva. “It originates from the best parcels of Château de Mercuès, planted on gravelly soil at a high density of 6,666 vines per hectare, compared to the Cahors average of 4,500. The grapes are sorted by hand and produced only in the best years, making it a rare indulgence.”

The bouquet is very expressive and seductive; the palate is concentrated and shows a lot of complexity with fine tannins. It is a unique wine with a beautiful and long finish.

The Cahors wines are really something else. Adding to the allure is the Relais & Châteaux group’s Château de Mercuès, an invitation to revel in the embrace of the four-star hotel, which also houses a Michelin-starred restaurant.

As Vigouroux aptly puts it, Cahors wines are more than just a drink; they are a culture and symbol of hospitality, where history, craftsmanship and the unmistakable charm of unique terroirs come together beautifully.


The wines are imported by Milawa (M) Sdn Bhd and will be available at all Village Grocer and Ben’s Independent Grocer outlets.

This article first appeared on Dec 18, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.

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