amarchinthevines

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


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Au revoir not goodbye

After 26 glorious months of living in the Languedoc it is time to return to the UK. Temporarily.

It has been, without question the happiest time of my life. I love the region and all it has to offer. We have been made most welcome by local people, friends and neighbours. Martin and May Colfer have become the closest of friends despite me persuading them to pick grapes one day.

Afshin and Denise Hosseiny have also become great friends this year and, together with Jill McGregor (another grape picker!) have been very generous in allowing us to store things in their homes. And that is the guarantee that we will be back. The house hunt continues and it is our aim to have a home here as soon as possible.

Most of all though this has been the most wonderful opportunity to learn about wine, vines and the people involved. The local winemakers could not have been more helpful but, of course it is the team of Mas Coutelou who have become my great friends. The wonderful Michel, the most generous, kind and lovely man. Julien, shy, good fun and caring. Vincent, knowledgeable, witty and kind. Carole, who took me under her wing when I first arrived during the vendanges of 2014 and taught me so much. Charles and Thomas both youthful, energetic but welcoming to this old man. Cameron and James, two Australians who became friends and who earned everyone’s respect with their hard work and humour. Priscilla, Tina, Céline, Brice, Jérom, Karim, the Rugbymen and so many others – thank you. Friendship makes life worthwhile.

We were also fortunate to get to meet Jean – Claude and to pass some lovely times with him, he will stay in our memories.

During that first few weeks I remember Jeff telling me the story of the Chaud Doudou, a fable about the need to work together and support each other. It is a story which embodies him and the people who work for him. Jeff is the most generous of men who loves nothing more than sharing his passion for nature and wine. When Vincent Pousson described him as the last of the left wing vignerons he was referring to Jeff’s sharing and low prices. And it was a most apt description. Pat and I cannot begin to recount the number of kindnesses he has shown us and the care he has taken of us. He is the truest of friends and we love him. He goes to the last drop of his energy to make his wines the best they can be, they reflect his energy, vitality and generosity.

And, of course, there is the most beautiful dog in the world. Icare.

From planting to pruning to picking and pigeage I have been fortunate to see and have a go at it all. And, best of all, to taste and revel in those peerless Coutelou wines.

This is not the end of the story, we shall be back in January for a few weeks and then for a few months in spring. Jeff’s motto of «Grapes, Work and Love» will continue to motivate this blog which will continue. It began as a way for me to record my experiences, it has more than achieved its goals. Thank you for reading it, there are now readers in 131 countries at a rate of up to 12,000 per day, way beyond anything I ever imagined.

At present I have a heavy heart at leaving this beautiful place, but Mas Coutelou and the Languedoc will draw me back.

With special thanks to Pat for allowing all this to happen and for falling in love with the region as well.

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All dressed up

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Happily the wines have plenty of places to go, from France to Australia, the United States, Japan and all around the world. As Christmas approaches the demand for wines reaches a peak and bottles from 2015 are prepared for sending off to those places. The process of putting on labels, capsules etc is known as habillage (dressing).

On Wednesday October 19th we dressed magnums of Classe and Sauvé De La Citerne as well as bottles of 5SO Simple, all from 2015. 5SO was first released in the Spring but  a second wave is now ready. All of these wines are sold out already, demand outstrips supply.

The bottles which were filled back in Spring are checked first to ensure there is no leakage from the corks, a handful do where a cork was not up to scratch. These bottles are known as couleuses. Every effort is made to ensure that the bottle should reach the consumer in premium condition.

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Michel puts on the capsule which is tightened by the machine which then sticks on the labels

The labelling is done by means of a machine which seals the capsule and pastes the label and back label onto the bottle. For the magnums the seal was actually made with wax which requires more work and time. The wax also needs time to dry off before being packed in boxes.

After the single bottles have their capsules and labels added they are placed in their box with protective cardboard to keep them in good condition during transport. This is a fiddly job, it has taken me two years of trying to do it quickly but I have finally got there.

This is the sort of day which I never really considered when I arrived at Mas Coutelou. The vines yes, bottling yes but, as a typical wine drinker, I never really considered the 101 jobs which go into preparing the bottles for market. Meanwhile, Jeff is sorting through his orders and, unfortunately, having to turn down some orders as there simply is not enough wine to meet the requests which he receives. The wines are justifiably in demand, and if you are fortunate to be drinking one, have a thought for the work which goes into preparing the bottle and raise your glass to Jeff, Michel, Julien and everyone else who has helped to make it so good.


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Becoming naturalised

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En français

I have spent most of the last 25 months living in the Languedoc and as that period draws to an end I have begun to feel naturalised: my French has started to adopt a local accent such as ‘veng’ for ‘vin’; I tut at anybody and everybody; I rush for a jumper if the temperature dips below 20°C; I even went to a rugby match!

We are searching for a house to move more definitively to the area, it is where I feel happy, healthy and home. Sadly, when I look back across the Channel I see little to make me feel at home there. Brexit has seen a fall in the £ of more than 20% in less than four months. There has been a startling increase in racist and homophobic attacks. The government (with an unelected Prime Minister) is hell bent on going it alone, prepared to do without the EU single market even if it means damaging the economy. Companies such as Nissan have warned they will leave the UK if that is the case yet the government ploughs on determinedly. The 48% who voted to Remain in the EU are ignored, reviled and, today, told that they should be silenced.

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Mrs. May told her Party, “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”

Worrying times. Is it any wonder that I, proud to be a citizen of the world, feel more naturalised here in the Hérault? Though Robert Ménard, the far right mayor of Béziers, is doing his best to out do May’s government by opposing the housing of immigrants relocated from Calais to the town. He sanctioned this poster for example:

 

As for wine?

After a few tranquil months natural wine has again become the focus of attacks and disparaging remarks by those who seem threatened by it.

In France, Michel Bettane, elder statesman of wine critics, accused natural wine drinkers of being ‘peu democratique’ in their words and ways. No great surprise from a man whose connections make him part of the wine establishment.

In the UK one of the most respected and established of wine merchants, The Wine Society, published this statement from one of their senior buyers.

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“Prone to spoilage, high proportion not particularly pleasant to drink, rarely demonstrate varietal character or sense of place.” A damning list. And I am a member of this co-operative group!

Again I feel alienated from mainstream opinion. Sykes is talking complete rubbish and dismisses great wines and talented winemakers with generalisations and prejudice.

I don’t always agree with Alice Feiring, one of natural wine’s more celebrated advocates. However, in a recent article she stated that she cannot support faulty winemaking and those who seem to favour it as an expression of their anti-establishment credentials. I agree. Wine must be drinkable, must be pleasurable, must, above all, be interesting. I could name dozens of natural wine producers who make great wine, it just happens to be natural wine. Are Barral, Foillard, Métras, Coutelou, Occhipinti, Radikon, Ganévat etc making wines as Bettane or Sykes describe?

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Tasting Casa Pardet in 2015, a moment when wine stops you in your tracks and makes you say, wow

I have tasted many natural wines which sing of their cépage and origins, wines from France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Australia. They tell a tale of their producer and their terroir. They are interesting, some stop you in your tracks and make you reflect on their beauty. Rather those than the very many dull, monotonous wines which taste the same as everybody else’s from Otago to Oregon.

I do enjoy conventional wines, I really like some of them. However, I often find more excitement and interest in the many, well-made natural wines.

Long live freedom of movement, long live the Languedoc and long live great wine.

I am becoming naturalised.

 

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Mas Coutelou Roberta 2003, fresh as a daisy in 2016. Take note Mr. Sykes


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When the tank is empty

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En français

The vendanges may be over but the hard work continues for Jeff Coutelou and the team. Everyone is tired, back aches and minor ailments prevail, yet though the workforce is running near empty there is work to be done. Ironically, emptying the tanks.

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Grape must after décuvage

The grape must has played its role in the tanks, adding tannin, colour, texture, aroma etc to the juice. It has reached the point though for some of the wines that the must would begin to have a negative effect, too much tannin or colour and, potentially, an increased risk of contamination.

Therefore décuvage has been the theme of the week, emptying those cuves, pressing the must and returning the juice to a cuve where it will remain for several months finishing fermentation and completing its transformation into wine.

It is a critical time. Moving the wine brings risks especially that of too much contact with air leading to oxidation. So, it was time to muster those last reserves of energy and press ahead.

The juice is pumped to the press along with the skins and grape flesh which are in suspension in the wine. The parts which have sunk to the bottom of the tank are left behind and removed by fork or by hand. The pressing sends the juice to another, clean cuve via another pump. The marc (solid materials left in tank and from the pressing) can be sent to the distillery to make eau de vie, as you will see in the video at the bottom of the page.

The new wine will reflect the grapes and terroir but also the length of time in cuve. Shorter time on skins brings lighter, fresher, juicier wine. That is why décuvage takes place at different times for different wines.

Here Jjeff and Michel ensure that all the wine is in the cuve.

The aches and pains are plentiful, the wines remain full of energy and life.