amarchinthevines

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


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Return to Mas Coutelou – in the cellar

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As pretty as the vineyards are, even in winter, it is the main cellar at Mas Coutelou which attracts attention this January. The continuing modernisation of the cave continues apace. Last year saw the relaying of much of the floor, new stainless steel tanks to replace some of the very large fibre glass ones and the introduction of a new mezzanine built on ironwork. On this level some of the cuves are stored but now there is the addition of two new rooms made from wood. These will form a new office for Jeff to work from (freeing up space in his own home) and, also, a tasting room with bottles laid out for visitors to try and buy. The old windows mean there will be plenty of light and air in here, as well as a good view over the village and countryside. A good view of those of us working down below too!

The cellar has changed so much in the last 3 years, all to make the winemaking more manageable and, now too, the admin side of Mas Coutelou moves forward. Not that the admin gets any easier, Jeff spent two hours on the phone the other day on a minor issue!

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Meanwhile, there were two main jobs being done in the cellar. Habillage of more 2015 wines (Buvette À Paulette, Classe and Flambadou) with Jeff, Michel and Lucas hard at work.

Then, Julien and Carole returned from pruning as the rain had started again They set to work preparing sample bottles for the salons which will dominate the next two weekends, in Montpellier and Saumur. The 2016 wines are still some time from going into bottle and so samples are taken to give clients a chance to taste how the wines are coming along. So, golden opportunity to taste 2-3 wines from cuve, with the Carignan (Flambadou) and one of the Syrahs really shining. With Michel, Carole, Julien and Vincent all there it really was a gathering of the Coutelou clan. And more friends will arrive this next two days as people gather for the salons. Of which, more next time.


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Return to the vines of Mas Coutelou

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Looking from La Garrigue towards Sainte Suzanne

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After almost three months away it is good to be back in the Languedoc, and especially to be back in Puimisson, the home of Mas Coutelou. Jeff and Icare greeted us warmly and it didn’t take me long to get back into the vines.

Carole and Julien were hard at work pruning in Rome vineyard, my favourite of all, I was happy to see them all. Fortunately, the day I was there (24th January) was a lovely, sunny afternoon and quite warm but recent weeks have seen freezing temperatures overnight and pruning on such mornings is brutal. However, it is vital work.

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Dead vines removed, their place ready for new ones

The vine needs to be trained for the season to come, cutting away dead wood and restricting the growth of the vine so that it is does not overproduce which would reduce the quality of the wine. Pruning also offers the opportunity to check the health of each vine and to identify vines which need to be replaced.

The vine is studied, first cuts remove the growth of last year and then decisions made about which branches to remove and which to leave as spurs, which direction the growth will take and, also, about which spurs might be prepared for the following year too. All with freezing fingers and aching back.

Much work had already been done but much remains ahead. In the photos below the Grenache of Sainte Suzanne has been pruned but the Syrah remains to be done. Similarly, the reds of Peilhan are pruned but the white parcel remains to do.

Work has also begun on preparing a parcel next to Sainte Suzanne which has remained fallow for a few years giving recovery to the soil. Known as Théresette this parcel will be planted with Aramon (Noir and Gris) which is what used to be planted in this parcel many years ago and which was well suited to the soil.

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The ‘new ‘ parcel under preparation. La Garrigue in the background.

The winter also offers the chance to see the bare vineyards and their topography. When people talk about the value of a particular parcel or vineyard it is easy to overlook how even within a small area there are variations of slope and gradient which would alter drainage and exposition to the sun. Vines are all different even within a parcel and the pruning process treats each vine on its own merits to help it to produce the best fruit it can.

The vineyard soils are covered in white this January, not with snow, not here in the Languedoc at least. The white flowers of wild rocket form a spectacular blanket contrasting with the stark wood of the vines themselves. Even in winter there is something special and beautiful about being in this place, a march in the vines is so fulfilling.


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Natural Wine -where to find out more

The growth of interest in natural wine continues unabated and I am often asked where people can find out more about them. Hopefully the answer is partly within the pages of this blog but there are other sources which I would recommend.

Books

My favourite book on matural wines is called, not unreasonably, “Natural Wine” written by Isabelle Legeron. Isabelle is a long term natural wine supporter and organises RAW which runs wine fairs in London (March 12/13 this year) and elsewhere including New York. Her book explains vineyard and cellar practices as well as tackling misconceptions about natural wines. It is a very well written and illustrated book and would be my advice to anyone wanting to learn about the subject.

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Two other books worth buying:

Per and Brit Karlsson’s “Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking” and Jamie Goode’s “Authentic Wine”. Both look at the technical side of winemaking and how natural wines have to adapt to overcome the lack of a safety net. I am a big fan of Jamie Goode’s writing. His book “Wine Science” is possibly the most used book I own and his website (link below) is also well worth following as he writes well about all wines, including natural wines.

There is also the writing of Alice Feiring, perhaps natural wine’s most famous advocate in the USA.

Websites

There are dozens of websites on natural wine, I could recommend many but these are a handful I read regularly (apologies for overlooking some).

My top website recommendation would be vinsnaturels.fr which includes valuable detail on producers, salons and retailers with lots of detail about vineyard, cellar and bottle. And Cédric has now produced an English version (small declaration of interest in that I helped with the translation).

Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak is updated most days with articles and wine reviews across many styles of wine. Jamie is open minded and fair and includes regular pieces about natural wine.

Wine terroirs includes visits to many French natural winemakers and has thorough details on the winemaking and different cuvées of each producer. It is often where I turn for detail first.

I include my friend David Crossley’s website without any apology. David has tasted wine around the world and has great insight into quality wine. From Austria to the Jura David was often there long before others and his website includes terrific tasting notes and guides to the regions.

In French the blogs of Vincent Pousson and David Farge are must follows.

Video

The film “Natural Resistance” looks at the Italian natural wine scene and promotes the producers’ ethical and philosophical approaches to winemaking. Jonathan Nossiter portrays natural wine as a form of resistance. It’s worth watching though a little over stated at times.

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This, my own, blog tries to explain natural wines, how they are made and the philosophy behind them. I hope that by searching the blog posts you will find plenty of information. Just this week Jancis Robinson’s site included an extraordinary attack on natural wine by Caroline Gilby MW, repeating many inaccurate clichés on the subject. I do hope that the recommendations above will help to counter the prejudice of so many involved in the wine business who seem threatened by the new wave of wine.


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New year, new start

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If only winemaking was like this! Bottles, however, do not produce themselves. The year round process of winemaking I have previously described on this blog. Readers will be aware of the work, effort and stress involved.

As 2017 began Julien returned from his travels in Iberia to Puimisson to start the long, finger numbing job of pruning (la taille). He will be joined by Carole who also returned to the village and who has pruned for many years at Mas Coutelou.

Jeff tells me that there is plenty of other work going on. I referred in a previous post to January being named after the Roman god, Janus. He was two faced, one looking to the old year, the other looking forward. So too in winemaking.

The pruning, for example, is finishing off the work of the vines of 2016, cutting away the last vestiges if that vintage whilst preparing the vines for the year ahead. Normally the wines of the previous vintage would be approaching readiness for bottle, the first wave. However, Jeff tells me that they have developed more slowly from 2016 and he is likely to wait until they tell him that they are ready. That may happen when I return to the area at the end of this month or maybe later. In which case he will have to prepare wines for the major salons ahead straight from the tank.

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Floor renewal

Other work is taking place in the cellars. Half of the floor was replaced in early 2016 and the rest will now be done. Other changes will add more facilities such as an office.

Meanwhile the weather is not playing its part so far. It has been warm again allowing no rest to the vines. However, a forecast I saw today suggests that freezing conditions will arrive this weekend. Perhaps, after two years, the vines will finally shut down and rest. This would certainly help 2017 be a more promising vintage. New year, new hopes.