amarchinthevines

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


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Vendanges 2020 – Part 2

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All photos by Flora Rey, you can find more of her work on Facebook

I had a chat with Jeff on Saturday to check on progress and plans for this week. Heavy rain (30mm) that day meant that harvesting would be a little more difficult on Monday as the cars and vans would not be able to get into the vineyards. However, that has been the only significant blip in this year’s vendanges (perhaps me not being there has brought good luck!). There has been little disease despite an outbreak of mildew back in June but Jeff was able to get on top of that before it became significant. Happily, he repeated that the grapes are in excellent condition.

Icare awaits his master

The other good news is that quantity is also good, which should mean more wine available for everyone. Remember that many of the 2019 cuvées are not yet released due to slow fermentations delaying the whole process of winemaking. Therefore, I would think it is likely that many of the 2020s will be held back too. Overall, though there will be plenty of Coutelou wines in the next couple of years. The rain of Saturday will also boost quantities a little more in grapes such as Grenache and Carignan which were the later ones to be picked. The Grenache is rich so the rain will help to make it more balanced as well as providing higher yields, it was a well-timed break in the weather.

Boris in early morning Peilhan

The only other issue, and one I had heard was an issue in other areas of the Languedoc, was vers de la grappe, the moth larvae which is hatched in the grapes and can spoil bunches as grape juice flows onto the bunch. Fortunately, the problem is not on a large scale though Jeff wanted to get a move on in finishing the harvest as the moths are now adult and will lay eggs if the grapes are still on the vine.

As most grapes are now picked, the hard work shifts to the cellar and the making of the wine, pressing, remontage, pigeage. Decisions about which grapes go into which tank, which might be mixed together and in what type of container, the cement or stainless steel tanks, amphora or barrel. The 3D puzzle in Jeff’s head, and spreadsheet, gets complicated.

Flower Power, the complantation of Font D’Oulette vineyard, continues to provide meagre returns, 8 cases this year after similar yields in the last two vintages. These young vines will take some years to properly mature and produce more fruit. The grapes were mixed with Syrah from Segrairals which was picked early. That combination was pressed on Saturday and will make a good, juicy, light wine.

The Cinsault of Rome was good but the whites (Muscats, Grenaches Blanc and Gris) of the higher part of the vineyard yielded little though that was partly due to some locals having helped themselves to some bunches probably as eating grapes. The few cases brought back were mixed with Macabeu and Grenache Gris from Peilhan and put into one of the amphorae.

The other amphora will be used for the various blanc and gris grapes (Carignan, Grenache etc) also from Peilhan.

Meanwhile the grapes picked have started to ferment well. Jeff is especially pleased with the Syrahs and the good news, for me at least, is that La Vigne Haute could well be made from La Garrigue. So, lots of positive news from Puimisson, the team is clearly working well and we can enjoy these excellent photographs to glimpse what is happening there.

I love this photo showing the team sorting the grapes together, a true image of vendanges teamwork


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Oddities 3

En francais

Fabrice disappearing through the floor. What is going on?

Carbonic maceration is a winemaking method most associated with Beaujolais where it has long been the traditional technique. Its ability to draw out fruity, fresh flavours helped make the name of the region especially when railways carried the wines to Paris in the late 19thC. In the 1960s Jules Chauvet carried out research into the technique and his scientific studies showed that Gamay and Grenache were especially suited to carbonic maceration. (He was, incidentally, also the man who pioneered no sulphur or natural wines).

The tank is filled with carbon dioxide

And, Grenache was the grape which had Fabrice climbing down through the floor. Underneath the top floor of the cellar is the top of the wine tanks. The yellow funnel is where the grapes are placed after being sorted, falling through into the tanks. When the tank is filled carbon dioxide gas is added to it. As well as creating an oxygen free atmosphere the CO2 seeps into the grapes and encourages them to start to ferment inside their skins rather than on the skins in traditional winemaking. Some grapes at the bottom of the tank will be crushed by the weight of the others so there is some conventional fermentation.

If the grapes are removed and pressed before fermentation is complete this is known as semi carbonic maceration, a method which Chauvet identified as suitable for grapes such as Mourvedre, Pinot Noir and Syrah.

The popularity and spread of natural wines has brought a renaissance in interest in carbonic maceration because of its ability to produce very drinkable wines, ‘glou glou’ as they are often described. Search any wine bar or merchant list and you will find many such wines listed.

So, Fabrice was checking on how much the tank was filled.


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Oddities

En francais

In the next couple of posts I am going to look at some photos taken during vendanges which highlight some oddities and insights into vines and wines which I have not covered in the story of the harvest.

This photo may look like a bunch of red grapes has been placed in amongst bunches of white grapes. The oddity is in fact that they came from the same vines. The grapes are mainly Grenache Blanc, the others are Grenache Gris. Grape varieties are basically variations of one another.

The Grenache family (Noir, Gris and Blanc) are all the same DNA, with the slightest mutation between them. This is also true of the Pinot family for example. In this case one or two of the Grenache Blanc vines has somehow produced one of the mutations in some of the bunches, the result is that a Grenache Blanc vine produced Grenache Gris grapes.

Grape breeding is a very inexact science. The crossing of grape varieties produces new varieties, eg Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc produced Cabernet Sauvignon. However, if I was to try to cross Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc it is unlikely that I would produce Cabernet Sauvignon vines, the original cross is a unique event.

The vines we see across vineyards worldwide are often cuttings propagated from successful vines which show characteristics favoured by the producer, such as quality or quantity of grapes. These clones are planted but, again, slight variety amongst the billions of cells in the vine means that they could well be different to the original vine, not identical clones at all.

Therefore, this case of grapes was fascinating to me. It is not that unusual for this to happen, but it certainly piques my interest as I learn more about grape varieties and grape growing.


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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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Harvest 2019 – Rain

En francais

Finally. Maybe a few weeks too late but we had around ten hours of rain on Tuesday to relieve the parched Languedoc. That said, it soon dried out again and much more rain will be needed for the well being of the region. However, for the vines it was a welcome relief and should revive some parched vines.

Jeff Coutelou told me that in Peilhan vineyard for example the grapes were pretty much skins and pulp, now there is some juice to balance them. We have had some lovely fruit through the vendanges but it is very concentrated and lacking juice. Whilst for Jeff’s bank balance the rain would have been more welcome a month ago to fill out all the grapes and provide more wine, this was better than nothing. I saw one southern Rhone producer say it was like 100€ notes falling from the sky. That may be true for Chateauneuf du Pape but not for Jeff who said maybe a few centimes coins would be nearer the mark.

Cinsault in the rain, some of these were picked Wednesday

Grenache being put whole bunch into tank

The day before the rain, Monday 9th (Day 8 of vendanges) was a picking of Grenache from Sainte Suzanne. It was put into tank in whole bunches to give a more fruit driven wine, a semi carbonic maceration.

Anthony collecting cases, star over the stable

No picking on the Tuesday or Wednesday morning , the photos show why with water standing on the grapes. Wednesday afternoon (Day 9) saw more Grenache and the first Cinsault of the year. This was destemmed as usual.

Cinsault (left) and Grenache

Meanwhile the break gave Jeff the opportunity to do more work on the wines in tank which have all begun their fermentations, the whites took a little longer in their temperature cooled tanks but have started too: Remontage, pouring or pumping wine over the top of the crust of grape skins and pulp; Batonnage, stirring the white wines in tank; Pigeage, pushing down the cap or crust into the wine for the same reason as remontage.

Meanwhile the figures on specific gravity for the wines continue to decline, indicating the fermentation process is going ahead successfully.

To give you some idea of how hard that crust can be and how much effort it takes to punch it down have a look at the video of Jeff treading on the cap of the Syrah from La Garrigue.


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Harvest 2019 – Getting Better

En francais

Rome, ready to harvest

Day 3 was all about grapes from one vineyard so Day 4, September 4th, was a contrast. Muscat from Peilhan, the remaining Syrah in Ste. Suzanne (Metaierie) plus a few rows of Grenache from there, a few rows of the Syrah of Segrairals were all picked.

The highlight for me, however, was picking Rome. This is my favourite vineyard, I think most readers will know that by now. The semi seclusion, surrounding trees, wildlife and collection of vines in gobelet (free standing) all make this one of my favourite places on Earth, just look at the photo under the heading.

The variety and nature of the vines make them more interesting to pick, they are individual with bunches spread around them rather than the more uniform growth in most vines trained on wires. This makes it slower work but the rewards of Rome make the work pleasurable. Jeff will blend these grapes with some of the others to make a cuvée as Rome, like most of the parcels, was producing rich, concentrated juice but small quantities due to the drought.

Tony Boris et Alain Alain, Boris Fabrice

Picking there did give me the opportunity to get to know better the 2019 team. Fabrice, a long-time friend of Jeff’s, I have got to know a little over the years but it is good to have more time with him. Alain, Tony, Boris are new friends. One of the benefits and joys of each vendange is getting to know new people. Most of these guys are spending their holidays as volunteers, they are all good company, work hard and are shaping into one of the best teams I have known in my six years here.

Jeff et Julien

Day 5 brought another interesting harvest. Riveyrenc is a traditional, but rare, grape variety in the Languedoc. Thierry Navarre in St. Chinian has done much to maintain its profile and deserves much credit for his very good wine. In March 2015 Jeff planted Riveyrenc Noir and Riveyrenc Gris along with other rare varieties such as Terret Noir and Blanc, Piquepoul Noir and Gris, Morastel. I was there that hot day and four years later these vines are producing really good grapes already.

March, 2015

We picked around 37 cases of Riveyrenc and, I’m happy to report, the grapes were much juicier than anything we had picked so far. It was a joy to see juice in the cases as we sorted them back at the cellar, up to now the cases have been very dry. The Terret Noir and Blanc were rather less generous in quantity but were added to boost the quantity. That these vines are producing such good fruit so young promises well for the future.

Riveyrenc Gris Terret Noir and Blanc

Syrah and Grenache (just a few rows of each) from La Garrigue were also picked in the morning. The afternoon brought the first Cinsault of the year, from Segrairals. Cinsault grapes are commonly big and juicy, the vintage means that is not totally the case this year but the idea was to bring in some low alcohol fruit to blend with other varieties, mission accomplished.

The boss patrols the Syrah of La Garrigue

I also helped Jeff carry out a débourbage of the white and rosé, that is separating the juice from the solids which remained to clarify the wine as it begins its fermentation. The colourful residue always looks interesting, but it has no place in a fresh wine.

Débourbage

Rome, juicy grapes, cellar work, rare varieties –  it’s getting better all the time.

Jour 4 Jour 5


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Amicis

En francais

In 2015, to celebrate the 100th post of this blog, Jeff invited me to make my own wine. Together with friends and my wife Pat we picked in Rome vineyard some Muscat but mostly a mix of Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc. I then pressed the grapes, supervised their fermentation and, finally, put the wine into three types of container, an old barrel, a newer barrel and a large glass bottle. The idea was to see how these containers would influence the maturity of the wine.

Last October the wine was ready to bottle after three years of ageing. And, on Friday 23rd August I labelled and sealed the bottles. We had opened a few in the intervenng period for visitors to the cellar to taste and there remains 68 bottles. The seal was wax which Jeff prefers. The bottles were labelled according to their élevage, V for verre (glass), B for barrique (the old barrel) and N for neuve (the newer barrel).

I decided to name the wine Amicis. As the wine is the produce from my favourite vineyard, Rome, I wanted a Latin name. In previous years Jeff had made a wine called Copains from Rome, the Latin equivalent is Amicis. It also has my initials as the first two letters and a C for hundred, the blog post which began this adventure.

What about the wine? Well, happily, I like it a lot, Jeff too (well at least he tells me he does!) Version V has fresh fruit sweetness, the glass container having allowed little ageing, capturing the post fermentation wine. It is noticeably different to the barrel aged wines, the grapey Muscat more evident.

B, the older barrel is the next in terms of freshness. The staves of the barrel have become sealed over the years after soaking up some of the many wines aged in it. My wine has had some exchange with the air and has developed more tertiary notes, not just the original fruit of the V wine.

N is the most influenced by age, a slightly darker colour, flavours which include not just the fruit but woody influence, slightly drier in the mouth. The newer barrel certainly allowed more oxygen exchange with the wine which is clearly different to the older barrel wine.

So, there it is. I must once again thank Jeff for this fantastic opportunity and for his generosity in allowing me to use his grapes, barrels and time. He is the best of men.

Thanks too to Martin, May, Pat, Céline and Delphine for their work in picking with me, and to Julien and Michel for their work in carrying out soutirage during the three years.

Now, who would like to try it?


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Expert eye

Version francaise

I regularly tour the Coutelou vineyards, looking at the changes and growth, relishing the tranquillity and connection with nature, the vines, flora and fauna. Nonetheless, far more interesting is to tour with Jeff himself. His expert knowledge of his land and the vines adds so much. Jeff was a teacher for many years and I always learn a great deal from him.

Living soils of Rome

We began in my favourite vineyard, Rome. This parcel, surrounded by trees, is a haven for wildlife. The tall Grenache gobelet vines are 40 years old and more and Jeff explained how the soil in Rome is around 30-40cm deep, made up mostly of forest residue, for example rotted leaves. The soil is a rich humous and full of life. Lifting a clump revealed fungal threads, insects (look for the black bodies) and worms.

Syrah with its large leaves and bunches forming

On to Sainte Suzanne and its Syrah and Grenache, so much a part of le Vin Des Amis, a famous part of the Coutelou range. Flowering completed in the main, the Syrah more forward than other varieties as is usual. The bunches resemble peas. Huge leaves such as this Syrah and Muscat in Peilhan show how Mediterranean varieties protect their grapes from the fierce sun because of their size and thick, quilted texture.

Flowering on the right whilst Jeff indicates coulure

Disappointingly there was also evidence of coulure, here and in La Garrigue especially with Grenache, which flowers later. Flowering has lasted longer this year, making them more susceptible to coulure.

This happens when wind or rain damages the flowers and the fruit cannot set on the vine. A shower of unformed grapes fell into Jeff’s hand as he ran it across a bunch. The consequence is that the harvest will be good but not as big as hoped for, especially after last year’s mildew hit year.

Oidium on bunch

That disease was downy mildew, this year the greater threat is powdery mildew or oidium. As we toured the Carignan vineyard, Rec D’Oulette, Jeff immediately spotted the signs, I would likely not have seen it. Oidium usually attacks the leaf and stem, leaving a white, powdery residue. Here the oidium had attacked the bunch directly, leaving a grey tinge to the green pea-like grape. Encouraged by the alternation between hot days and cold nights which we have had recently oidium needs to be treated. Jeff uses sulphur mixed with clay which helps the sulphur to stick to the plant. So far the damage is limited and the weather has heated up which might help to dry out the disease. Certainly there was evidence of that, the black spots on these stems and leaves is evidence of that, see the photo below.

Another pest was seen too. This white, cottony substance on my hand is the cocoon of ver de la grappe, a moth which will lay eggs in the grapes and the larvae pierce the skins causing bacterial spoilage. Insecticides would be the conventional response but not for organic vignerons. Natural predators such as bats are the solution, one reason why Jeff has bat houses in the trees around the vines.

More trees have been planted, Nathan and Julien were tending the border of Peilhan vineyard where fruit trees such as this pear are beginning to grow and become established. In the vines things looked good, such as this Carignan Blanc, Piquepoul Gris and Muscat in Peilhan and the Mourvèdre in Segrairals.

A 3 hour tour revealed so much about the state of the vines this year. Things are set for a good quality harvest, though it is still early days. Coulure means that it will not be a bumper crop, oidium that there is much work to be done to tend the vines which Jeff nurtures so carefully.

Healthy vines

New plantings such as that next to Sainte Suzanne of Clairette and Maccabeu are signs of a healthy future too.

Plantation, Clairette right, Maccabeu left

No matter what some British politicians would tell you it is always good to listen to experts and this was no exception. The strapline of my blog says “learning about wines, vines and vignerons”, this was a morning which certainly helped me to achieve that goal thanks to Jeff and his expert eye.


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April, not the cruellest month

T.S. Eliot believed it was the cruellest month but my selection of April wines proved to be generous and pleasing. Here are my thoughts, including my early front runner for wine of the year.

My first real wine tasting was in a small village in the Rhine Valley called Bacharach, in 1982 I think. It is therefore a doffing of my proverbial wine hat to open a bottle from that village. Toni Jost is one of the biggest producers there, this 2009 Kabinett was a classic Riesling, dry with a nice streak of acidity but a sweet fruit finish. I do love German Riesling, my fondness steming from that first experience 37 years ago of how diverse wine could be. In truth this was fairly routine wine, nice enough without being noteworthy. The nostalgia quotient is my only reason for its inclusion here.

 

Compare that to the 2016 Bourgogne from Fanny Sabre. I often forget how good Burgundy can thrill the tastebuds like very few other regions. There is a reason why prices have gone through the roof and my hopes of tasting Romanée-Conti have sailed off into a horizon never to be reached. My brother in law was amazed that this was natural, it was a pure Chardonnay, classic buttery and hazelnut flavours and, quite simply, very satisfying. This is a basic regional wine, nothing special about the vineyards or terroir, yet it was very well made and I am on the hunt for more of the Sabre wines.

Catherine Riss is another winemaker attracting attention in recent years, this time in the Alsace region. This 2016 Riesling De Grès Ou De Force was a bright, zesty, joyful wine. Catherine’s vineyards are spread around northern Alsace including Nothalten home to Patrick Meyer (and another of my early holiday bases). Made from vines on sandstone (grès) it delivers pleasure and has a serious side too from the acidity, a winning combination. Last time I was in Nothalten talking to Patrick Meyer he praised Catherine Riss and bemoaned that there were not more young winemakers starting out in the region because of the high price of land. On this evidence his faith is being well repaid. I’d choose this every time over the Jost. Great labels too.

By contrast the wines of Jean Foillard are well established, he is one of natural wine’s pioneers and greats, one of the major factors in the renaissance of Beaujolais as one the world’s greatest wine regions. This 2014 Morgon epitomises those points. Foillard wines imprive over several years in my experience and this was at a peak. Delicious Gamay fruit supported by fine acidity and light tannins. This is classic Beaujolais made naturally as it used to be generations ago. Classic wine.

Two other great red wines need to be saluted on here. Louis and Charlotte Pérot make wines in Cahors and (disclaimer) are personal friends whom I admire greatly. I first met them in 2015 at La Remise in Arles, one of their first big wine tasting events and, proudly, I was one of the first to praise them. Understandably they have received many plaudits since and their wines get better and better as their vineyards respond to their care. The labels change annually based on book prints, a reminder of their previous work in Paris. L’Ostal is able to make Cahors’ Malbec (or Côt) into approachable, fruity, delicious wine but with the typical backbone and structure of that region. I love these wines, this was another April success.

Sylvain Bock’s wines from the Ardèche are one of my ‘go to’ picks for enjoyment and reliability. Neck is pure Grenache, ripe but with a serious side. I have seen reports that this 2016 was the best vintage of this cuvee and I can believe it because, like all the wines I have lauded in here, there is a combination of pleasure and reflection. By that I mean, there is a serious side which makes you look closely at the wine, and think about its making not just drink it unthinkingly. Lovely bottle.

The pleasures which April wines showered upon me were greatest from one bottle however. La Paonnerie is based in the Coteaux D’Ancenis in the western Loire. The Carrogets work naturally and I have enjoyed their wines in the past. However, the 2017 Vegyes was on another level for me. Golden in colour I was convinced that there must be extended skin contact but no. The colour is the result of vines over 100 years old which provide Chenin Blanc of great purity. The vineyards have been organic since 1997, the wines are made without anything added. The result was complex. Quince flavours certainly, other fruits too but with texture and classic Loire Chenin acidity. This was a great bottle of wine.

IMG_20190408_203825349


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300

 

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Tasting the older barrel in 2017

 

En francais

Back in September 2015 I wrote my 100th blog post about a great day. Jeff had suggested I do something special to celebrate the event and offered me the chance to pick grapes from my favourite vineyard, Rome. The grapes were a mix of all three Grenaches, Blanc, Gris and Noir as well as a few Muscat grapes. To make it even more special our great friends Martin and May came along to help pick the grapes, it was a day when I was truly blessed to be surrounded by friendship, a day when the Coutelou motto of ‘Grapes, work and love’ was evident.

 

I trod the grapes, pressed them and stored the juice in two barrels and two large 27l bottles. I even used airlocks provided by my friend Barry back in the UK. One of the those bottles was used to top up the barrels over the intervening three years before the wines were ready to be bottled. The wine was racked occasionally to separate the juice from the sediment and dead lees. From time to time we tasted from all three containers and it was fascinating to monitor their development and how they matured differently according to the container they were in.

The newer 60l barrel allowed more oxygen into the wine and this added a drier note to the wine which aged quicker than the other two. The smaller, older 30l barrel had been used for more wines and the wood staves had sealed more as a result. The wine was fruitier, tasted younger and fresher. That was the reverse of what I had expected from the barrels at first but it is logical. Meanwhile the large glass bottle produced a wine like imprisoned fruit, almost as grapey and fruity as the day the juice first went in.

After three years it was time to assemble and bottle the wine. That was supposed to happen in the week before I left France in October but climatic conditions were unfriendly for bottling, heavy atmospheric conditions. Jeff, Michel and Julien kindly did the bottling when conditions were more suitable. I can’t wait to see them, and open one in January when I return.

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I am a winemaker! It has been one of the great experiences of my life. That it is the result of the generosity and kinship of my friends made it even more so. In particular Jeff’s kindness and inspiration is something I appreciate more than he can know.

This is the 300th blog article. I have been delighted and amazed that people from 118 countries have turned to these pages over the last four years, often several thousand a day. Thank you for doing so, it means a lot. I started simply to occupy time and keep my own personal record, your readership has helped it become so much more. I hope that my love for wine, the Languedoc, real wines and, especially, the Coutelou team and wines have brought you some pleasure. And who knows, we may get to share a glass of the century wine.

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A March in the vines (photo by Flora Rey)