amarchinthevines

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


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A great bunch

En francais

In the vineyards the grapes have had little respite from the heat, the extreme temperatures of Friday, June 28th may have eased but it has been a very hot week. There has been little rainfall this year in the region so the vines are having to dig deep into the soils for moisture. That is one reason why Jeff Coutelou does a very light raking of the soil in early summer, to create small ridges which will help moisture to be retained rather than evaporate.

Raked soils in Flower Power

Nonetheless, the risk is that without some rain the vines, unable to find moisture in the soil or air, will begin to use up its store of water and energy which should be going into the grapes.

At present that danger has not manifested into vine stress but, with no rain forecast, it is one weighing on Jeff’s mind. As one who refuses to irrigate his vines Jeff runs a risk, as he does through many aspects of organic agriculture, 2018’s mildew epidemic being the most recent example. Indeed as I toured the vines in the last few days there are some lovely bunches forming. The pea sized grapes of a fortnight ago have grown. As they continue to do so, rain would certainly help them to swell, the bunch will close up, the grapes rubbing up against each other to form the classic bunch we know from vendanges.

And, but of course, there is a risk at this stage too. As the bunch closes up any grape damage will be spread across the bunch. A lack of air inside the bunch will encourage any rot or disease there may be. The ver de la grappe moth might have lain eggs and these will form the caterpillar / worm (ver) which damages grapes especially in a bunch. However, let me not be too gloomy. The bunches are there, the vast majority in good health. It is a matter of vigilance.

A bunch of another sort brought a very happy day a couple of weeks ago. Cédric, who runs the website* vinsnaturels.fr, and some of his friends from Grenoble visited. A lunchtime visit said Jeff. A nine hour lunch it turned out to be!

Case filled with cold water to keeping bottles cool, Coutelou spirits and olive oil, new cuvées

We tasted lots of wines now on sale such as the Blanc and Grenache Mise De Printemps. However, it was the barrels tucked away and the older bottles which made this yet another special day. Tasting the 2018 blend of Maccabeu and Grenache Gris from different barrels and containers. A fortified Grenache Gris. Amazing bottles of the legendary Roberta 2003 and La Vigne Haute 2010.

Surprise after surprise, delight after delight. Accompanied by an unusual but very tasty barbecue, yes that is a wheelbarrow. Add in an amazing plateau of cheeses and it was a feast fit for a king.

So, great bunches all round. May they all stay healthy and prosper.

*also in English Deutsch Italiano Español


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More words about bottles and wine

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This weekend I head down to London for RAW and will have lots of wine to report back so I thought I should mention some wines I have enjoyed over the last few weeks before they were forgotten amidst all those RAW discoveries.

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Let’s start with my birthday which I spent in the company of family and friends, it doesn’t get better than that.  A number of bottles were opened of course. Let’s start with the Coutelou wines, how could I celebrate without Jeff? The Blanc 2016 is a blend of many white grapes such as Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Muscat which were aged in barrel for a year. That oak age gives a richness which is different to many of the previous Blanc/PM wines. There’s an unctuousness rather than a taste of wood but the wine remains clean and satisfying. Lovely.

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The magnum of Flower Power 2015, a blend of Syrah with the Flower Power (Font D’Oulette) vineyard of so many varieties. Still youthful and fresh with bright red fruits there is also a growing power and complexity. The other bottles will be kept for a few years. And no celebration of mine would be complete without La Vigne Haute. This was 2017, turning into an exceptional vintage. The Syrah is generous with red fruit but has a streak of fine tannin and a firm edge still, hard to resist now but with discipline I shall keep some bottles for the future. My desert island wine.

Along with those gems other bottles went down well too, there were many of us! Jordi Llorens’ Blankafiorti 17 is a blend of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in the Tarragona region. A definite sense of Spanish warmth with a richness but plenty of fresh dark and red fruits, however, maybe one to keep for a couple more years to be at its best. Valette Macon Villages 15 is a lovely wine, a lovely example of Chardonnay with a citric edge to the Chardonnay richness, well balanced and delicious. Tollot Beaut’s 2006 Chorey les Beaune was classic Burgundy, the age adding smoky, vegetal notes to good Pinot fruit.

Other wines on other occasions. Testalonga wines from South Africa are becoming a firm favourite with me as mentioned on here recently. Stay Brave 18 is a Chenin Blanc matured on skins for 11 days, a relatively light maceration, giving a golden colour and very fine texture but plenty of fruit and pleasure. This made a real impression on me, a wine I will remember for a long time. La Bufarella 17 from La Salada comes from further along the coast from Tarragona towards Barcelona in the Penedes region. The Xarel.Lo grape has good acidity (it’s the main Cava grape) so stands up well to the 6 months maceration here. Much more orange in colour than Stay Brave and with more complexity and tannin. Also from Xarel.Lo was the Clot De Les Soleres 15, light, fresh with a touch of sparkle, a good aperitif wine.

Red wines included Andrea Calek’s À Toi Nous, a lovely blend of Grenache and Syrah from the Ardeche. Rich fruit but plenty of freshness, this is one of my favourite domaines in France, the labels aren’t bad too. Domaine La Marfée Della Francesca 2007 comes from near Montpellier. The age has allowed the 80% Mourvèdre to develop plummy, leathery notes, the Syrah adding more direct fruit still. Certainly its age has made this biodynamic wine more complex, this was my wife’s favourite wine of recent weeks. By contrast the 2018 50-50 Gamay – Pinot Noir blend from the Auvergne producer Domaine Miolanne, Volcane Rouge, was light and fresh. The Gamay dominates, this is very like a young Beaujolais and the Pinot adds a little richness. I liked this a lot, a food wine for sure. La Paonnerie is in the Ancenis area of the Loire. Jacques and Agnès Carroget plant various crops such as oats and clover amongst the vines to add nitrogen to the soils amongst many other organic, environmentally sound practices. Simplement Gamay 16 is very enjoyable on a drinkability level but there is some complexity in the bottle with sharp raspberry fruit.

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Different altogether was one of my favourite sherry wines, the Palo Cortado Cayetano Del Pino which offers the freshness of a manzanilla with the complex nutty notes of an amontillado. It is a great wine, I’d sneak some onto that desert island with La Vigne Haute.

There have been a couple of duds along the way but the last few weeks have provided some excellent wines, I hope you have enjoyed sharing my thoughts. On to RAW and more new wines.

 


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Wines of 2018

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I described my wine related highlights of 2018 in the last article. Not surprisingly some of my favourite wines of the year are related to those highlights, orange wine and Australian wine.

Let me start with orange wine, the focus of the excellent ‘Amber Revolution’ by Simon J Woolf. I could include Jeff Coutelou’s OW 2016 which we drank regularly through the vendanges. However, I have limited myself to just one of Jeff’s wines as part of this case. That is made from Muscat and my favourite orange wine which I drank in 2018 was made from Viognier, not often my favourite grape. It does reinforce a theory that some of the best orange wines are made from aromatic, characterful grapes which add to the sensation of texture created by skin contact. So, the first bottle into my case is by Australian producer Kalleske, Plenarius Viognier 2017. I described it in Brisbane where I came across it as having “aromas of, well, oranges. Lavender too. It was delicious with tangy zesty fruit and lovely texture”. Seven days skin contact only for the biodynamically grown grapes, enough to add tannins without overpowering the fruit. Lovely.

Red wines next.

I drank Patrick Rols’ Les Anciens 2016 late in the year and it jumped straight into this case. I loved the iron filings like aroma and deep red fruit flavours of this wine made from Merlot and the Cabernets, Sauvignon and Franc. To make wine that good from some of my least favourite grapes, real talent and healthy grapes!

That lunch!

My Coutelou wine comes next. There were so many highlights, including 1998 Cabernet and Syrah still brimming with life. However, everyone knows my favourite wine, the one I would choose above any other is La Vigne Haute 2010. The 2017 is a beauty and the 2018 promises to be special too. However, Jeff opened the 2010 one July day over lunch with our friend Steeve. The years add a complexity and depth to the fruit and acidity to make a dream wine. Just stunning.

In New Zealand I was a little disappointed with some of the vaunted Pinot Noirs of Otago but some of the Syrahs were excellent, often from Gimblett Gravels on the North Island. However my favourites were from Hans Herzog in Marlborough, another biodynamic producer next to the Wairau River. I liked everything I tasted there whites and reds such as the Pinot Noir, Tempranillo but my favourite was the outstanding Herzog Nebbiolo 2013. Concentrated fruit flavours including peach and apricot surprisingly, light and fresh. Memorable. (shown in the photos above where Petra poured it)

My final red is Little Things, Joy’s Wild Fruits Field Blend 2017. This was one of the wines in made by James Madden in his first vintage, unbelievable that it could be so good so soon. I described it like this when I was there, “The vineyard is next to the sea at Fleurieu Peninsula and most of the grapes are technically white, eg Pinot Gris, Savagnin, Chardonnay, but they are picked with the Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet from the same vineyard, pressed together and left on skins for more than a week. This is heady wine; bright, light and mighty good. Fresh and zesty from the whites, fruity and spicy from the reds.” I am going to choose this as my wine of the year, the single wine I enjoyed most of all.

Another field blend, another Basket Range wine. Basket Range Vineyard Blend 2016 is made by the Broderick brothers Sholto and Louis. Made from Petit Verdot, Merlot and the Georgian grape Saperavi, fermented and made together. Bright fruits, spice and appealing tannins this was a wine of pleasure but with added complexity too.

White wines provided most of my 2018 highlights, here are the final picks.

Little Things again, no apologies. I am sure some will accuse me of bias but these are genuine picks based on quality. Little Things Sweet Child Of Mine 2017 which I described as “Chardonnay is from 28 year old vines, whole bunch pressed, tank fermented and then aged in old barrels. It is a delight. There is a creamy note but a clean acidity runs through with lemon and spice notes.” Basket Range Chardonnay was a true highlight of my trip Down Under, other fine examples came from James Erskine of Jauma and Alex Schulkin of The Other Right. Interestingly their wines were from the same vineyard as another of my picks.

Gentle Folk Scary White 2017. Named after the vineyard Scary Gulley this blends the Chardonnay with Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc with lovely acidity, a creamy fruit profile and a sense of the area – friendly and classy. Gareth Belton is a very talented producer, excellent Pinot Noir too. One of a very talented bunch of winemakers in Basket Range.

Yet another Australian Chardonnay makes the list. Luke Lambert Chardonnay 2016 is made in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne where I drank it. There is a lovely apple and pear fruit, a touch of citrus and great length. Not Burgundy but similar in profile yet clearly Australian in its ripeness. All class.

Talking of Burgundy. Domaine Valette Macon Chaintré Vieilles Vignes 2016. I drank this from magnum at lunch during vendanges and again in single bottle from the excellent Chai Christine Cannac in Bédarieux. It may not be the most celebrated Burgundy but this relatively humble area produces a pure, creamy but citrus, hazelnut and white fruit flavoured delight. A producer I hope to find out more about.

Four Chardonnays and a Merlot/Cabernet blend so far. What is the world coming to? Well, let’s add some exoticism. Bacchus, Ortega, Huxulrebbe and Segerebbe to be exact. From England. French readers think I have gone mad! Davenport Limney Horsmonden 2016 is the work of a very talented producer in East Sussex whose PetNat is another favourite. This wine has a distinct floral note to the aroma profile, fresh and fruity. English wines are really on the move.

No sparkling wines to add this year, I had some nice ones but nothing which made me go wow. Only eleven wines though. Well to make the case I am adding another bottle of the Little Things Field Blend as my favourite of the year. Or maybe the 2010 La Vigne Haute.

Please would someone bring in some of the Australian wines to the UK market. I am missing them already.

 

 

 

 


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Wine with friends, the 2017 Coutelou wines

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One of the highlights of the last few weeks of the 2018 vendanges was tasting the wines from 2017. A group of our friends gathered to enjoy bottles kindly given by Jeff and we tasted through them, scoring them as went. I am not a great fan of wine scores but it was a simple way of tracking our preferences, we revisited scores regularly to ensure there was some context for the earlier marks.

We started with the OW of 2016, so a different vintage but yet to be released. I have tasted it regularly in recent weeks at vendanges lunches and I really like it. Many orange wines are being made but often they are based on grapes which have fairly neutral skins. OW is made from Muscat D’Alexandrie and the skins have a lot of flavour which the long maceration brings out together with the tannins. This has real character, one of my wines of the night. It must be said that for some of my friends it was too much of a shock, unused to skin contact wines they found it too different. If you like orange wines though, believe me, this is excellent.

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On to the reds. 2017 was a vintage of low yields due to the long, dry summer. However, it must be said one of the consequences is a concentration of flavour and high quality. The six wines we shared were all very good and consistent in their length and full flavour. Perhaps the most consistent of any vintage I have been involved with since I started in 2014.

Vin De Table is a supposedly simple wine. Don’t be fooled, it is very good. Assembled from wines left over from the main cuvées with quite a large portion of Merlot for good measure. It received consistently good scores from everyone, it was simply enjoyable and very drinkable, belying its simple status with good fruit, freshness and length. A bargain at the price of well under 10€ seen in many caves.

Tête À Claques was a wine originally made for London restaurants but now sold from the cellars. It is based on Le Vin Des Amis (what was left) to which was added Mourvèdre and other remaining wine. The Mourvèdre boosts the wine with some crunchy, dark fruit flavours and this was one person’s favourite wine of the night.

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The natural successor was Le Vin Des Amis. For two of the group this was their favourite wine of the evening. The 2017 version is based on Cinsault, not the norm. Blended with Syrah and Grenache the Cinsault gives a real lift of red fruit and the result is a classic VDA, a bottle which will please anyone and disappear quickly.

On to the other headlining wine of the Coutelou range, Classe. Syrah, Grenache and more Mourvèdre (there was also a pure Mourvèdre released in 2017 under the name of On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que). Classe usually adds a depth and silkiness compared to VDA, it lives up to its name and label. This was no exception, it really is a very good wine and one I would love to age for a year or two even though it would be hard to resist now. One person chose it as their highlight.

Flambadou has been one of the best wines of the domaine for the last few years. Pure Carignan from a vineyard with complex geology the 2017 version is up to those high standards with dark fruits, freshness and ripe tannins. It needs time to mature before it reaches its peak but this is one of my favourite wines and, from experience of this wine, I can tell this will develop into a top class wine.

My absolute favourite Coutelou wine is La Vigne Haute, the pure Syrah from La Garrigue. North facing, villefranchien rock the wine is only released as La Vigne Haute when Jeff decides it is of the required quality, just seven of the last nineteen years. This is the first time I have been involved with making LVH and I am thrilled with it. The fruit is already evident, it is complex, has dark edges as well as the fruit. The flavours are long and fresh with more ripe tannins. It is a beauty, it could be mistaken for a wine from the Rhone or Ardèche. Previous examples of this wine have shown me that it needs 5 years or more to be at it best, 2009 is excellent at present. This will be a wine to treasure for years to come. Three of us chose it as wine of the night.

Overall, my friends showed great taste in selecting La Vigne Haute as the clear leader in scoring (I hope my influence wasn’t too strong!). Classe and Le Vin Des Amis followed on a few points behind. However, all agreed as we enjoyed a wonderful half bottle of Vieux Grenache that the wines were excellent, consistently so.

Thanks to May and Martin for being such great hosts and providing lovely food to accompany the wines. And to Pat, Afshin, Denise, Matt and Jonathan for joining in and making it so enjoyable.

A special night. Jeff told me from the beginning that he makes his wines to be shared with friends and loved ones. This was a night to prove the wisdom of those words as well as the immense talent and passion of Jeff Coutelou.

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Vendanges 2018 – Part 3

Friday 7th and Saturday 8th

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Some serious hard work. A lot of grapes came through the cellars in these two days and we worked longer hours than usual. I can almost hear regular readers thinking, “Hang on, you said there were fewer grapes this year!” That is, sadly, still the case. Whereas in previous years all the grapes that came through in similar quantities might have been from one or two parcels this time it was grapes from several different parcels. All the grapes from those parcels. What might have taken three or four days was done in two.

White grapes from Peilhan, Cinsault from Segrairals came in thick and fast on Friday. Cinsault is a generous grape with big, floppy leaves and big, juicy grapes to match. Problematically the size of those grapes means that bunches can grow to quite a size but with large gaps between the round berries. Into those gaps rot, leaves, insects and moths find their way. Therefore it needs careful sorting, the rolling sorting table was needed. Amongst the usual leaves, grass, snails, earwigs and spiders I spotted an unwelcome visitor.

Lobesia botrana or European grape moth (ver de la grappe in French) lays its eggs inside bunches of grapes and the cocoon resembles cotton wool. They emerge as worms which eat into the grapes for nourishment, leaving a trail of juice which can attract rot. The moth’s main predators are birds and bats which is why Jeff Coutelou and others try to attract these species into their vineyards. As you can see I found one worm clinging to its Cinsault grape.  I need to add this is rare, you will not be drinking worm juice in your wine!

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So keen to bring home the Syrah and part of the van!

Saturday and more parcels. My favourite wine of Jeff’s is La Vigne Haute, the pure Syrah from La Garrigue vineyard with its north facing vines with some villefranchien soils. Jeff only makes this when the grapes are very good, seven times in the last seventeen years, this decade there are only three. I love LVH and always hoped to help to make it and last year was the first time, having tasted it in bottle (not yet released) I can promise that the wait was worth it. Surprisingly, despite the problems of 2018, the Syrah from this vineyard is in very good shape and might just make it as La Vigne Haute. A lot less sorting, healthy bunches, fingers crossed for the first star wine of this troublesome vintage.

Syrah from La Garrigue

The afternoon brought in the Grenache from La Garrigue. Sadly, this is not of the same quality as Grenache was most susceptible to and damaged by the mildew epidemic. The juice will receive a short maceration before being separated from its skins and then used for a project as yet undecided. There were some lovely bunches harvested, you can only think of what might have been. That the Grenache and Syrah from this vineyard was picked in one day tells its own story.

Lovely bunch of Grenache which Julien and Élise help to sort

Meanwhile soutirages, débourbages and pressings all take place, the cellar is a hive of activity. And of course there is the endless cleaning of everything. Analyses of the wines so far are positive and the juices taste very good, I particularly liked the Flower Power / Rome assemblage.

As I said long hours, hard work, aching back, stained hands and dirty fingernails. In between there were the usual laughs and camaraderie, bottles shared at lunchtime and after work. Despite everything the year has thrown at the Languedoc and Coutelou we know that there will be some good wines.

 

 


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On higher ground

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En francais

The last article described the ongoing problems in the Languedoc with mildew spoiling vines and grapes. Last Saturday Jeff  invited me over to try and beat the blues a little. Steve from Besançon was staying with Jeff for a week to learn a bit more about being a vigneron. They had opened a bottle of La Vigne Haute 2013 on the previous evening and Jeff invited me over to try the last glass from the bottle.

When I arrived on the Saturday morning Jeff was spraying the Flower Power vineyard, Font D’Oulette. When he had finished we returned to his house and I had the remaining 2013, delicious it was too, still youthful but starting to add tertiary notes to the fruit. Jeff decided to open the 2010 to show how age helps La Vigne Haute to reveal its quality and depth; fruit, spice and leathery complexity. A bottle demonstrating perfectly why La Vigne Haute is my favourite wine of all. However, that was not the end. From his personal cellar emerged a 2001 LVH with no label. Still vibrant with fruit singing and yet more complexity of spice, classic black pepper notes. Simply excellent.

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So, was that the end? Not at all.  More Syrah from older vintages, 1998, 1997 and 1993. Each was still alive with black fruit and those spicy notes. The 91 was Jeff’s first solo bottling, a real privilege to taste it. He had added, all those years ago, a total of 5mg of SO2, pretty much absorbed now, and would certainly qualify as natural wine from a time when it was virtually unknown. A treasure trove of history as well as further proof of how well these wines do mature, there were no off notes at all.  Indeed, they were delicious.

A 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon showed the quality of that grape from the region and how well it aged. There were still currant flavours, violets and more spice. A fresh acidity cleansed the palate. I hadn’t known what to expect, I was bowled over.

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Legendary Roberta

And to finish the 5 hour lunch a bottle of Roberta, the 2003 white wine made from all three Grenache grapes, one of Jeff’s first no added sulphite wines, aged in a special barrel which gives the wine its name. It is a treat I have tasted on a handful of special occasions, its nutty, round fruit was a perfect ending to a special day. Whatever 2018 brings this was a reminder of the special Coutelou wines.

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Coutelou, news on 2016, 2017 and 2018

En francais

Cartes des voeux 2015 and 2016

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Carte des Voeux 2017, election year

Every January Jeff Coutelou sends out to customers a Carte Des Voeux, a New Year’s card, in which he sends out information about the previous year’s events in Puimisson, thoughts about the vintage and general news. The card is always fronted by a striking, witty image and this year’s was no exception.

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2018

 

The main headlines from this year’s card concerning the wines were:

  • The difficulties of the 2017 vintage, the extremely hot weather and drought and how only a timely wind from the sea (brise marine) saved the harvest
  • The small harvest, though one of very good quality
  • Details of the likely cuvées which Jeff blended in November, these include regulars such as 7, Rue De La Pompe, Vin Des Amis, PM Rosé, Classe, Flambadou, Flower Power and the Blanc but also the Amphora wine from 2016 and …… La Vigne Haute! (Happy writer here)
  • New products, spirits and ‘tonics’. Gin, Fine and Grappa together with a Kina (a wine flavoured with plants) which is delicious.

Other news headlines:

  • The 2016 vintage as proof of how nature decides. The wines were slow to develop and, so, Jeff decided to sit on up to 75% of them rather than commercialise unready wines. (That said, the 2016 bottles which I have opened recently have been very good indeed, well worth waiting for. Good news for the customer with patience, less so for Jeff’s turnover).
  • Problems in the vineyards due to heavy rain in late 2016 meant that new plantings had to be postponed.The problems caused by vandalism in autumn 2017 have damaged the work and progress of biodiversity in the vineyards, eg hedges and trees burned.

Perhaps most startling of all the Domaine will, in future, no longer be named Mas Coutelou. The authorities informed Jeff that a domaine releasing wines as Vin De France rather than AOC or IGP is not permitted to use the term Mas. In Jeff’s case this seems daft as that is the family name of his mother and founders of the Domaine. No matter the logic and common sense, the wines will now simply be called Coutelou.

As for 2018.

The plantations foreseen for 2017 will, hopefully, take place this Spring, eg next to Ste Suzanne where traditional and older grape varieties will take their place amongst the dozens already planted across the domaine.

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The sodden vineyard which could not be planted in 2017

Jeff intends to bring back to life the parcels in the Saint Chinian area which belonged to his father. They will be tidied, replanted as necessary and improved with biodiversity as a core principle. In ten years we can look forward to a whole new range of Coutelou wines from this renowned region.