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

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Looking to the future

Many winemakers state that they are custodians of their land rather than owners. The emphasis is on the land rather the winemaker. The land has been there, often as a vineyard before the winemaker and will be there for a long time after the winemaker has departed. Therefore, the human interaction with that land is one of care and nourishment rather than exploitation. Whilst many say that, not all of them fulfil that important statement. It is a fact that as winemakers age the future of their vineyards becomes an issue, what will happen to them, who will take over?

Jeff Coutelou is aware that as he gets older there is a question mark over the future. He has no children and his nephew and niece are not interested in becoming winemakers. Jeff is the 4th generation of Coutelous and has built upon the work of his family to create a domaine renowned around the world. After 20 years of making the wine himself he is also looking to the future. I will explore some of the new vineyards he has purchased in the last year or two but in this post I want to describe how work has begun for his own personal future.

The Coutelou family have their origins in St. Chinian and Jeff himself attended school there. The family home is still there with its small vineyard but there is also a vineyard just outside of the village itself. When he retires Jeff would like to have that vineyard so that he can look after himself without the need to employ others and the associated bureaucracy and social charges of the current large domaine. The vineyard is in a quiet valley, on a slope looking over towards St Chinian and the dividing line in the appellation, there is schist soil to the right in the photo below and limestone to the left. At a couple of hectares it would keep him busy but not overwhelmed.

Back in 2019 the vineyard was cleared and planted with some classic Languedoc grapes. However, due to the pandemic the vineyard has not had the attention Jeff would have liked until we went there on September 23rd. A bright, sunny day started off chilly but by mid afternoon we were working at almost 30c temperatures and were in the direct sun. It was hard work. The vineyard had overgrown with weeds, brush. Quite a few of the young vines planted in 2019 had died, as is the norm, and needed to be replaced. A full day’s hot and sweaty work lay ahead.

Manu, had rejoined us towards the end of the vendanges and he spent a lot of the morning with Gilles strimming away large clumps of weeds and brush and using a pick and pioche to dig some out. Matteo was hard at work on the drill which was a heavy machine, vibrating heavily as it scooped out the hole which would be used to plant the replacement vines. Steeve, Joffroi and myself busied ourselves mainly with the planting.

As ever these days Jeff wanted to create a complantation on the site. Mixed in with the traditional varieties planted in 2019 would be some Grenache, Macabeu and Muscat d’Alexandrie, one of Jeff’s favourite grapes, but also Fer Servadou and Mauzac. Fer Servadou (often just called Fer) is relatively unknown, mostly found in Marcillac and Gaillac between Languedoc and Bordeaux. I like it as a grape as I am fond of wines from both areas and it gives a distinct spicy, peppery flavour to wines and, maybe its name is suggestive, but a sense of iron filings. Mauzac is widely planted in the Limoux area as well as Gaillac again. A white grape, usually made into sparkling wine, it adds weight to blends with its white fruit flavours.

We were under strict instructions from Jeff to spread the new plantings around the vineyard and avoid clumps of the same variety, forming a true field blend but also hopefully reducing the risk of disease spreading from one variety to another as some are more resistant to mildew than others. Into the hole went the young vine, organic fertiliser and the hole was refilled. New plants need watering, especially on a hot day like that so Jeff was to and fro with containers. Matteo and Steeve have returned regularly to the vineyard to ensure these tender plants have been watered and are healthy.

By 4pm we were tiring and the machine must have been to, a part sheered off and we had to abandon the work with just a few rows to finish. They were completed the following day with a repaired machine.

The broken drill with harvesting going on next door

It was hard work but rewarding for many reasons. It is good to see a vineyard developing with its promise for the future, especially this one as it will mean a lot to my dear friend in years to come. The views over the St Chinian hills were a treat and the camaraderie was, as ever, fulfilling – sharing lunch and wine whilst looking out over our work and the scenery with great people. Living in the moment but also looking to the future.

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Vendanges Coutelou 21, the Plot Thickens

En francais

Jeff with a big bunch of Aramon Gris

Vendanges continued for the next couple of days, September 7th and 8th, but there was a literal dark cloud on the horizon in the form of a stormy forecast on the 9th. The predicted rainfall would do even more damage to this benighted vintage. Two varieties are especially vulnerable to rain, Aramon Noir and Cinsault. These varieties have big juicy berries and thin skins so with rain they swell and become dilute and prone to disease. Therefore, the team picked it by that evening.

The new plantation of Sainte Suzanne was revisited too, some of the bunches having been used for the PetNat a few days earlier. Clairette and Macabeu grapes were finished off, as the vines are young we left one bunch on each vine to help the vines mature.

Some lovely Grenache followed those white grapes to the cellar tanks, just next door in Sainte Suzanne itself. There is one more big parcel of Grenache to come from La Garrigue, it looks the best parcel of the year to my eyes. Then came the move to Segrairals to collect the Cinsault and Aramon. In recent years that vineyard has been transformed. Out went the Cabernet Sauvignon to be replaced by a myriad of varieties including the Aramon. Amongst the Noir was also Aramon Gris and some Aramon Rose, just to provide a little diversity and interest.


I have mentioned new plantations in Ste. Suzanne and Segrairals, there are others which will come on stream soon too. The Coutelou vineyards are being transformed year on year. This reflects Jeff’s philosophy and his passion for nature, different grapes and moving towards an era where varieties will have to respond to climate change which some of the imported grapes like Cabernet and Merlot might not do so well in the Languedoc. Aramon, of course, was widely planted in the region at the start of the 20thC, it was used to provide the light wine given to soldiers in World War 1. The Aramon picked here weighed in at a light 10% alcohol, the large berries providing much needed juice.

Another of the grapes from Segrairals was Mauzac, known more around Limoux and Gaillac, bright green in colour and very healthy. It looks an interesting addition to the Coutelou collection along with Grand Noir De La Calmette with its intense red juice from quite small berries. These small quantities will be blended together, Jeff will have a bigger colour palette with which to create his art. Blending is a skill, there have never been many single variety wines but it looks like there will be even fewer.

The forecast storm and rainfall proved to be lighter than expected though there was enough water to delay picking for a day. Cellar work is pressing ahead with the team carrying out the remontages etc. Fermentations have kicked off well, the small slates on each tank revealing the lowering of density in the juice as it turns to alcohol.

More bad weather is unfortunately predicted for next week, yet another problem to add to this year of non-stop problems. The pressure is on to use the next few days to harvest provided the grapes are right. The plot thickens.


Jour De Fête Pour Vin Des Amis

En français


I am a very lucky man. If in doubt, read on.


Yesterday (February 23rd) was the first big bottling day of Mas Coutelou 2015 wines. First in line was Vin Des Amis and 11,400 bottles were prepared. As Jeff put it, “Le vrai jour pour la belle cuvée”. (The bringing into the world of the beautiful wine). It proved to be the most aptly named of wines as Jeff welcomed friends from far and wide.


Vincent, a friend of many years who has featured before, was here from Paris. Another Paris based teacher, Sébastien, is spending a week in Puimisson in order to learn about being a vigneron (see his report on the domaine here). The most important visitor yesterday was Céline who was celebrating her birthday.


Birthday girl

Bordeaux based Céline has been a regular visitor to Puimisson for many years and helped me with picking grapes for my 100th blog wine last September. Her husband, restaurateur Brice, and friends Thibaut and Anne from Monein in the Béarn, were here to help her to celebrate and threw themselves into the bottling work with gusto. Michel, Julien and I were present too.

The bottling line was in operation from 7.30am to around 5.30pm. Cuve 7, which contains up to 100hl, was emptied and the bottles taken to be stored for a few months until they are ready to label and to market in springtime. With 10 of us available we were able to share the load and take the occasional break as Jeff provided food and wine to ease us through the day. The Vin Des Amis was opened of course and it is already a bright, clear, delicious vintage of this popular cuvée, fresh red fruits with a lingering spiciness. Another sign of how good the 2015 will be. Jeff also opened a 1997 Mas Coutelou, a wine from his first solo vintage which had a lovely earthy perfume combined with red fruits which carried into the taste. The age was showing, the flavours cut short a little but still very drinkable. We also tasted some of the white wines from tank, they are developing beautifully, an amazing Maccabeu in particular. Could this be the year white wines steal the show at Mas Coutelou?


I thought I was the star!

The theme of friendship continued as Pat and I were invited along to dinner at Jeff’s to celebrate Céline’s birthday. Brice prepared some delicious fish dishes; marinated mackerel, squid in garlic and parsley, fresh cockles in a seafood broth, monkfish with garlicky potato purée and delicious sauce. He is clearly a very talented chef as well as restaurateur, ably assisted by Thibaut who made some very tasty flour-free crêpes.


And then there were the wines. A veritable who’s who of natural wine’s top producers. Plageoles’ sparkling Mauzac was a good start with which to toast Céline. Her phone rang throughout the day, she clearly personifies vin des amis.

A delicious rosé from Clos Des Grillons in the Gard followed, full flavoured, very appetising. Much more fruity than many rosés, this originates in Tavel.

Perhaps my favourite wine was the Pinot Blanc 2010 of Gérard Schueller, very full, a honey edge but dry – not sure that I have ever tasted a Pinot Blanc of such quality. I must track down some other wines from the domaine.


Céline had brought along a 2012 Leon Barral Blanc, Terret Blanc and Gris with some Viognier and Roussanne. Textured, a golden colour but very fresh and a good match with the fish.

La Bégou 14 made by Maxime Magnon in the Corbières was lovely, fresh white peach flavoured and very round, Grenaches Gris and Blanc. I liked this wine a lot, more evidence of how good Grenache Gris can be.

JF Ganévat’s J’en veux encore is a light red wine from an amazing blend of umpteen local Jura grapes by a producer who makes up to 40 cuvées (he must have amazing powers of memory to keep on top of so many wines). I tasted some of the range earlier this year and must admit to preferring the white wines but this was nice, very drinkable red fruits and a good match with the monkfish in its seafood sauce.

Back to Barral for Jadis 2001. Shy at first but this opened up in carafe through the night. Plummy, spicy, very long and terrific Faugères, the Carignan shone through with roundness from the Grenache. I have not always ‘got’ Barral’s wines but this showed me that they need time and patience. Very good.

Sébastien brought along a biodynamic Sauternes from Rousset-Peyraguey, a 2000 yet youthful with lovely sweetness but also freshness.


And then, just when you think you have got to grips with Jeff’s wines, there appeared two remarkable bottles. The first was Robert A, despite the label. This was Grenache Gris and Blanc from 2003, his first year of going sulphur free in the cellar. It passed through some interesting stages in its development and early bottles spat out their cork so it was put into sparkling wine bottles. It was amazing. Unbelievably fresh for a 12-13 year old white wine, white fruits with a tight edginess but clean and bright. It continued to develop in glass and in bottle through the evening, wine of the night.


R for Robert

Then came another new cuvée to me BL002, also from 2003. A Sauvignon Blanc but I’d never have identified it as such, with a sweetness (from the Muscat in the blend) and delicious freshness. Many around the table chose this as their preferred wine and it was another amazing wine. How does he do it? Vincent chose this because it reminded him of those early days of Jeff’s winemaking adventures and of their long friendship, a perfect fit for the theme of the day.


A birthday. A long day. A rewarding day. A memorable day. A day for friends, for vin des amis.



Version française 


These plastic boxes haven’t appeared for a while, but they are a sure sign of what is soon to come. They are, of course, the cagettes vendanges, into which the grapes are placed when they are harvested. Today (August 19th) and the last few days have seen hard work in cleaning and preparing. I wrote earlier this month about the work which has been carried out to repair and update the cellar and work brings dust and debris which have had to be cleared up. Then everything has to be pristine ready for the start of picking. All vignerons will be doing this but when you make wines without the safety net of sulphur cleanliness is even more important.

And in case you think that I simply turn up to take photos and drink the wines:

                    IMG_2138               IMG_2137

Well it is one way of staying cool on a hot day. However, job accomplished.


Inside the cellar the new cuves have to be prepared too with new equipment, Michel and Julien were busy with that.


Jeff was busy too, moving some of the fibre glass and stainless steel cuves into position so that when harvest begins the grapes can be moved as quickly as possible into tank for fermentation.


Indeed everyone was busy except for one member of the team who decided that this was all beneath him, besides that water is not something which appeals!


The harvest itself is likely to begin next week, Monday or Tuesday. Recent weather has been cooler at night and this will help keep the grapes in good condition but they are not quite ripe just yet. Having tasted a few in recent days the juice is getting sweeter and but the pips are still green and hard. They are healthy though and some, like the Syrah, look tremendous.


Evening sky over Puimisson

As the hard work will begin shortly it was a timely occasion to celebrate last week. Jeff’s father and niece celebrated birthdays and a very enjoyable party was held on Sunday at Rue De La Pompe. Some bottles included a 100% Mauzac from Plageoles, a Gaillac wine which confirmed for me that Mauzac is the best of white wine grapes in that region. (See here). And two lovely champagnes from Drappier with no dosage of sugar added and in one case no sulfites. Natural wines are beginning to influence all regions and some big names.


Naturally the stars were closer to home however. Lots of great wines including Coutelou classics such as Classe, La Vigne Haute, Vin Des Amis but also some new ones for me. Grenache Mise De Printemps was lovely velvety and fruity, a great rejoinder to those who say Grenache can’t make good wine without blending.  And it had the most lovely aromas. ‘Snowball’ is a white wine of real texture and depth, very long.


The celebrations went on long into the night and things got a little hazy including my camera so this photograph is not one of my best. This was Jeff’s first sparkling wine made in 2007 and in fantastic condition, fresh, clean and very full. So much for natural wines being only for the short term.


Now the countdown is really ticking so that this year’s grapes can produce wines of such quality all over again. Or indeed, even better.



Gaillac – wines of character

The annual Fête Des Vins de Gaillac was held this weekend and as it was almost 20 years since I last attended and now live just 100 miles away it was a welcome opportunity to return. This photo taken at the time shows that the event then was a simpler affair but I always remember it fondly.


No less so this year though my damp shoes and muddy trousers may take some sorting out. It poured down. Most of Saturday afternoon and a little more on Sunday morning for good measure. The vines needed it but it was less than ideal for an outdoor wine tasting.


Wooden lodges replace the tents.


Anyway the weather failed to spoil the event which was well organised with plenty of food tents, handy cycle powered rickshaws to carry wine back to your car, (fortunately powered by someone else!) and wooden lodges for each producer with handy panels to provide a roof which was, mainly, waterproof. Certainly a step on from the tents 20 years ago. Plus free delivery within France if you bought 24 bottles, a very helpful gesture.


Straw to dry up the muddy walkway which made Saturday afternoon resemble the Glastonbury Festival

I enjoyed the Fête, I enjoyed some of the wines and bought two cases of various bottles. I could have bought more, so though I do have some negative comments please bear in mind that I am a fan of Gaillac and its wines. Tough love.

So, to the wines. One reason I remember Gaillac so fondly is that it was the first time I had come across white grapes such as Loin D’Oeil (sometimes written as Len De L’El), Mauzac and Ondenc and red grapes such as Duras, Braucol and Prunelart. These provided a welcome change to the Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines which dominated in the 80s and 90s. In fact local winemakers had started to take out some of these local varieties and plant the more common grapes along with Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Commercially this made sense at the time but it has left the region with a bit of an identity crisis which this weekend highlighted for me. The local varieties still dominate but winemakers differ as to the use of the new varietieses, do they use them to blend or to dominate their wines. It was noticeable that many wines are moving back to the traditional varieties, suggesting the incomers are being taken back out? Lots of different routes being taken but choice is good, there are some wines you might not like but others which you certainly will. Just a little confusing in places. More can be read about these grape varieties on this excellent site from the Gaillac wine organisation.

Some have also gone down the route of monocépage, single varietal, wines which did not show that well to my taste at least. Blends worked best and often the ones using local grapes only. Or is that my prejudice at work in that I prefer the idea of using vieux cépages?


A third issue was the use of oak. It is very common in Gaillac to age wine in wood, usually oak though some acacia barrels too. I found some good examples of well judged use of wood to enhance flavours and add complexity but there were quite a lot of wines which were dominated by the wood which had only served to dry out the wines and make them feel a little tired. There were some good, fresh wines but it seems to be a badge of honour to have used oak, you’re not a serious winemaker unless you have. Again for my personal taste I disagree.

The sheer range of wine types also offers some sense that this is a region trying to do all things. I tasted the range of wines from around 20 vignerons, around 130 wines in total. Yet I didn’t taste the sparkling wines and only a few sweet wines. There are so many different white, red, rosé, sparkling and sweet wines that I was a little lost, and that despite being based in the Languedoc with its great variety.


To add to the difficulties facing Gaillac winemakers they have suffered two fairly poor years weather wise. 2013 was bad, very wet and many reds didn’t ripen sufficiently, one owner I spoke to said she had written off all reds that year, others have reduced their production to preserve quality. 2014 was better but not much. So, the wines on show tended to be 2012 or older, interesting for the taster to drink more mature wines though, in fact, many would have offered 2012 wines in any case due to the amount of barrel ageing that takes place. I wish them well as the damage inflicted by the weather will be a big financial blow in the next few years.

The white wines were, sadly, mostly disappointing. The weather should have made less difference to these in 2013 and 2014, the vintages which were usually being shared here. Loin D’Oeil and Sauvignon Blanc blends dominated but somehow lacked a fresh edge. This was true even in the perlé wines, the local speciality where fermentation is stopped to leave some sugars to ferment a little in bottle and produce a spritz or pearl of bubbles, And then there were the oaked whites, often dominated by the wood. Nevertheless, there were some very nice white wines. Mauzac was often behind some of my preferred wines, a grape I normally associate with Limoux sparkling wines. That was a concern to me as I am not a fan of Limoux sparkling wines but Mauzac proved to be a grape which really attracted me.

Best white wines for me:

Labastide de Levis, the cooperative, – Homage A La Truffe Blanche 2014, Loin d’Oeil, Mauzac and Sauvignon Blanc with 4 months in wood. Very zesty, very fresh with a big grapefruit aroma, well made and very good. 11,50€


At the stand of Labastide De Levis

Clos Rocailleux, only 4 years old but producing some of the best wines on offer at the Fête. Their Reserve Blanc 2012 is 100% Mauzac from old vines and was a wine I bought. White fruits, round with a clean, direct finish. Lovely. 10€

L’Enclos Des Roses, Blanc Sec 1er Cotes, once again 100% Mauzac. The vintage was 2009 as the producer stocks her wines until she feels they are ready, a brave and no doubt expensive decision but it certainly paid off here. This was round, appley and fresh but long with almost creamy and toasty notes developing from some oak age. 13,80€


Castel de Brames, Len De Lel 2013, fresh, white stone fruits, almost liquoricey finish. 6€

Domaine Rotier, Renaissance 2012, Loin D’Oeil with 30% Sauvignon Blanc, white fruits, peachy and a clean, direct and fresh finish.  11,40€


Domaine De Lamothe, Blanc Sec 2014, Sauvignon Blanc and Mauzac, nice dry, clean and zesty. I liked their Perlé 2014 too, it was much drier than others at the Fête with a real spritz. Fresh. clean and quite long. Both of these wines were just 3,80€, real bargains.

Domaine De Brin, Pierres Blanches 2014, Mauzac and Len De L’El. Very round and full, long flavours of white fruits and a dry, clean finish. Natural wine, tiny amount of SO2 added at bottling, but would please non natural fans. 12€

Rosés were possibly the unexpected star of the show for me. I like dry, citrussy rosés which really do refresh, preferably with a little texture and body from contact with the red grapes. And that’s what I found in many cases. Perhaps the red grapes which suffered in 13 and 14 had been used to make the rosé quality higher but they were, more commonly, of a good standard. Highlights included:

Clos Rocailleux, Rosé Braucol 2013 and Rosé Duras 2014. The Braucol was  textured, fresh yet full, good rosé at 6€. I actually preferred the Duras with a little more zesty character and plenty of red fruit flavours. 8, 50€ and well worth it, indeed I bought some.

Domaine D’Escausses, Sous La Tonnelle 2014, fruity, round with strawberry notes but a clean finish, 5,10€

L’Enclos Des Roses, Rosé Des Roses 2014, Duras and Braucol with a very dry, zesty character, almost citrussy. 6,50€

Domaine De Brin, La Vie En Rosé 2014, Gamay with full flavours of ripe, red fruit, lovely dry finish with a long lasting strawberry note. Good, I bought some. 6,50€

Red wines provided the very best single wines however, though not always consistently. It was interesting to hear Duras described by different producers as either rustic and big or light and elegant, another example of the differences between the wines of Gaillac. Braucol was the other main grape used, this is often known as Fer Servadou in other areas of South West France. At their best the wines offered complexity, good red fruits, soft tannins and long flavours often with spicy, interesting aromas. My favourites were:

Clos Rocailleux, the Classique 2012 was good with a real balance between fruit, freshness and depth of flavour. Nice, long, very well made red wine with interesting flavours from Syrah and Braucol, good at 7€. Even better was the Réserve 2012 with Braucol added to the Syrah and Duras and 9 months barrel ageing. Here the wood added to the roundness and flavour, it was a nuance not a dominant flavour, chapeau to Jack and Margeret for learning to use the barrels so well so quickly.

Domaine Ramaye / Michel Issaly, is a natural wine producer whose wines I had tasted before. Vrille 2013, Braucol, Prunelart and Duras produce a raspberry, fruity and very long flavour which was fresh with complexity. 14€. La Combe d’Avès 2009, Braucol and Duras was also fresh and round wearing the years very well and the 24 months of barrel ageing were discreet, 16€. Le Grand Tertre 2012 is 85% Prunelart with some Duras. Aromatic, almost perfumed with deep rich fruits, very good though 25€. Top of the range is Le Sang 2012 85% Braucol and the rest Prunelart, raised ina variety of new and older barrels. Very deep, complex and long, 45€. Fair to say I really enjoyed all of these and they showed off the local varieties very well. A perfect riposte to those who say that natural wines mask the true varietal flavours.


l-r Le Sang, Grand Tertre, Combe d’Aves, Vrille, Pech De La Tillette

Domaine Rotier are organic producers who now make a nice natural red, Esquisse 2014, classic fresh notes and raspberry fruits, not obviously natural this would appeal to those wanting to try a natural wine, 8,60€. The Renaissance 2012 is raised in oak from Duras, Syrah and Braucol. Round, full red fruits, eg strawberry, fresh and very good, 12,10€. I prefer this to their top of the range L’Ame 2010 which is much bigger and complex, 24,40€.

Domaine De Brin, I liked Vendemia 2013 but preferred Anthocyanes 2013, Braucol and Syrah showing well with a perfumed nose of red fruits and forest fruits. Round and long it developed very nicely, 10€, no rush to drink up. Brin De Temps 2013 of Duras and Cabernet Sauvignon had deep, spicy notes with round fruits and long lasting too, 14€. Proof that even in 2013 good wines could be made, clearly a very talented winemaker.

L’Enclos Des Roses, Roses 2008, further proof of the benefits of ageing. This showed no sign of being old or tired, it had fresh, dark fruits and is very well balanced. 12€.

There were some very good sweet wines and one example of a rarity a Vin De Voile. Vin De Voile is a white wine aged in barrels where a layer of yeast is allowed to cover the wines as they evaporate in barrel. The yeast prevents the wine from being completely oxidised but there is some which adds nutty, sherry like flavours. I really like this style of wine, like the vin jaune of the Jura region. So it was a treat to taste one at Michel Issaly’s Domaine La Ramaye. Almond and hazelnut aromas with dry, nutty flavours and long, complex after tastes. Lovely.


My favourite sweet wine was also unusual. Made from very very late picked Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, it was a sweet rosé wine from Domaine de Brin called Brin De Folie 2014. Sweet strawberry flavours and yet clean, refreshing after tastes. A great credit to the winemaker to make something so good from such an unusual circumstance.


Vileo from Albi provided these cycle powered rickshaws to carry you back to the car with your wines

And there lies Gaillac’s great hope. There are many talented winemakers harnessing the best of the area. Unusual grape varieties which should offer the market something different. Making the most of those flavours and aromas, letting them speak for themselves rather than too much oak, whilst concentrating on providing well balanced, refreshing wines. That is what I like about producers such as Rotier, de Brin, Ramaye, Rocailleux but many others too. There are some interesting stories about some of these producers too. Rocailleux with its English owners who are following up their interest and studies in wine and making some of the best wines in the area. D’Escausses and Enclos Des Roses owned by two sisters who run their domaines separately but help each other. Rotier was my favourite domaine 20 years ago and remains one of the best. De Brin is certainly one to follow. I wish them plenty of good weather for a successful 2015 vintage. Meanwhile look out for Gaillac wines, especially from these producers.


De Brin