amarchinthevines

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


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The first Coutelou of Spring

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It’s a while since I wrote about the happenings at Mas Coutelou, so time for an update. I am thankful to Jeff, Vincent and Julien for keeping me up to date in my absence.

The first few months of 2017 have been damp in the Languedoc, a contrast to the arid 2016. The photos by Julien above show water standing a week after rain and his feet sinking into the soil as he pruned. Jeff had planned to plant a vineyard of different types of Aramon at Théresette next to La Garrigue which has lain fallow for the last few years. However, the soil remains very damp and planting has not been possible, unless things change quickly the project will be postponed until next year. For the same reason, the first ploughing would have begun by now in most years, but is on hold for drier conditions.

vigour from every bud last year

Pruning the last vines (photo and work by Julien)

Julien completed pruning (taille) around March 10th. He photographed the first budding (débourrement) amongst precocious varieties such as the Muscat. However, Jeff told me this week that, generally, budding is later this year, the damper, cooler weather again responsible. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Remember that frost can cause great damage to vines, especially buds, and the Saints De Glace (date when traditionally frost risk is over) is May 11-13. I recall visiting the Loire last April and seeing frost damage, whole vineyards with no production for the year.

buds

Julien photographed some early buds

The weather conditions are favourable for something, sadly not good news either. Snails, which ravaged large numbers of buds and leaves in Flower Power and Peilhan last year, have found the damp much to their advantage. They are a real pest, a flock of birds would be very welcome or we’ll see more scenes like these from 2016. Of course, one of the reasons why birds and hedgehogs are lacking is the use of pesticides by most vignerons in the region.

In the cellar the new office and tasting room is complete. Our friend Jill completed a montage of Mas Coutelou labels which we gave to Jeff as a gift. Hopefully that may decorate the walls of the new rooms.

The floor which was half covered in resin last year has been finished all over and another new inox (stainless steel) cuve has arrived. (photos by Vincent).

On March 22nd the assemblages of the 2016 wines took place. Or at least most of them. One or two cuves still have active fermentation with residual sugar remaining but otherwise the wines were ready and the conditions were favourable. I won’t reveal what cuvées are now blended, that is for Jeff to unveil. However, I can say that the reduced harvest of 2016 means fewer wines are available and fewer cuvées made. In the next article I shall be giving my thoughts on the 2016 wines from tastings in October and February.

Finally, there was an award for Jeff himself. On March 30th he was made an official ambassador for the Hérault by the Chamber of Commerce of the département. This was an honour for Jeff himself and the generations of the Mas and Coutelou families who made the domaine what it is. Founded in the 1870s at 7, Rue De La Pompe by Joseph Étienne Mas who planted vines and kept cows after he had fought in the Franco – Prussian War of 1870-1. Five generations later Jeff is an ambassador for Puimisson, vignerons and the Hérault and with his wines he is really spoiling us.

 


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

January

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.

February

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).

March

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.

April

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)

May

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.

June

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.


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February

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The Romans were late to add February as a month to their calendar having previously put together December, January and February as one long winter month. When it did become a distinct month February was seen as a month of purification, the end of winter feasting and preparation for the year ahead (February was actually seen as the last month of the year for a long time). In the Christian calendar the beginning of Lent and the tradition of Mardi Gras reflect this Roman influence.

Similarly, in the vineyard the work reflects the calendar. The Languedoc vineyards are still dormant. White vans are dotted amongst them containing the workers and their tools seeking to prune and to palisade their vines in preparation for the growing season ahead. I have described this work in detail recently so I won’t repeat myself but la taille proceeds all around us. (See here and here)

 

Vans and cars parked amongst the vines

Vans and cars parked among the vines

Sauvignon Blanc vines grafted short to reduce the yield and concentrate flavour

Sauvignon Blanc vines (at Turner Pageot) grafted short to reduce the yield and so concentrate flavours

The month began with very cold northerly and easterly winds and even one morning of snow (Feb 3rd).

February 3rd - the view from our back window

February 3rd – the view from our back window

The cold was needed to remind the vines not to start to emerge from their hibernation too soon. Early budding (bourgeonnement) can be disastrous as frosts can hit for a couple of months yet, traditionally it is mid May when the risk of frost is said to be over in the region. Those who pruned early run more risk as budding can sometimes happen sooner. Whether there was enough cold weather remains to be seen as by February 9th we were enjoying temperatures between 15C and 18C. I have heard of almond trees budding already, the mimosas were out for the festival in their name at Roquebrun on the 8th and so the vines may well be stirring already.

The mimosa is out to the left of the tower at Roquebrun

The mimosa is out to the left of the tower at Roquebrun

At Mas Coutelou there was also work to be done in preparing new vine canes to be grafted onto older vine stocks. Jeff is trying to establish some parcels with a mix of grape varieties as these cross pollinate during flowering and help to protect each other in resisting disease. He wants to bring older varieties (cépages) into his vineyards such as Aramon (noir and gris) and the Castets I wrote about in October. These are already producing great results in the quality of wine produced so far, even if it is in small quantity so far. Therefore, some old Cabernet Sauvignon vines are being removed from a vineyard such as Peilhan and being replaced by these more traditional Languedoc cépages.

Michel, Renaud and Jeff work amongst the wild rocket

Michel, Renaud and Jeff work amongst the wild rocket

Believe it or not it was quite warm despite Jeff's attire

Believe it or not it was quite warm despite Jeff’s attire

The grafting itself will not take place until around May time. For those who are interested in the technical side of this I can highly recommend this article which raises some interesting points and questions about grafting, vines and terroir. Steve Slatcher has a very good blog, well worth reading.

February also continues to bring lots of paperwork, customs and taxes for example. Many hours of such work are certainly unglamorous. Selling wine is also vital and Jeff took some cases to Gabian on the 13th to Domaine Turner Pageot to form a groupement (a pallet of wines made up from different producers) to head to Leon Stolarski, a very good merchant based in Nottingham. I have sung the praises of Turner Pageot many times on here and so it was a pleasure to see two of my favourite winemakers come together and visit Manu’s vineyards as well as tasting his wines.

Jeff and Manu study the grass which Manu has sewn between vines. This will retain moisture in summer, strengthen the structure of the soil and attract helpful insects amongst other advantages

Jeff and Manu study the grass which Manu has sewn between vines. This will retain moisture in summer, strengthen the structure of the soil and attract helpful insects amongst other advantages

There is also a belief that February is named after Febris the Latin for fever. Jeff has been suffering from flu, there is an epidemic in the Hérault at present, and Manu too was far from well. Fortunately their passion for their vines and wines shone through, a reminder that February also has its other big date on the 14th.

A warm, sunny birthday for me on February 9th but snow in the mountains still lingers

A warm, sunny birthday for me on February 9th but snow in the mountains still lingers