amarchinthevines

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


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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


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And they’re off

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Version française

When I arrived in Puimisson I was rather taken aback to find Michel turn up with a van full of grapes. Jeff had decided that the Muscat was ready and there was no reason to delay.

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Blogger and teacher David Farge was present with his young son Jules who got things flowing by treading the grapes.

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A dozen cagettes of grapes were quickly transferred to the small press and the first juice of the 2015 vintage was flowing within a few minutes of the grapes being picked.

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The first juice was showing around 11,5 degrees of alcohol which will develop into around 13 to 14 when finished. Three pressings were made with stronger juice flowing.

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And the fermentation was starting almost as soon as the juice flowed as you can see in this bucket. If only there was smellavision to let you share the glorious juicy sweet grape aromas which filled the cuve and the cave. And of course the juice tasted just lovely.

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And so, it has started, the vendanges are underway and next week things will move onto a much bigger scale. As you can see everything is ready. And the team is now already in the groove thanks to the muscat.

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Hold the presses!

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Both of these objects are wine presses, one more modern than the other. Whilst the large press has taken the bulk of the work in recent weeks the small press has its role too. It is also an olive press incidentally. It is used mainly for small production wines and I was lucky enough to be trusted to supervise its use for the pressing of muscat and grenache grapes which will make into the fortified wines which Jeff Coutelou produces in addition to his table wines. The ‘vieux grenache’ wines are made in different methods as I shall describe in future posts including a fantastic solera type system with wines dating back many, many years to previous generations of the Coutelou family. They are, of course, delicious.

Michel unloads the grapes, he is in Jeff's words his 'main gauche' (left hand)

Michel unloads the grapes, he is in Jeff’s words his ‘main gauche’ (left hand)

 

Grenache and muscat grapes ready for pressing

Grenache and muscat grapes ready for pressing

 

 

 

 

The grapes are sorted and then loaded into the cage and wheeled into place. The press is lowered and the juice begins to flow.

Pressing

Pressing

The major lesson is to be careful about how much pressure is used as if you press too hard the mass of grapes, stalks and pips becomes too hard and the juice will not flow freely. I confess to pressing a little too hard at first but fortunately rectified it before any damage was done. The juice is taken to container for fermentation and the pressed grapes, the gateau, is disassembled and returned to press for a second and third time. The gateau becomes almost a work of art.

Gateau in the sunshine

Gateau in the sunshine

The wine begins its fermentation in the tank and after this has finished the wine is put into barrel for the first time. Depending on its development Jeff will blend this wine with previous vintages or allow it to develop in barrel for a number of years.

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Tina transfers the fermented wine into barrel

The other pressing I supervised was the Carignan Blanc. Jeff was pleased with this crop and decided that he would make a new white wine using only these grapes. The procedure was identical though I thought I’d highlight one extra feature. Many people commented after a previous post that they were disappointed I did not get my socks and shoes off and start to tread the grapes. Well I was rather shocked to see that treading does still happen! Instead of bare feet though new, perfectly clean wellington boots do the job, a light pressing (so that ruled me out!) to start the process moving even before the press gets to work.

Treading

Treading

Yours truly at the press

Yours truly at the press

The gateau was just as spectacular and you can see in the photo below the layers created by the 3 pressings.

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A serious point. Jeff was keen to point out that the Carignan Blanc grapes took 10 people 2 hours to pick. We took a whole day to press the grapes, myself and supervision from the patron with others helping to take the gateau apart and then reassemble it for the various pressings. The grapes will be fermented, pumped over, stored in barrel. So when we think twice about the price of wine think about the amount of work which has gone into it, especially for crafted, artisanal wines such as these. And after all that only 420 litres were produced, around 500 bottles or so.

On a less serious note, we now know who is the patron, let me introduce Icare, the real driving force behind Mas Coutelou.

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Icare takes the wheel