amarchinthevines

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


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Vendanges 17 – the finishing line

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Version francaise

I started my coverage of the 2017 vendanges with racing terminology and, so, I finish in the same way.

It’s definitely over. Vendanges 2017 with all its quality, with so little quantity.

On September 27th the final press of the grapes was completed. It was the turn of the Cabernet Sauvignon, two weeks after picking. The skins, pips and other solids had done their work in giving up flavour, colour, tannins and so much more. The yeasts had started their work of fermentation. Now it was time to press before that grape must started to be problematic rather than beneficial.

The must was pumped from the cuve by the powerful pompe à marc directly into the press. Julien ensured that the press was filled in all corners and then the press began. It inflates a membrane inside which gently presses the must to extract the juice without releasing the more bitter, astringent tannins left in the skins and pips.

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Sediment after the must has gone to press

The grape variety (cépage) will determine the amount of pressure applied, Cabernet has small berries and thicker skins so needs a little more pressure than juicier, thinner skinned Cinsault for example.

 

The juice flows and is sent to another cuve to continue its fermentation, then its malolactic fermentation (which removes the more acid flavours). Indeed the analyses of the 2017 wines show that fermentations have gone through quickly, without fuss or problem. There is no sign of volatility or any other problem, the wines look on course to be as high quality as the grapes themselves. Which, of course, is the goal. Jeff believes in letting the grapes express themselves with as little intervention as possible. This year interventions are minimal, the grapes have done the work.

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Sadly, the quantities do not reflect the quality and that will bring a financial blow to the domaine and to virtually all domaines in the region. When you are asked to pay a few euros for a bottle of 2017 Mas Coutelou, I hope that you will recall all the work which I have described, the stresses and strains, the love and care which has gone into that bottle and you will consider it money well spent.


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Sparkling Coutelou

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Leon snaps, Jeff pops

Version francaise

With UK importer Leon Stolarski in attendance Jeff offered us the chance to taste through the 2016 wines which are largely still in tank. Fermentations have been slow from last year, some are still bubbling away gently, finally eating up the last sugars. Jeff thinks the very dry winter and spring and heat of July meant that the yeasts were perhaps weakened meaning fermentation has been slower. The key point is, how does that affect the quality?

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Even from when I tasted them a month ago they have changed in nature, more streamlined, less opulent, more complex. And, as always chez Coutelou, very drinkable. The whites show lots of fruit but restrained and serious too, the long maceration Muscat a definite highlight. Sadly, quantities are down, another result of the dry winter and spring. Reds show fruit and complexity, the Carignan beginning to emerge as a star (true of so many recent vintages) and the Mourvèdre continuing to shine bright.

In the afternoon a new treat. Bibonade is Jeff’s PetNat, a natural sparkling wine. The white and rosé version have been sitting in bottle for a while and it was time to disgorge them. Sparkling wines, including champagne, age in bottle rather than tank and as they do so they throw a sediment. Still wines do the same, the sediment (lees) falls to the bottom of the tank and the wine is then taken out leaving the sludge behind. In bottle the sediment also falls to the bottom, if the bottle is laid flat the sediment will coat the inside. To gather the lees the bottles are placed in special racks (pupitres) with the neck pointing down. By turning the bottle 90° every day the winemaker can ensure that the sediment doesn’t stick to the sides and all gathers in the neck above the capsule.

Fermentation in bottle produces carbon dioxide which in turn creates the fizz in there. By opening the bottle, the release of pressure forces the sediment out of the bottle. Obviously this has to be controlled or you lose too much of the wine as well, so Jeff quickly covers the bottle as soon as he sees the sediment is gone.

The bottle can then be topped up from others and resealed.

It is a messy business, the small steel tank stops the capsule from flying off and the wine from coating the whole cellar. Jeff’s arms were quickly covered in flecks of lees. However, the result is delicious, refreshing and Bibonade is a firm favourite chez March.


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Vendanges 2016 #8 – from grapes to wine

En français

The grapes are picked, how do we make this become wine? That has become the main objective now at Mas Coutelou.

The grape skins, pips, flesh and solids are with the juice in the tank (cuve) for as long as Jeff feels that they will benefit the juice. They give the juice chemicals such as anthocyanins which give colour to the juice (for rosé and red wines), tannins and flavour compounds. The solid parts of the mix tend to rise to the top of the tank and float on the juice. This cap must be kept moist, a dry must would give unpleasant flavours and is more prone to harmful bacteria. That is why remontage and pigeage have to be carried out, as explained before.

Jeff will taste from each cuve every day and samples are sent to oenologue Thierry Toulouse for analysis.

When he is happy that the right balance of sugars, acidity, colour and flavours is achieved it is time to press the wine. Some of the must is left behind in cuve and will be collected to use again, for example in distilling.

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Michel removing must from the cuve

The pressed juice goes into a new cuve and will continue its fermentation into wine. The yeasts on the grape skins and in the atmosphere of the cellar change the grape sugars into alcohol. The fermentation will have begun when the must was in contact but will continue when just the juice remains.

I wish I could convey the smell of the fermenting juice via the page you are reading. It is like walking into a boulangerie in the early morning,  bready aromas fill the air as the yeasts go about their work. One of the real highlights of the whole process.

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Fragrant, yeasty fermenting wine

Whilst that is all going on the equipment which has been used so much in the last month is checked over, taken apart and given a thorough cleaning. Not a pip, not a grape skin must be left in the sorting table, presses, égrappoir (destemmer) or anything else. No chance of bacteria gathering.

It is not straightforward. The process of grape juice to wine is a natural one and things can go wrong. Any vigneron who had a year where the process went without any hiccoughs would be either the luckiest alive or a liar. Yeasts can suddenly stop working, fermentations become too hot, bacteria (both helpful and harmful) are unpredictable. Jeff must be aware of every cuve and of their analyses, he must use his experience to tackle any issue which springs up at any time of day or night. He rejects the use of sulphur dioxide (SO2) to act as an antiseptic or stabiliser for the wine, therefore that experience is tested time and again. No wonder he wears an air of fatigue.

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Vendanges Diaries – #9 Dream

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Our last picking of 2015, Rome vineyard, October 9th; Michel, Cameron and Jeff

Version française

The very last week of vendanges, definitely.

Lots of work continued in the cellar during the week, pigeage and remontage as described in the previous post, and more wines which are now completing fermentation and being put into tanks to mature or to allow malolactic fermentation if it hasn’t already happened. This fermentation produces softer lactic acid which will make the wine taste more supple and fruity. The cellar is now much quieter and there is a sense of job done.

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                              Pigeage

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                      Carignan in tank

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Cameron cleaning tanks, cleanliness remains the priority

However, the final wine remained as grapes in the vineyards. Muscat grapes in Rome vineyard and Grenache in Sainte Suzanne have concentrated their sugars, developed a little noble rot even. So, on Friday October 9th Jeff, Michel, Cameron and myself ventured out to pick the Muscat and some of the Grenache. (The remaining Grenache was picked by the experienced Moroccan team on Saturday morning.) A beautiful autumnal morning cast shafts of sparkling sunlight on to the myriad colours of the leaves. It was incredibly peaceful and dreamlike.

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The Muscat was dried out in the main, the berries now like raisins with a lot of sweetness but not too much juice. The Grenache would give more juice to produce around 4.5hl of sweet wine in the end, which Jeff was happy with.

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                     My first bucket of Muscat

In the press the Muscat and Grenache were added one on top of the other in successive layers to give more complexity and allow the Grenache to fill out the Muscat. The juice was slow in emerging but eventually arrived in a lovely, light red colour with strong aromas of sweet raspberries.

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The following day, Saturday 10th, the Grenache arrived and the last cagette of 2015 grapes entered the press.

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                   Grenache in Saint Suzanne

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  The last cagette of 2015 grapes goes into the press

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     Pressing the button for the last time this year

It was a moment to breathe a sigh of relief, to feel a sense of pride in what has been achieved in the last 2 months and, a hint of sadness as the bonds of a team, which worked so hard and so well together, are gently loosened.

The relief also showed in recent days by getting together with other vignerons. An evening in Roquebrun at the excellent Cave St. Martin and then on Thursday a visit to Domaine Vassal, a conservatory of vines, with a who’s who of natural producers in the area. I shall write more about Vassal in a future post.

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Vignerons including Julien Peyras, Alain Castex, Axel Prufer, Yannick Pelletier, Jean Marie Rimbert, Carole Andrieu celebrate with Raymond Le Coq (red shirt) at his Cave St Martin

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l-r Rémy Poujol, Jeff, Yannick Pelletier, Julien Peyras, Joe Jefferies, Bernard Bellahsen (Fontedicto), Olivier Andrieu (Clos Fantine)

Then, on Sunday, team Coutelou gathered at Le Terminus in Cruzy, one of the best restaurants in the Languedoc. Jeff kindly paid for our celebration lunch together, the food and wine were excellent (including Clos Fantine and Julien Peyras wines) and the company could not be better. Cameron will be heading back to London this week though hopefully returning soon. So, it was an occasion to say ‘au revoir’ too.

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    l-r me, Cameron, Michel, Jeff – team Coutelou

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Jeff wondering how Cameron got a bigger glass! (It’s actually a decanter)

And to show that we really are moving into the next stage after vendanges Monday October 12th saw the first bottling of 2015 wines. Bibonade rosé is a sparkling, sweetish wine with 20 grams of residual sugar to produce 4 bars of pressure and, consequently, the sparkle. Jeff stopped the fermentation on Sunday and bottling under capsule took place this morning.

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           Bibonade rosé, bottled and stored

So 2015 vendanges is done, 2015 wines are on the way. Job very well done. It has been a joyful experience for me to take a full part, thanks to Jeff, Michel, Cameron, Carole and everyone else who has been part of the team. A dream come true.
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Vendanges Diaries #6 – Mystery, Mourvedre and Flambadou

Mourvedre 17th

Version française

The storms which brought so much rain to Puimisson and the Languedoc on Saturday meant that there would be no picking on Monday or Tuesday the 14th and 15th.

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             Preparations for cellar work

Instead Jeff, Michel and Cameron were hard at work in the cellar for the two days. There is lots to do there so it was an opportunity to get everything on track. Lots of remontage, sous tirage etc. On Monday the 14th the Syrah which was to be made with carbonic maceration was pressed after its few days in tank with the fermentation inside the skins.

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                     The Syrah being pressed

The video shows Michel in the cuve moving the grapes to the front where Jeff forks them into the pump. You will see the grapes moving through the pipe into the press.

 

By Wednesday 16th the weather had turned much clearer and good winds meant that the grapes and soil were beginning to dry out nicely and so picking recommenced. The centre of attention was Rec D’Oulette known locally as Chemin De Pailhès and the Carignan grapes which grow there. These are the grapes which make the excellent cuvée «Flambadou», perhaps the outstanding wine of 2013 (and Jeff tells me of 2014 too). The bunches which arrived were excellent in quality, so fingers crossed for another great wine.

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                         Picking the Carignan

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                                    Carignan

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                         The Carignan in tank

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          Analysing the Carignan

Meanwhile cellar work continued as Cameron carried out more remontages and analyses. Today one of the wines to be moved was the Merlot which was bright, fresh and colourful.

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                         Délestage of Merlot

As each wine is moved around the cellar, for example to take it off its skins, each cuve has to be cleaned thoroughly and then it will be filled with another set of grapes or fermenting wine. There is a seemingly never ending merry-go-round of wines and quite how Jeff keeps track of them all remains a mystery to me. Each move has to be planned to ensure that cuves are available, cleaned and big enough.

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                 Cleaning from the inside

As a former teacher it reminds me of planning a timetable fitting in students, teachers and classrooms into the correct combination. Add in working as a mechanic to keep all the machines ticking over and the work of a vigneron becomes more complex, the job description is long.

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              Maintenance of the égrappoir

Thursday 17th brought Grenache from Sainte Suzanne (Metaierie), again carbonic maceration was to be used so back to the top of the cement tanks. Thomas was back and he, Cameron and I shared duties up there filling the tank.

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        l-r Cameron, Michel and Thomas

Then cleaning of the cagettes ready for the next new cépage. Following the Carignan of Wednesday it was time to harvest the Mourvèdre from Segrairals. One of my favourite grapes, somewhat fickle in character but when grown by good producers it adds a complexity and depth with a hint of dark mystery. The bunches which arrived were certainly amongst the best of the whole harvest at Mas Coutelou.

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                            Magnificent Mourvedre

 

They were clean, big bunches, the grapes with thick skins and smelling already of spice and blackcurrants. Some of the bunches were very heavy and it wouldn’t take many to produce a bottle of wine, on average you need about 1.25kg of grapes to make the 75cl of a normal wine bottle. Sorting was quick and easy, the pickers had done a good job and the fruit was in such good condition. I look forward eagerly to finding out what Jeff has in mind for these grapes, when I have asked he simply smiles mysteriously, something is afoot!

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Friday 18th brought the rest of the Mourvèdre still in tip top condition. When the pickers reached some of the lower parts of that parcel the quality did begin to dip a little so these bunches were taken away to be used separately, possibly for a rosé wine. I say possibly because final plans are a long way from being ready. Other jobs included pressing the Cinsault grapes which will make a rosé (definitely!!) and more remontages and analyses.

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                           Remontage

We were joined today by Charles, a young Frenchman who works in a restaurant in Berlin, and whose mother was a former colleague of Jeff when he was a teacher in Paris. Coincidentally his boss in Berlin was a student of Jeff! Charles added a real sense of fun and worked hard.

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                     Charles fills the press

By Saturday I was ready for a rest and so the 19th was the work of the Jeff, Michel and Cameron as they processed the last red grapes from Peilhan. Some of these will be used for blending but amongst them was the famous Castets. This you might remember is a cépage produced by only two winemakers in France, Chateau Simone in Palette and Mas Coutelou. The first harvest was in 2014 and we had watched eagerly its development. In fact we have been drinking some during harvest lunches and it is very promising, brooding with deep, dark fruit flavours and a freshness to lift it. Only 3hl was produced again this year, the same as last year.

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                 Castets in tank

On Sunday 20th Jeff carried out a débourbage of the Cinsault rosé which was pressed on Friday. Débourbage means taking out the pips and skins etc to leave the juice on its own. The harvest is starting to slow down a little though much work remains to be done in the cellar. Jeff and the ‘Coutelou Gang’ will have certainly benefited from a little siesta in Sunday.

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Icare licking his lips at the great wine being made (maybe)

 

 

 


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Vendanges Diaries (2)

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Version française

Aug 30th was a Sunday so no picking but Jeff was still in the cellar working. The early wines needed to be checked and moved as necessary.

Monday 31st dawned cloudy again and it was time to tackle the biggest of the vineyards at Mas Coutelou, Segrairals. The Syrah was ready to be picked and Jeff had decided to use carbonic maceration to ferment the grapes which are probably not of the same top quality as those from La Garrigue or Sainte Suzanne which were picked last week.

Grapes which are pressed like those described last week ferment in tank as yeasts react with the juice to change the sugar to ethanol, ie alcohol. The yeasts are natural from the skins of the grapes and the atmosphere of the cellar. In the case of Mas Coutelou and many artisanal winemakers this is the case though other winemakers will buy yeasts some of which are designed to add particular flavours to the wine. None of that in Puimisson, these are natural wines.

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        Carbon dioxide pumped into the tank

Carbonic maceration means that the whole bunches go into the tanks, grapes and stalks alike. The tank is filled with carbon dioxide which permeates the grape skins and starts the fermentation within the cells of the berry. Some of the berries at the bottom of the tank will be crushed by the weight of the grapes and so there will be some conventional fermentation too.

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Whole bunches in the tank

All the grapes are given a light crushing later by which time ethanol will have formed inside the skins and so the resultant juice is ready made wine. The result is often more fruity and juicy wine.

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Grapes arrive through the little back door above the cement tanks

To achieve this the tanks are filled from above so we worked in the space above the cement tank with the grapes arriving at the back door which is a level higher than the front door. The space is smaller and the heat from the grapes was high. It was hard work, believe me. Sorting still had to be done before the grapes could go into the tank, quality comes first.

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                 Some of the rejected bits

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 The pipe carries the CO2 into the tank

And after 9 hours of back breaking lifting, carrying and sifting it was, as ever, time to clean everything from top of the cellar to bottom as we see here with Jeff and Michel.

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        One visitor from the vineyard

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The boss letting us know we should get a move on

The night of the 31st brought a big storm with lots of rain, not the ideal conditions for harvest at all. Rain can cause rot and problems. However, it could have been much worse as news arrived of huge damage caused by hail in the Chablis region. For all the forecasts of how the harvest might turn out it is only when the grapes are safely in the tank that a vigneron can be assured of the quality of wine they might make. Commiserations to the Chablis producers.

September 1st was a quiet day as the rains from the storms meant the grapes were too wet to harvest. In the cellar more checking and remontage, the process of pumping the wine over the cap of skins and must. Further analysis of the wines showed that the yeasts are acting quickly and the fermentation is progressing very well.

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      Hard work!

Today, September 2nd, the remaining white grapes, Grenache Blanc, from La Garrigue. Then on to Peilhan to gather some of the white grapes there, Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, Carignan blanc and Clairette Musquée.

Grenache Gris

                                  Grenache Gris

Carignan Blanc

                                  Clairette Musquée

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      Michel

The core team of Jeff, Carole, Michel, Cameron and myself were joined by Matthieu who has worked the harvest before here. There were some lovely bunches though the wet weather has caused some rot inside some of them, Careful sorting took place in the vineyard to take only the best grapes which tasted really sweet and juicy, the Clairette was especially tasty.

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Cameron especially pleased with this bunch of Clairette

The white grapes were taken back to the cellar and placed in tank after being destemmed. It is possible that Jeff will make his first orange wine with them. An orange wine is a white wine made like a red wine, ir the wine is fermented on the skins thus extracting more colour, texture and flavour from them and giving the wine an orange tint. However, analysis and the next few days will be needed before the final decision is made.

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In tank and the future might be orange

In the afternoon, Matthieu, Jeff and myself did more remontage of the Syrah grapes harvested in the last week, which is already tasting well, with very healthy technical analysis and beautiful aromas. And, then, as ever, the cleaning.

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              Matthieu carrying out remontage

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  Remontage, the juice flows over the cap of must

Syrah from Ste Suzanne

    Beautiful colour of the Syrah from Ste Suzanne

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Vendanges diaries (1)

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                       Syrah so good you have to taste it now

Version française

The harvest (vendange) began on Friday August 21st with a small parcel of Muscat grapes as described here.  The next few days saw further preparations for the main harvest, for example clearing space in the barrels of the solera system for this year’s grapes. I shall write more about the solera later in the year.

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                                     Solera system

So, it was Thursday 27th which was the start of the real vendanges with parcels of white and Syrah grapes collected from La Garrigue. This day was described here.

Friday 28th saw more Syrah being harvested, this time the Syrah of Metaierie usually referred to as Sainte Suzanne by Jeff. This is the vineyard of Vin Des Amis though options are always open. The pickers, led by Carole and Julien, worked through a cloudy morning to collect some high quality bunches.

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Michel transported the cagettes  back to the cellar as quickly as possible. The cagettes are about two thirds filled so as not to overload the grapes in there which might damage them.

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                  No, these cagettes are not full!

Upon arrival at the cave the cagettes are quickly taken for triage, sorting through the grapes to select only the best quality. Foreign objects such as snails and spiders are removed as are unripe grapes, any damaged or rotten grapes. It is important that only the best goes into the wines to keep them fresh and at the high quality we expect from Mas Coutelou. Two people sift through the cagette, removing any inferior grapes for further sorting by a third person. Jeff, Cameron and I took these roles on Friday. It is hard work, on your feet all day and lifting, carrying and sorting requires physical effort and also full concentration. There is, happily, also time to chat and laugh.

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Cameron is from Melbourne, Australia and has been living and working in London as a sommelier for four years. He decided to learn more about the winemaking process and to “get his hands dirty”. He is already proving his worth and is a great addition to the team.

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Meanwhile, the grapes which had gone to vat (cuve) have to be taken care of. Fermentation has started and the wine is already producing material which needs to be removed to keep the wines clean. They are, therefore, pumped out of their original cuve into another to allow the waste to be cleaned away and the fresh, juice ready to settle for its longer journey of fermentation.

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Fermentation beginning in the Sauvignon Blanc grapes collected yesterday (Thursday)

And at the end of the day the cleaning work is intense. Everything is cleaned throughout the day but at its end another full clean takes place. This removes the risk of contamination from dirt or damaged fruit which would ruin the wine. It is laborious but necessary.

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                                Julien cleaning the cagettes

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                                         Ready for tomorrow

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    The égrappoir (destemmer) ready for tomorrow too

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   What else needs cleaning? Proof that I did work!

Analysis of the Syrah showed that the alcohol level was around 12.7% with medium levels of acidity. Later picking would have added more sugar and more potential alcohol but would have lowered levels of acidity. The skins are essential to the quality of the wine as they contain the colour, tannin and much of the flavour of the wine. These were in excellent condition according to the analysis, good news.

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Jeff’s own calculations from cellar tests. Samples go to the oenologue for full analysis

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   Classic shape for a bunch of Syrah grapes

There have already been some concerns expressed by winemakers and analysts that the heat of 2015 might affect the quality of wines around France especially regarding acidity. The decision to harvest the Syrah was therefore the right one, fresh, cleansing acidity is a hallmark of Jeff’s wines. Many winemakers have been waiting to start harvest as, on August 30th, the moon is at a perigee, the time when it is closest to Earth in its orbit. As it begins to wane and move away from Earth many winemakers will start their harvest. Jeff has chosen to put the quality of the grapes first rather than principles about biodynamics.

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   Moon over Margon at its perigee on August 30th

Saturday 29th was a work day for the cellar and the pickers and saw the harvesting of Cinsault grapes from my favourite vineyard, Rome. The grapes were big and juicy though some were uneven and needed more careful sorting. Clearly these were precious grapes as Icare was guarding and watching over them assiduously. The harvest was not as big as many years and so the pickers moved onto Sainte Suzanne again for more Syrah grapes whilst yesterday’s grapes have begun to ferment already.

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                      Carole picking in Ste Suzanne

Cinsault from Rome

   Cinsault from Rome, big and juicy

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        Friday’s Syrah ferments in cuve

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                                                                   Icare, connoisseur and guard dog