amarchinthevines

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


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Rare grapes and Vin De France

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This chart was published two weeks ago even though the information refers to 2010. I found it fascinating (I am a sad case I understand). Some of the information would be expected, New Zealand with its Sauvignon Blanc for example, Australia with its Shiraz. I was rather surprised to see Merlot as 13.7% of the French vineyard area however. Admittedly this is partly because it is one of my least favourite grape varieties, though, as always, fine examples are available from good vignerons.

Merlot, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Viognier, were in vogue in the 80s and 90s when I became interested in wine. Languedoc producers reacted to this popularity by planting these cépages, it was commercial sense. One of those producers was Jean-Claude Coutelou and Mas Coutelou still has his Cabernet and Merlot parcels.

However, one of the more recent trends in the region has been the revival of older and rare grape varieties. At Mas Coutelou Jeff has planted grapes such as Riveyrenc Noir, Riveyrenc Gris, Morastel, Piquepoul Noir and Terret Noir in Peilhan (see photos below).

Earlier this year Jeff received a visit from Domaine De Vassal, guardian of the national treasury of grape vines. They record and keep examples all grape varieties as I described after a visit to Vassal. On this occasion they were intrigued by two vines in particular; firstly Clairette Musquée, planted in Peilhan and, secondly, the unknown variety in Segrairals. These are just part of the programme of replanting and grafting which has taken place at Mas Coutelou. The photos below show grafting of other cépages in Flower Power such as Aramon Noir and one unknown variety.

After months of research the experts at Vassal have concluded that Clairette Musquée has its origins in Hungary where it was known as Org Tokosi. It was planted in the Maghreb and after Algerian independence it was probably brought to France by those who repatriated to France.

The unnown variety turns out to be an Italian cépage, quite rare, called Delizia Di Vaprio. This is, according to my copy of Pierre Galet’s “Dictionnaire Encyclopédique des Cépages”, a grape authorised in Italy and Portugal. Under the rules of France’s AOC system it would not be allowed. Jeff, however, chooses to issue his wines under the Vin De France label which means he is free to choose his own methods and grape varieties. Whereas a Languedoc AOC wine must include grapes such as Syrah and Grenache Jeff can choose what to put in his wines including wines from just one grape variety. It also means he can plant these rare grapes and make wines from them which he truly loves and wants to make.

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Interestingly one AOC, Burgundy, is starting to show signs of concern that Vin De France is becoming more popular. They have started a campaign criticising Vin de France. To my mind they should be looking to their own failings and regulations. For example, as climate change bites harder vignerons will have to adapt, investigating different grape varieties will be part of that.

So, yes Merlot has its place (and thrives in the Colombié vineyard in Puimisson) but is it not exciting to see rare, old, traditional grapes being cherished and brought back to prominence? Let us appreciate the range and variety of grapes and the vignerons who bring out their best.

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Stress and grapes – Vendanges 17

Day two and the weather remained overcast and humid, there were even a few drops of rain. Rain which has been sorely missed in the last two months, there has been no real rain since June 26th, almost two months now. Some vines have found that stressful and virtually shut down therefore not ripening the grapes as well as they ought to do. Others, with underground water supply more available, are more vigorous and channeling their energy into the grapes. Judging what to harvest and when, is therefore even more difficult and stressful for Jeff.

The picking today began in Peilhan where the Muscat À Petits Grains was golden, starting to raisin in places. The berries are a little smaller than usual, another sign of the lack of recent rain. Nonetheless they were sweet, ripe and ready, measuring 15° of potential alcohol. In the press the lack of juice means that even a decent amount of grapes will produce only one barrique this year.

Then on to Clairette Musquée, a couple of rows in Peilhan, next to the red grape vines. This cépage is so rare that an ampelography expert recently failed to identify it on a visit. Into the mix was added Grenache Blanc from La Garrigue, which has fared better than some in that vineyard with the drought. Indeed one berry seemed to have thrived as you can see in the following photo.

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Whilst Roxane, Max and myself picked the Grenache the others moved into the newer plantation of Peilhan and picked Riveyrenc Noir, Riveyrenc Gris, Piquepoul Gris and Morastel. This really was a day for ampelography fans like myself. All of these grapes with the Clairette will help to make the rosé for 2017 and the first glass, hot from the press, tasted very good indeed over lunch.

Friday lunch was leisurely, we were joined by the excellent Paco Mora of La Cave D’Ivry, and some good bottles opened including a fabulous Sauvignon Blanc 002 from Jeff, 15 years old and still in great shape. Julien opened his new cuvée (one of only 50 bottles) from Faugères (Grenache Blanc and Roussanne) which was very good too. Monday will see the start of more full on days, bigger quantities, more work and faster lunches – so allow us this convivial interlude. Meanwhile, Icare continued in his inimitable style.

 


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Vendanges 2016 #9 – Days Like This

“When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit
Then I must remember there’ll be days like this”               (Van Morrison, Days Like This)

As we approached the end of vendanges a number of the team were moving on. It was an inspired move to have a farewell day, picking, tasting and celebrating together, though we were already missing some like Charles, Carole and Maylis.

The morning dawned over Peilhan and the vineyard which we planted in March 2015. Rows of Terret Blanc and Noir, Riveyrenc Gris and Noir, Piquepoul Noir and Morastel produced grapes this year. They cannot be used in major cuvées sold to the public as they are too youthful. However, Jeff decided to pick them to make something for himself out of interest. So, on a bright, warm autumnal morning we gathered, picked, chatted and laughed.

Interesting to see how some varieties produce more than others already, more precocious perhaps, the Terret Noir being especially shy. Altogether we picked around six cases only but there was a real mix of colour and some nice looking fruit which went into a small cuve in whole bunches.

 

Later that day we gathered again, this time in the main cellar along with Thierry Toulouse, Jeff’s oenologue. We tasted through the whole range of 2016 wines in cuve before heading to a local restaurant for a meal. The results of the tasting were fascinating. Clearly, they are in a stage of transition, fermentations still progressing. Nonetheless the wines were already showing their character. I won’t go into too much detail here, though I did take notes to help me record how the wines change in coming months.

In summary though I was amazed. I have said many times on here how difficult this year has been. A very warm winter, drought, mildew, delayed summer being just some of the problems. Yet here we tasted some lovely fresh fruit, lively acidity and other promising signs. I would mention the Carignan Blanc, lovely Syrah and Grenache from La Garrigue, juicy Mourvèdre and in particular the wonderful Carignan Noir of Flambadou. All those puzzles which Jeff had to hold in his head about harvesting dates, moving wines, possible assemblages etc, well those puzzles were solved in the glass. I had expected some disappointments but somehow Jeff has conjured some potentially top quality wines.

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2003 Roberta

At the end of the current wines Jeff also shared a 2003 bottle of white wine based on Grenache Blanc, Noir and Gris, called Roberta (it’s a long story!). This was one of three cuvées which were the first that Jeff made sans sulfites. Yet it was complex; fresh, fruity, nutty. A wine which made my heart sing, proof that SO2 is not required for ageing wines as we are often told. Perhaps in 13 years time we shall be tasting the 2016 wines and marveling at them too.

A fitting way to close the vendanges period, a team rightly proud of what it had achieved.

“When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit
Then I must remember there’ll be days like this”

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Old vines, new vineyard

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Friday March 6th brought a hot sunny afternoon and the birth of a new vineyard at Mas Coutelou. Well, a new section of vineyard at least. Peilhan is the most southerly of Jeff’s parcels and already contains a variety of grape varieties ranging from Carignan planted in 1992 to fairly new white grapevines such as Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, and Carignan Blanc. However, also planted are some rarer old varities such as Clairette Muquée and the Castets which I have so praised before.

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Peilhan

If you look in the photo towards the top you will see a sloping area of land just beyond the planted vines and it was this section which, after lying fallow for many years, was to be planted. I have highlighted it below.

peilhan highlightedBeing Jeff Coutelou though this would not be a simple planting of Grenache, Syrah or Mourvedre but instead he wants to increase the diversity of vines in the vineyard and contribute to the movement of restoring old Languedoc vines to a prominent role in  the region. So 24 rows of vines would be planted, almost 2,500 plants of 6 cépages ;

  • Terret Blanc 1 row
  • Piquepoul Gris 6 rows
  • Riveyrenc Gris 2 rows
  • Riveyrenc Noir 6 rows
  • Terret Noir 3 rows
  • Morastel 6 rows

They would be planted as a mix to help resist disease as well as diversity.

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Piquepoul Gris vine

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The plants are laid out ready, roots in water. Renaud, Michel, Carole and Jeff lead the way. Jeff, as usual, is on the phone as someone wants some wine!

 

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The vines came from a trusted supplier in Carcassonne and resembled large matchsticks. The vine foot is an American rootstock, the only ones capable of resisting the phylloxera beetle which almost wiped out French vineyards in the 19thC. The plant is grafted onto this root stock and then covered with the red wax to protect the grafting stopping air getting between the plant and the root stock. The wax will fall away naturally in the next few days. As you can see they arrived with long roots and we had to cut these down to make them easier to plant.

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Jeff had hired two expert plantsmen to lead the way, the two to the right in the photo above. They demonstrated how short the roots should be and left Renaud, Michel and myself to carry on whilst Jeff and Carole (in the photo) went to help the planting.

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The field was marked out to show where the vines would be planted. Each variety was to be planted at different intervals according to its specific needs, some need wider planting such as the Piquepoul Gris, others should be planted more densely such as the Terret Noir. The spaced to the right of the rope will be planted with hedges, including rose trees. These will provide shelter for birds and bats, natural predators of damaging insects and vers de grappe (worms) as well as providing a natural boundary to the parcel.

IMG_0891Wire cables ran along where each row was to be planted, in the photo you will see a blue mark where the vine was to be planted. The two experts did the planting with Jeff and Carole (later Michel) dropping the vine  for them to plant.

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This video shows just how fast they work, on a hot day it very impressive. There was a welcome beer break (with English beers from County Durham no less!) but the work continued solidly for 4 hours.

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New vineyard takes shape

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Icare supervised, of course

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new plants need water of course so Jeff and Carole set to work. 1500 litres were used for 2 rows of vines!

 

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Jeff asked me at the end of the day what my thoughts were about the planting, how I felt about it. I had to think about it for a while. It had seemed like hard work but it was with a real sense of being present at a new beginning. The vines have a 99%+ survival rate and they will in a few years be producing white and red wine of great quality. And I was there for the birth of this project, a privilege. It was impossible not to feel excitement about what was to come and to wonder at how these small sticks would become beautiful vines. And to feel proud that Jeff is willing to plant something which reaches back into the past as well as providing for the future. Let’s hope we are here to enjoy the wine in a few years.

As if to crown my day of feeling close to nature I was able to take these photos of bees on the rocket flowers in the main parcel at Peilhan. This is one corner of the Languedoc where nature still rules, with a little help.

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