All good vignerons strive to produce the most healthy grapes from healthy vines living in healthy soils. The best wines are made from healthy grapes, in the cellar the winemaker can make good wine out of ordinary grapes but can only make great wine from great grapes. The soil matters. It feeds the vine, it provides water, minerals and nutrients. A good vigneron will take the best possible care of those soils because they are the basis of their wines.
On March 10th I went out to visit the vineyards, a morning when Spring was showing itself. Jeff was working with Vincent and Julien to plant trees at Rec D’Oulette and Rome vineyards. These add biodiversity to an area which is largely given to monoculture but they also help to break down the soils whilst adding air, bacteria and wildlife which will make the soils healthier.
The trees play another role too. Many of the neighbours to Mas Coutelou vineyards are not organic, indeed some are prolific users of chemicals on their soils and vines. Trees, bushes, plants and ditches act as a barrier to those contaminated soils, protecting soils which have been certified organic since 1987 under the management of Jean-Claude, Jeff’s father. The 30 years and more of organic practice have undoubtedly improved the soils and there was a clear demonstration today.
Jeff was justifiably annoyed by one of his neighbours who had been spraying weedkiller and had encroached onto Jeff’s land to turn his tractor and sprayer. Some of the chemical had spilled onto Coutelou land, admittedly only on to the edge of the buffer zone between the vines but unacceptable nonetheless.
He then showed me two of the holes dug to plant the trees. One was at the side of the Carignan vines well away from the neighbours. The soil inside was fine, friable and a rich brown. The other hole, 50m further from the vines, next to a slope running from the neighbours, had greyer soils with big clods of earth.
The lesson was obvious. The neighbouring vineyard is eroded with every rainfall, the clays are carried down and they clump together. Erosion is the result of the weedkiller, the soils are bare and unprotected. The work done by the Coutelous in the vine planted area has enriched the soils, there is more organic matter in them, flowers, grasses, herbs as well as animal life. As you walk on the vineyard soils there is a sponginess, a spring in them, they are open because of the air within.
That is why Jeff has grubbed up vines close to his neighbours and planted olives, apples, cherries and dozens of other varieties of tree. The improvement in soil quality has helped to improve the wines. Don’t take my word for it, ask La Revue Du Vin De France, Jancis Robinson, Jamie Goode et al who have praised them. The wine is the product of healthy grapes from healthy vines in healthy soils.
Does it all make a difference? Well, yes. Aesthetically, morally, even spiritually. And in the wine? Well, open a bottle of Flambadou 13 or 14, the wine made from these Carignan vines. Taste that wine. Does it make a difference? The answer is in your glass.