amarchinthevines

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


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Coutelou 2019

A Coutelou update.

Every year Jeff sends out a New Year friendship card to regular clients and friends. The 2020 version highlights the ongoing protests in France about pensions, I particularly appreciated the mobility scooter with bottles in its basket. Inside is a résumé of 2019 and what happened in the vineyards and vendanges. Here’s a quick summary.

The winter of 18-19 saw a healthy rainfall of 400mm in October and November which went a long way to replenish the water levels. Budding began at the start of April, a normal date. Spring was colder and drier than usual and that slowed down growth and the date of véraison, when the grapes change colour. However, there was little or no disease other than a little coulure, where bunches have gaps. The major problem of 2019 came in June with an exceptional period of heat and the start of a very dry summer. This meant that as harvest began the grapes were struggling to reach phenolic ripeness when tannins are ripe and supple. Harvest lasted just over two weeks after starting a little later than normal at the start of September. The grapes were exceptionally healthy and clean, and very concentrated. “The winemaker is more than satisfied with the results achieved.”

The lack of rain (100mm from January to August) and the exceptional heatwave of June serve as a warning to what faces us with climate change.

After harvest things seemed to be going very well thank you. Plenty of nitrogen, good yeasts and healthy grapes, meant fermentation started well. But, there’s always a but, the wines have struggled to finish those fermentations. This has been the story across the region from other winemakers. Theories abound, the most likely is that the heat and dryness encouraged an excess of potash in the grape must, raising pH levels and so stopping fermentation. Soutirages, moving wine from the bottom of the tank to the top, helps to keep the tank clean and healthy and winter will help tartar to develop which will boost the fermentation when temperatures start to rise again.

The above means that it has been difficult to plan blending as even Jeff cannot be certain of how each tank will taste. However, there will be a wine of white and gris (Grenache for example) in amphora, an orange wine of Muscat d’Alexandrie, a Spring red and a Carignan, Castets and Morastel red wine. Plus the classic Coutelou cuvées with Syrah and Grenache to the fore.

These days the domaine is known as Vins et Spiritueux Coutelou so a word on the spirits. Gin, eau de vie, Kina will be joined by new bottles of an aromatic spirit and a mint based drink.

New planting of Clairette (right) and Macabeu

And in the vines? 200 metres of new hedgerows to replace those destroyed by malicious fires a couple of years ago, new olive trees planted too. A new parcel of Cinsault and a white parcel near Sainte Suzanne of Macabeu and Clairette were planted. So no retiring just yet!


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Oddities 2

En francais

This photograph was taken on September 5th, so fairly early in the period of the vendanges. It shows white wine being run off its lees after being in tank.

Regular readers will recall that to make a white wine the grapes are usually pressed immediately after picking. The resulting juice heads to tank and ferments. The juice will contain some pulp and various natural substances from the skins such as the yeasts which kick start the fermentation process. As it continues the exhausted and dead yeast cells fall down into the bottom of the tank, these are the lees.

You can see the wine still fermenting because of all the bubbles in the container as it is run off the tank. Leaving the wine on the lees too long can be self defeating, risking bacterial contamination. However, the lees can add a creamy depth to the wine so it is matter of judgement as to how long to leave the wine in contact with them.

I love the golden colour in the photo, offering promise and hope to the wine which will follow. Having tasted the wine I know that the promise will be fulfilled.

Red wines spend time on their skins to extract colour and flavour from them during fermentation. The wine is run off and the skins removed when the winemaker decides. In the photo the skins are being removed by Jeff. However, after that the process is the same. There will be lees in the runoff wine and they will settle as did the white wine lees.

The sludge with lees and some juice


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Harvest 2019 – We Can Work It Out

En francais

Team work

If Day 10 saw the eight different grape varieties harvested Days 11 and 12 were a contrast. Friday September 13th was all about Grenache and Saturday was all about Cinsault. These two varieties together with Syrah make up the bulk of the Coutelou production, important for the various wines which emerge each year and for the economic well being of the domaine.

The Grenache was from La Garrigue, planted facing south towards the sun. It copes well with heat, Spanish on origin and grown all around the Mediterranean (known variously as Cannonau, Garnacha, Alicante amongst others). Traditionally this parcel gives good quality fruit which is blended with other wine to make Classe for example.

I was feeling under the weather on the Friday but a day sorting good bunches of tasty grapes helps to improve the day. There was plenty of it too, perhaps the recent rain had boosted the yield a little. A quick tour of the remaining unpicked vines to check maturity also boosted the spirits with some attractive Mourvedre in the pipeline.

Mourvedre

Saturday (I must have been feeling better as I took more photos) and the Cinsault of Segrairals. These grapes are used for the 5SO cuvée as well as being blended with other wines, eg for the rosé.

Cinsault grapes tend to be big and the bunches can suffer a little as a result. The large grapes leave gaps in the bunch which leaves it vulnerable to disease and insects getting in, especially ver de la grappe. This moth lays its eggs in the bunch and the grapes are pierced by the resulting larvae. This causes the juice to flow in the bunch and attract rot.

Ver de la grappe cocoon emerging from a Piquepoul Noir grape

Sorting in the vineyard and on the table in the cellar needs to be thorough. That said 2019 has happily been a year of little or no disease.

The day showed how different sections of the vineyard differed in the quality of grapes. There were parts which gave slightly under ripe fruit but others which provided big, black grapes which tasted great to eat. Since 2019 has been so hot and dry much of the wine this year is very concentrated and high in alcohol. The under ripe grapes in the Cinsault actually served a useful purpose in providing lower alcohol and adding more acidity. Nature sometimes finds its own solutions.

Nothing wrong with this Cinsault

Meanwhile in the cellar there is increasing amounts of work to do. More and more of the tanks are full and needing remontage, batonnage or pigeage. The team has to work well together, fortunately this year’s does just that.

The amphorae, filled on Thursday also needed punching down to soak the skins. Fermentation has already started as you may see in this video.

With the Cinsault picked there are now just two main picks left to do in 2019, the Mourvedre and the Carignan. An intensive two weeks has gone by, much work still remains.

Days 11 and 12


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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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