amarchinthevines

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


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Vendanges Diaries #5 (September 9 – 13)

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Version française

Wednesday September 9th saw further full on action. The early morning saw the only machine harvesting of Mas Coutelou grapes. This took place in La Colombié the parcel of Merlot vines. These are grapes that don’t especially interest Jeff in terms of making a domaine bottled cuvée but the quality of the fruit is good and they are used to make restaurant house wines and bag in box wines.

Merlot after picking

                        The Merlot vines after picking

After that attention turned to La Garrigue, the conical landscaped vineyard to the south of Puimisson. Much of the Syrah had already been picked the previous day and the remaining bunches were harvested. These were to be used for carbonic maceration again and so it was back to the top of the main cement tanks to work, not the easiest place.

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Thomas working with Cameron sorting Syrah

Tuesday had seen the arrival of two new faces to support the team as I described in Vendanges Diaries 4. Thomas was working with Cameron in sorting the Syrah whilst Karim assisted Michel in ferrying the cagettes to and fro. The team usually rotates these jobs so that people get the opportunity to try all aspects of vendanges as well as the chance to stretch your back and legs!

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        Karim and Michel seem happy

Then it was time to bring in the Grenache of La Garrigue. Grenache is a cépage of Spanish origins and loves the heat so it is planted on this parcel on a slope to the south to maximise the sunshine exposure. The result here was some beautiful bunches of very healthy fruit, easy to sort and giving aromas of spice and dark fruits even before it turns into wine.

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       Gorgeous Grenache in La Garrigue

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          Grenache grapes in the sunshine

Cellar work continued with Cameron carrying out analyses of the fermenting wines. It is worth noting that the natural yeasts of the grapes have been very quick to start fermentation in tank. After a couple of hours of crouching over the tanks in the morning I was happy to be stood at the égrappoir and then to help Cameron with remontages.

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         Cameron tying himself in knots

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  Me doing a remontage of Flower Power

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Cameron and I doing a manual pigeage of the macerating white cuvée

And of course….

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Thursday 11th September continued the harvesting of the Garrigue Grenache and then Cinsault from the opposite end of the village, to the north. More good quality fruit and more hard work from the whole team.

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       More gorgeous Grenache

The pressure was on however, the weather forecast was unkind with the promise of storms possibly on Friday, definitely by Saturday. Therefore the more grapes that could be harvested before the rain the better. It was full speed ahead though no let up in terms of sorting the grapes and ensuring the quality of the future wines. We were assisted by the arrival of Céline and Delphine the nurses from Bordeaux who I mentioned in ‘Centiment de Grenaches’.

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                        Cinsault being pressed

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           Must after pressing

There was a famous advert in the UK for tinned fish by a company called John West which said, “It’s the fish John West reject that makes John West the best”. Well that works for Mas Coutelou too. The Moroccan pickers by now were much more attuned to the strict quality demands of Jeff and were sorting the fruit, leaving any substandard grapes on the ground. Then the sorting in the cellar to check anything which did manage to get through that first tri. It’s the grapes Jeff Coutelou rejects that make Mas Coutelou the best.

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                            Rejected Grenache

Friday September 11th was the day of Centiment de Grenaches, the special cuvée Jeff suggested I make to celebrate the 100th blog post. Meanwhile more Grenache was being brought in for the regular cuvées, work continued apace as the clouds started to gather as predicted.

The night of Friday into Saturday brought 45mm of rain (almost 2 inches) as storms rumbled around the Languedoc. Amazingly some areas had next to nothing, Cabrières for example, whilst rain caused floods and the subsidence of the motorway a few kilometres away near Lodève. The 45mm at Puimisson meant 93mm in total since the start of the vendanges. That makes things more difficult of course as water covered grapes can’t be harvested for quality wines (though I noticed some harvesting in some other vineyards!). The ground is also muddy so picking becomes difficult and the biggest issue is the risk of disease and rot.

Work was therefore centred in the cellar with more remontages and analysis. The wines are now settling and need to be moved to take the juice off the skins and pips, to be pressed if made by carbonic maceration, to let them settle. Therefore the 12th and 13th were hard work as usual for Jeff, Cameron and Michel. Though you will see that it is Icare who is driving the team onwards.

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Mas Coutelou – vineyard portrait

Version francaise

The traditional image of a vineyard is that of one big parcel of vines surrounding a chateau as in Bordeaux, with its smart house and cellar buildings for making and storing wine. However, that is not the reality for most vineyard owners. Jeff Coutelou has his home and his cellars in the centre of Puimisson in the Hérault, surrounded by a childrens’ nursery, houses and work buildings. The vineyard itself surrounds the village but comes in a number of small parcels rather than one big vineyard. Each brings its own characteristics in terms of soil, surroundings and exposure to the elements, ie its own terroir. The parcels have been accumulated over the years by Jeff’s grandfather, father and himself. In the satellite photograph below you will see the parcels and how they relate to the village. Vineyards are shown in green, olive groves in red.

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(Photo taken from Rapport Biodiversité d’Exploitation Mas Coutelou produced by Agrifaune)

There are about 17.5 hectares (43 acres) of land though olive trees occupy about 2.5ha (6.7 acres) and well over 1 ha (3 acres) is fallow land or has other trees, hedges and plants. The soil is virtually all clay and limestone. As you may be able to see in the satellite photograph much of the land to the south of Puimisson is vineyard, to the point of monoculture. Jeff wants to use his land to produce biodiversity so olives, figs, roses and hedges help to create little oases of wildlife. More details are outlined at the end of this post.

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Segrairals and Caraillet (6.8ha, 5.7 under vines)

This is the biggest of the parcels and the only one situated to the north of the village and closest to it. Surrounded by the village and a couple of roads it is well protected by trees and hedges, including figs and olives. A variety of grapes are planted with the oldest being some Syrah planted in 1993, Cabernet Sauvignon planted 1998 and younger plantings of Mourvedre, Syrah and especially Cinsault. The Syrah goes into bottles such as Classe and 7, Rue De La Pompe. Mourvedre goes into Sauvé De La Citerne and the Cinsault into 5SO. The Cabernet grapes will be used for blending in various cuvées or sold to the UK to make the new London Cru Cabernet Sauvignon, a project run by Roberson in London.

Main body of Syrah and Cabernet grapes

Main body of Syrah and Cabernet grapes

Planted olive trees in the foreground with some younger Cinsault and Syrah vines in the background

Planted olive trees in the foreground with some younger Cinsault and Syrah vines in the background

        

La Prairie (0.5ha)

To the west of Puimisson La Prairie is an olive grove in a very pleasant area with an official ecology walk going past it. No vineyard planted.

Mountains seen from La Prairie

Mountains seen from La Prairie

Prairie olive plantation

Prairie olive plantation

Le Colombié (0.6ha)

Just at the southern tip of the village Le Colombié is planted entirely with Merlot vines. These will produce grapes used to blend for cuvées prepared for restaurants, bag in box etc. Merlot is not a typical Languedoc variety, these were planted in 1999.

Colombié - Merlot vines

Le Colombié – Merlot vines

Rome (0.7ha)

Possibly my personal favourite vineyard of them all. It is quite isolated even though there are other vineyards around. Isolated, because there is a wood which shelters it. The gobelet Cinsault vines date back to 1966 and 1975 and go into the Copains or,in some years, Vin Des Amis or Classe. These old vines are also surrounded with young olive trees and the parcel is an attractive and quiet haven. There is also a planting of some 20 different varieties of grapes including various types of Muscat which are used in a solera system. This was started many years ago by Jeff’s grandfather and ever since wines have been used to top up the old barrels to make Vieux Grenache and Vieux Muscat. Sensational wines. The added benefit is that because there are so many different types of vine they cross pollinate and this adds an extra layer of complexity to the Cinsault in the Rome vineyard.

All vines lead to Rome

All vines lead to Rome

 

Gobelet Cinsault vines, olive trees and the surrounding woods

Gobelet Cinsault vines, olive trees and the surrounding woods

Metaierie (2.3ha)

The parcel which was the basis of my post One Day Like This when we harvested the last grapes of 2014, some Grenache. There are a few older Merlot vines (to be replaced in 2015) but the parcel is mainly the home of Grenache and Syrah grapes which are used to make the ever popular Vin Des Amis.

Smaller Metaierie parcel

Smaller Metaierie parcel

Main Metaierie vineyard, home of Vin Des Amis

Main Metaierie vineyard, home of Vin Des Amis

La Garrigue (1.8ha)

Described in some detail in the post Working In The Vineyards (January). Made up of three sections: some younger Syrah facing north for freshness, a section of Grenache facing south, as it likes the heat and some 20 year old Sauvignon Blanc vines too. The Sauvignon is used to make the white blend PM or other white cuvées, the Syrah goes into my favourite La Vigne Haute and the Grenache is used to make Classe along with the Syrah from Segrairals.

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Grenache

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Sauvignon Blanc

 

La Grangette (0.5ha)

A parcel of half a hectare (just over an acre) surrounded by vines, Jeff decided that it is compromised in terms of quality grapes so he planted 112 olive trees in 2011 to provide contrast to the fairly barren land and vines surrounding Grangette.

Rec D’Oulette (1ha plus a smaller, separate parcel of 0.3ha)

Actually made up of two parcels of land. This has seen a lot of work in recent years as Jeff has tried to diversify it. The central block is half a hectare of 30 year old Carignan, used in making Flambadou, a wine which is really improving and was one of the stars of 2013. Surrounding these vines Jeff has planted half a hectare of olive trees to keep them away from the chemicals of neighbouring vineyards. The second part of Rec resembles Grangette as an isolated small parcel and again Jeff has planted olive trees to diversify as it is too small and isolated in its organic nature for grapes.

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Carignan vines for Flambadou

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Font D’Oulette (0.65ha)

A parcel where Jeff has worked hard in recent years. More olive trees planted in 2011 as were those in the small section of Rec. In addition he has grafted an older variety Aramon into the vineyard covering over half a hectare. These grapes will be used to create new cuvées and the first blend of grapes produced in 2014 is highly promising tasted from tank.

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Olive trees to protect the new Aramon vines

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Aramon vines

Les Roques (1ha, not on satellite photo)

One hectare of land to the south east of the village heading into Lieuran-les-Béziers, this was the vineyard I showed after the storms of November 28th 2014 when it was flooded. In fact the vines have been grubbed up and there is a programme in place to plant trees and to provide a barrier to the Libron river in case it should flood gain.

Les Roques shortly after the November storms

Les Roques shortly after the November storms

Peilhan (2.2ha)

An attractive vineyard nicely protected. About a hectare is planted with white grape varieties, including a section of Carignan Blanc which has been used to make a cuvée all on its own. Maccabeu, Grenache Gris and different types of Muscat make up the other white varieties and these are usually picked, assembled and vinified together as part of the PM white blend. This also the home of the Castets vines I have written about a lot, one of only two Castets vineyards in France. More Carignan vines are joined by another interesting grape variety, Clairette Musquée which was blended with the Aramon from Font D’Oulette last year. This is the vineyard where a recent plantation took place to bring back older varieties to the area. Terret Blanc, Riveyrenc Gris and Piquepoul Gris were planted along with Terret Noir, Morastel and Riveyrenc Noir. picked, assembled and vinified together as part of the PM white blend. This also the home of the Castets vines I have written about a lot, one of only two Castets vineyards in France. More Carignan vines are joined by another interesting grape variety, Clairette Musquée which was blended with the Aramon from Font D’Oulette last year. This is the vineyard where a recent plantation took place to bring back older varieties to the area. Terret Blanc, Riveyrenc Gris and Piquepoul Gris were planted along with Terret Noir, Morastel and Riveyrenc Noir.

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Main parcel with white vines, Castets, Carignan and Clairette Musquée

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Planting the new parcel of Peilhan

The domaine

Overall Syrah is the predominant grape variety making up around one third of production, although 2014 saw a big reduction in the harvest due to the dry spring and early summer. Red grapes dominate with well over 90% of production.

Jeff et ses Castets

Jeff and his Castets

(g-d) Vin Des Amis, & Rue De La Pompe, Paf

(L-R) Vin Des Amis, 7 Rue De La Pompe, Paf

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Organic since 1987, no synthetic chemical products have been used on the soils for over 25 years now. No artificial yeasts are added in the winemaking process, the grapes produce healthy yeasts themselves to stimulate fermentation. Grapes also naturally produce tiny quantities of sulphites but Jeff has been experimenting with using no added sulphur since 2003 and has successfully completed the last three harvests without adding any sulphur to the wines. This dedication to producing wines which are as natural as possible, made with as little intervention as possible means that Jeff is restless in seeking to improve the quality of his soils and in protecting them from the non-organic practices of neighbouring vineyards. He has also brought in Agrifaune to put together a project to plant over I kilometre of hedges. These will help to prevent soil erosion, protect Coutelou vines from surrounding vineyards and also provide shelter to wildlife which in turn will help to protect the vines, for example by eating damaging insects. Trees such as oak, laurel and elder are being planted along with plants such as agrypis and wild rose. Around the vineyards wider borders of grasses and wild plants are being allowed to grow even if that means that vines have to be scrubbed up. Similarly ditches and fallow land will be used to encourage biodiversity. So in an area of monoculture these oases of biodiversity and wildlife will help to enrich nature, the vineyards and, ultimately, the wines.

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