amarchinthevines

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


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New vines, old grapes – Segrairals

En francais

The new plantation, originally designed for the parcel at Sainte Suzanne contains a number of rare grape varieties. That parcel has been so wet that Jeff decided not to go ahead there, instead he planted them in Segrairals after grubbing up some of its Cabernet Sauvignon vines. To the right of the Cabernet the white vines were planted with red varieties to the left side.

White

  • Clairette

Origins: A Mediterranean grape, famously associated with Adissan in the Hérault. There are different varieties; Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Clairette Musquée etc. (Jeff has had Musquée for some years, this was one of the grapes which Domaine de Vassal had not known about until Jeff visited). It is also known as Blanquette and Malvoisie (not to be confused with the Italian grape of that name). 2,200ha are planted, down from 14,000 in 1958.

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Clairette, from Pierre Galet’s Dictionnairedes cépages

Bunches: above average in size, compact, cylindrical with average sized grapes. Leaves are quite round though the top sinuses are distinct.

Growing: Late budding, ripens at a normal rate*, vigorous so might need pruning. Can be vulnerable to mildew and vers de la grappe (moth larvae which grow in the berry, the juice can then spoil the whole bunch).

Wine: Fresh, quite high alcohol with relatively low acidity

  • Picardan

Origins: South of France, Provence (this is a grape which can be used in Chateauneuf Du Pape). Sometimes called Oeillade Blanche (not related to Oeillade Noir which Jeff has already), Aragnan and Milhaud Blanc. In 2011 only 1 ha was being grown, that in Provence.

Bunches: average sized, compact, long stems with small to medium grapes which start a yellowy green and develop a pink tinge by maturity. Leaves have 5 distinct lobes with marked teeth

Growing: Late budding, vigorous, ripens at a normal rate. Quite hardy against disease but prone to mites.

Wine: usually blended with others, often in rosé wine, aromatic.

  • Olivette Blanche

Origins: Unknown though likely southern France, not related to Olivette Noire. Sometimes called Servan Olivet or Rognon. One advantage of Olivette Blanche is that the flowers are female so it is a handy variety to plant amongst others which are dominated by male flowers. Only 1,8ha are known to be planted so this is a coup for Jeff.

Bunches: average sized, straight rather than conical in shape. Stalks stay green. Irregular sized and shaped grapes which can grow big. Greeny yellow in colour and fleshy. Leaves are 5 lobed though these are not distinct V shaped sinuses help to distinguish it.

Growing: Average budding, vigour and ripening. Sensitive to coulure and millerandage (meaning some berries don’t develop in the bunches).

Wine: As a result of its irregular growth this is not an easy grape to prune and train so it has become little grown.

  • Servant

Servan

Origins: Probably Languedoc. Sometimes confused with Le Gros Vert which is a different grape. Also known as Servan, Colombal and Nonay. Only 75ha remain in the Hérault (there used to be more than 4,000ha) with another 50ha in Italy.

Bunches: Average to big in size with grapes which have quite thin skins and turn slightly pinkish on maturity. The grapes are quite fleshy. Leaves have 5 distinct lobes and deep sinuses.

Growing: Budding is normal, ripening later than average. Vigorous growth and as the vine ages it starts to grow lots of grapillons (side bunches). Quite a vulnerable variety, prone to millerandage, mildew, oidium and does not like the soil to be too dry.

Wine: Neutral, lasts well (The name Servan means conserves)

  • Terret

Origins: Languedoc. There are different types and Jeff has these in Peilhan vineyard too; Terret Bourret or gris and Terret Monstre or blanc. Another variety used in making Chateauneuf Du Pape and other Rhone wines. This variety has doubled in surface area in the Languedoc in the last 50 years.

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Terret Blanc, from wikimedia

Bunches: Average to big in size, the bunches develop in a pyramid shape and are compact. Grapes can be round, thick skinned and juicy. The leaves tend to redden in early autumn. Leaves are fairly compact the top 4 lobes looking like one large one.

Growing: Late budding and vigorous. Prone to mildew and oidium as well as vers de la grappe. Can get sunburned easily.

Wine: Fresh, light, dry and aromatic.

Reds

  • Aramon

Origins: Probably Languedoc. Used to be planted all over the region, one of its names was Pisse-vin because it is the most fertile of all grapes and produces large quantities of low alcohol wine. This was the grape which made most of the wine given to troops in the French Army in World War 1 as well as sold to the ordinary people of Paris. There were over 150,000ha in 1958 now there are only 2,260ha.

Bunches: Conical shaped and very big, weighing 400-600 grammes even over 1kg. The grapes are also large in size, spherical and very juicy with thin skins meaning the grapes can burst open if not handled carefully. Leaves are thin and 3 lobed

Growing: Early budding but average ripening dates. Sensitive to mildew but can resist oidium. Also vulnerable to mites, vers de la grappe and fungal problems.

Wine: Fairly neutral with little colour if allowed to grow unchecked. With careful pruning and green harvesting the wine can be fresh and juicy.

  • Grand Noir De La Calmette

Origins: This is a cross, made in 1855, of Petit Bouschet and Aramon, bears some resemblance to Piqupoul Noir which is also a cross of Petit Bouschet. It has almost disappeared so these few vines are a real rarity, now only 0,4ha in the whole of France though there are 1,000ha in Portugal and more around the New World. Also called Gros Noir and Sumo tinto.

Grand Noir

Bunches: Average to big in size, cylindrical in shape with short, woody stalks. The grapes are average in size but some bunches are prone to undeveloped green berries. The skins are quite thick and a rich purple. The juice is quite sweet and reddish as are the pips. Leaves have 5 lobes with prominent teeth and look long.

Growing: Very late budding, vigorous in growth, normal maturity. A little sensitive to oidium, less so to mildew. Hates frosts.

Wine: Low alcohol and ages quite quickly.

 


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Kina than ever

 

Version francaise

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According to the very good website Punch there is a vermouth renaissance at present, headed by demand in Spain. Coincidentally Jeff Coutelou has marketed his version of vermouth, Kina, this year. Good timing it would seem.

On July 17th Jeff prepared the next batch of Kina. Demijohns were given generous quantities of herbs and spices such as bitter orange peel, sweet orange, gentian and many others. Top secret recipe of course! White wine was added to top up the container and this will form the concentrate. In a few weeks when the wine has macerated with the flavourings they will be removed. The flavoured wine will then be diluted with more wine to produce the Kina.

It is a very refreshing aperitif, dry and flavoursome. Certainly we were not the only ones to appreciate the morning’s work a Icare found it a source of great interest.

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Coutelou renewed

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En Francais

You may recall that for French bureaucratic reasons the Coutelou domaine name had to change this year. Mas Coutelou was a combination of the surnames of Jeff’s parents, Mas being his mother’s family name. However, Mas also means a homestead or farm and only wines under Appellation or IGP labels are allowed to have that name. So, family name or not, Jeff’s Vin De France wines, Mas Coutelou for many years, had to have new branding.

Since he was already planning to release new products such as a fine (eau de vie), a kina (like a vermouth) and other spirits Jeff chose ‘Vins et Spiritueux Coutelou’. I have tried the Kina and like it, even though it’s not really my thing. Made from wine and organic herbs from the vineyards it is a very enjoyable aperitif.

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It seems that renewal is the signature of the year. There has been much updating of the cellar in recent times; roof, insulation, a form of air conditioning, division of cuves to make it possible to vinify smaller parcels and quantities, resin flooring, better drainage, amphorae, temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. A new management space means that it is easier to see at a glance what is where and adds a tidiness to what was a more chaotic central space of the cellar.

Upstairs the new office space has been fitted out beautifully. Jeff commissioned a couple of local carpenters to make furniture. Using old barrels and a foudre of more than 130 years old they made a cupboard, with themed shelves and a stunning chair for the desk. They are real works of art, true craftsmanship. A table from the Coutelou family home has been skilfully renewed to add a feature to the space.

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The empty parcel next to Ste Suzanne

And, in the vineyards more renewal. The small parcel at Sainte Suzanne which has been fallow for many years was supposed to be planted last year, in 2017. A very wet spell then and another this Spring has meant that those plans had to be shelved as the parcel was too wet. However, the vines were already ordered so Jeff has planted them in Segrairals where he had grubbed up some Cabernet Sauvignon. Instead of that extraneous variety Jeff has planted Aramon Noir and Aramon Gris (Aramon being the original grape in the parcel next to Ste Suzanne), Terret, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Picardan, Olivette, Servan (related to Syrah) and Grand Noir De La Calmette. I must admit to never having heard of some of these. Time to consult my copy of Galet’s wonderful Encycolpedia of Grapes. The Coutelou vineyards are fast becoming a treasure store of rare grapes, there are now several dozen varieties planted.

The very hot and dry month combined with the widespread mildew outbreak have meant that Jeff has spent many hours tending this new plantation, spraying and watering to help the new plants to survive. Happily, all is well.

2018 will always be remembered by Languedoc vignerons as a year of headaches and heartaches, months spent on tractors fighting disease, easy to become disheartened. The Coutelou renewals help to remind us that such problems are temporary.


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The Boys Are Back In Town

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En francais

A morning in the cellars, a good chance to catch up with not just Jeff but Michel and Julien who I hadn’t seen since last October. The gathering was to do the assemblage of L’Oublié the cuvée made up not just of different grape varieties but different vintages of those grapes. Old Carignan and Grenache from ‘forgotten’ barrels includes years such as 2001, 2007 and 2010. Added to these are younger wines such as Syrah from 2014 and 2015, Copains 2013 and some 2017 Grenache amongst others. There is even some of the grapes often used to make La Vigne Haute, my favourite wine of all.

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As always with work in the Coutelou cellar the priority is cleanliness, the safeguard which ensures that no added sulphites are added to the wines. Everything is cleaned thoroughly before use and after use, every time a piece of equipment is needed. It adds to the work load but it is vital for the wines to be pure.

The wines were then taken from the various barrels and tanks to one of the large fibre glass tanks to spend time blending and harmonising before it will be bottled at some point in the future. The resultant blend was excellent. I had coincidentally opened a bottle of the last blend of this cuvée just two days before and it was on fine form so this one has a lot to live up to. First impressions are that it will do just that, a new star is born!

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Component wines to make L’Oublié

Then more moving around of different wines to free up some of the tanks which will be needed for the 2018 vintage. Checks were made on all the wines in the cellar including the new amphorae. This is the second wine to be matured in them, the first having been bottled already. I tasted some of that first amphora wine and it was very impressive, a real stand out. Jeff kindly gave the three of us a jereboam of that first wine and it will be a very special occasion when it is opened. Offers for an invitation are welcome!

After the final clean up and a couple more tastings the morning’s work was completed, yes work – honestly. The team was back together, the wines are together. All is well.

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On higher ground

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En francais

The last article described the ongoing problems in the Languedoc with mildew spoiling vines and grapes. Last Saturday Jeff  invited me over to try and beat the blues a little. Steve from Besançon was staying with Jeff for a week to learn a bit more about being a vigneron. They had opened a bottle of La Vigne Haute 2013 on the previous evening and Jeff invited me over to try the last glass from the bottle.

When I arrived on the Saturday morning Jeff was spraying the Flower Power vineyard, Font D’Oulette. When he had finished we returned to his house and I had the remaining 2013, delicious it was too, still youthful but starting to add tertiary notes to the fruit. Jeff decided to open the 2010 to show how age helps La Vigne Haute to reveal its quality and depth; fruit, spice and leathery complexity. A bottle demonstrating perfectly why La Vigne Haute is my favourite wine of all. However, that was not the end. From his personal cellar emerged a 2001 LVH with no label. Still vibrant with fruit singing and yet more complexity of spice, classic black pepper notes. Simply excellent.

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So, was that the end? Not at all.  More Syrah from older vintages, 1998, 1997 and 1993. Each was still alive with black fruit and those spicy notes. The 91 was Jeff’s first solo bottling, a real privilege to taste it. He had added, all those years ago, a total of 5mg of SO2, pretty much absorbed now, and would certainly qualify as natural wine from a time when it was virtually unknown. A treasure trove of history as well as further proof of how well these wines do mature, there were no off notes at all.  Indeed, they were delicious.

A 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon showed the quality of that grape from the region and how well it aged. There were still currant flavours, violets and more spice. A fresh acidity cleansed the palate. I hadn’t known what to expect, I was bowled over.

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Legendary Roberta

And to finish the 5 hour lunch a bottle of Roberta, the 2003 white wine made from all three Grenache grapes, one of Jeff’s first no added sulphite wines, aged in a special barrel which gives the wine its name. It is a treat I have tasted on a handful of special occasions, its nutty, round fruit was a perfect ending to a special day. Whatever 2018 brings this was a reminder of the special Coutelou wines.

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Mainly Happy Returns?

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En francais

After eight months away from Puimisson and the Coutelou vines it was definitely a case of being very happy to return. As I stood in Rome vineyard there was the chorus of birdsong, hum of insects, flash of colour from butterflies and flowers. A resounding reminder of why this is one of my favourite places on Earth, capable of making me joyful just by being there.

Rome

In Font D’Oulette (Flower Power), the vines are maturing well, many now sturdy and thriving in their gobelet freedom. The change from when we grafted some of them just two years ago is dramatic, perhaps more to me as I haven’t seen them since last October.

Grafted vine 2016, same vine now

In Peilhan and Rec D’Oulette (Flambadou’s Carignan) the roses were still just in bloom at the end of the rows but starting to wilt under the hot sun.

Carignan left and top right, Peilhan bottom right

And there lies the rub. The hot sun has really only been out in the region for the last week, it has been a catastrophic Spring. Rain has fallen dramatically, almost three times the usual level from March onwards after a wetter winter than usual. The annual rainfall average has been surpassed just halfway through the year. Moreover the rain was not in sudden bursts but steady, regular, in most afternoons. Vineyards all over the region are sodden, tractors and machines unable to fight their way through the mud making vineyard work difficult if not impossible. Even after a week of sun if I press down onto the soil I can feel the dampness on the topsoil.

Mix damp and warmth around plants and there is a sadly inevitable result, mildew.

Look again at the photo of Peilhan, zoom in on the wines at the bottom,

there are the tell tale brown spots.

This downy mildew lives as spores in the soil and the rain splashes them up onto the vines. Jeff had warned me of the damage which I described from afar in my last post. Seeing the tell tale signs of brown spots on the upper leaves on such a scale across vineyards all over the Languedoc is another matter though. All those vines touched will yield nothing (though some will still put them into production, so be confident of your producer). I have heard that some producers have effectively lost most of their vines for this year and similar stories from right across the region. Grenache seems particularly susceptible to mildew and it has been devastated at Jeff’s, the Maccabeu too.

Meanwhile Jeff has been struggling against nature, not a normal situation. He has sprayed all kinds of organic products from seaweed, nettles, essential oils such as orange and lavender, horsetail, clay. He has used the two natural elements permitted under organic rules, copper and sulphur. Jeff is particularly reluctant to use copper but such is the battle this year that it was necessary. Unfortunately like Sisyphus the task is uphill. He sprays, it rains and the effects of the spray are greatly lessened by washing it off the vines, so he has to start again. At least this week that is no longer the case and Jeff has been working all hours to save what he can, to roll that rock uphill once more. He is discouraged, even heartbroken to see the state of some of the vines he tends and cares for so much.

Dare I mention that now is the time when oidium, powdery mildew makes itself known? Please, not this year.

So, production will be down enormously this year, we hold out best hope for Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan Noir. Lower production means lower income too, so expect price rises and please do not complain as now you are aware of the reasons.

So happy returns? Well on a personal level yes. To see my great friend again, to have Icare waiting to be tickled, to see the good side of nature. But. This is not a happy time for vignerons across this region and it hurts to see my friends knocked about like this. Let us hope for northerly, drying winds, sunshine and no more disease so that something can be rescued this year, for Sisyphus to reach his summit.

It really is Flower Power now. Jeff sowed wildflowers and plants to help the soils of that vineyard retain moisture, ironic given the Spring.


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Broad thoughts from home

A number of wine issues have been in my thoughts the last couple of weeks without anything being strong enough to warrant a blog post on its own. So, why not compile them?

There have been a number of discussions on Twitter and other social media about wine judging. This is probably connected with publication of Decanter’s annual wine awards but there has been much debate about the merit of such awards and judging in general. As so often it was Andrew Jefford who kicked things off with an article in the aforementioned Decanter with some valid points. As so often I agree with some of what he says, not with everything.

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Photo from The Academic Wino

Other professional judges and experts then got heated at criticism on social media about whether their marks were really worth that much. I have written before that I no longer take any notice of wine awards, medals and competitions. My own experience of judging was certainly a contributory factor in putting me off, I left unconvinced by the results from the panels I took part in and even the basis on which medals were awarded. I also tend to think that many judges have certain expectations of wines and mark according to what they think is expected rather than on the actual wines in their glass, for example based on region. Judging blind, i.e. without knowing what the label says, should help to overcome this but I remain unconvinced. I know that when I have tried some wines awarded top medals I have been disappointed far too often to place much faith in the system.

I do respect the opinions of some judges and experts whose taste I know does align more with mine than most but, medals, that don’t impress me much as Shania Twain would sing if she was a wine drinker.

 

I will soon be heading back to the Languedoc and to Jeff’s so my other main thoughts have been about what has been going on there. He has sent me a number of reports of the poor weather in the region this year, a lot of rain and cooler weather. Sadly it wasn’t difficult to predict what would happen when the weather warmed up, mildew. I have written about this before but warm, damp conditions encourage this disease. Jeff sent me a photo of Grenache in Sainte Suzanne being affected by mildew. What alarmed him was that normally it would affect stem, leaf or bud. This time it hit them all together. Unfortunately, Jeff reports that much of the Grenache has been spoiled. This problem is widespread in the region and even made the newspapers.

 

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Photo by Jeff Coutelou

 

 

Another side effect has been that such weather conditions encourage snails and apparently they have been active in the Carignan and in Peilhan vineyard. Happily Font D’Oulette (Flower Power) which has suffered from snails eating the buds in the past has been spared this year and looks very good in these photos of Jeff.

 

I hope that is the end of the problems for the year and look forward to reuniting with events in Puimisson  and updating you.