amarchinthevines

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


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More Frost

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Frost damage (Decanter)

Sad to report that frosts have continued to damage the vineyards of France (and elsewhere) since I first reported on them 10 days ago. Virtually every night in regions such as the Loire and Chablis vignerons have lit fires, used helicopters to circulate the air, sprayed the buds with water to keep them at 0º rather than the colder air temperatures. For all that, nature will prevail and damage to the vineyards has mounted with vignerons facing wipeout in some of their vineyards and heavy losses in others.

Sadly the Languedoc has not been immune. I have heard reports of damage in Aspiran, Caux and elsewhere including to friends’ vines. I can only sympathise as they face a significant loss of income and wine. It is suggested that the Hérault will lose 20% of its production this year. Midi Libre included this map showing the affected areas. Jeff has had a few vines touched but, happily, there are no real losses.

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Areas such as Fronton and Gaillac in the South West, Bugey to the east of Burgundy and in the foothills of the Alps have seen even greater losses and these are regions where viticulteurs struggle to make a living in good years.

Bordeaux has been affected too in recent nights and whilst the big chateaux have been employing the helicopters and braziers smaller vignerons have had to cope as best they could. I was rather annoyed to see one very well known wine writer’s response to this news being to express concern about prices rather than the welfare of the vignerons.

The early spring which promoted bud growth has made this cold spell especially damaging and disastrous. Spring frosts are not unusual, tradition dictates that they are a risk until the Saints De Glaces, this year from May 11 to 13. It was the warm weather of early April which made the vines vulnerable. Climate change? A precocious year? Whatever, the suffering is all too real.

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Update Saturday 29th, a 4th episode

 


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Frost damage

Chablis Germain Bour

Chablis (tweet by Germain Bour)

Sad to hear reports of widespread frost damage to vines all over France and Italy on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Temperatures plummeted to -6ºC in Chablis and the Jura for example. And at a time when vines have begun to bud and the leaves unfurl. The result, of course, is damage to these buds which will not produce grapes this year. No grapes means no money for the winemaker. And in some regions this is two years on a row. I was in the Loire at this time last year and saw the damage it can do for myself, some vignerons losing whole vineyards.

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Jura before and after the frost (Véroselles)

Two weapons have been deployed by some vignerons. Firstly, impressive photos from Burgundy and Chablis where, perhaps more wealthy, vignerons used fires amongst the vines to try to keep temperatures higher.

The other tactic, more counter intuitive, is too spray the vines with water so that the buds and leaves are immediately covered in ice and this protects them from further damage.

Large scale producers such as Roederer in Champagne are reporting losses of 10-20% of their vines for the year. Some smaller scale winemakers will have lost proportionally much more. I can only sympathise. Let’s hope things turn better for them soon.

Addendum 3.15 pm

I have seen some photos of the Languedoc being hit too.

It appears that hail also struck some areas last night too. The frost risk will last until Saturday.

 


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Nature can be harsh – Part 1: Weather

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It’s not all sunshine in the Languedoc

The stunning BBC Planet Earth II television programme  of snakes attacking baby marine iguanas was a recent reminder of how cruel nature can be. 2016 has seen vineyards across France attacked by a multitude of problems and in this series of three articles I want to show how the vines and the grapes are affected by these problems. Firstly, the weather.

The year began with no frost in the Languedoc throughout the winter. This meant that the vines found it hard to recuperate from 2015’s exertions as they could not sleep. When pruning got under way in earnest during January many vignerons reported sap flowing from the vines. This was bad news, the sap and the vines should have been resting, storing their energy for the year ahead. Consequently, when other problems arrived during the course of the year the vines were always vulnerable, struggling to resist them.

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Frost damaged vine in the Loire

Ironically, after such a warm winter, frost and hail damaged vines across France. The Loire, Rhone, Cahors and Pic Saint Loup were all hit at various stages, Burgundy and Champagne too. When I visited the Loire in early May it was sad to see many vineyards hit by frost, especially those adjacent to other crops whose humidity helped frost to form. Some vignerons faced huge losses of vines and potential grapes.

On August 17th hail hit the Languedoc, especially the Pic St Loup region where vines laden with grapes were smashed leaving some producers with no harvest at all in 2016. Mas Coutelou in Puimisson was also damaged though not so seriously. The storm ran through a corridor across Sainte Suzanne to La Garrigue and on to Segrairals. Even here vine branches were snapped, grapes shredded and bunches ruined. It was possible to see how one side of the vines was damaged where they faced the storm, yet the leeward side was virtually unscathed. Jeff was forced to pick these damaged vines much earlier than normal before the damaged grapes brought disease and rot to them.

The other major weather problem was drought. There was virtually no rain for months in the Languedoc, especially from winter to early summer. Cracks appeared in the soil, plants turned brown. The lack of rainfall meant that when the grapes began to mature the vines could not provide much water, small berries with little juice were the norm. Vignerons everywhere in the region reported much reduced yields, at Mas Coutelou reds down by 20-30%, some whites down by as much as 60%. Rain just before vendanges saved the day but massaged rather than cured the problem.

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When rain did come it was often in the form of storms. Sharp, heavy rainfall does not absorb into the soil so easily. Moreover where vignerons spray herbicides on their land the soils often wash away as there is nothing to hold the soil in place. For more environmentally aware producers this can be frustrating as chemically treated soils could wash onto their land.

This is one reason why Jeff plants trees, bushes and flowers and digs ditches, to protect his vines from the risk of contamination.

The combination of sun (and even sunburned grapes), drought, rain, frost and hail made this a difficult year. However, that is not the end of the story. Climate conditions bring disease and it is that aspect of nature which I shall examine next.


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Open Up Your Door

En français

The weekend of Pentecost was spent in the Loire. Christian Venier hosted a Portes Ouvertes at his domaine in Madon, Touraine along with his partner Marie-Julienne.

It was an opportunity for winemakers and friends to get together and there was a lot of fun, food and frolics. Jeff Coutelou and most of his team were present including Michel, Vincent and many of the people who spent time in Puimisson during the vendanges such as Céline, Carole and Karim.

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Michel struts his stuff

I know that Jeff and some others did not get to bed much before 4am on those three mornings. It was also quite amusing to see a lot of French people dancing to ‘Waterloo’ of all songs! Good to know that history is safely in the past. It was easy to make new friends too, as always there is a real energy and friendliness in the natural wine crowd.

The Veniers were great hosts, many thanks to them for their generosity.

To mark the event Christian and Jeff Coutelou made a special cuvée, ‘Devigne Qui Vient Dîner’ (a play on Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner). Gamay and Pinot Noir from Christian assembled with Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault from Jeff and made only in magnums. Very nice too.

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Christian’s wines are a great combination of fruit and complexity with plenty of texture. His La Roche 2011 in magnum was a true highlight of the year’s  wines for me, a great Gamay which I wrote about as Wine Of The Week. I will be coming back to this later in the article.

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A number of winemakers joined the event and having just written an article about how there was a promising new wave of young producers it was good to see my statement supported by yet more up and coming talent.

One of those was a friend from the Languedoc, Sébastien Benoit-Poujad of Domaine de la Banjoulière. Sébastien bottles his wines at Jeff’s cellar and his wines are starting to show real quality, his light, fresh Aramon 15 and, especially, his lovely Carignan 13 were on great form. Sébastien’s partner Tina is also a familiar figure on these pages as she worked at Jeff’s during the 2014 vendanges, that’s where the pair met.

Of the Loire new wave there was:

Noella Morantin whose old vine 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ‘LBL’ was especially good

Benoit Courault, very good reds especially the Grolleau 2014 ‘La Couléé’.

Laurent Saillard, whose wines spoke of their grape and terroir. ‘Scarlett’ (Gamay and Pinot d’Aunis) and the Sauvignon Blanc ‘Lucky You’ 15 were especially good.

Finally there was Cédric Bernard who has worked with Christian and is now venturing out on his own. In an act of incredible support and  generosity Christian has given his La Roche vineyard to Cédric to help him. This is the parcel of Gamay whose 2011 I so enjoyed. What a spirit of sharing and humanity. And the first Gamay from that parcel was lovely, named ‘La Cabane À Marcel’. After the 2011 it was my favourite wine of the weekend and as a bonus it comes in a litre bottle! I look forward to drinking the bottles I bought. I very much liked the Chenin Blanc ‘Brin De Chèvre’ too. If this was Cédric’s debut year as a winemaker he is definitely a talent to watch.

It was interesting to compare notes with Vincent and find out that La Roche and the Gamay of Cédric were his two favourite wines. Every one of these winemakers is someone whose wines I would gladly buy and recommend.

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My friend Vincent

A sad postscript was the news that the April frosts hit La Roche vineyard hard and unfortunately there will be no wine from there this year. The vicissitudes of life as a vigneron, a tough break for a man starting out.

Christian took Jeff and myself out to look at his vineyards on the Sunday morning. His passion for his land and vines was evident. It was interesting to see the vines surrounded by parcels of wheat and other crops such as asparagus which grows well in the more sandy areas of the land. Christian showed us some of the frost damage on his parcels though happily he has not been too badly affected.

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Frost damaged

Ironically a parcel more prone to frost was left untouched this time. He showed a few rows that were touched because they were next to the wheat which created humidity which in turn encouraged the frost. However, the positives shone through and it was a great experience to spend time with Christian.

Finally, it was also good to be left in charge of the Coutelou stand and share wines with the people who wanted to try them out. I even completed some sales. My education continues.

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A lovely weekend, shared with great people in a relaxed and spirited environment. Christian, I hope I’ll be coming to dinner next year too.

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Snails, sprays and screen star

En français

April 27th saw a number of visitors to Font D’Oulette (Chemin De Pailhès), home of Flower Power where we grafted vines recently.

France 3 television were here to record some footage for a report on biodiversity, so who better than Jeff to describe and demonstrate how he has worked to bring life to the vineyards around Puimisson.

Rather less welcome was the invasion of snails, I spent all morning removing thousands of them from the vines. They clearly enjoy the organic greenery and, in particular, the young buds. It was noticeable that where the vine had grown more fully the snails were few in number, instead they were grouped on the slower growing vines where the buds were small and fresh. Bullies.

As the days warm up the risk of diseases such as oïdium and mildew increases. Therefore, it was time to spray the vines to help them resist these damaging diseases. However, being organic, there is no question of synthetic chemicals. This was a spray of nettles, comfrey, ferns and seaweed mixed with rain water; organic, natural products. Julien sprayed on foot and then Jeff and he rode on the tractor to spray two rows at once in Rec D’Oulette, home of Flambadou.

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Oy watch where you’re spraying!

Across the vineyards the vines are maturing rapidly. The buds are separating showing the future grapes and bunches. Tendrils are pushing skywards, remember that vines are climbing plants. The leaves are now of good size, soaking up the sunlight to help photosynthesis and provide energy to encourage the growth of the vine.

The soils remain dry and the leaves are a little brittle in places, this has been a very dry winter. More rain would be welcome. However, that night and the next there were reminders that the situation elsewhere can be much worse. The Loire valley and parts of Burgundy were hit by sudden, severe frosts which have devastated vines and mean that some vignerons face a bleak year with little or no wine to be made. The photograph below Credit: Sabrina Cyprien Caslot-Bourdin via Jim Budd / Facebook

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The sunshine and drying winds may not be perfect but the vineyards of Mas Coutelou remain small havens of flora and fauna.