amarchinthevines

Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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Vendanges 2016 #9 – Days Like This

“When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit
Then I must remember there’ll be days like this”               (Van Morrison, Days Like This)

As we approached the end of vendanges a number of the team were moving on. It was an inspired move to have a farewell day, picking, tasting and celebrating together, though we were already missing some like Charles, Carole and Maylis.

The morning dawned over Peilhan and the vineyard which we planted in March 2015. Rows of Terret Blanc and Noir, Riveyrenc Gris and Noir, Piquepoul Noir and Morastel produced grapes this year. They cannot be used in major cuvées sold to the public as they are too youthful. However, Jeff decided to pick them to make something for himself out of interest. So, on a bright, warm autumnal morning we gathered, picked, chatted and laughed.

Interesting to see how some varieties produce more than others already, more precocious perhaps, the Terret Noir being especially shy. Altogether we picked around six cases only but there was a real mix of colour and some nice looking fruit which went into a small cuve in whole bunches.

 

Later that day we gathered again, this time in the main cellar along with Thierry Toulouse, Jeff’s oenologue. We tasted through the whole range of 2016 wines in cuve before heading to a local restaurant for a meal. The results of the tasting were fascinating. Clearly, they are in a stage of transition, fermentations still progressing. Nonetheless the wines were already showing their character. I won’t go into too much detail here, though I did take notes to help me record how the wines change in coming months.

In summary though I was amazed. I have said many times on here how difficult this year has been. A very warm winter, drought, mildew, delayed summer being just some of the problems. Yet here we tasted some lovely fresh fruit, lively acidity and other promising signs. I would mention the Carignan Blanc, lovely Syrah and Grenache from La Garrigue, juicy Mourvèdre and in particular the wonderful Carignan Noir of Flambadou. All those puzzles which Jeff had to hold in his head about harvesting dates, moving wines, possible assemblages etc, well those puzzles were solved in the glass. I had expected some disappointments but somehow Jeff has conjured some potentially top quality wines.

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2003 Roberta

At the end of the current wines Jeff also shared a 2003 bottle of white wine based on Grenache Blanc, Noir and Gris, called Roberta (it’s a long story!). This was one of three cuvées which were the first that Jeff made sans sulfites. Yet it was complex; fresh, fruity, nutty. A wine which made my heart sing, proof that SO2 is not required for ageing wines as we are often told. Perhaps in 13 years time we shall be tasting the 2016 wines and marveling at them too.

A fitting way to close the vendanges period, a team rightly proud of what it had achieved.

“When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit
Then I must remember there’ll be days like this”

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Vendanges 2016 #8 – from grapes to wine

En français

The grapes are picked, how do we make this become wine? That has become the main objective now at Mas Coutelou.

The grape skins, pips, flesh and solids are with the juice in the tank (cuve) for as long as Jeff feels that they will benefit the juice. They give the juice chemicals such as anthocyanins which give colour to the juice (for rosé and red wines), tannins and flavour compounds. The solid parts of the mix tend to rise to the top of the tank and float on the juice. This cap must be kept moist, a dry must would give unpleasant flavours and is more prone to harmful bacteria. That is why remontage and pigeage have to be carried out, as explained before.

Jeff will taste from each cuve every day and samples are sent to oenologue Thierry Toulouse for analysis.

When he is happy that the right balance of sugars, acidity, colour and flavours is achieved it is time to press the wine. Some of the must is left behind in cuve and will be collected to use again, for example in distilling.

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Michel removing must from the cuve

The pressed juice goes into a new cuve and will continue its fermentation into wine. The yeasts on the grape skins and in the atmosphere of the cellar change the grape sugars into alcohol. The fermentation will have begun when the must was in contact but will continue when just the juice remains.

I wish I could convey the smell of the fermenting juice via the page you are reading. It is like walking into a boulangerie in the early morning,  bready aromas fill the air as the yeasts go about their work. One of the real highlights of the whole process.

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Fragrant, yeasty fermenting wine

Whilst that is all going on the equipment which has been used so much in the last month is checked over, taken apart and given a thorough cleaning. Not a pip, not a grape skin must be left in the sorting table, presses, égrappoir (destemmer) or anything else. No chance of bacteria gathering.

It is not straightforward. The process of grape juice to wine is a natural one and things can go wrong. Any vigneron who had a year where the process went without any hiccoughs would be either the luckiest alive or a liar. Yeasts can suddenly stop working, fermentations become too hot, bacteria (both helpful and harmful) are unpredictable. Jeff must be aware of every cuve and of their analyses, he must use his experience to tackle any issue which springs up at any time of day or night. He rejects the use of sulphur dioxide (SO2) to act as an antiseptic or stabiliser for the wine, therefore that experience is tested time and again. No wonder he wears an air of fatigue.

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Vendanges 2016 #7 – Last Pickings

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Cabernet Sauvignon sheltering the Moroccan pickers

En français

Wednesday (September 21st) was officially the last day of summer and, appropriately, the last day of picking at Mas Coutelou. It was, as in 2015, the Cabernet Sauvignon of Segrairals which was the last major parcel gathered in. Lovely, clean bunches of small, healthy berries, classic Cabernet and virtually nothing to sort in the vineyard or in the cellar. 

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Cabernet Sauvignon

The day before had seen the start of the Cabernet in the afternoon following a morning of picking Mourvèdre, also from Segrairals. As I hadn’t ventured into the vineyard much in 2016 I took the opportunity to do so that morning. Our friend Jill had expressed a wish to do some grape picking and Jeff kindly agreed so I accompanied her (so at least there was one less experienced picker than me!). I really enjoyed being out in the fresh air but it was also good to get a grip on how the vineyard topography can have such an impact upon the grapes.

The Mourvèdre grows on an easterly slope with the rows running down the slope. The vines at the bottom of the slope gave lower quality bunches than those at the top, indeed we stopped picking the last few vines at the bottom of each row. The reason was that when it does rain the water runs down the slope taking nutrients etc. The grapes there tend to ripen much sooner with more humidity in the ground, it was a clear example of terroir. Rest assured that only good grapes went into cuve, much was left behind in the vineyard and at the side of the sorting table.

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The slope in the Mourvedre vines, rejected fruit on the ground

On Monday the lovely Carignan Noir of Rec D’Oulette (Chemin De Pailhès) was added to the tanks. The quality was high and signs are promising for yet another good vintage of Flambadou, arguably the domaine’s best wine in recent years.

Since the last article the other major harvest was some bountiful, good quality Grenache from La Garrigue on Saturday 17th.

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Gorgeous Grenache

There remain a few rows here and there with some grapes left and they may or may not be picked in coming days and weeks. However, the Cabernet marked the last of the major picking. Time to say farewell to the Moroccan pickers, part of the Coutelou crew for the last month.

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Stage 1 is therefore over. Stage 2 the cellar work of remontages and pigeage continues apace as most cuves are now full and need looking after. Stage 3, pressing, is also in full swing as grapes from previous weeks have now gone through fermentation on skins and need to be pressed to take the juice away. I shall be writing about this more in the next article.

So, we head into autumn, the vines are fatigued after a very stressful year. The leaves are already changing colour and the Languedoc will be an even more beautiful place in coming weeks. The picking may be over but the vendanges are not. 

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Mourvedre in autumnal glory

 


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Vendanges 2016 #6 – Sort It Out

 

En français

What do you look for when hundreds of bunches of Grenache grapes come towards you? What is your job on the sorting table?

Every winemaker wants the healthiest grapes to go into their vats to make the best possible wine. In some of the smartest chateaux and domains in Bordeaux and Burgundy each grape is sorted, even scanned. However, those are wineries which charge hundreds of pounds for a bottle of wine. For a natural Languedoc wine producer such expense is not feasible, so no scanners at Mas Coutelou. However, the need for only healthy fruit to go into tank is even more important for those who will not use additives such as SO2.

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The sorting table is new this year, previously we sorted direct from the case. The table means that you can see more of the grapes, move them around and search for any problems with greater ease. Undoubtedly it has led to better triage of the grapes which should help the wines. In a very difficult vintage such as 2016 the table has easily repaid its cost.

 

So, what are you looking for?

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Michel brings in the cases and information about the grapes

Well, first of all you get information from Michel as he brings the cases direct from the vines. He talks to the pickers and they will tell him if they have been in a good part of the vineyard with few problems or, conversely, if they have had to do a lot of sorting and cutting themselves. Michel relays this information to us on the sorting table with warnings to look out for snails or rot for example. Forewarned is forearmed.

In the video you see Vincent empty the case onto the table. He immediately looks for leaves, snails, spiders etc and removes them. Priscilla starts to sort. I or someone else would be on the other side so that we can see the bunches from different angles and turn them over to inspect.

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Some squishy grapes

When I first joined the Coutelou team in millésime 2014 it was Carole who taught me what to look for. There are the obvious things, more snails and leaves but then look at the bunches. Or rather, not so much look, but touch and smell. Feel the bunch, are the grapes firm and springy or squishy? In the latter case warning bells ring. Is the squishiness due to juice or to rot? Smell the bunch. Does it have aromas of clean fruit or vinegary, rotten odours? Obviously if that is the case you cut into the bunch and seek out the rot and remove any affected grapes. Usually cut some of the ones around too as they might have been tainted by the rot.

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Mildewed grapes

Look out too for mildewed grapes which have dried and become unpleasant. There are grapes which have naturally dried out and their raisiny sweetness is actually good in the wine, so you have to learn what you are looking for. Are there hail damages grapes? Grapes with holes from vers de la grappe (grape worms)? Black rot? Oidium? In a future article I shall be looking at how these problems show themselves on the final grapes.

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Lovely Grenache bunch but check the interior

Of course, the vast majority of bunches are great, no problems at all, just lovely fruit. But, beware, those big closed up bunches are the very ones where problems might lurk inside. Don’t be deceived by something which looks good, you must still check it over.

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Nice, loose bunches – air can circulate to keep the grapes healthy

And meanwhile, whilst you look at that bunch another one is passing you on the table. Work fast, eyes, fingers, nose on the alert. Secateurs cutting whilst your fingers are already touching the next bunch. Be careful, no blood on those grapes please.

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Sorted!!

For Martin, hope you enjoyed it!


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Vendanges 2016 #5 – Bolts from the blue

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La foudre s’est abattue sur le cirque de Gavarnie, dans les Hautes-Pyrénées, dans la nuit du 13 au 14 septembre. (Photo : capture d’écran webcam Gîte Oxygène Gavarnie)

En français

Tuesday September 13th, the return of picking, with a little urgency in light of the weather forecast for heavy storms that night. The objective was to collect the Syrah from La Garrigue, the grapes which go into La Vigne Haute, my personal «cuvée mythique» of Mas Coutelou.

Last year the grapes were slightly swollen so Jeff decided to make another cuvée instead, On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que, and it is now 3 or 4 years since we saw LVH. It remains to be seen whether Jeff decides that the grapes were of high enough quality in 2016 for such a prestigious wine.

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Syrah in La Garrigue on Saturday 10th

The grapes started a little messy requiring some careful triage both in the vineyard and cellar.

However, the quality improved after the first few cases which had been picked in a lower part of the vineyard. Certainly by the end of the day we had sorted a good quantity and quality of fruit, my shirt can certainly testify to their juiciness.

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That night came the predicted thunderstorm, violent though not as long lasting as perhaps expected. I saw that some parts of the region saw over 200mm of rain, fortunately Puimisson did not reach those levels. However, there was enough to stop picking for the next few days. As I said last time wet grapes are not ideal. In addition the soft ground in the vineyards would be churned up by feet and wheels.

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James working hard as usual

In a way the storm came at a good time on a personal level. I developed a mild case of bronchitis out of the blue on Tuesday which would have prevented me from working on Wednesday and Thursday. So, I have left cellar work to the experts whilst I recharge my batteries for Saturday when we may get to the Grenache in La Garrigue which looks bountiful and ripe.

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Grenache in La Garrigue Sept. 10th

Meanwhile analysis of the grapes continues. There was the result of Ecocert’s evaluation showing that Mas Coutelou successfully retains its organic certification and also their analysis proving that no sulphites were or are added in the wines. And then there is the daily analysis from the oenologue which shows information such as alcohol levels, total acidity, pH levels, residual sugar etc. These help Jeff to think about how to look after the wines and which ones might blend together successfully in future.

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The weather is now set fair until we finish; Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon should arrive in good conditions with a light north wind and under blue skies.

 


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Vendanges 2016 #4 -cellar and weather

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En français

The weather has had its say and threatens to shout out loud in the next few days. Should we expect anything different in this most problematic of years? Saturday (Sept. 10th) was supposed to be a day for picking but a heavy shower fell in the morning and that was enough to stop the day in the vineyards. Grapes covered in rainwater would provide diluted juice, no good for quality producers though that did not stop some in the area.

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Some picked on Saturday

However, there was still work to do in the cellar, remontages and pressing. The previous day some of the team had been clearing space in the solera cave so that the Muscat and Grenache picked from Rome vineyard would have room.

Sunday was a day off though more remontage and cellar work was done. There is no rest. Today (Monday 12th) was a normal day for many vignerons but at Mas Coutelou a big part of the team are the Moroccan pickers and it is Eid Mubarak. Therefore Jeff decided that they deserved the opportunity to celebrate their holy day and so no major picking. An act of respect which deserves mention.

Sadly, that act seems unlikely to be rewarded by the weather. There is a major threat of a large storm on Wednesday which would halt work again and require a few days for the grapes to recover before they could be harvested. More careful triage will also be required. Let us hope that the storm weakens or diverts.

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Carignan Noir Saturday

Meanwhile Carole, James, Vincent and Charles were out picking Carignan Blanc this morning in Peilhan and the Grenache from Sainte Suzanne was pressed. Work continues despite everything this year throws at us. Tomorrow will see the harvest of Syrah from La Garrigue, the grapes which usually make La Vigne Haute.

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La Garrigue, Syrah on the left

 


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Vendanges 2016 #3 – Press review

En français

In the last vendanges update I wrote about stages 1-3 of harvest; picking, care in the cuve and pressing. Well, all three are moving on apace.

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More and more wines to analyse, Jeff can’t keep up!

Today (Sept. 9th) was the first pressing of the year. In the small basket press was the Grenaches from Rome vineyard picked earlier this morning. These were the same vines as the ones I picked last year for my special cuvée. By chance, or design, the younger barrel of that cuvée was given a soutirage this morning. It tasted very well just showing the influence of the barrel. As the other barrel and 27 litre glass bottle are much more fruity the eventual assemblage should be nicely balanced. Here is last year’s Grenache saying hello to its younger brother.

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In the big press was the white picked last week, Maccabeu, Muscat (Alexandrie and Petits Grains) and Grenache Gris. The press is big but the bladder inside lightly squeezes the grapes to release the juice, a gentle giant. The juice now goes into cuve and will ferment into the finished wine.

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Skins after pressing, the pinkish coloured ones are Grenache Gris

Meanwhile stage 2 continues apace with remontage and pigeage of the growing number of wines now in cuve. Stages 2&3 require increasing effort, there was very little picking today though tomorrow will be busy again.

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Jeff and Louis Pérot working on the cuves

Wednesday saw a full day of Syrah from Segrairals. The grapes were good and often very juicy. There are sections of the parcel which seem to retain moisture and help the grapes even in such a dry year as 2016.

Thursday was the busiest day so far. A morning of picking Peilhan white grapes, mostly Maccabeu, Grenache Gris and Muscat. These had suffered through the attack of mildew in spring time and some careful triage was necessary. Nevertheless, small in quantity but good quality.

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5SO 2015 greets this year’s grapes

In the afternoon arrived the Cinsault from Segrairals which makes 5SO Simple. Cinsault gives bigger berries with lots of juice. The juice came in at around 10.5%, Jeff said that it would be a ‘vin dangereux’ as it would be very easy to just keep drinking it.

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Team Coutelou

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Plus one sleepy dog