amarchinthevines

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


Leave a comment

Vendanges 2018 – Part 2

 

P1040186

Tuesday 4th to Thursday 6th September

After the break harvest really kicked into gear this week. One of the effects of mildew (and compounded by the hail storm later) was damage to foliage. The vine uses the foliage to ripen the grapes but also to nourish itself via photosynthesis. Damaged and desiccated leaves mean that there comes a point where the vine struggles to ripen the grapes any more and, even worse for the winemaker, things go into reverse; the vine begins to take back nutrients from the grapes in order to feed itself. This will have consequences not just this year but into the future, as the vine has struggles so much and is weak, it will not be at its best next year and further ahead.

P1040193

Riveyrenc Gris grapes in good health but note the mildewed leaves 

Therefore, Jeff Coutelou has had to spend a lot of time in the vines ensuring that he knows exactly the health and condition of the vines to get the best possible grapes for this year whilst being mindful about the health of the vines. A balancing act to cause him more stress in a difficult year.

P1040183

 

Tuesday saw some lovely Muscat being harvested from Peilhan, the grape which smells of grapes. The video below shows them being pressed and I wish I could convey the lovely fresh, grapey aromas which emerged from the press.

 

This is Muscat being made for dry wine, in 2016 for example the Muscat D’Alexandrie made a lovely orange wine which we have shared at lunch. Afterwards the pickers moved into the 2015 plantation at the top of Peilhan, the 12 rows of Morastel, Terret Noir and Riveyrenc Noir picked to blend with Syrah from Sainte Suzanne where the pickers headed next.

On a beautiful Wednesday morning the remaining Syrah was picked. Jeff decided to make a grappe entière wine so Julien and I headed into the top of the cellar to sort the grapes and send them through the chute into the tank. This had been given a dose of CO2 to encourage the fermentation of the grapes inside their skins. After a short period the skins will burst and the resulting juice will have a light, fruitiness. This process is called carbonic maceration. Sorting meant removing any leaves and other vineyard products such as spiders and snails. Mainly though we were looking for the dried grains of berries damaged by mildew and the green, unformed berries caused by millerandage.

P1040198

Onto Thursday and the deployment of two teams of pickers. The Moroccan crew picked some lovely bunches of Macabeu from Peilhan before moving on to Syrah from Segrairals.

 

Macabeu and Syrah (note the green unformed berries needing to be sorted

We were also joined by a number of pickers who would tackle some of the more interesting vineyards. As a result of mildew damage in Faugères some growers have little or nothing to harvest and some of their pickers came to join the Coutelou team. And we were joined by Louis who, having completed his professional baccalauréat has begun a course to help him achieve his ambition of becoming a sommelier. His stage will certainly teach him a lot about vines and wines, the numerous cépages he picked will certainly have opened his eyes to the wide world of wine.

This team picked my favourite vineyard, Rome, with its old Cinsault vines, Muscats of various kinds and all three versions of Grenache. In the afternoon the moved on to Font D’Oulette now simply referred to as Flower Power after the wine made from the numerous cépages in there. Using two teams meant that cases were returned thick and fast by Michel and Julien and I had a long, back breaking day sorting these grapes.

P1040219

Julien and Nathan sort the last case on Thursday from Flower Power

I have to say the juice tastes great, fruity with good acidity. Now all we need is for the yeasts to play their part and ferment that juice into good wines. The picture below shows yeasts at work in a tank where some of the skins from the pressing of last week’s Grenache. As with the grapey Muscat these bready aromas deserve to be more widely shared. Vendanges is all about the senses.

And, for Icare lovers around the world, he is taking a very keen interest in this year’s harvest.

P1040188

 


2 Comments

Harvest 2018 – Part 1

 

Everything scrubbed and cleaned in readiness

My fifth vendanges with Jeff Coutelou, time has flown and instead of a complete ignoramus helping where I can without getting in the way I now understand the different jobs and skills needed and can tackle most, if not all. This year’s reduced harvest (possibly up to 50% less than average) means we need a reduced team and so I hope I can put those years of experience to use to support Jeff along with Michel, Julien, Nathan and the team of pickers.

This year has been difficult due to the weather as I have tried to explain on here before. The long period of rain during the Spring meant that mildew hit hard across the region. Some friends have lost all their grapes, others significant amounts. Those in organic and biodynamic farming have been hit hardest as synthetic anti-mildew treatments proved more effective than organic ones. A couple of bursts of hail during thunderstorms triggered by the heatwave of July/August also damaged vines and bunches of grapes. One of the effects of both these problems is damage to the foliage, making it more difficult for the vine to have photosynthesis to produce energy to ripen the grapes easily.

Top left – mildew dried bunch on the left, top right – hail damage to grapes and leaves underneath

All of this meant that unlike other regions of France the vendanges began later than usual, the first picking was August 29th a full two weeks after 2015 for example. We began with white grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, Carignan Blanc and Muscat from La Garrigue vineyard. I did a little picking and then moved to the cellar for sorting.

The pickers in action, my bucket and case, back to the cellar and first analysis

With the problems of 2018 sorting might have been very difficult but actually not so much so far. The ripened grapes are healthy, the dry heat of summer means there is no evidence of rot. Instead we are looking for grapes dried by mildew, many bunches have clusters of them, they can be easily separated from the healthy grapes. Another issue is the number of unformed grapes, like little hard, green peas amongst the bunches. This is due a problem called millerandage, where the flower was unable to set the fruit, a product of the rainy, cold Spring and early mildew.

P1040127

Cinsault with millerandage left side

The first red grapes soon followed, the Grenache from Sainte Suzanne, often the backbone of Le Vin Des Amis. This was the parcel hardest hit by mildew and the quantities are heartbreakingly reduced. Nonetheless there was enough to take picking on the afternoon of Wednesday and the Thursday morning. The sorted grapes were passed through the new destemmer (mercifully quieter than the previous one) and then sent for a short, cold maceration.

In the video Michel is putting the chapeau into the tank to cover the grapes. Dry CO2 has been added to make the grapes cold so that they do not get too hot and ferment too wildly. The juice was run off the skins on Saturday morning. Jeff has a number of options for using this juice, which was never going to be serious enough for using in a classic red wine.

We restart picking on Tuesday, September 4th. There are lots of healthy parcels ahead and things will perk up. This initial burst was a useful warm up, mechanical problems with the press and pump are now sorted and we head towards the main event. Wish us well.

P1040123

There are plenty of healthy, juicy grapes to look forward to like this Carignan for Flambadou

And one member of the team just loves this time of year, with lots of attention.

 


1 Comment

New vines, old grapes – back to the future

Version francaise

Following on from the new plantation of old and rare grape varieties in Segrairals, Jeff wants to develop further this aspect of the Coutelou vineyards. He has been consulting with the nursery in the Aude which specialises in organic and old vines and has placed orders for more.

Amongst those are some known in other regions and countries. Alicante is a variety known in Spain as Grenache Tintorera, a cross between Grenache Noir and petit Bouschet. Widely grown in Portugal and Spain its red flesh which adds a deep colour to wine is becoming fashionable in the USA. Farana is a grape which was grown in Algeria mainly but after its independence from France plantings there have shrunk to very little. Spain has some and there is a little in the Barossa Valley in South Australia. Beni carlo is a grape better known as Bobal, usually grown in Spain and resistant to extreme climatic conditions. Like Alicante Beni carlo is good for adding colour and tannin to wine. Lledoner Pelut, a Spanish grape by origin, is a mutation of Grenache but has the advantage of being more resistant to rot.

 

More familiar varieties such as Aramon, Morrastel, Terret Noir and Clairette Blanche, already planted elsewhere in Jeff’s vineyards, will become more widely planted.

Varieties such as Villard Blanc, Lignan and Mancin are also little known grapes which will begin to bear fruit. Villard was a cross made by a horticulturist and his father-in-law who gave their names to it (also known as 12375 Seyve-Villard). There used to be 30,000ha in the South West of France as late as the 1960s, now only a handful of hectares remain in the Ardeche and Tarn but also in Hungary. Very resistant to mildew. Lignan is unusual in being a grape which ripens before Chasselas, the benchmark for maturity. Originally Italian (known as Luglienga) Lignan Blanc is widely grown as a table grape, is vigorous and needs heavy pruning. Mancin was originally a Bordeaux grape but has disappeared there and little grown elsewhere. Another early maturing grape it adds body to wine when assembled.

 

Jeff has ordered a few vines of each of these as well as more of the Inconnue which is already planted in Font D’Oulette (unknown elsewhere), Marocain Noir, Oeillade Noir and Valenci Blanco some of which are so rare I could not find any information about them! They will be added to vineyards to replace vines which don’t take after grafting or simply die.

Why is Jeff so dedicated to planting and conserving these grapes? Partly because he simply believes it is simply the right thing to do, partly through passion for vines and their history as well as the traditions of French viticulture. It is also a question of diversity in a sea of vineyards across the region. And, in an age of climate change, it behoves viticulteurs to look at how they are going to respond to more extreme weather conditions in future. Finally, these grapes will certainly add a unique character to the Coutelou wines. Old vines but the way forward too.

20180823_145749


2 Comments

New vines, old grapes – Segrairals

En francais

The new plantation, originally designed for the parcel at Sainte Suzanne contains a number of rare grape varieties. That parcel has been so wet that Jeff decided not to go ahead there, instead he planted them in Segrairals after grubbing up some of its Cabernet Sauvignon vines. To the right of the Cabernet the white vines were planted with red varieties to the left side.

White

  • Clairette

Origins: A Mediterranean grape, famously associated with Adissan in the Hérault. There are different varieties; Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Clairette Musquée etc. (Jeff has had Musquée for some years, this was one of the grapes which Domaine de Vassal had not known about until Jeff visited). It is also known as Blanquette and Malvoisie (not to be confused with the Italian grape of that name). 2,200ha are planted, down from 14,000 in 1958.

20180805_153303

Clairette, from Pierre Galet’s Dictionnairedes cépages

Bunches: above average in size, compact, cylindrical with average sized grapes. Leaves are quite round though the top sinuses are distinct.

Growing: Late budding, ripens at a normal rate*, vigorous so might need pruning. Can be vulnerable to mildew and vers de la grappe (moth larvae which grow in the berry, the juice can then spoil the whole bunch).

Wine: Fresh, quite high alcohol with relatively low acidity

  • Picardan

Origins: South of France, Provence (this is a grape which can be used in Chateauneuf Du Pape). Sometimes called Oeillade Blanche (not related to Oeillade Noir which Jeff has already), Aragnan and Milhaud Blanc. In 2011 only 1 ha was being grown, that in Provence.

Bunches: average sized, compact, long stems with small to medium grapes which start a yellowy green and develop a pink tinge by maturity. Leaves have 5 distinct lobes with marked teeth

Growing: Late budding, vigorous, ripens at a normal rate. Quite hardy against disease but prone to mites.

Wine: usually blended with others, often in rosé wine, aromatic.

  • Olivette Blanche

Origins: Unknown though likely southern France, not related to Olivette Noire. Sometimes called Servan Olivet or Rognon. One advantage of Olivette Blanche is that the flowers are female so it is a handy variety to plant amongst others which are dominated by male flowers. Only 1,8ha are known to be planted so this is a coup for Jeff.

Bunches: average sized, straight rather than conical in shape. Stalks stay green. Irregular sized and shaped grapes which can grow big. Greeny yellow in colour and fleshy. Leaves are 5 lobed though these are not distinct V shaped sinuses help to distinguish it.

Growing: Average budding, vigour and ripening. Sensitive to coulure and millerandage (meaning some berries don’t develop in the bunches).

Wine: As a result of its irregular growth this is not an easy grape to prune and train so it has become little grown.

  • Servant

Servan

Origins: Probably Languedoc. Sometimes confused with Le Gros Vert which is a different grape. Also known as Servan, Colombal and Nonay. Only 75ha remain in the Hérault (there used to be more than 4,000ha) with another 50ha in Italy.

Bunches: Average to big in size with grapes which have quite thin skins and turn slightly pinkish on maturity. The grapes are quite fleshy. Leaves have 5 distinct lobes and deep sinuses.

Growing: Budding is normal, ripening later than average. Vigorous growth and as the vine ages it starts to grow lots of grapillons (side bunches). Quite a vulnerable variety, prone to millerandage, mildew, oidium and does not like the soil to be too dry.

Wine: Neutral, lasts well (The name Servan means conserves)

  • Terret

Origins: Languedoc. There are different types and Jeff has these in Peilhan vineyard too; Terret Bourret or gris and Terret Monstre or blanc. Another variety used in making Chateauneuf Du Pape and other Rhone wines. This variety has doubled in surface area in the Languedoc in the last 50 years.

Terret_blanc

Terret Blanc, from wikimedia

Bunches: Average to big in size, the bunches develop in a pyramid shape and are compact. Grapes can be round, thick skinned and juicy. The leaves tend to redden in early autumn. Leaves are fairly compact the top 4 lobes looking like one large one.

Growing: Late budding and vigorous. Prone to mildew and oidium as well as vers de la grappe. Can get sunburned easily.

Wine: Fresh, light, dry and aromatic.

Reds

  • Aramon

Origins: Probably Languedoc. Used to be planted all over the region, one of its names was Pisse-vin because it is the most fertile of all grapes and produces large quantities of low alcohol wine. This was the grape which made most of the wine given to troops in the French Army in World War 1 as well as sold to the ordinary people of Paris. There were over 150,000ha in 1958 now there are only 2,260ha.

Bunches: Conical shaped and very big, weighing 400-600 grammes even over 1kg. The grapes are also large in size, spherical and very juicy with thin skins meaning the grapes can burst open if not handled carefully. Leaves are thin and 3 lobed

Growing: Early budding but average ripening dates. Sensitive to mildew but can resist oidium. Also vulnerable to mites, vers de la grappe and fungal problems.

Wine: Fairly neutral with little colour if allowed to grow unchecked. With careful pruning and green harvesting the wine can be fresh and juicy.

  • Grand Noir De La Calmette

Origins: This is a cross, made in 1855, of Petit Bouschet and Aramon, bears some resemblance to Piqupoul Noir which is also a cross of Petit Bouschet. It has almost disappeared so these few vines are a real rarity, now only 0,4ha in the whole of France though there are 1,000ha in Portugal and more around the New World. Also called Gros Noir and Sumo tinto.

Grand Noir

Bunches: Average to big in size, cylindrical in shape with short, woody stalks. The grapes are average in size but some bunches are prone to undeveloped green berries. The skins are quite thick and a rich purple. The juice is quite sweet and reddish as are the pips. Leaves have 5 lobes with prominent teeth and look long.

Growing: Very late budding, vigorous in growth, normal maturity. A little sensitive to oidium, less so to mildew. Hates frosts.

Wine: Low alcohol and ages quite quickly.

 


2 Comments

Kina than ever

 

Version francaise

P1040104

According to the very good website Punch there is a vermouth renaissance at present, headed by demand in Spain. Coincidentally Jeff Coutelou has marketed his version of vermouth, Kina, this year. Good timing it would seem.

On July 17th Jeff prepared the next batch of Kina. Demijohns were given generous quantities of herbs and spices such as bitter orange peel, sweet orange, gentian and many others. Top secret recipe of course! White wine was added to top up the container and this will form the concentrate. In a few weeks when the wine has macerated with the flavourings they will be removed. The flavoured wine will then be diluted with more wine to produce the Kina.

It is a very refreshing aperitif, dry and flavoursome. Certainly we were not the only ones to appreciate the morning’s work a Icare found it a source of great interest.

P1040099


Leave a comment

Coutelou renewed

untitled

En Francais

You may recall that for French bureaucratic reasons the Coutelou domaine name had to change this year. Mas Coutelou was a combination of the surnames of Jeff’s parents, Mas being his mother’s family name. However, Mas also means a homestead or farm and only wines under Appellation or IGP labels are allowed to have that name. So, family name or not, Jeff’s Vin De France wines, Mas Coutelou for many years, had to have new branding.

Since he was already planning to release new products such as a fine (eau de vie), a kina (like a vermouth) and other spirits Jeff chose ‘Vins et Spiritueux Coutelou’. I have tried the Kina and like it, even though it’s not really my thing. Made from wine and organic herbs from the vineyards it is a very enjoyable aperitif.

P1040020

It seems that renewal is the signature of the year. There has been much updating of the cellar in recent times; roof, insulation, a form of air conditioning, division of cuves to make it possible to vinify smaller parcels and quantities, resin flooring, better drainage, amphorae, temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. A new management space means that it is easier to see at a glance what is where and adds a tidiness to what was a more chaotic central space of the cellar.

Upstairs the new office space has been fitted out beautifully. Jeff commissioned a couple of local carpenters to make furniture. Using old barrels and a foudre of more than 130 years old they made a cupboard, with themed shelves and a stunning chair for the desk. They are real works of art, true craftsmanship. A table from the Coutelou family home has been skilfully renewed to add a feature to the space.

P1040083

The empty parcel next to Ste Suzanne

And, in the vineyards more renewal. The small parcel at Sainte Suzanne which has been fallow for many years was supposed to be planted last year, in 2017. A very wet spell then and another this Spring has meant that those plans had to be shelved as the parcel was too wet. However, the vines were already ordered so Jeff has planted them in Segrairals where he had grubbed up some Cabernet Sauvignon. Instead of that extraneous variety Jeff has planted Aramon Noir and Aramon Gris (Aramon being the original grape in the parcel next to Ste Suzanne), Terret, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Picardan, Olivette, Servan (related to Syrah) and Grand Noir De La Calmette. I must admit to never having heard of some of these. Time to consult my copy of Galet’s wonderful Encycolpedia of Grapes. The Coutelou vineyards are fast becoming a treasure store of rare grapes, there are now several dozen varieties planted.

The very hot and dry month combined with the widespread mildew outbreak have meant that Jeff has spent many hours tending this new plantation, spraying and watering to help the new plants to survive. Happily, all is well.

2018 will always be remembered by Languedoc vignerons as a year of headaches and heartaches, months spent on tractors fighting disease, easy to become disheartened. The Coutelou renewals help to remind us that such problems are temporary.


Leave a comment

The Boys Are Back In Town

36246566_10156443916303194_4661193784325832704_n

En francais

A morning in the cellars, a good chance to catch up with not just Jeff but Michel and Julien who I hadn’t seen since last October. The gathering was to do the assemblage of L’Oublié the cuvée made up not just of different grape varieties but different vintages of those grapes. Old Carignan and Grenache from ‘forgotten’ barrels includes years such as 2001, 2007 and 2010. Added to these are younger wines such as Syrah from 2014 and 2015, Copains 2013 and some 2017 Grenache amongst others. There is even some of the grapes often used to make La Vigne Haute, my favourite wine of all.

img_0022

As always with work in the Coutelou cellar the priority is cleanliness, the safeguard which ensures that no added sulphites are added to the wines. Everything is cleaned thoroughly before use and after use, every time a piece of equipment is needed. It adds to the work load but it is vital for the wines to be pure.

The wines were then taken from the various barrels and tanks to one of the large fibre glass tanks to spend time blending and harmonising before it will be bottled at some point in the future. The resultant blend was excellent. I had coincidentally opened a bottle of the last blend of this cuvée just two days before and it was on fine form so this one has a lot to live up to. First impressions are that it will do just that, a new star is born!

P1040042

Component wines to make L’Oublié

Then more moving around of different wines to free up some of the tanks which will be needed for the 2018 vintage. Checks were made on all the wines in the cellar including the new amphorae. This is the second wine to be matured in them, the first having been bottled already. I tasted some of that first amphora wine and it was very impressive, a real stand out. Jeff kindly gave the three of us a jereboam of that first wine and it will be a very special occasion when it is opened. Offers for an invitation are welcome!

After the final clean up and a couple more tastings the morning’s work was completed, yes work – honestly. The team was back together, the wines are together. All is well.

P1040021