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

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A year in the vines, Mas Coutelou in photos (Part 1)


The year begins with a series of wine salons and assembling wines for those tastings from the previous year. Jeff took me through the various cuves to see how the 15s were developing. Meanwhile the serious work of pruning (la taille) dominates the early months of the year and Julien was hard at work, patiently shaping the vines to enable them to produce their best. This was especially important in such a mild winter where the vines were unable to lie dormant.


Bottling of the 2015s began, this time Vin Des Amis, perennial favourite. Jeff has his own bottling line and the full crates of wine now head to storage for a few months to get over the ‘shock’ of bottling (mise en bouteille).


A March in the vines for sure. One of the highlights of 2016 was also the wettest and filthiest I could possibly be. Grafting vines (la greffe) in Flower Power (Font D’Oulette) on a day when it became impossible to lift the pioche because of all the mud stuck on it. I learned a lot and I loved the whole day.


Spring brings the vines truly to life (though the mild winter meant they were restless all winter). Look at the tendril extending from the pink bud on the left, this vine is already growing fast. Small shoots in Rome vineyard and also the ladybirds, sign of  a healthy vineyard. (ébourgeonnage)


The grappes begin to form in clusters and spring flowers are everywhere around the various vineyards of Mas Coutelou. May is perhaps the most beautiful month of all in the vine, warm days, clear light and the colourful natural world – blossom, flowers, butterflies, birds. There is literally no place on earth I would rather be.


In the vines the flowering season (fleuraison) lasts just a few days. They are very delicate and easily damaged by strong winds or heavy rain. Here the Carignan vines of Rec D’Oulette (which make Flambadou) are in full flower.

Meanwhile in the cellar the bottling season restarts and the tanks are emptied and then cleaned with a vivid colouring for the floor. And welcome visitors arrive sometimes bringing delicious gifts of food with which we can accompany the wines. It’s a hard life, believe me.


Perfect Day

En francais

Any excuse to include some Bowie who is producer and piano player on the song which is also one of Jeff’s favourites.


Michel on top form

March 3rd was the last full day of the Spring bottling period and it was pretty much a perfect day in Jeff’s own words. The day was clear with high(ish) air pressure which is better for bottling and in the biodynamic calendar it was a fruit day with a descending moon, perfect too.


Checking the weather

The only snag was the late arrival of the magnum bottles despite being ordered some time ago. So, things started over an hour late, bottling magnums and jereboams of Vin Des Amis and a new Syrah cuvée.

I had always assumed that a magnum being simply 150cl as opposed to the single bottle 75cl would be cheaper to produce, a bulk saving. However, the bottles are naturally more expensive, being produced in smaller quantities and they are filled by a slower machine rather than the usual bottling line. This takes more manpower too. So a magnum and other large formats do cost more, jereboams also need a larger cork. I like these large bottles, not just because there is more wine (good for groups of friends) but also the wine ages more slowly.

We had a relaxed lunch in the cellar, cheese, canned fish and charcuterie, the latter for Jeff, Michel and Julien. Naturally a few bottles were opened for quality control!

In the afternoon it was back to the main bottling line, helped by Catherine, for the Syrah cuvée and the new white wine from Peilhan vineyard, made from Carignan Blanc and Grenache Gris. The Syrah is lovely, I remember during the vendanges that the tank caused some of us some concern but Jeff always believed in it and …. he was right. Lovely dark fruits, fresh, mineral and long – almost as good as La Vigne Haute which is praise indeed.

The Blanc was, perhaps, even better for me, bright apple and pear flavours, very mineral, clean and pure. I do believe 2015 will produce some great reds from Mas Coutelou but that the white wines, often in the shadow, will emerge to take their place as stars in their own right. Jeff is confident that the Maccabeu is even better, there’s a long maceration blanc too. I have tasted them both and they are lovely wines in the making.

We didn’t finish until after 8pm, it was a long day but we had great fun, lots of laughs, great teamwork as well as the hard work. The bottling has been a success, the 2015s are proving to be even better than we thought – a perfect day.

Then just as I thought days could hardly get much better, along came Tuesday, March 8th. But you’ll have to wait for that report in a couple of days.


Jour De Fête Pour Vin Des Amis

En français


I am a very lucky man. If in doubt, read on.


Yesterday (February 23rd) was the first big bottling day of Mas Coutelou 2015 wines. First in line was Vin Des Amis and 11,400 bottles were prepared. As Jeff put it, “Le vrai jour pour la belle cuvée”. (The bringing into the world of the beautiful wine). It proved to be the most aptly named of wines as Jeff welcomed friends from far and wide.


Vincent, a friend of many years who has featured before, was here from Paris. Another Paris based teacher, Sébastien, is spending a week in Puimisson in order to learn about being a vigneron (see his report on the domaine here). The most important visitor yesterday was Céline who was celebrating her birthday.


Birthday girl

Bordeaux based Céline has been a regular visitor to Puimisson for many years and helped me with picking grapes for my 100th blog wine last September. Her husband, restaurateur Brice, and friends Thibaut and Anne from Monein in the Béarn, were here to help her to celebrate and threw themselves into the bottling work with gusto. Michel, Julien and I were present too.

The bottling line was in operation from 7.30am to around 5.30pm. Cuve 7, which contains up to 100hl, was emptied and the bottles taken to be stored for a few months until they are ready to label and to market in springtime. With 10 of us available we were able to share the load and take the occasional break as Jeff provided food and wine to ease us through the day. The Vin Des Amis was opened of course and it is already a bright, clear, delicious vintage of this popular cuvée, fresh red fruits with a lingering spiciness. Another sign of how good the 2015 will be. Jeff also opened a 1997 Mas Coutelou, a wine from his first solo vintage which had a lovely earthy perfume combined with red fruits which carried into the taste. The age was showing, the flavours cut short a little but still very drinkable. We also tasted some of the white wines from tank, they are developing beautifully, an amazing Maccabeu in particular. Could this be the year white wines steal the show at Mas Coutelou?


I thought I was the star!

The theme of friendship continued as Pat and I were invited along to dinner at Jeff’s to celebrate Céline’s birthday. Brice prepared some delicious fish dishes; marinated mackerel, squid in garlic and parsley, fresh cockles in a seafood broth, monkfish with garlicky potato purée and delicious sauce. He is clearly a very talented chef as well as restaurateur, ably assisted by Thibaut who made some very tasty flour-free crêpes.


And then there were the wines. A veritable who’s who of natural wine’s top producers. Plageoles’ sparkling Mauzac was a good start with which to toast Céline. Her phone rang throughout the day, she clearly personifies vin des amis.

A delicious rosé from Clos Des Grillons in the Gard followed, full flavoured, very appetising. Much more fruity than many rosés, this originates in Tavel.

Perhaps my favourite wine was the Pinot Blanc 2010 of Gérard Schueller, very full, a honey edge but dry – not sure that I have ever tasted a Pinot Blanc of such quality. I must track down some other wines from the domaine.


Céline had brought along a 2012 Leon Barral Blanc, Terret Blanc and Gris with some Viognier and Roussanne. Textured, a golden colour but very fresh and a good match with the fish.

La Bégou 14 made by Maxime Magnon in the Corbières was lovely, fresh white peach flavoured and very round, Grenaches Gris and Blanc. I liked this wine a lot, more evidence of how good Grenache Gris can be.

JF Ganévat’s J’en veux encore is a light red wine from an amazing blend of umpteen local Jura grapes by a producer who makes up to 40 cuvées (he must have amazing powers of memory to keep on top of so many wines). I tasted some of the range earlier this year and must admit to preferring the white wines but this was nice, very drinkable red fruits and a good match with the monkfish in its seafood sauce.

Back to Barral for Jadis 2001. Shy at first but this opened up in carafe through the night. Plummy, spicy, very long and terrific Faugères, the Carignan shone through with roundness from the Grenache. I have not always ‘got’ Barral’s wines but this showed me that they need time and patience. Very good.

Sébastien brought along a biodynamic Sauternes from Rousset-Peyraguey, a 2000 yet youthful with lovely sweetness but also freshness.


And then, just when you think you have got to grips with Jeff’s wines, there appeared two remarkable bottles. The first was Robert A, despite the label. This was Grenache Gris and Blanc from 2003, his first year of going sulphur free in the cellar. It passed through some interesting stages in its development and early bottles spat out their cork so it was put into sparkling wine bottles. It was amazing. Unbelievably fresh for a 12-13 year old white wine, white fruits with a tight edginess but clean and bright. It continued to develop in glass and in bottle through the evening, wine of the night.


R for Robert

Then came another new cuvée to me BL002, also from 2003. A Sauvignon Blanc but I’d never have identified it as such, with a sweetness (from the Muscat in the blend) and delicious freshness. Many around the table chose this as their preferred wine and it was another amazing wine. How does he do it? Vincent chose this because it reminded him of those early days of Jeff’s winemaking adventures and of their long friendship, a perfect fit for the theme of the day.


A birthday. A long day. A rewarding day. A memorable day. A day for friends, for vin des amis.


Classe of 2014


Version française

Last Friday and Saturday, June 5th and 6th, was full steam ahead at Mas Coutelou, almost literally given the high temperatures. It was time to bottle some cuvées and especially one of the largest productions, the popular Classe.

Des Magnums de Classe destinés vers le Big Apple


The waning moon on Friday morning

The moon was descending so Jeff thought this a propitious time to bottle as this usually brings lower air pressure.

On Friday around 2,000 bottles were filled with 2 cuvées, Blanc Frisant and Tête À Claques. The former is a white wine made from Macabeu and Grenache Gris but it’s fermentation is halted to allow some residual sugar to remain, this ferments slightly in bottle and so creates a slight spritz making the wine even more refreshing. The 2014 had around 9g of residual sugar meaning there would be spritz without creating too much pressure that a special cork would be needed.


Bottling Blanc Frisant



Corking Blanc Frisant



End of the line with quality control tools awaiting

Tête À Claques is a special cuvée made for Roberson Wines in the UK and is usually destined for restaurants such as Hawksmoor. It is made from the same grapes as Vin Des Amis with added extras and is yet another winner. When I tweeted pictures of the bottling to them Roberson and Hawksmoor were so pleased they called it Coutelou Party!


View down the line



Tete A Claques, bottled and resting until it heads to London

Then preparations were made for Saturday as this would be a much bigger bottling, 11,500 bottles of Classe. Work began at 7am and ended around 6.30pm, non-stop. The team worked tirelessly even as temperatures outside reached 35c. Even after all the bottling there was work still to do. Everything had to be cleaned thoroughly, the bottling line, the tank where the wine developed the pump, everything. Hygiene is essential in all winemaking but especially when using no sulphites.


Friday evening, bottles ready to be put in place for Saturday’s bottling

The team needs some introduction. Michel is from Puimisson, has worked for Jeff for many years now and drives the team on with his knowledge of work in the vineyards and cellar.  Honest, hard working and ever cheerful, Michel is a reflection of the wines he helps to produce.


Michel, supervising the moving of wine

Carole has featured many times in this blog with videos of her working in the vineyards, e.g. pruning and debudding. She is from the Loire and has worked in vineyards there and in other parts of France and other countries. She is a true expert, has great knowledge of wines and has great patience in talking me through the work she does. She also shared an excellent bottle of Domaine L’Ecu Muscadet Granit 2011, which was a revelation to me. In addition we shared a fantastic Cornas Brise Cailloux 2012 from Barret, fruity, long and structured beautifully.


When Carole talks everyone listens, including Icare

Renaud now lives in Puimisson and has started working for Jeff regularly in the last year. He works hard, has a mischievous sense of humour and is a good man to have around. He is learning from Michel and Carole and helps me a lot too.


Renaud, pictured in March, planting new vines

We also welcomed visitors to the cellar, including sommelière Sandra Martinez who brought along a very interesting wine from Domaine De Cressance in the Gard. Largely based on Chenanson, a new grape to me, apparently a cross of Grenache and Jurancon Noir. It was very good, long liquorice flavours and refreshing. Sandra and her friend Isabelle set to work with enthusiasm and became a welcome part of the team. The well known wine writer Guillaume Deschamps also called by, it was good to meet him as I have admired his writing for some time.

And of course there is the boss, Jeff himself. Passionate about his vines, his wines and nature. Tireless in working to make them healthy and top class, and doing so successfully. He knows every job, supervises his team, leads from the front. And has a great team who are loyal and willing to push themselves to help him to achieve his goals. They really are all Classe.


Jeff leading the line

Meanwhile they are all very tolerant and welcoming of this Englishman doing his best to learn and to help. I do some of the jobs around the cellar, stepping in when breaks were taken for example. Hopefully I do actually contribute! It is certainly a huge pleasure for me to be a part time member of the team.

Plus there is one other member of the team who keeps us all entertained and smiling. Icare.


Siesta, work can be too tiring



Food, at last!!


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The year so far


The vineyards of Mas Coutelou

We are a third of the way through 2015 already and the work of making wine has been hard throughout those 4 months. I have put the links together to show a summary of everything that Jeff, Carole, Michel and Renaud have been up to so far. And occasionally me too.

January Part 1  – work in the vineyard

January Part 2  – Pruning (La taille)

February Part 1 – vineyards

February Part 2  – vineyards and grass

February Part 3  – ploughing (labours)

March Part 1  – new planting

March Part 2  – bottling (embouteillage)

March Part 3  – vineyards

April – vineyards



Ten (thousand) green bottles



Air pressure was high, the moon waning, wind from the north – a good time to bottle wine. Yes these things do make a difference. The week of March 9th -12th saw around 10,000 bottles filled with wine and thousands labelled ready for a large wine tasting. Bottling is a tense time for the winemaker, risks abound. Contamination and exposure to oxygen are the main two risks; it is estimated that the wine interacts with more oxygen during the bottling process than in years inside the bottle whatever the closure. Most winemakers will add sulphur dioxide at this stage in order to protect the wine from bacteria and oxydation, including many who would regard themselves as makers of natural wine.

Jeff Coutelou adds no SO2 at any stage of the winemaking process and therefore takes risks. He has to be confident in the health of his wine and everything has to be as clean as possible to minimise those risks.


Cleaning the machinery before the process starts

As it happened the stress began before the bottling, the main machine had a part not working and the engineer was late in getting the part. Therefore, day 1 would need to use an older machine to bottle magnums of 5SO, the simpler of the Cinsault cuvées.


Magnums being filled


The magnum is corked

Bottling magnums is a much slower process than single bottles because of the older machine and a separate machine for corking. A few hundred can be produced in an hour rather than the 1200 single bottles. The costs are therefore greater even if the bottle retail price will not reflect that.


Magnums stored upright at first


Cleaning again, after bottling

Also produced were bag in box wines (BiBs) which are usually sold to restaurants. This was mostly Merlot wine (from the Le Colombié vineyard).


Filling the bag with Merlot



Bag is boxed










The next day the new part was fitted and the main bottling line was in action. This is an expensive machine but can bottle 1200 bottles an hour whilst controlling the risks of contamination and exposure to oxygen. Carole can be seen here placing the bottles on the machine. It then carries the bottles through the process at the required speed.



Inside the main body of the machine the bottle has its air sucked out to prevent any staleness. The bottle passes to the reservoir of wine and is filled. It moves on to a sensor to ensure that the level is correct inside the bottle, and removes or adds wine as necessary.It is important that there is a small gap between wine and cork to allow air inside so that the wine can breathe and develop before consumption. The cork is then driven into the bottle which begins a 3 minute journey around a conveyor belt allowing the cork to expand in the bottle neck so that is properly closed. They do rather resemble penguins waddling or a long queue in the Post Office.



This extra video shows the sensor and corking in closer detail.

Finally the bottles are stored in large pallets and the sunlight created some stunning colours.




As for the wines, well the PM rosé is fruity, refreshing and yet has plenty of texture and length of flavour. However, the 5SO was my star, it is a lighter Cinsault ready for drinking. Immediately after bottling it had a slightly cloudy appearance which began to settle by day two. I opened a bottle on the fifth day and it was delicious, with real depth. Much more than a simple wine. Enjoy!


The superviser!