amarchinthevines

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


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The Winery by Laneberg Wine

2020 has been horrendous for everyone in many ways and, though not important on a wider scale, one of those ways for me was not being able to get to spend time in the vines and cellars of Jeff Coutelou. Little did I know that by an indirect route I would end up amongst barrels and tanks which had contained Coutelou grapes. In my native North East England, specifically on Team Valley, Gateshead – a most unlikely turn of events.

Elise and Liam

Elise Lane set up The Winery and Laneberg Wines on Team Valley when she returned to the North East with her family. She studied Chemistry at Oxford University before working in the world of finance in London. She told me that she became interested in wine at University and, unsurprisingly, it was her curiosity about the chemistry of wine which was the catalyst for further study. WSET qualifications followed but then Elise enrolled at Plumpton College to earn a Post Graduate Diploma, working in the winery there.

Plumpton graduates have gone on to become winemakers around the world, some in my region of Languedoc Roussillon such as Peter Core and Jonathan Hesford. Elise and her husband Nick looked at vineyards in Kent but then decided to relocate to the North East and set up an urban winery. All this whilst pregnant with her second son. Team Valley, a large business and industrial estate in Gateshead became the location for The Winery by Laneberg Wines.

Elise bought equipment from London Cru, the original English urban winery. There lies my connection as London Cru bought Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Jeff, I helped to pick them! The wine they made was often considered their best wine by critics such as Jamie Goode. So, when Elise showed me the basket press and barrels she had purchased from that winery I had to smile at the small world we live in.

Elise told me that there are around 400 vineyards in the UK but only a quarter of so actually make their own wines. Therefore, grapes can be bought readily enough and, in her first year of production in 2018 she sourced them from Leicestershire and Gloucestershire. Since then the Lane family have used their campervan to tour other vineyards in southern England and, with two years’ experience, Elise has kept some of her original suppliers and selected new ones.

The grapes are transported by lorry overnight to Gateshead, ready for sorting in the morning. They are placed in stainless steel tanks for fermentation and then Elise makes decisions about nurturing the wines, eg in barrels, judging what will serve them best. The barrels are used to impart a smoky influence rather than overt oakiness.

Bacchus 2018 and 2019, note the change in label showing the fruits redolent in the wine in a style based on Bacchus’ hair

Bacchus is the main white grape for Laneberg, reflecting the national picture. In my opinion it is the grape which brings a unique character to English white wine. The 2018 Laneberg Bacchus is now sold out having immediately created a big impression. So much so that Fortnum and Mason have asked Elise to provide their House English wine. A tremendous vote of confidence in Elise’s talents. I thoroughly enjoyed the 2019 Bacchus, my wine loving brother in law who was there when I opened a bottle said he would definitely buy this wine. Floral, fruity aromas with a zingy, citrus flavour, the wine was as good the second day as the first and its fresh acidity is a good food match. I had a Singapore curry dish with the Bacchus and the wine stood up to the flavours and enhanced them, it was a great match. Give me this over most Sauvignon Blancs or Albarinos. No wonder the Bacchus has brought plaudits.

Technical detail about the 2019 Bacchus from The Winery website

Harvest time means that the family get together to support Elise and work to sort and crush the grapes. Her cousin Liam is a full-time employee immersing himself in the wine world. Team Valley teamwork. Lots of farmers’ markets, stalls and marketing followed the first winemaking, drumming up interest and sales. Now the word is out. Excellent reviews from respected critics such as the great Oz Clarke have helped; mentions and articles in Decanter, local and national press and television have followed. Laneberg had earned the Regional Award for The Midlands and North in The Wine GB Awards the night before I made my visit.

Elise has a wise business plan, her time in finance and accounting no doubt helping. I have met a number of young winemakers who have found the business and sales side an unwelcome reality check. Elise and Nick had a plan and stuck to it, the success that has followed is well deserved. Elise knows that she has to make wines that will appeal to the customer and give her financial security. Initially ten thousand bottles were made, that will rise to around thirteen thousand with the 2020 harvest.

So, what about the other wines? It’s worth mentioning that there are excellent notes about each wine on the Laneberg website with tasting notes by outside tasters as well as technical information for each wine. The labels, by a North East designer, back these up by showing the sort of fruits which may be in the bottle based on the original picture of the god of wine, Bacchus, with the fruit replacing his hair.

‘This Mortal Angel’ (Geordie references abound) is a semi sparkling wine made from 100% Seyval Blanc, a hybrid grape which ripens early and is suited to cool climates. The wine was enjoyed on a hot, September North East England afternoon and provided welcome refreshment. It is very dry, as all the Laneberg wines are. There was a gripping acidity, I think this wine will age well, accompanying dishes such as seafood. There were apple and pear flavours which revealed themselves as the bottle emptied. Only 10% alcohol, so this really was a good afternoon aperitif wine.

Pinot Gris 2018 was less convincing for me. It is very dry again, citrussy and probably needs longer in bottle. Don’t expect Pinot Grigio style wine, this variety is on the margins in England and the full aromatic, ripe style is not what this wine is about. Pleasant but not the character of the Bacchus.

Elise made other wines in 2018, now unavailable, Solaris, a white grape developed in Germany in 1975 was one. Madeleine Angevin, a white grape, was also bought and blended with red Regent grapes to make a rosé by crushing them together so that the white juice had contact with red grape skins. Hopefully I will find some of the next vintage.

Finally, the Regent grape was used to make the first red at the winery in 2019. Named after her son Maximilian this was a wine which I found intriguing. Regent was created by crossing a white vitis vinifera grape, Diana, with a red hybrid, Chambourcin. It grows well in cooler climates and is resistant to downy mildew, an important attribute in such regions. The label shows blackberries and raspberries and it was the latter which dominated on my palate. However, its first wow factor is the vibrant purple colour, striking. Aromas of cherry and raspberry, flavours of sharp raspberry with a cleaning acidity. The wine was better on the second day, softening the acidity a little, I will definitely put my second bottle away for a year or two. More plummy fruit emerged on that second day though raspberry still dominated for me. Again, a food wine. I’d buy more.

I was curious about an urban winery in my home region, would it work, was it a serious venture? I should have had no doubts. Elise’s background in science and finance have given her the tools to make a success of The Winery. Her talents as a winemaker are evident in the bottles and the warm reception they have received. Laneberg Wines is a name to add to your list of regular purchases.


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A sting in the tail

En francais

Vendanges is finished at Jeff Coutelou’s for 2020. That is the good news, with some lovely grapes and good quantities all seemed well. Then on Saturday Jeff messaged me to say that there had been a final twist, a proverbial sting in the tail. The problem was an insect though, admittedly, not one with an actual sting. I mentioned in the last post that there had been a little ver de la grappe (grape worm moth) problem. Well, that problem suddenly worsened in the last few days of harvesting.

Some Grenache, Cinsault but especially Mourvedre were affected. The latter is a later ripening grape and no less than 60% of the grapes had to be rejected and were lost. That is a huge loss. The culprit was not the usual grape moth Eudémis which lays its eggs on the grapes, the larvae and caterpillars then attacking the grapes and spoiling them. Jeff is used to those and recognises the problem coming.

This was a new moth to the area, Pyrale du Daphné (Cryptoblabes gnidiella) or honeydew moth. This menace has been damaging grape crops (and other fruits) in Tuscany and more recently in Provence. Clearly it has spread to the Languedoc.

Three or four generations of adults appear in any year with the biggest populations coming at the end of August and into September. They feed on ripe fruit juice and honeydew from aphids, things you would find in vineyards at harvest time. The eggs are laid in the bunch and the larvae eat not just grape juice but also attack the stems. The grapes empty completely and the spoilage damages other bunches with botrytis and rot. They are much more damaging to the grapes than the usual ver de la grappe, as Jeff sadly found with his Mourvedre.

Chemical treatments are available for spraying but Jeff and organic producers generally cannot use them. There are naturally occurring bacterial treatments such as Spinosad (made from crushed sugar cane) which organic producers are permitted to use. Otherwise vignerons can try to use pheromones which confuse the male moths so that they don’t breed, confusion sexuelle. Insect traps are another option. Italian scientists are also experimenting with the use of trichogramma. These are wasps which lay their eggs inside the moth eggs meaning that the moths do not develop. These have been used successfully in other fruit production and vineyard trials seem to be promising. Whether upsetting the balance of natural order is a good thing is open to debate.

Therefore, though the 2020 harvest will generally be a good one, there was a final problem. Mourvedre is used by Jeff, occasionally for a single variety cuvée but more often to blend in various cuvées such as Le Vin des Amis and Sauvé de la Citerne. Now that this new menace is identified Jeff will look out for it next year, a hard frost in winter would help to kill off the hibernating adults. Let us hope that this is a problem which we can look back upon as a curiosity, that may be looking at it with glass half full.

More about the problem here (article in French)


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Vendanges 2020 – Part 2

En francais

All photos by Flora Rey, you can find more of her work on Facebook

I had a chat with Jeff on Saturday to check on progress and plans for this week. Heavy rain (30mm) that day meant that harvesting would be a little more difficult on Monday as the cars and vans would not be able to get into the vineyards. However, that has been the only significant blip in this year’s vendanges (perhaps me not being there has brought good luck!). There has been little disease despite an outbreak of mildew back in June but Jeff was able to get on top of that before it became significant. Happily, he repeated that the grapes are in excellent condition.

Icare awaits his master

The other good news is that quantity is also good, which should mean more wine available for everyone. Remember that many of the 2019 cuvées are not yet released due to slow fermentations delaying the whole process of winemaking. Therefore, I would think it is likely that many of the 2020s will be held back too. Overall, though there will be plenty of Coutelou wines in the next couple of years. The rain of Saturday will also boost quantities a little more in grapes such as Grenache and Carignan which were the later ones to be picked. The Grenache is rich so the rain will help to make it more balanced as well as providing higher yields, it was a well-timed break in the weather.

Boris in early morning Peilhan

The only other issue, and one I had heard was an issue in other areas of the Languedoc, was vers de la grappe, the moth larvae which is hatched in the grapes and can spoil bunches as grape juice flows onto the bunch. Fortunately, the problem is not on a large scale though Jeff wanted to get a move on in finishing the harvest as the moths are now adult and will lay eggs if the grapes are still on the vine.

As most grapes are now picked, the hard work shifts to the cellar and the making of the wine, pressing, remontage, pigeage. Decisions about which grapes go into which tank, which might be mixed together and in what type of container, the cement or stainless steel tanks, amphora or barrel. The 3D puzzle in Jeff’s head, and spreadsheet, gets complicated.

Flower Power, the complantation of Font D’Oulette vineyard, continues to provide meagre returns, 8 cases this year after similar yields in the last two vintages. These young vines will take some years to properly mature and produce more fruit. The grapes were mixed with Syrah from Segrairals which was picked early. That combination was pressed on Saturday and will make a good, juicy, light wine.

The Cinsault of Rome was good but the whites (Muscats, Grenaches Blanc and Gris) of the higher part of the vineyard yielded little though that was partly due to some locals having helped themselves to some bunches probably as eating grapes. The few cases brought back were mixed with Macabeu and Grenache Gris from Peilhan and put into one of the amphorae.

The other amphora will be used for the various blanc and gris grapes (Carignan, Grenache etc) also from Peilhan.

Meanwhile the grapes picked have started to ferment well. Jeff is especially pleased with the Syrahs and the good news, for me at least, is that La Vigne Haute could well be made from La Garrigue. So, lots of positive news from Puimisson, the team is clearly working well and we can enjoy these excellent photographs to glimpse what is happening there.

I love this photo showing the team sorting the grapes together, a true image of vendanges teamwork


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Vendanges 2020

En francais

Jeff with an early case

I may not be there in person but I certainly am in Puimisson in spirit. Jeff has kept me up to date however and his niece Flora has taken some lovely photos and allowed me to share them. So what has been happening with the Coutelou harvest.

Before they began Jeff reported to me that the grapes were ‘magnifiques’, high praise indeed from a viticulteur, a group who are infamously pessimistic. The promise of 2020 producing something exceptional would be very in keeping, a year when nothing ordinary happens. The grapes ripened early however, problematically, at much the same rate across varieties. This means that there has been a need to get the grapes in as quickly as possible.

Normally, certain varieties ripen earlier than others and so it is easy to organise picking and plan it across the weeks of harvest. When they ripen simultaneously there is pressure to get them in before they become too mature and over ripe.

Fortunately, all has gone well so far. The white grapes were picked first, as usual, and came in with good acidity and around 13,5% alcohol. There was talk of bubbles being made, not an annual event.

Segrairals and Sainte Suzanne followed with Grenache and Syrah to the fore, the two grapes which provide the foundation of many of the Coutelou cuvées, Ste. Suzanne for example being the traditional home of Le Vin des Amis. A successful harvest with those two grapes means a successful harvest overall and relief for Jeff.

La Garrigue was picked on Wednesday 26th and Flora took some great photos of the picking of its Syrah, home of La Vigne Haute in good years. Regular readers know that this is my favourite wine of all so fingers crossed that this Syrah is up to standard, if not perfect it is used for other cuvées. Rome was harvested on Thursday and that gave me a pang of regret and disappointment, I miss my favourite vineyard.

With a new team working in the vines and in the cellar Jeff along with the regular team of Moroccan pickers things have moved along quickly. The new machine to help to sort the grapes has worked very well and saved time as well as being very accurate and efficient. Flora’s photos suggest at least some whole berry fermentations, the carbonic maceration technique which often makes fresh, fruity wine.

So far so good. Fingers crossed for what remains, some of the later varieties such as Carignan and Mourvedre. Something good may come out of this wretched year after all.

Top photo and videos from Jeff and the team.

All other photos by Flora Rey


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What a year

A March is definitely not in the vines this year. Sadly, the UK government’s introduction of quarantines for travel to and from France was the straw which broke the camel’s back. It was unlikely that I would have been joining Jeff Coutelou this year for vendanges but that is now definitive. I have worked the last six vendanges with Jeff but that run has come to an end. It is very sad.

On the positive side Jeff reports that the grapes are ‘magnifiques’, there is every hope that he will be making excellent wines. A silver lining to the cloud which is 2020. He has a novice team this year, my experience might have been useful but it is not to be.

Jeff has been busy and unable to take his usual break in the summer. Last year’s wines were slow to finish their fermentations, he had to wait for Spring for that to happen. He has given the wines time to settle and mature in the large tanks but, as harvest approaches, he needs those tanks for the 2020 wines. Therefore, the team has been busy bottling and the wines will sit and rest for a few months before they go on sale.

Last week he had a visit from Christina Rasmussen, one of the founders of Little Wine, the website I have acclaimed on here before. Christina sent me a lovely photo of them with Icare and I am looking forward to her report on the site.

Really sad news from the Languedoc with the death of Raymond Le Coq, former owner of the Cave St Martin in Roquebrun. He was the most generous and friendly of hosts and I spent many happy times at the restaurant and wine bar, including the harvest evening when local natural producers got together with magnums of their wines.

Raymond in the red shirt

On a positive note I was chatting with James Madden the other day. James worked the 2016 harvest with us and now has his own winery in the Adelaide Hills. I reported on this when we stayed with James and his family in 2018. At the time his wines were labelled under the name of Little Things but, due to a large company using that name on one of their wines, he had to change the name to Scintilla Wines. The good news is that a couple of his wines are being imported into the UK. Brunch Wine Bar in Liverpool is the wise importer. As James and I are both Liverpool FC supporters that seems very appropriate.

James tells me that last year’s harvest is his best yet, he has been busy pruning and is looking for more vines of his own. Exciting times for him and I hope that at some point not too distant I can return to visit him. Meanwhile I have ordered some of those wines!

Jeff will send me photos of vendanges and keep me in the loop. Hopefully I can still report on what is going on in Puimisson so stay tuned.


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Natural wine – a victim of its own success?

That natural wine has always been a source of controversy is a given. From the outset people have sniped at the term ‘natural’ wine (I lost count of the times I heard that old trope “wine doesn’t make itself”), the faults of the early wines, not being certificated etc etc. Many critics would now admit that faults are rarer and that natural wines have enthused many, especially younger wine drinkers. I am almost proud to be a 61 year old natural wine advocate, at last I am on trend!

Amongst a crowd of younger wine enthusiasts

The growth of natural wine across the world, the increase in winemakers and certainly in media attention (he writes) has been dramatic in the last few years. That growth brings its own problems however. Big companies using the term to promote wines which are really not natural (no certification makes that possible so something of an own goal to be fair) I have mentioned before. The large number of new winemakers rushing to join the trend often with little experience means that there have been some questionable wines, I have tried quite a few.

So why continue? Well the sense of drinking wine more reflective of the actual grapes with minimal intervention, the stories of the producers which are consistently more interesting than those of big brands) and the sheer excitement of many of the wines. I remain as enthusiastic for natural wine as ever.

However a couple of recent stories make me sad. In an article on the excellent Little Wine website (paywall I’m afraid) Jamie Goode reported how one of my favourite natural wines has reached alarming prices on the grey market. I was fortunate to taste a bottle of Domaine Des Miroirs’ Mizuiro Les Saugettes 2013 and meet its maker Kenjiro Kagami at a tasting in 2016. It was memorable for its razor sharp, precise Chardonnay, a joy. I have sought bottles ever since without luck.

Jamie reported that bottles were selling for £600 in bond (tax still to pay) on the Berry Bros & Rudd website. These are bottles people have bought and traded on for profit. Other big stars in the natural firmament are seeing huge mark ups too and this on top of prices which are often relatively high due to the extra costs involved of organic and natural winemaking.

Inevitably, with many natural producers farming just a few hectares the small scale production means that bottles are fewer in number. With demand having grown exponentially it often exceeds supply. I recall one merchant, having been told by Jeff Coutelou that he had no more wine to sell replying that Jeff should simply produce more, as if he could wave a magic wand or lower quality to achieve more bottles. This is the market sadly, good wines will cost good money. The task is to seek the next great producers before their bottles reach collector status. It is sad but inevitable.

Then last week another story. the actress Cameron Diaz has been linked with a wine which has been branded as ‘clean’. Interviewed she explained how many additives are allowed in wine, so far so good. The wine uses organic grapes and this has been verified, Penedes in Spain is the source, mainly Xarel.lo a variety I really like. Still all good. However, alarm bells ring when Diaz expressed surprise that grapes should be used which had not been washed. Grape skins bring yeast into the vat to help ferment the wine, washing them means that the wine uses commercial yeast. It is far from natural, they have carefully avoided the term, clean being an alternative which in these extraordinary times will resonate with many.

Unwashed Carignan heading into tank to ferment

Wines being linked with celebrities is not new. My wife recently tried a very ordinary, dull Provence rosé retailing at £10 due to being named after a celebrity. Some celebrities have vineyards making good wine, Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks in New Zealand is one example. As someone sceptical of anything celebrity I am not the target consumer but I really am uncomfortable with the ‘clean’ wine designation even if the intentions are good and especially when the wine costs $24 (£19).

I love natural wines, implore you to seek out the good ones (just not too hard or you’ll drive up the price!), Jeff’s being especially good though I may be biased. However, beware of imitations. Reliable recommendations can be found from many sources, including here I hope.


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10 things I think I think

As a fan of the writing of NFL journalist Peter King I have ‘borrowed’ the idea for this post from his FMIA articles.

1. An update from Jeff. Mildew hit badly in late May early June and Jeff sent countless hours treating the vines with his organic prophylactics and treatments. As was the case in 2018 it was the Carignan of Rec D’Oulette (Flambadou) and the Grenache of Ste. Suzanne which was most affected. This suggests the spores are well embedded in the soils there perhaps and Jeff must take extra care when working in these vineyards. Fortunately he reported to me last week that he seems to have mastered the outbreak and rescued the crop. Good news.

Photo from Jeff showing mildew on a leaf

2. I have read a few books about wine recently, here’s a couple of recommendations. ‘Vignette’ by Jane Lopes is one of the more interesting books. It made me feel uncomfortable at times as it is very honest and open about her own personal life but this was combined with recommendations, pictures and information about wines which were presented in a fascinating way. Max Allen’s ‘The Future Makers’ is not new at all but I found it a very useful guide to how Australian wines are shifting in light of climate change and the organic/biodynamic culture.

3. I am conflicted about the role of sommeliers, their influence seems to be ever growing in the wine world. I know some and they are passionate about their work. I recall one or two who improved restaurant experiences for me, a New Zealander at The Ledbury for example, but I have met some poor ones too. Sommeliers such as Pascaline Lepeltier are extremely knowledgeable and their writings teach me a lot. However, I have read some amazingly entitled social media posts from certain sommeliers (and writers to be fair) recently, for example demanding samples be sent in half bottles at extra cost to the producer.

4. Lots of wines tasted during this period, I have assembled a montage of photos of some but it is certainly not exhaustive. Producers such as Testalonga, Valle Unite in Barbaresco and Jeff have been regular sources of good wines. The Muster wines are always a pleasure.

I am very happy to report that English wine goes from strength to strength with Westwell and Davenport both reliable and exciting.

5. As we emerge from lockdown I hope that customers continue to support the local independent merchants who have gone out of their way to provide a service during these extraordinary months. Caves De Pyrene, Buonvino, Vintage Roots are three whose services I shall continue to use. Please give them your custom. One more I need to mention is Leon Stolarski. Leon is a friend (full disclosure) and it is no coincidence that he has Jeff’s wines in the UK. Leon has a very good range of wines and his service is second to none. New in are the Coutelou 2018s Couleurs Réunies, La Vigne Haute and L’Oublié. All recommended of course.

The two on the right came from Leon

6. Sherry continues to provide me with great drinking pleasure and value for money. The Gonzalez Byass Una Palma was a lovely rich fino with more depth than many other of that type. I tasted the full range of Palmas wines (special barrels) a few years ago and loved them but they are expensive and hard to get hold of. I especially enjoyed the Cesar Florido Fino En Rama. En rama sherries are very lightly filtered, if at all, and in my view, this leaves more flavour in the wine. It was delicious.

7. Hybrid grapes are being discussed more and more. The effects of climate change are bringing more examples of disease and heat stress and winemakers are exploring grape varieties which are bred and engineered to resist these problems. Many have proved to be pretty undrinkable with odd flavours, I have tasted a few myself. However, there are signs of promise with other hybrids. One to watch. These articles might offer you more insight than I can provide at present, by Simon Woolf and Shelby Vittek.

8. Good to see Jancis Robinson leading the way in addressing the Black Lives Matter issue. At Jeff’s we are used to seeing people from all backgrounds, races and religions but that appears to be unusual. Robinson wrote an article for The Financial Times highlighting the under representation of black people working in the wine industry. I was shocked and saddened to read some of the comments from readers. There is a long way to go.

9. A website to recommend. Little Wine is the work of Christina Rasmussen and Daniela Pillhofer. Packed with articles, interviews and sales of natural wines in particular it is beautifully presented and well worth the £24 annual fee. I am finding a lot of fascinating information there including one article to which I shall return soon. There is free content too, so have a look.

10. On a personal note. Thank you for the various emails asking whether I am ok due to the length of time since the last article. It is appreciated that you show concern. And what joy with the 19th league win for Liverpool. I was fortunate to witness a number of league wins in person but after 30 years of poor teams and near misses it finally happened. I ought to have opened a German Riesling to honour Jurgen Klopp who has transformed the club but what else would I choose? La Vigne Haute 2018.


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South Africa

Different countries have reacted in different ways to the coronavirus epidemic. In terms of wine the harshest measures have been in South Africa. The government’s lockdown on March 15th forbade the bottling, labelling and packaging of wines. Wine tourism was forbidden understandably but the measures went further by forbidding the sale of alcohol domestically. Combined with the ban on transporting wines for export this was certainly a hammer blow to South African wineries. The transport ban was lifted, then reinstated but on May 1st eventually revoked, a huge relief for producers. Moreover, restrictions on wine production were also lifted so wineries could once more package their wines and send them for export. However, the effective Prohibition is still in place domestically, sales have plummeted. Tough times.

Testalonga and Radford Dale amongst recent purchases

This comes at a time when South African wines have been gaining international recognition for their quality. Producers such as Sadie, Molyneux and Testalonga have earned their place on the world stage and writers such as Tim Atkin and Jamie Goode have championed their cause. Back in the 1980s and 90s I used to buy wines from the likes of Fairview and Forrester but then I felt South African wines rather lost their way.

Peyras, Coutelou, Pelletier amongst others enjoying South African wine on a Languedoc beach in 2015

My reintroduction came back in 2015 after a visit to Domaine Vassal, France’s treasury of vines, with a group of natural producers in the Languedoc. I think it was Cameron who had worked harvest with us that year who brought along a skin contact wine from Testalonga and it made a big impression.

Testalonga at Real Wine Fair 2016

The following year I visited the Real Wine Fair in London and met Craig Hawkins of Testalonga who proved to be a fan of Coutelou wines. Just as I was to become of Craig’s wines. I have been buying them ever since and just this week had a fabulously juicy Carignan Follow Your Dreams 2019, very reminiscent of Jeff’s winemaking. The Chenins and Cinsaults, skin contacts and PetNats have all become firm favourites of mine, I thin Craig is getting better and better with each vintage.

I have also enjoyed some of Elgin Ridge’s wines recently, the Sauvignon Blanc 282 having a lovely mineral (yes, I know) character to make the variety more complex. Radford Dale has provided me with some juicy, red fruit rosés well named as Thirst from both Gamay and Cinsault. Intellego’s Kedungu was a nice blend of Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvedre. Perhaps it is the use of grapes familiar to me from the Languedoc which gives these wines such an appeal to me. However, these are wines which hold their own in comparison to other countries, not mere copies. There is real talent in the winemaking and lovely fruit in the bottle.

The ban on local sales must be hitting South Africa’s winemakers hard. I wish them all the best and urge you to try their wines and support them, this is a country with a great wine future whatever current problems beset it.


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Back To The Future

Version francaise

I promised two updates from Puimisson with news with Jeff Coutelou but, first of all, a follow up from last time. Jeff tells me that fine weather has held back any outbreak of mildew though more rain is forecast this weekend. He cannot touch the soils and the grass and flowers which have grown around the vines as that would certainly trigger the mildew spores which live in the soil. This growth will compete with the vines for nutrients and, if Jeff has to leave it in place all year, for fear of triggering disease, then it will lower the yields.

All is not bleak however. Jeff was enjoying the sunshine last week and the vines’ lush growth. He has also assembled an interesting team to help work in the vines, local people who can work safely without travelling. There is an ex seminarian, a teacher, a young man wanting to learn about winemaking, a scientist and others. Sadly, not me.

Fermentations finishing, 2020

Last years’ wines stalled towards the end of their fermentations at the end of 2019 but the warmer temperatures of Spring rectified that, reawakening the fermentations and the wines are now completed and settled. The various wines have been assembled into the blends which Jeff wanted for the 2019 cuvées. They will rest, be bottled in the next few months but not for sale until much later in the year.

Part of the blending record, giving nothing away!

Most exciting though, there has been a lot of looking to the future. A new plantation of mainly Aramon and Mourvedre with smaller amounts of Aramon Blanc and Servant, an old Languedoc variety which is very little planted. Yet another addition to the Coutelou catalogue, reversing the long term decline in plantings of the grape (down to just 75 hectares in 2011.)

Other work has been done to put up the stakes and wires for plantations from the last couple of years, for example in the parcel next to Sainte Suzanne which had been fallow for years and in Segrairals, shown in the photo below.

And Jeff has been looking still further into the future. When he retires Jeff intends to move to St. Chinian where part of the Coutelou family had their traditional home. The 4 hectares of vines which were there have been grubbed up and replanted with the varieties of the area (and no doubt some typical Jeff extras) as well as trees such as oak and olive, shrubs and plants too. This was a major task and timed for Jeff’s birthday too as plants and vines are what excite him.

So, the virus has undoubtedly altered the way that Jeff has had to do things but, happily, it hasn’t brought the domaine to a halt. The vines are growing well, there will be a 2020 vintage. And there is plenty to look forward to once we are past this.


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It never rains but it pours

Version francaise

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic viticulteurs continue their labours as the 2020 vintage moves on. In France strict regulations about movement and working conditions increase the difficulty of their task. The vines continue to grow and need to be tended. The wines in tank need to be supervised, blended and, even, bottled. Delay in the latter process could lead to financial shortfalls in the short and medium terms, and even in these unique times that has to be on the minds of the winemakers.

Budding began pretty much as normal in Puimisson, there were reports of early budding elsewhere but Jeff reported that he was happy with an average date. Since then the vines have grown quite quickly and around this time Jeff would seek to plough the grass, plants and flowers into the soil to act as a natural fertiliser. Using a pioche to hoe the plants between the vines into the soil is hard physical work. With such a large area of vines Jeff needs other workers to assist and the Moroccan team from vendanges have also been doing work too. Using social distance rules and other safety measures of course.

However, the problems caused by the pandemic have been compounded in the last week by rain. Jeff told me that there was 80mm of rain in that time, a storm on Sunday 26th brought 35mm alone with another heavy period on Monday evening. The videos he sent me of Peilhan vineyard show the result.

These are vineyards with very spongy soil which absorb water very well after 33 years of organic care. My experience of heavy rains in the area showed me a remarkable difference between Jeff’s vineyards and those of neighbours whose soils have been compacted by chemical treatment and heavy machinery such as harvesting machines. Therefore if Peilhan is waterlogged surrounding vineyards are worse. This is another reason why Jeff has ditches, trees and shrubs around his vines to help protect them.

Photos show the problem of working in the vines after such rain. Even Icare found the going too heavy and after running around he was exhausted at lunchtime when he got home.

However, the real threat is not difficult working conditions, rather the threat of mildew, in this case downy mildew. The forecast for the next few days is for higher temperatures, up to 25˚C. That is the ideal combination for mildew to form.

Mildewed leaf 2016

Mildew ravaged the Languedoc and other southern regions two years ago and is a consistent threat. The spores live in the soil and fallen leaves from the last vintage. If a viticulteur was to plough or use a pioche now it would release the spores even more than nature would do.

In any case the very soft ground means that machines could not operate between the vines. Jeff is having to use spray strapped to his back in order to try and protect the vines from mildew, an old fashioned way of working but the only option at present. We can only hope that nature is kinder than looks likely and that the sprays of herbal tisanes and sulphur do work their magic.

It never rains but it pours.