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


Turbine boosted


Version française

On March 11th I posted about the threat to some of the vineyards of Mas Coutelou. A neighbouring village drew up plans to install wind turbines across the lower end of the community, which happened to run across some of Jeff’s vineyards, Peilhan and Rec d’Oulette, as well as altering the nature of the whole area.

A thousand readers responded to the blog and many of Jeff’s friends rallied to his cause by signing the petition and sending messages of support. I was at the cellar when the lady who organised the online petition called to thank Jeff for mobilising support, it did make a difference.

The local campaign was undoubtedly helped by the timing of departmental  elections across France so pressure was put on local candidates to oppose the plans. The mayor of the local village was standing in those elections and he announced his opposition to the turbines. The council then went further and passed a motion stopping their development in future.

Clearly this is great news for everyone in the locality, especially Puimisson. It is, for this blog, the best possible news for Mas Coutelou and all of us who love the wines and the man behind them. The plans he has for Peilhan in particular can now move ahead with a renewed confidence, the new plantation of old cépages has a brighter future. We are all boosted.


So thank you to everyone who read, supported and signed. Your actions counted.



The Joe Strummer of wine?


Interesting article in The Guardian this week about natural wine and its development. I think David Williams has it about right. There is a spirit of punk about the natural wine movement. As someone who lived through the punk music scene of 77 and saw all the top punk bands, other than the Sex Pistols sadly, I can see the parallels. The reaction against convention and the big business aspects, the desire for something more straightforward and honest, no more overblown music / wine. Maybe that is why natural wines appeal to me, that link to the music of my past and the similar philosophy. Though I can’t spike my hair anymore.

The unconventional signage of domaine names

The unconventional signage of domaine names

Have a look at this poster for La Remise, a natural wine salon in Arles in March which I described on the Tastings page.


 Remind you of anything? This?


David points out that many people have a real antipathy towards natural wines just as many people did towards punk. Never mind that you haven’t experienced it just criticise because it’s new and it doesn’t fit convention. Or because you missed its start so don’t want to be seen as a latecomer. Utter boll**** as the album says.

He is right too that not everything is good. I saw and heard and bought some absolute rubbish in punk music. For every New Rose there was a Generation X song. Or Plastic Bertrand! I have tasted some of the ‘bacterial murk’ in natural wines and many that I would never want to taste again. But there was New Rose and Anarchy and White Riot and Blank Generation. And there is Barral and Fahl and Pardet and Foillard and Métras and ….

However punk had a long lasting influence in the way that music was made from grunge to thrash metal to rap. And the way that music is made, the independent labels etc and the publish it yourself attitude we see online these days. It makes people think and question the way they do things. Many winemakers are rethinking their approaches to sulphur even if they don’t want to eliminate their use. So too natural producers often forego the big labels and go their own way, Vin de France rather than AOP for example. And look at some of these:

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Punk was a reaction to triple albums of mind numbing drum solos performed by posing, preposterous public schoolboys. Natural wines are a reaction to overextracted, 200% oaked, jammy Parkerised gloop. Instead of twiddling the knobs on the mixing desk or reverse osmosis machine let the music or the grape speak for itself.

Perhaps too press reaction is coloured by its loss of control? No longer the arbiters of taste and what is good. Instead fanzines for punk and now blogs for music and wine are the, apologies for this, grapevine.  Fewer free tours to Bordeaux, Beaune or Buenos Aires can make those journalists turn sour.

Many natural winemakers will fall away, as did punk bands. Some will shine then fade quickly. Others will live long or develop. A new wave. But natural wine is here to stay as Williams says. The movement is widespread in the heartlands of France, Italy and Spain. People do like the freshness and vibrancy. Yes there is an annoying trendiness but as that settles we are left with some great wines which will endure.

A magnum of Classe

A magnum of Classe

The article recommends Classe of Jeff Coutelou and it is a great wine. This is a wine that should definitely stay and not go. This is wine made by a free thinker and a creative artist. Joe Strummer’s songs led The Clash from punk fringe to recognition as top class. Oh and notice anything?

Joe Strummer


Joe, I mean Jeff

Now then who’s the Johnny Rotten?












Vineyard practices – some answers

Some answers to the issues posed in my last article.


Firstly the vines which were not pruned (taillage). This could be because it’s a way of saving money and resources. Instead of pruning, which is very labour intensive, the vines are allowed to grow and then the growth is regulated and checked through the growing season. This approach has become more common around my part of the Languedoc, led by the domaine in question.

An alternative explanation is that the parcel will be grubbed up but the government officials have to measure the vineyard and enaure regulations are met regarding the grubbing up (arrachage).

The yellowish colour could be disease or the fact that the root stock is having difficulty in the sub soil causing some iron deficiency.


The vine. Not guyot after all but marcotté. Jonathan was right that this is form of nursery propagation. Apparently marcottage is an ancient Chinese form of propagating fruit trees and widely used in horticulture. Read more. NB, it is in French!

The vine sarment is trained underground to persuade it to grow roots. Growth on the sarment is removed so that it concentrates on growth and root growth. The new growth emerges from the ground to form a new vine. It can be separated from the parent vine or left intact which means that it does not need to be grafted on American rootstock to protect against phylloxera as it is still protected by the parent. Chris Kissick on his wine doctor website described the process at Chateau Boyd Cantenac in Margaux. (Thanks to Chris for his permission to use his work).


Vineyard practice – observations


Version française

The photo above was taken around my village of Margon this week (April 14th). The vineyard is run by a well known  domaine in the area. The vines were not pruned and are now covered in foliage, showing them to be Chardonnay. Many leaves are quite yellow suggesting a disease. Is this why they were not pruned? If so should they not have been grubbed up rather than left to spread the problem?


I shared the photo above back in February, taken in a vineyard around Alignan du Vent again in a well known domaine (different to the one above). New vines were being sprayed with herbicide to get rid of weeds and grass, competition for the new vines. Well the photo below, taken on April 8th, is of the same vines and shows the vines and dead grass, though it appears more like a moonscape.



Finally, I also published this photo below in February. Taken in Laurens, part of the Faugères area. I was curious to know why the guyot vine was trained to the ground. Jonathan Hesford suggests it may be part of a nursery, to develop new vines. I would certainly take Jonathan’s word, any other observations?



Tastings and travels

I have updated other pages on the site and urge you to have a look there by clicking the links at the top of the page.

On the Out and About page there are lots of photos of Spring here in the Languedoc and on a stay in Provence.

The moon over the arenas of Arles

The moon over the arenas of Arles

On the Tasting page I have 3 updates of exciting wines tasted in Pézenas, Arles and Bédarieux. Some of my favourite ever wines and some wonderful people too.

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Cuvée Rugbyman – Chut



Version francaise

Remember this:

and this:

or this:

Well today it was time for the Rugbymans to return and bottle their wine. Fresh from celebrating the victory of Béziers in the local derby against Narbonne, they were eager to make their cuvée. Well maybe not so fresh after last night’s celebrations.

First Jeff had to open the large bottles and suction the wine.



Jeff demonstrates

The men quickly chose their roles and set to work. Jeff explained, they followed on.


wpid-p_20150412_111757_hdr.jpg Of course the quality has to be checked.

wpid-p_20150412_110838_hdr.jpg Corking the bottle by hand requires the strength of, well, a Rugbyman!

wpid-p_20150412_113116_hdr.jpgThe bottles were to be sealed with wax, the way it used to be done and some cuvées still are at Mas Coutelou.


Heating the wax


Quality control

Quality control

The bottles were labelled with their specially designed étiquette and the name chosen by the Rugbymans, Chut. The back label is the photo at the top.



Onto the second bottle!


As always the Rugbymans are great fun to be around, the jokes run as freely as the wine. So, Chut, a collector’s item. Definitely a bottle that belongs in the best of cellars.

Santé les Rugbymans!

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Springing to life

I wrote in my last post how, whilst some vineyards in the area were showing plenty of leaves and buds were opening, those of Mas Coutelou were more reticent. Well a visit to Peilhan and La Garrigue vineyards today showed that spring has arrived. Buds are opening, leaves are forming. Even the snails were heading for the foliage, this one had its photo taken and then was removed.


What struck me though was the variation in development of the vines. Some were still dormant, others were showing leaves, most were in between with buds just opening.


This is partly due to the cépage as some are more precocious than others, often white varieties.


The photo above shows a Sauvignon Blanc vine and as you can see it has leaves which are well developed but also flowers already out. Yet vines in the next row were still hardly budding. This was a clear example of how the position of the vine makes a difference, the vine above was on the side of the vineyard (La Garrigue) facing south west, therefore in full sunshine more than other vines. Indeed I was taken aback to see this.


In the centre of the leaf you will see the formation of a grappe, the future bunch of grapes. Whilst other vines are still asleep!


In the new plantation at Peilhan the wax protection on some of the vines is giving way as these babies begin to grow. Though of course they are many years from providing grapes for wine, it was quite something to see them begin their life. This was a Ribeyrenc Gris vine.


The region has had a relatively cool Spring by all accounts (though those of us used to NE England might be surprised to hear it). It has been dry and sunny but strong winds for many weeks have kept down temperatures and dried the soil quickly. This helps to explain why the vines have been slow to start their growth this year.
Moreover, the local newspaper, Midi Libre, today carried a warning story. In the Aude, western Languedoc, Monday and Tuesday brought frosts at night which have damaged many vines which had begun their growth. This is the risk which vignerons face and why they remain nervous about the weather. Traditionally mid May is the time when the risk of frost is past, the saints de glace as those days are known. So fingers crossed, some warm nights and a bit of rain would be very welcome.