Mas Coutelou has been organic since 1987, recognised as number 670 in the whole of France, i.e. the 670th of any type of organic production not just wines. Therefore, Jeff’s father, Jean-Claude, was one of the pioneers of the need to practise more sustainable agriculture and winemaking. Carrying the label ‘agriculture biologique’ is important to many customers who now choose to buy organic products, it is also important to a domaine which has such a rich history of organic viticulture and has now gone further by producing natural wines.
On Thursday Jeff was visited by the inspector for organic winemakers in the Hérault. Despite the long history of organic Mas Coutelou the domaine is checked each year by ecocert to ensure that it is sticking to organic practice. The inspection lasted 3 hours with 2 hours in the office going through paperwork to ensure that all activities are compatible with organics. It was gruelling and Jeff had to have proof and paperwork to support his claims. New parcels of vines, treatments in established vineyards, what grapes went into which cuves and which bottles – all were checked. Calendars of treatments (using organic materials such as nettle manure) for each of the last 3 vintages, analyses of the wines to ensure there are no outlawed chemicals, quantity of production – all were checked. Jeff produced spreadsheets to show how a wine was pressed, put in tank, vinified and then bottled. Satellite maps and images were used to identify vineyards and verify the production matched the origin.
A visit to the cellars to check that bottles matched the production and that tanks were in order and that labels gave accurate information was followed to one of the vineyards which was checked against the satellite photo to ensure that it matched production figures and was in good health. This really was a thorough test.
Happily Jeff emerged with flying colours and because he does not filter his wines and since he has not added sulphur to the wines he is actually entitled to higher than the normal award of organic status. So the story of Mas Coutelou from father to son continues.
The amount of paperwork and IT work in producing spreadsheets etc was stunning. This adds many, many hours to what we wine drinkers imagine is the workload of the vine grower and wine maker. So when you see this label on a bottle (or indeed any food or drink) please spare a moment to think of all the hard work which has gone into your glass (or plate) to ensure that it is of the highest quality.
November 22, 2014 at 7:49 pm
An interesting account, Alan – and I love the title! Glad to hear that Jeff passed with flying colours. I am now left with a mental picture of him toiling away in his office, with constant clouds of cigarette smoke billowing from the doors and windows! 😉
November 23, 2014 at 12:18 pm
LOL. He was very restrained whilst she was there, only 1 or 2 cigarettes. But, seriously, the spreadsheets and paperwork amount to huge folders full.
November 24, 2014 at 5:23 pm
Good to read that these organic inspections are thorough. I wonder in reality how hard it is to fail – I guess warnings are issued followed by a re inspection.
While the paperwork and spreadsheets seem voluminous, once a spreadsheet is set up 10 mins a day adding data to it soon becomes an awful lot.
November 24, 2014 at 5:49 pm
Graham, from what I have heard there is a very real failure rate. The spreadsheets do contain huge amounts of data and interesting information. The paperwork amounted to a huge pile of folders, even from my days of school leadership I was rather taken aback at how much Jeff had to produce.
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