It is bottling season. As this year’s grapes slowly develop in the Languedoc sunshine the wines from previous vintages reach a stage where they can be prepared for sending out into the wider world. This also frees up tanks and containers which will be required for this year’s wines after harvesting. With a good sized crop (hopefully) in 2022 Jeff Coutelou will need all the space he can acquire.
Wines that require more time in tank or barrel will get that time of course, it would be madness to bottle immature wines which are undergoing changes and may produce a final product which could have been so much better with patience. However, most of the wines that were assembled a few months ago have had time to integrate and are ready to put into bottle. There they will rest again for a few months before being labelled and made ready for market. Why the need for rest? There is a widespread belief in bottle shock, that the process of going into bottle shakes up the liquid and its various chemical processes (phenolics, tannins etc) and that these need time to settle again. The scientific evidence of this is, as I understand, a little shaky but most winemakers will tell you that drinking wine that has just been bottled (or indeed shaken up when transported) will lead to an unsatisfactory experience, the wine’s tastes and smells are subdued. Indeed I attended a wine tasting last night where I was told exactly that by a winemaker whom I respect enormously.
Matteo, Flora and Gilles hard at work
On Thursday 16th June the Languedoc was experiencing a heatwave and so bottling was limited to the morning even in the cool cellars. Jeff has his own bottling line which means that he does not have to bring in machinery which is usually on a lorry and the wines have to be taken out into the open, the 38c temperatures notwithstanding. A variety of smaller scale wines went into bottle such as the red amphora wine you can see in the video above, Amphore Métissée and Macabeu. The bottles are vacuumed by the machine to remove any dust, debris and stale air. They are then filled, moved to a regulator which adds or removes wine so that all are filled to the exact same level and then the cork is put into the bottle. The corking is a relatively violent process, forcing pressure into the wine so the bottles follow a long, circuitous route to allow the gasses to dissolve and the wine to settle before the bottles are laid into a pallox (in the video this is done by Jeff’s niece, Flora) after being checked to make sure there are no leaks or problems.
On Monday June 20th over 7,000 bottles of Matubu were prepared on a cooler day. More wines will follow later in the week. Jeff then transports the pallox or pallet to the storage cellar for their next period of rest and maturing.
Bottling is not the most arduous in the full range of jobs which winemakers have to master but it one of the most important. Mistakes here would be disastrous, the bottles and corks are expensive and the wine is now beyond any control as it sits ready to be consumed. Many would add sulphites at this stage to protect the wine even if it has not been added before this point. Jeff adds nothing to his wine at all and, therefore, preparations, hygiene and the machines have be meticulous.
So, when you open a bottle of Matubu 2021 in a few months time think back to how it was bottled and, I trust, the wine will bring you great pleasure.