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ripening grapes in the Loire

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Cahors and Cartier at Chateau Lagrezette

lagrezette3.jpg The Observer (27 April 08) features a visit to Chateau Lagrezette in Cahors (46 Lot, Midi-Pyrenees), owned and restored by Alain Dominique Perrin, a controversial figure in the Cahors wine community, who was the key figure in Cartier’ luxury goods empire.

His vigorous approach to marketing and the production of high value wines has not always been popular with traditionalists in the area, who fear that whilst he may be promoting the name of Cahors, his wines tend to be too commercial and distant from the traditional character of the appellation. Certainly other winemakers are making extraordinarily good top quality wines, whilst still retaining distinctive Cahors character.There is also the inevitable local suspicion about a wealthy incomer in what has been one of the poorest départements in France.

Lunch in the farmhouse kitchen is nowhere near as terrifyingly chic as I’d feared. Instead, his son Clement, a 27-year-old musician, and his winery manager, Jean Courtois, sit with him at a long wooden table in front of an open fire and eat ratatouille made with vegetables from the kitchen garden, herbed chicken with braised endive, goats’ cheese from Rocamadour and an amazing tarte tatin, all prepared by housekeeper Nadia, while Perrin explains how he restored his vineyards.

Lagrézette’s vineyards are some of the oldest in France and there are references to them from the 1500s. But they were decimated in the last century by the vine disease phylloxera and then by flooding in the 1950s. At the request of the locals, who had seen and approved of Perrin’s work on the château, he set about bringing them back, ripping out the unimpressive hybrids that had replaced the original diseased Malbec plants, replacing them with new Malbecs on three-quarters of the estate and Merlot and Tannat grapes everywhere else. He brought in renowned wine expert Michel Rolland to help in 1989, but remained closely involved himself.

‘Monsieur Perrin,’ says Courtois, ‘is above all interested in… quality. Quality is the most important thing to him in all things.’

The château’s winery was built from scratch, although it incorporates some original pieces, like the enormous wooden door, which dates from before the French Revolution, and a large stone fountain picked up in Toulouse. Having decided it should be built underground, Perrin had the hillside dug out, built the cellars and the workrooms, and then replaced the soil on top, no small feat considering the winery is 55m long and 19m deep. Now all that is visible from outside is the winery’s beautiful fascia. The final touch was a 150m tunnel connecting the winery with the château.

At the end of the tunnel you find yourself in a tasting room, formerly one of the château’s cells. ‘This is where Monsieur Rolland comes to blind-taste each vintage,’ explains Courtois. ‘It is also haunted, like most of the castle.’ In the course of the restoration, Perrin made a macabre discovery: the ruins of an oubliette, a dungeon that opened only from the top, into which people were thrown, literally to be forgotten. It contained human and animal bones that Perrin had analysed. ‘The theory is that it was probably closed up in the 18th century, and erased from the records because it was a source of such shame.’ Perrin claims that the circular bedroom at the top of the south tower, where his friends Tina Turner, Elton John, Richard Gere, Cindy Crawford and Tony Blair stay when they drop in for a weekend, is also subject to visitations from former inhabitants.

The Chateau has a nicely designed and informative website and blog – see www.chateau-lagrezette.tm.fr

Whilst the wines of Lagrezette are undoubtedly of high quality, personally I would prefer the wines of Chateau du Cedre or Chateau Eugenie.

Chateau Lagrezette Cahors AC is available from www.bertrandandnicholaswines.co.uk amongst others.

See our customised Google Map of the Lot and Cahors

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