The International Malbec Days Festival (May 20th-23rd, 2010 in Cahors, France) is now behind us. Let’s take the Good, Bad and (in some cases, the very) Ugly of the festival, in reverse order:
The Ugly: Event Coordination and “Wines that Smell of Donkey Poop”
Organizing and executing a wine industry event the size of the International Malbec Days Festival, one that lasts several days and brings together well over 150 people from a dozen or so countries, is undoubtedly a Herculean undertaking, and one in which the organizers almost failed miserably. The 2010 version, at turns, bordered on chaos.
This wasn’t great for the wines, either, as Tannic and high-alcohol Malbecs were served in a meeting space that was easily over 80F, depriving even the best from showing themselves gracefully. The execution against our schedule was poor enough that it became a distraction, as essential personnel (e.g., those organizing the various groups of participants from hotels to the various events) by and large were given little (and in some cases, no) information needed to do their jobs. At one point, our bus driver got lost in the 2km distance between the airport and our hotel for the final evening – and he was using a GPS system.
Score one for French logistics – that is, if the purpose is to distract you from being able to adequately work and instead is trying to break your will. I felt bad for our handlers, who were trying to do an impossible job with almost no help from their superiors (I encouraged them to totally dookie sock their bosses, but they didn’t seem too keen on the idea) .
Speaking of dookie: as for the Ugly when it comes to the wines, a not-insubstantial portion of the Cahors Malbecs on display at the event were quite bretty – and not in a “smells kind of like bacon” charming way; they were bretty in a “did I just step in some donkey poop?” way. Which leads us to…
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A very brief intro. into the 2010 International Malbec Days Festival.
As for the event – great intro. to Cahors and its wines; confusing marketing strategy / message; terrible, terrible, terrible organization of events and logistics overall. More to come (on all three fronts)!
I’m in Cahors, and it’s one of those thoroughly gorgeously sunny wine country days that at turns make me happy to be alive and secretly, maddeningly spiteful towards those who get to experience this nearly every day.
Of course, those turns tend to come after long stints of travel when I’m severely under-caffeinated, so keep that in mind before you read too much into it. Also, Charles de Gaulle airport smells of rotting garbage, but that might just be from the massive number of over-traveled, unwashed people congregated in close proximity after their long flights. Ok, I really need coffee right now.
Anyway, tonight (which will be last night, actually, by the time most of you out there read this) we kick off the International Malbec Days Festival here at the Pont Valentré with a pre-opening tasting event. In preparation, I’ve gotten a bit more info. on the aims of the event and its sponsors.
Cahors is laying claim to the title of “Spiritual home” of Malbec (also known as Cot and Auxerrois in the general Sud Ouest). Its main competition now, of course, is Argentina, who now grows more of the stuff than France.
[ Warning: Gross over-simplification in-progress ]
Cahors has three main terroirs when it comes to Malbec (and they’ve been growing it long enough that I think we can safely employ the dreaded T-Word), and they equate roughly to the elevation of the vineyard terraces above the Lot river. The closer to river-level, so the thinking goes, the more alluvial the soils and the less complex the wines (check out ReignOfTerroir.com for a great detailed exposition of these), and typically the higher proportion of other varieties (Merlot and Tannat) blended into the final product.
These terroirs produce wines with different stylistic profiles, from simpler and fruitier (“Tender & Fruity” according to the marketing materials) wines close to the river, to “Feisty & Powerful” wines in the middle terrace, and finally “Intense & Complex” wines made from 100% Malbec. Theoretically, the price points follow suit as expected.
[ Thus endeth the Gross over-simplification ]
The marketing strategy is to make a push for Cahors wines to gain market share of Malbecs sold internationally, which they’ll primarily need to take away from Argentina, starting with the U.S. market (the goal is a 3-5X increase in sales in the U.S. within 3 years). The focus of this push are the “Feisty & Powerful” Malbecs, priced in the $15-$25 range, hitting the large East and West Coast U.S. markets.
Ignoring the discussion of whether or not enough Cahors wine in the tier is produced and exported to the U.S. to provide the ammunition for such a push, from my vantage point it looks like Cahors will be going head-to-head against Argentina in that tier, only with higher prices, more confusing labels, less market awareness, and (arguably) a less newbie-friendly taste profile.
I suppose the cat’s now out of the bag that I’m a little skeptical, but I’m clearing a small space of my mind from concentrating on the secret spite of the recently-traveled, and reserving that space as “open mind” to be filled by the tasting notes of Cahors wines.
Can Cahors make such a push? The proof will be in the dark, inky, tannic pudding, I suppose… More to come…