PRAYSSAC, France — Back in 1975, Jean-Marie Sigaud had a brilliant idea.
As a child, Mr. Sigaud, whose family grows grapes and makes wine here in the Cahors region in southwestern France, had heard the old men talk about how the best wines, the ones that had won medals at international expositions, historically came from the steep limestone slopes of the hillsides.
Those slopes throughout Cahors were now abandoned, covered in trees, with the occasional stone terrace wall the only reminder of the presence of vineyards before the phylloxera aphid devastated the grapevines of Europe in the late 19th century.
“It’s not worth the expense,” Mr. Sigaud recalls being told. “It’s too steep and dangerous to work with tractors.” But he went ahead and planted anyway. He planted more in 2005. Now, as the patriarch of Métairie Grande du Théron, working with his sons, Sébastien and Pierre, he plans to plant another portion of the stony hillside.
Cahors has not seen much excitement in a long time, centuries maybe. In the Middle Ages, its coastal rival Bordeaux blocked Cahors and other inland regions from using its ports until Bordeaux’s own wines were sold, effectively stymying growth. Although the quality of the wines was appreciated in the 19th century, Cahors has more recently been little more than a backwater, a place more recognized for its potential than valued for its wines.
But a new era of hope seems to have dawned in Cahors. Projects like Mr. Sigaud’s hillside vineyard, along with outside interest in the region and an energetic younger generation of producers, have injected Cahors with a sense of freshness and optimism, backed up by a group of exceptional wines…