amarchinthevines

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


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ABC – Vendanges 17

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“Quelle journée!” That was how Jeff messaged me on Monday evening. Safe to say things didn’t go exactly to plan, nor did Plan B work so it was Plan C in the end. What am I talking about? Let me explain a day which shows how impromptu thinking is important.

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Mourvedre waiting to be picked

Plan A was straightforward and, maybe, things had gone too smoothly up till then. I wrote recently how the team was in the groove and the grapes were being harvested efficiently. Monday was the day for the Mourvèdre to be picked, a real star of the 2016 crop, hopes were high for a repeat.

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Jeff surveys the Mourvèdre under a gorgeous sky

Everything began well. A silvery dawn revealed grapes in tip top condition though smaller yields in keeping with the vintage. The first cases arrived and I was sorting through them with Matthieu, a trainee sommelier on work placement. And then the destemmer (érafloir) suddenly stopped. On opening the main body Jeff found the fan belt off and one of the wheels sheered away. No easy fix.

These cases were sorted Plan A ; the offending mechanics

We had already destemmed 20 cases or so and the grapes were in stainless steel tank. With no érafloir, however, we could not destem. Jeff declared that we would have to move to whole bunches. We moved upstairs to the new mezzanine floor created in the cellar renovations of the last two years. Trapdoors in the floor are positioned above the tanks and big plastic chutes are connected so that the bunches can fall through into the tank. The cases are brought by Michel to the upper floor via the garden and then sorted just as carefully.

 

The tank was now filled with destemmed bunches and lots of juice but also whole bunches in amongst that. This was Plan B. A neighbour then offered the use of his destemmer which was brought down and put in place whilst Plan B was working. We started this and did a few cases of destemming again but it was a big machine, meant for huge quantities of grapes and was too powerful for the amount we were processing.

Jeremy and Matthieu sort whole bunches

Lunchtime. Reflection. Back to Plan B, whole bunches.

Meanwhile Jeff took the original destemmer to the repairers who declared it unrepairable! However, these were the same people who had renovated the cellar and they kindly offered Jeff the use of a third érafloir. Plan C. This proved just the job, even quieter and more efficient than the original. So, we have an interesting tank of Mourvèdre, a millefeuille of grapes, juice and stems. No doubt it will still produce very good wine as the grapes were healthy and of very good quality. However, it had been a day to try Jeff’s patience whilst other tanks also demanded his attention.

The third érafloir of the day ; Matthieu and Ambroise

He had also damaged one of the large tubes used for pumping the grapes and juice first thing, I think a black cat must have crossed his path on the walk to the cellar that morning! All’s well that ends well however, but it was certainly proof that you need to have contingencies and how experience can help a vigneron to overcome adversity.

Magnificent Mourvèdre ; In tank


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Routine and variety – Vendanges 17

Ambroise, Selene and Vincent in the Syrah

A week into picking and the team is in a routine, working smoothly to steadily bring in the grapes. The quality remains high but there can now be no doubt that the ongoing dry spell has taken its toll. Quantities are down by up to 50%, bottles of the 2017 Mas Coutelou wines will be more difficult to seek out I’m afraid and, inevitably, more expensive.

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Flower Power

Thursday saw the Flower Power vineyard picked (Rec D’Oulette to give it the proper name) and just 7 cases of grapes were returned from the 0,4ha of vines. They are young still and will have found it hard to cope with the arid conditions.

Julien and Max in Rome

Rome, too, was picked and I went along as this is my favourite vineyard. Cinsault, Muscat and all three types of Grenache were harvested. From Peilhan came Grenache Gris and a few rows of the Maccabeu which will go into the PM rosé wine.

Muscat, Grenache Blanc and Cinsault (left from Rome), Grenache Gris and Maccabeu from Peilhan on the right

By now we are into the second stage of the vendanges. The grapes picked previously have been sitting on skins for varying lengths of time to extract colour and flavour but they will be separated when Jeff decides that further contact will not enhance the wine further. The juice is pumped to a new tank leaving the skins and pips behind to be used as marc for distilling.

 

This process of remontage is carried out increasingly as more tanks fill up. Tracking which wines are where is a skill in itself, each time the wine will be tasted and sent for analysis to ensure that acidity, sugars, potential alcohol are all correct and no nasty surprises await.

Jeff took me round a few of the vineyards to check on their progress for picking. We started with the Carignan, then on to the Mourvèdre and Cinsault of Segrairals. In all cases the pips and stalks showed us that more time was needed, they are still a little too green. Tasting the grapes showed plenty of sweet fruit but that greenness would not be good in the finished wine.

Cinsault after pressing

Cinsault after pressing, like modern art

 

Friday was based in the biggest parcel, Segrairals. Cinsault grapes first, to be pressed immediately so that a light pink juice emerges ready to be blended with the other rosé grapes. This happened on Saturday so that all the rosé grapes will ferment together to blend fully. Jeff explained to me that Cinsault is harder to press than most, the large berries contain a lot of pulp which breaks down less easily.

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Syrah, Segrairals

 

Afterwards the remaining Syrah was tackled, again I went along to help with a bit of picking as well as doing the sorting with Jeff back in the cellar. The tri was not too difficult as good, firm bunches of healthy grapes came in case after case. Never mind the width feel the quality seems to be the motto, for Jeff’s sake greater quantity would be welcome.

More remontage, more testing in the cellar. It was good to see the white wines in good condition with fermentation already lively; bready, yeasty smells began to fill the cellar. More Syrah would be picked on Saturday morning but, readers, I admit that I took a break. The hard work, rich variety of grapes and early mornings meant that this time AMarch was not in the vines.

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Brief return to Mas Coutelou

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Version francaise

After my sojourn in Alsace it was great to return to the Languedoc. Sadly I was already aware that due to a bereavement I would have to leave within a couple of days to return to the UK. However, I was able to spend one of my two days there with Jeff and amongst those vines which I had missed so much.

It was a great time to be there, the vines were in full flower, many already past that stage showing the new grapes, firstly with their brown hoods and then just the green baby berry itself.

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The vines were looking very healthy, plentiful rain in the winter and a sharp frost in early spring had allowed the vines to rest, to gather their strength for the season ahead – a sharp contrast to 2016. Greenery aplenty, wild flowers blooming and, during my visit to Peilhan, I saw a young deer running through the vines and a pheasant. Clearly the Coutelou vines attract wildlife to its oasis amongst the surrounding desert of chemically treated soils.

During the previous weeks the soils of Peilhan had been ploughed, by a horse. Gentler on the soils Jeff asked a local man to till.

Peilhan horse

He himself was giving the soil a light rotivation that afternoon, turning the plants and flowers amongst the vines into the soil, a natural composting. Icare, with an injured paw, and I watched on in the sunshine.

 

The only real problem this year has been the return of the snails. Last year they ravaged Font D’Oulette (the Flower Power vineyard) so that only a few cases of grapes could be picked. Fortunately, that vineyard has been spared this year but they are out in force in the largest vineyard, Segrairals. It was there that I also found Michel, Julien and Vincent working, tightening the wires of the palissage and removing side shoots etc from the vines.

In the afternoon we tasted through the 2016 vines and, they are so different even from February when I tasted them last. The whites are splendid, highlight a hugely successful long maceration Muscat. The reds such as the Carignan were very good and the top wine of the year will be the Mourvèdre, a silky, complex wine with huge depth of flavour – a treat for the short and long term. 2016 was a difficult year but Jeff has still produced some great wines.

So, I look forward to getting back to Puimisson as soon as possible, to follow the vintage further and see the latest progress. There is bottling to be done and plenty more besides.

The cellar is transformed, painted with the new office and floor and the stainless steel cuves plumbed in for temperature control. And perhaps, most interesting of all, there is an amphora. This is the trendy method of vinification around the world. However, very few winemakers have an amphora dating from the time of Julius Caesar with which to make wine. Jeff plans to use it this year, connecting his wine to those made 2,000 years ago. Wines with links to the past, present and future, Mas Coutelou has soul!

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Mas Coutelou 2016

Version francaise

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Tasting September 27th

It was a year of difficulties as I have reported on here many times. From a virtually arid winter and spring to a chilly early summer and then a very hot summer the vines had a struggle to cope with the bizarre climate. Add in a hail storm, snails eating away large numbers of grapes and mildew. No surprise then that the quantity of wine produced was much reduced, bottles will be much scarcer than previous years – so when you get the chance buy them. If quantity is down then what about quality?

I have had the good fortune to taste through the range of wines on two occasions. On September 27th the wines were in their infancy settling in tank, the team got together to gain first impressions. In late January and in February this year I tasted them again with a number of visitors. What I tasted was the wine from the different vineyards before it was then assembled into the various cuvées which Jeff will eventually put out. Therefore, my notes are about the ingredients rather than the finished dish.

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Tasting January 28th

I decided to simply publish my notes as I wrote them on the two occasions – no editing, just my personal impression at the time. Already these wines had changed a great deal after 4-5 months and they will have changed again even before being assembled into Le Vin Des Amis etc.  I have chosen only the main wines, there are several other cuves with other wines but these are the main wines of Mas Coutelou.

September 2016

January / February 17

  1. Muscat Petits Grains – 2 weeks maceration, fairly neutral nose but fresh Muscatty flavour with tannins / texture. Orange flavour in there – G

Nose is Muscatty and orange blossom. No real grapey Muscat flavours but a dry                   wine, fresh,  direct and clean. Little drying on finish but coming together well. – G

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  1. Carignan Blanc – little reduced on nose, nice fresh acidity and appley fruit. Still cloudy – G

This has improved, white flower aromas, fresh, white fruits, very long – VG

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  1. Maccabeu/Grenache Gris/ Muscat – Lovely pears and red apples. Fresh acidity, lovely. Full, nice texture – VG

Some residual sugar still but direct fresh fruit – pears and apples – G

  1. Cinsault (Segrairals) – assembled with marc from Syrah. Nice fresh acidity – OK

Not tasted 

5. Grenache Ste Suzanne – Little green, quite acid, some spicy after notes. A bit tart –             OK

 11.5%, light but fruity and grapey, lost its tartness, more round – QG

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Grenache just picked

6. Syrah Ste Suzanne – Nice, perfumed, red fruits, good acidity and soft tannins – G

Very attractive red fruit nose, has some heft yet only 12%, rich and easy to drink – G

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Syrah from Ste Suzanne

 7. Flower Power (plus others) – Round red fruits, lively, red fruit flavours – QG

Syrah and Cinsault in there too, nose is lovely, really attractive with red fruits and              floral. Nice round easy fruits – G

8. Syrah Segrairals – Still fermenting, quite a lot of residual sugar. Nice, fresh acidity,              red fruits – G

Not tasted

9. Syrah La Garrigue – Slight acetate nose, Round dark fruits. Nice texture and mouth             filling – G

Dark, ripe round fruits on nose and flavour, plummy, a little closed, good tannins –             G

10. Grenache La Garrigue – Nice ripe cherry aromas, good acidity and texture. Ripe –                G+

Very fresh and open, round ripe fruits. A little residual sugar still – G+

11. Mourvedre – Very attractive floral aromas, some sugar still, raspberry fruit – G

Improved a lot, a little reduced but liquorice flavours, dark and how it builds in                  the mouth, could be a surprise star – VG

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Mourvedre I picked

12. Carignan – lovely dark fruit, very fruity and fresh flavours. Very clean finish,                      almost slatey minerality – VG

Still working, a little spritz. Quite acidic as yet but there are dark ripe fruits and                  these are playing together on the palate, will develop well – G

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Still fermenting

Overall, the general impression is of good quality with plenty of freshness and fruit to balance. Mourvedre could provide the star wine of the year which would be a surprise, though the Carignan will no doubt improve and be a star once again. The whites, in various styles, are again showing how good white wines can be in this region.  After a very problematic year it is surprising that the wines emerged so well, testament to healthy vines and a skilled winemaker.

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Celebrating 2016 with a lovely Bibonade rosé

 


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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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Vendanges 2016 #7 – Last Pickings

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Cabernet Sauvignon sheltering the Moroccan pickers

En français

Wednesday (September 21st) was officially the last day of summer and, appropriately, the last day of picking at Mas Coutelou. It was, as in 2015, the Cabernet Sauvignon of Segrairals which was the last major parcel gathered in. Lovely, clean bunches of small, healthy berries, classic Cabernet and virtually nothing to sort in the vineyard or in the cellar. 

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Cabernet Sauvignon

The day before had seen the start of the Cabernet in the afternoon following a morning of picking Mourvèdre, also from Segrairals. As I hadn’t ventured into the vineyard much in 2016 I took the opportunity to do so that morning. Our friend Jill had expressed a wish to do some grape picking and Jeff kindly agreed so I accompanied her (so at least there was one less experienced picker than me!). I really enjoyed being out in the fresh air but it was also good to get a grip on how the vineyard topography can have such an impact upon the grapes.

The Mourvèdre grows on an easterly slope with the rows running down the slope. The vines at the bottom of the slope gave lower quality bunches than those at the top, indeed we stopped picking the last few vines at the bottom of each row. The reason was that when it does rain the water runs down the slope taking nutrients etc. The grapes there tend to ripen much sooner with more humidity in the ground, it was a clear example of terroir. Rest assured that only good grapes went into cuve, much was left behind in the vineyard and at the side of the sorting table.

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The slope in the Mourvedre vines, rejected fruit on the ground

On Monday the lovely Carignan Noir of Rec D’Oulette (Chemin De Pailhès) was added to the tanks. The quality was high and signs are promising for yet another good vintage of Flambadou, arguably the domaine’s best wine in recent years.

Since the last article the other major harvest was some bountiful, good quality Grenache from La Garrigue on Saturday 17th.

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Gorgeous Grenache

There remain a few rows here and there with some grapes left and they may or may not be picked in coming days and weeks. However, the Cabernet marked the last of the major picking. Time to say farewell to the Moroccan pickers, part of the Coutelou crew for the last month.

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Stage 1 is therefore over. Stage 2 the cellar work of remontages and pigeage continues apace as most cuves are now full and need looking after. Stage 3, pressing, is also in full swing as grapes from previous weeks have now gone through fermentation on skins and need to be pressed to take the juice away. I shall be writing about this more in the next article.

So, we head into autumn, the vines are fatigued after a very stressful year. The leaves are already changing colour and the Languedoc will be an even more beautiful place in coming weeks. The picking may be over but the vendanges are not. 

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Mourvedre in autumnal glory

 


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Vendanges, values and valued

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             Photo courtesy of #QCQBM (see below)

Version française

There will be one more vendanges diary entry as the parcel of Muscat awaits, ready to make some sweet, delicious wine. However, after a month of work, the grapes are nearly all gone. Their juice lies quietly fermenting or sulkily just waiting in the tanks. So what have I learned from this month of effort? Well, reflecting on it I remembered last year’s vendanges and a video. Both are linked below. The title I used then seems, a year later, the right one so no apologies for using it again, though in French this time.

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                                           Now That’s What I Call Grapes 2015

 

The main feature has been the grapes themselves. It was not the easiest year for growing in terms of weather. Strong winds at flowering damaged some vines, a real heatwave for a month in June/July with months of dry weather too, then rain just as harvest began. There have been moments of doubt, it has been a slippery road as this Pézenas road sign suggests.

slippery road

The berries were small and perhaps lacking in some acidity as harvest approached and then the rains threatened rot and damage. At times the tri had to be severe both in the vineyard and in the cellar. And yet. I remember beautiful bunches of Syrah, of Cinsault (almost 1kg in weight some of them), Cabernet Sauvignon and Muscat. In particular I remember some champion Carignan and magnificent Mourvèdre. Much needs to be done with vinification but, happily, the wines they produced are already showing the same quality, promising some great 2015s.

Syrah from Segrairals

                                      Syrah

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Even when the juice was in the cuves it misbehaved at times, like naughty students in a classroom. There were moments when volatile acidity threatened and then when acidity was low. Through it all Jeff kept his head. And I recall his words at the time, “Il faut avoir la confiance en les raisins” / “You have to trust in your grapes”. No clever tricks, no resorting to sulphur dioxide to act as a safety net – just have faith that the work that has been done in the vineyard over the last years and recent months will bring healthy grapes which will make healthy wine. The pruning (taille), ploughing (labour), careful spraying at 3 in the morning – all of this effort leads to the grapes being able to produce high quality wines. Like a winner of the Tour De France you don’t just turn up on the day, it takes months of planning, training and hard work, so too the vigneron who produces top quality wine. And that faith has been rewarded, any problems have sorted themselves out, with a guiding hand from time to time.

Getting to the heart of the vine

                            Taille (February)

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                              Labour (March)

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         Filled cuves containing the 2015 wines                                                  (September)

That means hard work and this is the second lesson I have learned. The vendanges are hard work. There is a glamour to them. As an enthusiastic wine amateur I often used to think how nice it must be to take part in the harvest. Sunshine, grapes, drinking wine – idyllic. The reality is all of those things but it is not all idyllic; it is back breaking, physically gruelling, hard work. Picking means bending over vines, insect bites, whilst trying to not cut your fingers instead of the grapes. In the cellar, long hours of standing to sort grapes, lifting and carrying heavy cases and twisting around with them, sometimes in confined spaces. The heat above a tank is tiring and sweaty. The drenching as you clean everything again and again. And I worked less than most. Add in all those hours of vineyard work, the background work in sorting the equipment, labour, paperwork and then the pressure of making the right decisions – you have to love this job to make a success of it.

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            Bent backs (Martin and Céline)

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    Standing for long hours while sorting (Karim     and Cameron)

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          Twisting to lift a cagette (Michel)

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Confined space, hot, back breaking – Thomas, Cameron

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     Soaked, Cameron, Michel and Thomas                cleaning

And love is the third and final part of my lesson. The love which Jeff has for his vines and his commitment to making them the best they can be in order to produce the wines which people around the world will love. It is no coincidence that during the harvest we welcomed many friends who arrived to spend a few days with us, to play their part in the vendanges. They do so because they love the wines and they are friends of Jeff. He makes his wines to share, the best wines are those which you share with other people. Le Vin des Amis! Copains! the names of the cuvées tell a story.

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Remember the story of the Chaud Doudou from last harvest? Well, I have been lucky to share the experience of the vendanges with a fantastic group of people over the last month. The camaraderie and friendship are part of the process of making the wine. And that spirit vanquishes any aches and pains.

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         My boots join the team (a proud moment)

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        Happy times

So, grapes, work and love. And if you don’t believe me, have a look at the video on this link to the excellent #QCQBM website. It is in French but the message is clear. Grapes. work and love.

Des raisins, du travail et de l’amour – Jeff Coutleou