As my favourite band Elbow sang in their biggest hit, one day like this a year would see me right!
Saturday September 27th was the last day of vendanges chez Coutelou and, apparently, many other domaines in the region. After some iffy weather in the previous 10 days the sun had been out for the last 2 or 3 and today was no different. There was an autumnal, morning chill as Pat and I arrived in the vineyard to help collect the last of the Grenache Noir.
However, the sun soon became hot and the panama was soon donned to protect my head since hair no longer bothers to do so. The usual pickers had departed and Jeff called in his friends from the Béziers rugby club to help out. The ‘rugbymen’ proved to be hard working, fun and very welcoming towards novices such as ourselves even when I declared my lack of interest in their sport.
As ever harvesting grapes is only the first part of the job in the vineyard as it is the first step in the process of triage (sorting), any underripe, mildewy or poor quality grapes being cut out before being placed in buckets, then cases. The best way to check the health of a bunch that has been cut is to smell it. There should be the clean, fruity smell of grapes. If not, then search for the problem and eliminate it. Any grape left should be one that you would be happy to eat, and that we did too!
As the morning heated up it was time to casse croute. A drink of water I thought, wrong! Out came the picnic table, a collection of charcuterie (my pescatarian ways raising more rugbymen mirth!) and then some cheeses from La Fromagerie, a shop in Béziers. These were some of the best cheeses I have ever tasted, including a runny and perfect St Marcellin. Naturally, in every sense of the word, to accompany these treats were a couple of magnums of Vin Des Amis, the most appropriate of wines for today.
12.30pm, grapes picked it was time to return to the cellars. The Grenache was put into tank to be fermented by carbonic maceration. This is where whole bunches of grapes are put in tank and the weight of the grapes gradually bursts the skins and starts fermenting the grapes at the bottom of the tank. Most of the grapes begin to ferment inside their skins. The result is usually more fruit and less tannin and adds a different layer of complexity when blended with other grapes fermented traditionally after being pressed
Jeff shared some of the juice / wines from various tanks from the harvests of the last few weeks. These are, obviously, at different stages of development according to date of picking, speed of fermentation etc. There were a multitude of flavours, richness and acidity and so much promise for another excellent vintage despite the dry spring and summer. Low in quantity but high in quality.
And that I thought was that. Wrong again! Back to Jeff’s house,
the celebrated 7, Rue De La Pompe (name of one of Jeff’s cuvées) and into the garden where, joined by families of the rugbymen, children and 17 adults sat down to a delicious meal of salads, a giant seafood pasta, more La Fromagerie cheeses, and several huge fruit tarts. Just fantastic, many thanks to the cooks, Michel for cooking the pasta through, and to Jeff for his generosity. Why so few pictures of the meal? Well I’d like to claim a technical hitch but it was probably more due to this…
I don’t think I have ever seen a Balthazar bottle actually filled with wine. This was Vin Des Amis 2013, all 12 litres of it. As the afternoon wore on it was amazing to taste how the wine developed and opened up allowing the Grenache fruit to really express itself. And, to make a comparison, a magnum of 2010 Vin Des Amis which was beautiful. Fresh yet complex and long lasting. Thus it was after 6pm when we finally stood up from the table. Pat had been very abstemious as we had to get back to Margon and then to the theatre in Pézenas. I admit to being a little merry.
It had been a fantastic day, one I shall always cherish and remember. I have always wanted to pick grapes and take part in a wine harvest. Dream fulfilled in the company of some terrific people who were welcoming, friendly and tolerant of the two English incomers. What a treat to spend the day in the company of French people at work and at play, even if the speed of their French became way too fast for me at times. Work to do there. And, work aplenty still to do in the year ahead – the wines have still to be made, bottling to do, pruning and taillage in the vineyards. I can’t wait!
I must say a huge thank you to Jeff whose patience, friendship and generosity are the stuff of legend. I posted recently about the story of the Chaud Doudou and its moral of sharing everything good. The gathering of friends and colleagues in his vineyard, cellars and garden was living proof that he carries on that tradition of chaud doudou. He wants to share his work and his passion for nature and the wines he creates. This he achieved magnificently today.
The scenes of trees in the video show some bat houses erected for them to shelter, part of the diversity encouraged at Mas Coutelou. The music is, of course, Elbow. And, for those who can’t get enough of him, Icare makes an appearance!