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



En français

“Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours”. So went the theme tune to a very popular Australian Television show. Well, it seems the message has not reached Puimisson.

Back in the spring I reported that the Carignan vineyard, Rec D’Oulette (also known as Chemin De Pailhès), had been vandalised. Jeff had planted lots of trees and flowers to create biodiversity in an area of grapevine monoculture. A neighbour decided to mow the flower patch one night.  And he has struck again.


In happier days

On Monday evening Jeff messaged me to say that two trees had been destroyed. He planted the trees (a pomegranate and a hazelnut) five years ago, watered them, looked after them. Now his money, his time and his care lie in crushed and broken wood on the ground. His neighbour had taken a crushing machine to them, a girobroyeur.

What sort of neighbour would do such a thing? Certainly not the co-operative sort which he would claim to be (if you understand what I am saying). Rather, a neighbour driven by jealousy, suspicion, anger. A neighbour whose own vines are pumped high and deeply coloured with chemicals and irrigation. A neighbour who cannot understand that somebody else might think and act differently. A man with no respect for his neighbour, his colleague nor for the land and nature which gives him his living. What sort of vigneron is that? But let us leave that wretched individual and turn to Mas Coutelou and its future.

Jeff was understandably upset, angry and disheartened by his neighbour’s actions. He wondered whether he should just give up, tired of providing the lone oasis of sustainability in a desert of land damaged by chemicals, erosion and overworking.

Happily, the support of many, via Facebook for example, has heartened him and he has a plan in place which will help to fight back with your help. I shall leave him to announce that plan. Meanwhile I urge you to read Jeff’s words, published on August 4th which explains his determination and motivation in fighting for nature.

Ode To Biodiversity

“Thank you all for your messages of support for the testing time I have just come through.

I do not proselytize about my way of working and I do not demand that my colleagues should join me but I feel I have the right to do what I want on my land. When in 1987 my father took the decision to join Nature and Progress, he was considered as some kind of extraterrestrial. The department of Hérault at that time had less than 200 hectares of vines grown organically, there are more than 20,000 today. (500 acres / 50,000 acres)

I do not think that we can correct nature because it is always stronger than man and in the end will  win every time. Just consider the viticulture textbooks from the start of the 20thC which suggested that with two treatments of sulfur and one of copper would see you through to harvest. By trying to produce more, by using increasingly powerful products, we have created such resistance to them in the vines that today some need more than 15 chemical treatments to achieve the same result.

We cannot blame the previous generation, they did not know. Modern agriculture has brought social progress for farmers. The replacement of the horse by the tractor, weed killers to replace the pick and hoe, chemical fertilizers to produce more at a lower cost, modern agriculture has helped to soften drudgery.

But now everyone knows. Groundwater is increasingly polluted and you have to go further and further to find barely drinkable water which must go through ever more costly treatments to just about meet the required safety standards. The land is less and less fertile and requires ever increasing amounts of fertilizer to be able to produce the same quantities.


Vincent staking the olives in Rec D’Oulette

Since we cannot change nature, we must try to adapt to climate change and seek solutions to continue making wine as naturally as possible. Planting trees, shrubs, flowers, increasing plant life is part of a considered approach for the future.


Erosion in a neighbouring parcel

It is about recreating areas of biodiversity … By continually removing hedges, fruit trees, paths, streams, to create larger and larger parcels, we create areas of vine monoculture which only make them more vulnerable, requiring more and more interventions and more exposed to erosion. We have removed balanced spaces where everything had its place in order to create spaces shaped by man which certainly made it possible to work more efficiently but, also, where man is obliged to act, to correct. For example, a bat can eat 2,000 insects per night, if we had only maintained their habitat we would not have to spray and to fight against vers de la grappe. (A disease caused by those insects)

It is about fighting against global warming … You have all at some time, when the summer sun is hot, enjoyed taking shelter in the shade of a tree. It is the same for the parcels of vines. By planting trees around the vines, we protect them from the drying summer winds. Moreover, passing through the trees, the wind naturally cools down. This is an alternative, sustainable approach to that of putting in place a system of irrigation, which may well effective in the short term but one day may well be limited or banned, as the water table is polluted by this water which comes from the Rhône.

It is about restoring beauty to the landscape …. Work in vineyards is certainly mechanized but is also done on foot. The person who works in a parcel needs to have something which marks the horizon, which allows them to see the end … As plots have become larger, they are no longer on a human scale and the work becomes mechanical, automatic, without love … To look up and see a bird land on a tree, to cool off under an olive tree at the end of a row of vines, to see butterflies and bees in the spring coming to rest on patches of flowers; these are the small pleasures which allow those who work there to feel better and to give more love to their work.

It is about an investment in the future …. In the digital age where everything is about the immediate, it is almost a militant act to plant trees that we will not see fully grown. There was a saying not so long ago, “the olive tree of your grandfather, the mulberry tree of your father, the grapevine of yourself.” Today we see a fashion for displacing ancient olive trees from where they first grew to decorate city roundabouts. We live so much in the now, demanding quick results, that we want to apply the same to nature … To plant a tree involves work, care, money but, especially, a lot of fun. To watch it grow, to attach it to a stake, to prune it to give it shape, to look after it so that it grows, to imagine it fully mature after we have gone; it’s so many things that may seem trivial for some (certainly for the bastard who this week destroyed the trees I had planted 5 years ago), but which mean so much to me.


Apple tree in Rec D’Oulette

So, what to do? Give up? Surely not …. I said when they crushed my flowers in spring, that in the next year we would plant kilometres of flower patches … Well , though some might not like to hear it, we will continue in the Autumn (Fall) to plant more trees around the vineyards. We will continue to look after them. We will continue to imagine them when they are fully grown. And it will be with great pleasure that we will share this love of nature with you when you come to visit us.”


Snails, sprays and screen star

En français

April 27th saw a number of visitors to Font D’Oulette (Chemin De Pailhès), home of Flower Power where we grafted vines recently.

France 3 television were here to record some footage for a report on biodiversity, so who better than Jeff to describe and demonstrate how he has worked to bring life to the vineyards around Puimisson.

Rather less welcome was the invasion of snails, I spent all morning removing thousands of them from the vines. They clearly enjoy the organic greenery and, in particular, the young buds. It was noticeable that where the vine had grown more fully the snails were few in number, instead they were grouped on the slower growing vines where the buds were small and fresh. Bullies.

As the days warm up the risk of diseases such as oïdium and mildew increases. Therefore, it was time to spray the vines to help them resist these damaging diseases. However, being organic, there is no question of synthetic chemicals. This was a spray of nettles, comfrey, ferns and seaweed mixed with rain water; organic, natural products. Julien sprayed on foot and then Jeff and he rode on the tractor to spray two rows at once in Rec D’Oulette, home of Flambadou.


Oy watch where you’re spraying!

Across the vineyards the vines are maturing rapidly. The buds are separating showing the future grapes and bunches. Tendrils are pushing skywards, remember that vines are climbing plants. The leaves are now of good size, soaking up the sunlight to help photosynthesis and provide energy to encourage the growth of the vine.

The soils remain dry and the leaves are a little brittle in places, this has been a very dry winter. More rain would be welcome. However, that night and the next there were reminders that the situation elsewhere can be much worse. The Loire valley and parts of Burgundy were hit by sudden, severe frosts which have devastated vines and mean that some vignerons face a bleak year with little or no wine to be made. The photograph below Credit: Sabrina Cyprien Caslot-Bourdin via Jim Budd / Facebook


The sunshine and drying winds may not be perfect but the vineyards of Mas Coutelou remain small havens of flora and fauna.


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Mas Coutelou – vineyard portrait

Version francaise

The traditional image of a vineyard is that of one big parcel of vines surrounding a chateau as in Bordeaux, with its smart house and cellar buildings for making and storing wine. However, that is not the reality for most vineyard owners. Jeff Coutelou has his home and his cellars in the centre of Puimisson in the Hérault, surrounded by a childrens’ nursery, houses and work buildings. The vineyard itself surrounds the village but comes in a number of small parcels rather than one big vineyard. Each brings its own characteristics in terms of soil, surroundings and exposure to the elements, ie its own terroir. The parcels have been accumulated over the years by Jeff’s grandfather, father and himself. In the satellite photograph below you will see the parcels and how they relate to the village. Vineyards are shown in green, olive groves in red.


(Photo taken from Rapport Biodiversité d’Exploitation Mas Coutelou produced by Agrifaune)

There are about 17.5 hectares (43 acres) of land though olive trees occupy about 2.5ha (6.7 acres) and well over 1 ha (3 acres) is fallow land or has other trees, hedges and plants. The soil is virtually all clay and limestone. As you may be able to see in the satellite photograph much of the land to the south of Puimisson is vineyard, to the point of monoculture. Jeff wants to use his land to produce biodiversity so olives, figs, roses and hedges help to create little oases of wildlife. More details are outlined at the end of this post.


Segrairals and Caraillet (6.8ha, 5.7 under vines)

This is the biggest of the parcels and the only one situated to the north of the village and closest to it. Surrounded by the village and a couple of roads it is well protected by trees and hedges, including figs and olives. A variety of grapes are planted with the oldest being some Syrah planted in 1993, Cabernet Sauvignon planted 1998 and younger plantings of Mourvedre, Syrah and especially Cinsault. The Syrah goes into bottles such as Classe and 7, Rue De La Pompe. Mourvedre goes into Sauvé De La Citerne and the Cinsault into 5SO. The Cabernet grapes will be used for blending in various cuvées or sold to the UK to make the new London Cru Cabernet Sauvignon, a project run by Roberson in London.

Main body of Syrah and Cabernet grapes

Main body of Syrah and Cabernet grapes

Planted olive trees in the foreground with some younger Cinsault and Syrah vines in the background

Planted olive trees in the foreground with some younger Cinsault and Syrah vines in the background


La Prairie (0.5ha)

To the west of Puimisson La Prairie is an olive grove in a very pleasant area with an official ecology walk going past it. No vineyard planted.

Mountains seen from La Prairie

Mountains seen from La Prairie

Prairie olive plantation

Prairie olive plantation

Le Colombié (0.6ha)

Just at the southern tip of the village Le Colombié is planted entirely with Merlot vines. These will produce grapes used to blend for cuvées prepared for restaurants, bag in box etc. Merlot is not a typical Languedoc variety, these were planted in 1999.

Colombié - Merlot vines

Le Colombié – Merlot vines

Rome (0.7ha)

Possibly my personal favourite vineyard of them all. It is quite isolated even though there are other vineyards around. Isolated, because there is a wood which shelters it. The gobelet Cinsault vines date back to 1966 and 1975 and go into the Copains or,in some years, Vin Des Amis or Classe. These old vines are also surrounded with young olive trees and the parcel is an attractive and quiet haven. There is also a planting of some 20 different varieties of grapes including various types of Muscat which are used in a solera system. This was started many years ago by Jeff’s grandfather and ever since wines have been used to top up the old barrels to make Vieux Grenache and Vieux Muscat. Sensational wines. The added benefit is that because there are so many different types of vine they cross pollinate and this adds an extra layer of complexity to the Cinsault in the Rome vineyard.

All vines lead to Rome

All vines lead to Rome


Gobelet Cinsault vines, olive trees and the surrounding woods

Gobelet Cinsault vines, olive trees and the surrounding woods

Metaierie (2.3ha)

The parcel which was the basis of my post One Day Like This when we harvested the last grapes of 2014, some Grenache. There are a few older Merlot vines (to be replaced in 2015) but the parcel is mainly the home of Grenache and Syrah grapes which are used to make the ever popular Vin Des Amis.

Smaller Metaierie parcel

Smaller Metaierie parcel

Main Metaierie vineyard, home of Vin Des Amis

Main Metaierie vineyard, home of Vin Des Amis

La Garrigue (1.8ha)

Described in some detail in the post Working In The Vineyards (January). Made up of three sections: some younger Syrah facing north for freshness, a section of Grenache facing south, as it likes the heat and some 20 year old Sauvignon Blanc vines too. The Sauvignon is used to make the white blend PM or other white cuvées, the Syrah goes into my favourite La Vigne Haute and the Grenache is used to make Classe along with the Syrah from Segrairals.




Sauvignon Blanc


La Grangette (0.5ha)

A parcel of half a hectare (just over an acre) surrounded by vines, Jeff decided that it is compromised in terms of quality grapes so he planted 112 olive trees in 2011 to provide contrast to the fairly barren land and vines surrounding Grangette.

Rec D’Oulette (1ha plus a smaller, separate parcel of 0.3ha)

Actually made up of two parcels of land. This has seen a lot of work in recent years as Jeff has tried to diversify it. The central block is half a hectare of 30 year old Carignan, used in making Flambadou, a wine which is really improving and was one of the stars of 2013. Surrounding these vines Jeff has planted half a hectare of olive trees to keep them away from the chemicals of neighbouring vineyards. The second part of Rec resembles Grangette as an isolated small parcel and again Jeff has planted olive trees to diversify as it is too small and isolated in its organic nature for grapes.


Carignan vines for Flambadou



Font D’Oulette (0.65ha)

A parcel where Jeff has worked hard in recent years. More olive trees planted in 2011 as were those in the small section of Rec. In addition he has grafted an older variety Aramon into the vineyard covering over half a hectare. These grapes will be used to create new cuvées and the first blend of grapes produced in 2014 is highly promising tasted from tank.


Olive trees to protect the new Aramon vines


Aramon vines

Les Roques (1ha, not on satellite photo)

One hectare of land to the south east of the village heading into Lieuran-les-Béziers, this was the vineyard I showed after the storms of November 28th 2014 when it was flooded. In fact the vines have been grubbed up and there is a programme in place to plant trees and to provide a barrier to the Libron river in case it should flood gain.

Les Roques shortly after the November storms

Les Roques shortly after the November storms

Peilhan (2.2ha)

An attractive vineyard nicely protected. About a hectare is planted with white grape varieties, including a section of Carignan Blanc which has been used to make a cuvée all on its own. Maccabeu, Grenache Gris and different types of Muscat make up the other white varieties and these are usually picked, assembled and vinified together as part of the PM white blend. This also the home of the Castets vines I have written about a lot, one of only two Castets vineyards in France. More Carignan vines are joined by another interesting grape variety, Clairette Musquée which was blended with the Aramon from Font D’Oulette last year. This is the vineyard where a recent plantation took place to bring back older varieties to the area. Terret Blanc, Riveyrenc Gris and Piquepoul Gris were planted along with Terret Noir, Morastel and Riveyrenc Noir. picked, assembled and vinified together as part of the PM white blend. This also the home of the Castets vines I have written about a lot, one of only two Castets vineyards in France. More Carignan vines are joined by another interesting grape variety, Clairette Musquée which was blended with the Aramon from Font D’Oulette last year. This is the vineyard where a recent plantation took place to bring back older varieties to the area. Terret Blanc, Riveyrenc Gris and Piquepoul Gris were planted along with Terret Noir, Morastel and Riveyrenc Noir.


Main parcel with white vines, Castets, Carignan and Clairette Musquée


Planting the new parcel of Peilhan

The domaine

Overall Syrah is the predominant grape variety making up around one third of production, although 2014 saw a big reduction in the harvest due to the dry spring and early summer. Red grapes dominate with well over 90% of production.

Jeff et ses Castets

Jeff and his Castets

(g-d) Vin Des Amis, & Rue De La Pompe, Paf

(L-R) Vin Des Amis, 7 Rue De La Pompe, Paf


Organic since 1987, no synthetic chemical products have been used on the soils for over 25 years now. No artificial yeasts are added in the winemaking process, the grapes produce healthy yeasts themselves to stimulate fermentation. Grapes also naturally produce tiny quantities of sulphites but Jeff has been experimenting with using no added sulphur since 2003 and has successfully completed the last three harvests without adding any sulphur to the wines. This dedication to producing wines which are as natural as possible, made with as little intervention as possible means that Jeff is restless in seeking to improve the quality of his soils and in protecting them from the non-organic practices of neighbouring vineyards. He has also brought in Agrifaune to put together a project to plant over I kilometre of hedges. These will help to prevent soil erosion, protect Coutelou vines from surrounding vineyards and also provide shelter to wildlife which in turn will help to protect the vines, for example by eating damaging insects. Trees such as oak, laurel and elder are being planted along with plants such as agrypis and wild rose. Around the vineyards wider borders of grasses and wild plants are being allowed to grow even if that means that vines have to be scrubbed up. Similarly ditches and fallow land will be used to encourage biodiversity. So in an area of monoculture these oases of biodiversity and wildlife will help to enrich nature, the vineyards and, ultimately, the wines.


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Attention les Rugbymen!!

(Version française)

The Grenache you harvested and pressed has been added to large 26 litre bottles and is beginning its journey towards maturity and drinking.

Moving from bonbonnes to bottles

Moving from bonbonnes to bottles

Yesterday was a superb day to be at Mas Coutelou.

It started fairly routinely by continuing habillage, preparing bottles for sending to merchants around the world. But then Jeff took me out into the vineyards to meet up with Michel who was already out there. He was in a vineyard of young vines, including some of the almost forgotten variety Aramon Noir as well as other cépages. There is a mix of ages too with vines from this year and the last two or three years. Michel, and then Jeff, were checking each vine to check on their health and progress since they were grafted. If the graft had not taken then they will be replaced later. If everything was looking good then stakes were added to support the young vines in their growth. As it was a lovely, warm and sunny day it was good to be out in the open air.

Michel has checked that this vine is healthy and will add a wooden stake

Michel has checked that this vine is healthy and will add a wooden stake

Jeff and Icare get to work

Jeff and Icare get to work

The weather has been remarkably mild and the vineyards were full of unusual sights for mid November such as flowering roses, wild leeks and wild rocket.

IMG_0474 IMG_0476


It was interesting to note the differences between two neighbouring vineyards. Jeff’s has vines living in soil which supports wildlife and olive trees for diversity. A neighbour’s vineyards show clean soils with neat rows of vines. How are they so clean? Fertilisers and chemicals. Here are obvious differences in ideas about wine and agriculture in general. Personally I am becoming ever more convinced that organic, minimal intervention is the way to healthy and tasty wines but others will disagree.




A regiment of vines

A regiment of vines









After lunch Jeff decided it was time to put into bottles the Grenache harvested in late September by the Rugbymen and ourselves. The wine had been placed in a series of bonbonnes after pressing and we tasted each one to look for the best assemblages, eg bonbonnes B and E had a sweeter edge so were mixed together in a large 26 litre bottle. The bottles were enormous and 8 were filled with the Grenache.

Michel tasting the Grenache as we agree on best assemblages

Michel tasting the Grenache as we agree on best assemblages


Bottles, sample bottles and emptied bonbonnes

Bottles, sample bottles and emptied bonbonnes









As the work finished for the afternoon we were joined by Jeff’s niece Flora, a talented photographer. Jeff opened some Vieux Grenache as he checked on the progress of some new small barrels used in a new solera system to supplement the older more established one. Some bottles from 20, 30 and even 40 years ago were sampled and were truly delicious, rich with layers and layers of different flavours and varying from dry to sweet. Finally he took a sample of a very special bottle, Sélection Des Grains Nobles 2012 made with Grenache Noir. Apparently some of the Grenache was affected by noble rot that year and Jeff and Michel spent a whole day doing triage to ensure only the right grapes were selected. The result even after two years is astonishing. My mind was truly blown. How to describe something so stunning, ethereal and rewarding? One of the very best wines I have tasted and a fitting climax to a truly memorable day which was full of sunshine, teamwork and friendship.

Icare in control again

Icare in control again