amarchinthevines

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


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Reflections on the vintage

En francais

Back in the UK, back in the wet and cold weather, though the Languedoc has suffered severe bad weather itself. Jeff kindly gave me many bottles to bring back, so the Coutelou wines are never far from my mind. And with a little time to reflect on the 2019 vendanges and the wines which are in tank.

The year began brilliantly, healthy rainfall over the winter meant a promising start, the vines were healthy and disease free through budding and flowering. Jeff was hopeful of an excellent vintage. Some damage from winds during flowering took a little of the shine away. And then came months of no rain and the promising start withered away in the heat, the nadir being June 28th with 45˚C temperatures. Though this canicule was worse for other parts of the Languedoc, Jeff’s Carignan was affected too. The continuing drought meant that the grapes were small, lacking in juice and very concentrated.

The positive was that disease such as mildew never formed so the grapes were healthy and clean. There will always be the odd problem, vines are natural, living things and, so, there will be problems. Most reports of wine harvests only ever show beautiful, clean grapes. There is no such thing as completely perfect grapes, every wine domaine will have problems. Jeff and I believe in showing the truth. The risk is that problems can appear worse than the reality. You will have to believe me that in 2019 98% of all bunches were good and healthy and whilst these photos show what problems we did meet they should not be exaggerated.

The wines which were produced will be very good. There is plenty of fruit and the wines are concentrated because of the lack of rain. They are quite high in alcohol and so careful picking and blending by Jeff was necessary to give the wines balance. There is good acidity and freshness despite the concentration. 2019, in my opinion, will not have the great quality of 2017 and the 2018s which taste tremendous at the moment. However, there is plenty of great wine to look forward to, cheers.


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Glass and bottle

En francais

October 2nd proved to be an interesting day in the cellar in two distinct phases. In the morning we were pressing the grapes which had gone into amphorae and then, in the afternoon, we bottled the first 2019 wine! That may sound odd but there is a reason which I shall explain.

The new amphorae had been filled with Piquepoul Gris and Terret Blanc grapes on September 12th and after macerating for three weeks it was time to run off the juice. This is straightforward in a normal wine vat but amphorae take a lot more work. The grape skins and pulp had to be lifted out by hand into the press, a laborious task.

After the bulk of the grapes were removed the rest of the juice could be run off by siphoning it out from the amphorae. The skins were put into the two basket presses and the juice put into a stainless steel tank with the siphoned juice. Some Cinsault grapes had been put aside to add to the mix and they added to the press, making a colourful gâteau after the press. This gateau is then broken up and repressed to add more juice and tannins to the wine.

Just a very gentle press the second time so as not to extract too much bitterness from the pips. The resultant wine, a light pink/orange in colour, tastes really good, there is something textural about the wine as well as the pear and apple flavours. I am really looking forward to trying this when it is finished.

Glass like appearance

One very odd note about the amphorae. Some sugars from the wine had actually managed to seep through the clay to the outside of the vessel. This resulted in a shiny layer of glass like appearance forming. It tasted like honey on the outside of the amphorae, bizarre.

In the afternoon, bottling. Now you may well ask, as I did, why on earth were we bottling a wine which had been grapes hanging on a vine exactly a month earlier? Too soon?

That would certainly be the case for a still wine but what Jeff was making was a PetNat, a sparkling wine made in the bottle. The juice goes into bottle and although the main fermentation is complete there will still be more taking place inside the bottle. The resulting carbon dioxide gas becomes the bubbles. In a few weeks the bottles will be disgorged removing any lees and leaving behind the sparkling wine which will be topped up and resealed. I described this process in this post in 2017. A cap is used as the pressure from the CO2 would push out a normal cork.

We filled a thousand bottles with the wine from La Garrigue’s white grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat. This must be one of the earliest bottlings of 2019 in France but, hopefully, you now understand why.


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Jeff and Icare, Netflix stars

En francais

The Netflix series “Rotten” released new episodes last weekend, one of which features Jeff Coutelou. The series examines the food and drink industry and problems associated with it. Previous episodes have featured items such as peanuts, cod, and milk. Series 2 includes an episode about wine called, ‘Reign Of Terroir’.

The programme examines the role of Languedoc Roussillon in supplying wine. It produces a staggering 20% of the wine drunk in the world according to the programme. However, the region faces increasing competition from around the world. ‘Rotten’ looks at how cheap imports from Spain have undermined Languedoc producers and have even been sold fraudulently as French wine. The direct action of some producers against such imports is examined in detail. The programme goes on to look at how new competition is emerging from Chinese wineries.

The film makers came to Puimisson during the vendanges of 2018 and spent a few hours filming Jeff and our harvest lunch. Interviews explain how Jeff and his father, Jean-Claude, moved away from the bulk wine production of most Languedoc vignerons to more specialised organic winemaking, even grubbing up vines to plant trees and plants to diversify the environment of the vineyards. This section of the programme serves as a balance to the winemaking we see at the huge L’Occitane co-operative in nearby Servian.

One of the vans loaded with filming equipment

It is beautifully filmed and the final scenes in Rome vineyard where Icare bounds around amongst the vines are charming. Jeff issues his mantra that love is the secret to good winemaking, a contrast to some of what we see elsewhere in the programme.

Should you watch? Well, of course, it is an interesting programme. It highlights the issues and differing points of view, fitting well into the context of the series’ themes. Call me biased but the stars are clear and obvious.

See for yourselves here, with a Netflix subscription.


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Harvest 2019 – The Long And Winding Road

En francais

It’s getting complicated

Into week three of the harvest, tired bodies all round especially my own as the old man of the group. Nicks and cuts on the hands, aching back and joints, bruises and bumps but still loving it all. Jeff meanwhile is faced with his annual puzzle of which wines go where, what needs to be done for each one to get it to its best, what might be assembled with what. It is a 3D jigsaw puzzle in action.

Two remontages at once

The little blackboards might remind us of what wine is in each tank, when it was picked, the story of its fermentation and transformation into wine from grape juice but Jeff needs to keep all this in his head (and spreadsheet) so we move the right wine from one tank to another, give one a remontage, another its pressing. He leads from the front, lifting and carrying heavy loads, driving, fixing creaking machinery. He must be very tired as well as stressed but he carries on regardless and we respond in turn.

Macabeu and Grenache Gris

Monday 16th, Day 13. A small harvest of Grenache Gris and Macabeu from Peilhan, a wine for blending perhaps or a very small cuvee. Principally it was a cellar day, Tuesday another. Pressing the Rome grapes, punching down the future orange wine of Muscat d’Alexandrie, remontages and pigeages on all the tanks. Picking is the traditional image of vendanges but this cellar work is essential to nurture the juice, to supervise its progress into the 2019 vintage. Pressing the red fruit which has been on its skins and pulp also means that the marc which is leftover after the juice has been extracted can be taken away ready to be distilled. This is after all, Vins et Spiritueux Coutelou.

Wednesday 18th, Day 15 time to get back into the vineyard and pick the Mourvedre from Segrairals. Some of this had been picked on the Sunday by Jeff’s ‘Rugbymen’ friends to make their own cuvee and it was lovely fruit.

The slope of the vineyard means that lower parts can be a bit damp at times and the fruit not so good as the rest so careful picking and sorting ensued. The resulting juice was very good, reflecting the year’s story it is concentrated with quite high alcohol. I would predict that it will be blended though it has been a single grape cuvee in the past.

One welcome addition to the team this week was my friend Steeve from near Besancon in the Jura. He has visited many times and worked at Jeff’s last vendanges and to help with pruning in the winter. His enthusiasm and experience were very useful and helped to rejuvenate us all.

One last effort required, the Carignan remained to be picked. Its story this year is a summary of the vintage however, so I shall leave that until next time.

Day 13 Day 15


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Harvest 2019 – We Can Work It Out

En francais

Team work

If Day 10 saw the eight different grape varieties harvested Days 11 and 12 were a contrast. Friday September 13th was all about Grenache and Saturday was all about Cinsault. These two varieties together with Syrah make up the bulk of the Coutelou production, important for the various wines which emerge each year and for the economic well being of the domaine.

The Grenache was from La Garrigue, planted facing south towards the sun. It copes well with heat, Spanish on origin and grown all around the Mediterranean (known variously as Cannonau, Garnacha, Alicante amongst others). Traditionally this parcel gives good quality fruit which is blended with other wine to make Classe for example.

I was feeling under the weather on the Friday but a day sorting good bunches of tasty grapes helps to improve the day. There was plenty of it too, perhaps the recent rain had boosted the yield a little. A quick tour of the remaining unpicked vines to check maturity also boosted the spirits with some attractive Mourvedre in the pipeline.

Mourvedre

Saturday (I must have been feeling better as I took more photos) and the Cinsault of Segrairals. These grapes are used for the 5SO cuvée as well as being blended with other wines, eg for the rosé.

Cinsault grapes tend to be big and the bunches can suffer a little as a result. The large grapes leave gaps in the bunch which leaves it vulnerable to disease and insects getting in, especially ver de la grappe. This moth lays its eggs in the bunch and the grapes are pierced by the resulting larvae. This causes the juice to flow in the bunch and attract rot.

Ver de la grappe cocoon emerging from a Piquepoul Noir grape

Sorting in the vineyard and on the table in the cellar needs to be thorough. That said 2019 has happily been a year of little or no disease.

The day showed how different sections of the vineyard differed in the quality of grapes. There were parts which gave slightly under ripe fruit but others which provided big, black grapes which tasted great to eat. Since 2019 has been so hot and dry much of the wine this year is very concentrated and high in alcohol. The under ripe grapes in the Cinsault actually served a useful purpose in providing lower alcohol and adding more acidity. Nature sometimes finds its own solutions.

Nothing wrong with this Cinsault

Meanwhile in the cellar there is increasing amounts of work to do. More and more of the tanks are full and needing remontage, batonnage or pigeage. The team has to work well together, fortunately this year’s does just that.

The amphorae, filled on Thursday also needed punching down to soak the skins. Fermentation has already started as you may see in this video.

With the Cinsault picked there are now just two main picks left to do in 2019, the Mourvedre and the Carignan. An intensive two weeks has gone by, much work still remains.

Days 11 and 12


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Harvest 2019 – Eight Grapes A Day

En francais

Carignan Blanc, Carignan Noir, Terret Blanc, Piquepoul Gris, Muscat d’Alexandrie, Macabeu, Castets, Morrastel.

These were the eight grape varieties picked on Thursday September 12th (Day 10 of vendanges). There are some unusual ones in there. Morrastel is a Spanish grape by origin (known as Graciano there). Part of the 2015 new plantation of Peilhan, it is already giving generous fruit in big bunches. Castets, from the South West of France, was very rare but has sprung to fame in 2019 as one of the new varieties which the Bordeaux AOC is allowing to be included in its wines. Jeff planted some in Peilhan long before this in 2011, its small, concentrated berries mark it out.

Tackling the Morrastel on a hot day Castets (right)

In Decanter magazine Andrew Jefford recently described winemaking as the litmus of climate change. I think that is an excellent way of describing the situation. When Carignan, a Mediterranean grape, is badly affected by the kind of heatwave we experienced this summer then there is something wrong. Castets, along with other varieties, has been added to the Bordeaux mix to help its vignerons adapt tot he new climate situation. Morrastel and other Spanish/Italian/Greek varieties might well be part of the answer for regions such as the Languedoc.

Jeff is well aware of the problem and it is one of the reasons he has experimented so much with different grapes in recent years, trying to add nuances of flavour, variety and the best way for his terroir to express itself being other reasons.

The Carignan Blanc went straight into the press, it will form its own cuvée or be assembled, we shall see how it turns out and how it might add to other white wines of the year. The Terret Blanc and Piquepoul Gris, both from the same 2015 plantation as the Morrastel, were added to the two new amphorae. This will be an interesting wine to follow as Jeff has previously used red grapes in the older amphorae. I think the white version could well be more interesting still.

The Muscat d’Alexandrie always produces big grapes, perfumed like most Muscats but this is picked before it becomes sweet. The grapes were destemmed and put into tank. They have been used to make the OW (orange wine) in recent years, I suspect this will follow that route.

Muscat d’Alexandrie being destemmed

The Macabeu is another Spanish grape (known as Macabeo or Viura there) but it has taken well in the Puimisson vineyards, often producing its own synonymous cuvee. It was pressed immediately and put into stainless steel like the Muscat. The Carignan from Peilhan was again destemmed and will be used for blending. The Carignan from Rec D’Oulette (the Flambadou grapes) meanwhile is likely to be the last of the harvesting this year.

A fascinating day with such variety of grapes and stories. A sobering one too in reflecting on the litmus situation.

Icare and Bulles (Alain’s dog) certainly found it hot

Day 10


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Harvest 2019 – Rain

En francais

Finally. Maybe a few weeks too late but we had around ten hours of rain on Tuesday to relieve the parched Languedoc. That said, it soon dried out again and much more rain will be needed for the well being of the region. However, for the vines it was a welcome relief and should revive some parched vines.

Jeff Coutelou told me that in Peilhan vineyard for example the grapes were pretty much skins and pulp, now there is some juice to balance them. We have had some lovely fruit through the vendanges but it is very concentrated and lacking juice. Whilst for Jeff’s bank balance the rain would have been more welcome a month ago to fill out all the grapes and provide more wine, this was better than nothing. I saw one southern Rhone producer say it was like 100€ notes falling from the sky. That may be true for Chateauneuf du Pape but not for Jeff who said maybe a few centimes coins would be nearer the mark.

Cinsault in the rain, some of these were picked Wednesday

Grenache being put whole bunch into tank

The day before the rain, Monday 9th (Day 8 of vendanges) was a picking of Grenache from Sainte Suzanne. It was put into tank in whole bunches to give a more fruit driven wine, a semi carbonic maceration.

Anthony collecting cases, star over the stable

No picking on the Tuesday or Wednesday morning , the photos show why with water standing on the grapes. Wednesday afternoon (Day 9) saw more Grenache and the first Cinsault of the year. This was destemmed as usual.

Cinsault (left) and Grenache

Meanwhile the break gave Jeff the opportunity to do more work on the wines in tank which have all begun their fermentations, the whites took a little longer in their temperature cooled tanks but have started too: Remontage, pouring or pumping wine over the top of the crust of grape skins and pulp; Batonnage, stirring the white wines in tank; Pigeage, pushing down the cap or crust into the wine for the same reason as remontage.

Meanwhile the figures on specific gravity for the wines continue to decline, indicating the fermentation process is going ahead successfully.

To give you some idea of how hard that crust can be and how much effort it takes to punch it down have a look at the video of Jeff treading on the cap of the Syrah from La Garrigue.