amarchinthevines

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


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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.


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Harvest 2019 – Magical Mystery Tour

En francais

The magical mystery tour which is the vendanges is under way. That’s an invitation to read on for the next few weeks to follow the course of what happens in Puimisson with Jeff Coutelou and the gang. Satisfaction guaranteed, I hope.

Red vineyards or squiggles indicate picking Day 1

Regular readers will be aware that nature has not been kind this year. What promised to be a great vintage in June with bountiful, beautiful fruit has been undermined by drought. It has not rained since then and so the bunches are still bountiful but they are made up of small grapes, quantities will be meagre. The ratio of juice to skins, pips and stalk is nowhere near the average meaning choices about winemaking have to be made, for example removing stalks rather than whole bunch to improve the ratio.

The 8 cases from Flower Power

We began on Friday August 30th with a morning pick to make a new cuvee. Flower Power vineyard (Font D’Oulette) was the starting point. This vineyard was planted with a rich variety of grapes, twenty or more – some rare. Clairette Musquée (originally the Hungarian Org Tokosi), Delizia Di Vaprio, Aramon Gris to name just three. Jeff has invested heavily in this parcel, for example bringing volcanic soils to add life, and the vines have looked healthier than previous years with more fruit. However, as a prime example of the ravaging effects of drought, despite more bunches on the vines, we harvested only eight cases, as opposed to seven last year.

Clairette Musquée and Aramon Gris, amongst the rare Flower Power grapes

To supplement the Flower Power, more Clairette Musquée from Peilhan and some Syrah from Segrairals at the other end of the village. The grapes were taken back to the cellar, and put into stainless steel tank with some dry ice to stop fermentation and allowing the juice to soak up some of the colour and flavours from the skins. (The wine was pressed three days later and will now ferment).

Syrah is sorted then put into the dry ice filled tank

Day two, Monday September 2nd began with the white grapes of La Garrigue; Sauvignon Blanc (low alcohol, bright acidity, very Sauvignon), Muscat d’Alexandrie, Viognier. Straight into the press, sent into stainless steel upstairs in the cellar, a fresh dry white wine in the making.

La Garrigue’s white grapes, Julien loading the press, brown pips show ripeness, the grapes are fleshy rather than juicy

Afterwards time for the Merlot of Le Colombié. Not the grape which Jeff favours particularly but year after year it produces good wine to be blended with others in cuvées such as Sauvé De La Citerne and Vin De Table.

Day 2

This year the grapes were very small, they were destemmed and into one of the original concrete tanks. I had been sorting it for 4 hours or so and the tank was less than half full, such is the paucity of juice. More was added but yields were well down.

Alain and Alan sorting Merlot, one of us has hair

The fruit is clean, dry and disease free so sorting is mainly about removal of leaves, snails and unformed grapes. The quality is excellent, the juice tastes delightful with plenty of fruit profile and acidity – just wish there was more of it. Jeff ‘joked’ feelingly that with the small tank of Merlot he might make 10 euros profit.

Beautiful Syrah from Ste. Suzanne

Day 3 and the Syrah of Sainte Suzanne (Metaierie on the map). This is the parcel which provides much of the fruit for the much loved Coutelou wine, Le Vin Des Amis. More of the same, very healthy fruit, concentrated and tasting sweet and ripe but… small berries.

Day 3

A losing argument with a boiling hot cup of tea put me out of action on Day 3 but I did manage to get some photos (of the grapes not my blisters you will be relieved to know).

There will be twists and turns ahead in the next few weeks, sadly there is no forecast of any rain to help us. Let us see where the mystery tour takes us.

Jeff checking alcohol levels or trying to find a big grape


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As if burned with a blowtorch

Version en francais

Photo de la vidéo de France 3 sur Youtube

Sad to report extensive damage across the Occitanie region from Roussillon through the Aude, Hérault and Gard which took place last Friday, June 28th. A heatwave (canicule) had been widely forecast but the ferocity of the heat that day still took everybody by surprise. In the Gard a recorded temperature of 45.9c is the hottest ever recorded in France. I was driving back from Spain and in the early evening the temperature was showing at 44c from Perpignan to Béziers. Those temperatures are recorded in the shade, in full sun the vines were enduring searing heat, combined with strong, hot, southerly winds.

Some hot weather can be beneficial in drying up mildew for example but this was new ground. Reports began to filter through of the damage done to vines. Friends such as Bernard Isarn (Domaine Cadablès in Gabian) were reporting extensive damage, he was joined by others. Some reported losses up to 50% in some parcels.

Photo de Bernard Isarn

This would be difficult enough to accept but it is the fourth year in succession where the climate has dealt a blow to production. Mildew in 2018, drought in 2017, frost and hail in 2016 all brought economic and agricultural damage. 2019 had begun so well until recent days, many people I spoke to, including Bernard, had been excited by how well the vines were progressing. So, I can only imagine the heavy hearts of vignerons whose vines were burned ‘as if by a blowtorch’ .

The combination of heat and wind was the crucial factor, others played a part. Languedoc vines are long used to great heat, years such as 2003 were hot but never with this damage. One difference is that the heatwave was early in the growing season. The younger growth was less hardy, more susceptible. This might also explain why so many of those affected were organic producers. Vines grown with lots of nitrogen and nitrates are further advanced in their growing cycle, perhaps the organic vines were more vulnerable because they were relatively immature.

Another reason put forward is the use of sulphur treatments. This is one of the organic vigneron’s tools, from a toolbox smaller in scope than conventional producers. With oidium menacing last week many organic producers sprayed with sulphur to combat the fungus. Unfortunately the combination of sulphur and hot temperatures leads to burning. Jeff Coutelou resisted spraying last week because of the forecast, he is thankful for having made that decision.

Photo du domaine Matassa en Roussillon

However, these explanations are tentative, enquiries are going on. Bernard reported that vines damaged included those not sprayed for 20 days. Ill fortune must be a factor. One other curious feature is that many report that the vines most damaged were the traditional, local varieties such as Carignan, which might be expected to resist heat better.

Whatever the reasons, it is extremely sad for those affected and my sympathies go out to them all. Local producer Catherine Bernard published her heart felt thoughts and they are well worth your time to read. The climate is raising questions which we all need to address urgently, vignerons seem to be in the front line of the struggles ahead.


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The melting pot of Puimisson

En Francais

In the last weekend there have been visitors to the cellars of Jeff Coutelou from the USA, Sweden, Russia and the UK. In recent times I can recall visitors from Israel, Australia, Taiwan and Japan. No doubt there have been many others. What draws everyone to Puimisson is the wine, admired and coveted from all over the world.

Mats-Eric, family and friends with Jeff.

I had great pleasure in showing the renowned Swedish writer Mats-Eric Nilsson around the vineyards looking at how the vines relate to the wines themselves. As temperatures have risen markedly in the last week it was good to see the vines in very good health despite the heat. Mats-Eric is working on a new book on wine, his previous one Chateau Vada is available now.

As you can see the Kina disappears quickly!

Within the cellar change was stirring. Whilst it is still the wines which are the flagship and main substance of the domaine there has been a shift in emphasis. The name ‘Vins et Spiritueux Coutelou’ tells the story. Vermouth (kina), gin, brandy, triple sec are now for sale. With a Coutelou twist of course. No industrial alcohol as an ingredient, meaning that labels have to carefully following guidelines. Not gin but Djinn (as in genie) for example. You may recall I reported on the making of the vermouths. There are three styles, a very dry, one with a little more sweetness from residual sugar and a red vermouth too.

To reflect this new arm of the domaine Jeff, Julien and Nathan were re-arranging barrels within the cellar to create distinct areas for the spirits. And out of that rearrangement came a new discovery for me, a port.

Made in 2012, stored in barrel (see photo above) it is in the style of a Late Bottled Vintage port. The barrel ageing had given it a hint of wood but there was a rich fruit and, as with the spirits, no strong alcohol sensation because of the natural alcohol used. Having spent some time in Porto this year and being a fan of port in general I can honestly say this wine is very good, another top quality addition to the range.

The triple sec, an orange flavoured spirit, was made in a stainless steel tank. Have a look at how it emerged at different stages from there to be allowed to settle in large bottles. The various stages are evident.

Vermouth stored in the solera cellar, the barrel on the left needs attention

With Jeff there is always change, experimenting and new wines and products. He enjoys the challenge of conjuring up and mastering the different styles. And that is without mentioning the solera system again. This really is a melting pot, a crucible of discovery. The fact that he attracts support from all over the planet suggests that many others appreciate that work and creativity.


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Expert eye

Version francaise

I regularly tour the Coutelou vineyards, looking at the changes and growth, relishing the tranquillity and connection with nature, the vines, flora and fauna. Nonetheless, far more interesting is to tour with Jeff himself. His expert knowledge of his land and the vines adds so much. Jeff was a teacher for many years and I always learn a great deal from him.

Living soils of Rome

We began in my favourite vineyard, Rome. This parcel, surrounded by trees, is a haven for wildlife. The tall Grenache gobelet vines are 40 years old and more and Jeff explained how the soil in Rome is around 30-40cm deep, made up mostly of forest residue, for example rotted leaves. The soil is a rich humous and full of life. Lifting a clump revealed fungal threads, insects (look for the black bodies) and worms.

Syrah with its large leaves and bunches forming

On to Sainte Suzanne and its Syrah and Grenache, so much a part of le Vin Des Amis, a famous part of the Coutelou range. Flowering completed in the main, the Syrah more forward than other varieties as is usual. The bunches resemble peas. Huge leaves such as this Syrah and Muscat in Peilhan show how Mediterranean varieties protect their grapes from the fierce sun because of their size and thick, quilted texture.

Flowering on the right whilst Jeff indicates coulure

Disappointingly there was also evidence of coulure, here and in La Garrigue especially with Grenache, which flowers later. Flowering has lasted longer this year, making them more susceptible to coulure.

This happens when wind or rain damages the flowers and the fruit cannot set on the vine. A shower of unformed grapes fell into Jeff’s hand as he ran it across a bunch. The consequence is that the harvest will be good but not as big as hoped for, especially after last year’s mildew hit year.

Oidium on bunch

That disease was downy mildew, this year the greater threat is powdery mildew or oidium. As we toured the Carignan vineyard, Rec D’Oulette, Jeff immediately spotted the signs, I would likely not have seen it. Oidium usually attacks the leaf and stem, leaving a white, powdery residue. Here the oidium had attacked the bunch directly, leaving a grey tinge to the green pea-like grape. Encouraged by the alternation between hot days and cold nights which we have had recently oidium needs to be treated. Jeff uses sulphur mixed with clay which helps the sulphur to stick to the plant. So far the damage is limited and the weather has heated up which might help to dry out the disease. Certainly there was evidence of that, the black spots on these stems and leaves is evidence of that, see the photo below.

Another pest was seen too. This white, cottony substance on my hand is the cocoon of ver de la grappe, a moth which will lay eggs in the grapes and the larvae pierce the skins causing bacterial spoilage. Insecticides would be the conventional response but not for organic vignerons. Natural predators such as bats are the solution, one reason why Jeff has bat houses in the trees around the vines.

More trees have been planted, Nathan and Julien were tending the border of Peilhan vineyard where fruit trees such as this pear are beginning to grow and become established. In the vines things looked good, such as this Carignan Blanc, Piquepoul Gris and Muscat in Peilhan and the Mourvèdre in Segrairals.

A 3 hour tour revealed so much about the state of the vines this year. Things are set for a good quality harvest, though it is still early days. Coulure means that it will not be a bumper crop, oidium that there is much work to be done to tend the vines which Jeff nurtures so carefully.

Healthy vines

New plantings such as that next to Sainte Suzanne of Clairette and Maccabeu are signs of a healthy future too.

Plantation, Clairette right, Maccabeu left

No matter what some British politicians would tell you it is always good to listen to experts and this was no exception. The strapline of my blog says “learning about wines, vines and vignerons”, this was a morning which certainly helped me to achieve that goal thanks to Jeff and his expert eye.