amarchinthevines

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


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I can’t really say how good – Vendanges 17

 

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I don’t intend to record thoughts on every single day of the vendanges but there are some days which deserve a special mention. Yesterday, August 30th, was one of those days. And the reason was simply the quality of the grapes. These are my fourth vendanges and I do not recall such a consistently high standard of fruit coming from one parcel from the first case to the last.

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The grapes were Syrah and they came from La Garrigue vineyard. La Garrigue is interesting because it has a ridge running through the middle, west to east. The slope facing south is planted with Grenache as it is a cépage which loves the sun and heat. The slope facing north is planted with Syrah, which certainly likes sun and heat, for example in the Rhone Valley, but not so much as Grenache.

The Syrah of La Garrigue produces, in very good years, my favourite wine of all from Jeff Coutelou (and therefore, in effect, my favourite wine). That wine is La Vigne Haute which combines the warmth and fruit of the Languedoc with the serious, mineral complexity of the Rhone. Sadly there has been no Vigne Haute produced since 2013 as Jeff has felt that the quality was not quite high enough for such a cuvée. In the excellent vintage of 2015 the decision was marginal and instead he produced the excellent On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que, which you can read about here.

Perhaps its my bad influence since the 2014 vendanges but La Vigne Haute eludes me. This year when I took the photos of the Syrah in La Garrigue (above), Jeff was concerned that the very dry months of summer had spoiled the Syrah but recent humid days had allowed the vines to recover and put their energy into the grapes.Well, I really have my fingers crossed for 2017. The grapes came in firm bunches, healthy to the core. Classic Syrah bunches too, almost T shaped.

The cases smelled of spice and fruit, other than snails with good taste there was little to sort. The juice gave aromas of passion fruit – not something I would ever have imagined possible but tropical fruits for sure. Flavours of raspberry, wild strawberry with a lovely vivacity. This was exceptional. Now, a lot can happen in the next few days, weeks and months. Jeff will simply allow the juice to express itself and not intervene, Coutelou wines are what nature makes with a simple guiding hand.

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Making sure the workers look after these great grapes

There are many more days of the vendanges to come, and there are some exciting grapes on the vines still. However, these grapes motivated me to write, to cross my fingers and trust in nature and Jeff to, maybe, finally deliver my favourite wine. Whatever, it will be worth buying and drinking, I can hardly wait.


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Vendanges 2016 #5 – Bolts from the blue

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La foudre s’est abattue sur le cirque de Gavarnie, dans les Hautes-Pyrénées, dans la nuit du 13 au 14 septembre. (Photo : capture d’écran webcam Gîte Oxygène Gavarnie)

En français

Tuesday September 13th, the return of picking, with a little urgency in light of the weather forecast for heavy storms that night. The objective was to collect the Syrah from La Garrigue, the grapes which go into La Vigne Haute, my personal «cuvée mythique» of Mas Coutelou.

Last year the grapes were slightly swollen so Jeff decided to make another cuvée instead, On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que, and it is now 3 or 4 years since we saw LVH. It remains to be seen whether Jeff decides that the grapes were of high enough quality in 2016 for such a prestigious wine.

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Syrah in La Garrigue on Saturday 10th

The grapes started a little messy requiring some careful triage both in the vineyard and cellar.

However, the quality improved after the first few cases which had been picked in a lower part of the vineyard. Certainly by the end of the day we had sorted a good quantity and quality of fruit, my shirt can certainly testify to their juiciness.

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That night came the predicted thunderstorm, violent though not as long lasting as perhaps expected. I saw that some parts of the region saw over 200mm of rain, fortunately Puimisson did not reach those levels. However, there was enough to stop picking for the next few days. As I said last time wet grapes are not ideal. In addition the soft ground in the vineyards would be churned up by feet and wheels.

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James working hard as usual

In a way the storm came at a good time on a personal level. I developed a mild case of bronchitis out of the blue on Tuesday which would have prevented me from working on Wednesday and Thursday. So, I have left cellar work to the experts whilst I recharge my batteries for Saturday when we may get to the Grenache in La Garrigue which looks bountiful and ripe.

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Grenache in La Garrigue Sept. 10th

Meanwhile analysis of the grapes continues. There was the result of Ecocert’s evaluation showing that Mas Coutelou successfully retains its organic certification and also their analysis proving that no sulphites were or are added in the wines. And then there is the daily analysis from the oenologue which shows information such as alcohol levels, total acidity, pH levels, residual sugar etc. These help Jeff to think about how to look after the wines and which ones might blend together successfully in future.

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The weather is now set fair until we finish; Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon should arrive in good conditions with a light north wind and under blue skies.

 


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Mas Coutelou 2015 (Part 2)

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En français

Thursday, August 11th was the last day before Jeff shut up shop for a few days as he does every year to celebrate the Béziers Féria. A few days of rest and recuperation before the preparations really start for the vendanges. As he had received a number of requests for visits Jeff decided to group them all together and have a tour of the vines and tasting with lunch.

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Visitors from Grenoble, Orléans and Nanterre assembled at the cave along with my friend and sommelier Sandra Martinez and we set off around some of the vineyards. Jeff explained his philosophy and vineyard work and it’s worth repeating a couple of points of note. I mentioned the problem of vers de la grappe a few weeks ago which Jeff treated with a spraying of clay to discourage the moth from laying its eggs. We found a bunch in La Garrigue which was affected and Jeff opened it up to reveal the cocoon of the larvae.

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Vers de la grappe cocoon

He also explained how bats are the ideal solution and why he provides shelters, each bat would eat around 2,000 insects a day including the moths responsible for vers de la grappe.

We also looked around at the majority of vineyards and their dark green colour at a time when the vine is putting its resources into the grapes to get them to maturity, as that is how they reproduce. So, in a natural state the leaves start to look pale and tired as the vine is not channelling energy into the leaves. The dark green, attractive vines are so coloured because of the nitrogen feeds and, in some cases, irrigation.

We returned to the domaine where we were joined by a group of wine professionals. In the garden we tasted a range of Mas Coutelou wines as well as some lovely salads and (for the carnivores) some charcuterie.

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Jeff leads the tasting accompanied by his sister and niece

The list of wines shared, all from 2015 except the last, was: Bibonade (rosé and white), Peilhan Blanc, Maccabeu, OW1, 5SO Simple, Sauvé De La Citerne, On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que, Classe, La Buvette À Paulette, Flower Power, Flambadou, L’Oublié, Devigne Qui Vient Diner, 5J

I missed the Bibonades and Peilhan as I was getting the Maccabeu from tank. I had a bottle of Peilhan at home recently though and it was lovely, really strong evidence of the quality of 2015. All apples and pears and fresh acidity with a long finish. Even by Coutelou standards it is an exceptional wine.

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Maccabeu

The Maccabeu is, if anything, even better. Cooked apple and cinnamon flavours, fresh acidity, almost smoky. There is so much going on here and, as the jug I collected the wine in was in front of me, I kept being drawn back to it through lunch. The wine changed and opened out with more fruit and spice. This will develop beautifully when it is bottled, a stunner, my new favourite.

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OW1 is Jeff’s first skin contact wine. He was reluctant to join the trend and didn’t want an orange wine but this spent plenty of time on skins, I remember Cameron and I carrying out a manual pigeage. Now bottled the wine has texture and tannins from that skin contact but there is plenty of fruit and remains balanced and fresh. Very good.

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Manual pigeage of OW1

5SO was on good form. The boisterous, chatty group became quiet for the first time, captured by its fruit profile and drinkability on a hot summer’s day, which essentially is what it was designed to do.

Citerne was one I didn’t have last week and it had been some time since I had tasted it. It showed well, the Mourvedre adding a real plummy depth. Another wine which will emerge in coming months, another to look forward to. OPPVDQ was on great form, another to quieten the crowd. It confirmed my opinion that this is a wine which will really benefit from some time in bottle, hang on to some if you have them. La Buvette À Paulette was last week’s big surprise and another bottle confirmed the pleasure, really showing its quality.

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Flower Power not yet properly labelled. What a colour!

Flower Power took some time to come around but now that it has done so I can confirm that this will strengthen the reputation which it earned in its first vintage in 2014. The vineyard is still young and will continue to improve the wine it delivers, if the snails leave it alone. The ten grape varieties give a complex story of light and shade, red and dark fruits, floral and sappy.

Flambadou was once again a star, showing the lightness of touch in this Carignan. Jeff describes it as like a Pinot Noir. There is depth and character packed into quite a light structure. The vineyard has a light layer of limestone beneath the fine clay and it is this limestone which adds the complexity to the wine. A grand cru of Carignan.

L’Oublié and its story once again captured the imagination of everyone, its secondary flavours beguiling the tastebuds. Devigne Qui Vient Diner is the wine which Jeff made in partnership with Christian Venier from the Loire, Gamay added to some Languedoc grapes such as Cinsault. My, this has improved with a few months in bottle (magnum), really delivering a rounder more harmonious blend with zappy fruit and lovely sweet fruit.

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Finally 5J the Grenache Gris from 2012 aged in barrel made to reflect a Spanish fino to accompany the best hams. Oxidised notes, barrique notes and a flash of clean fruit, quince and apple.

A great day, much longer than most were expecting but nobody showed any signs of fatigue or willingness to depart. Many joined us in the cave des soleras to taste some of the old wines there. And poignantly, some wine of Jean-Claude on what would have been his 80th birthday. His legacy will live on.

I enjoyed reading the Facebook post of one of the visitors Benoit who described Jeff as a magician and an artist. The day was a success.

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Top ten tasting (Mas Coutelou)

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En français

Friends Ceredig and Lesley were staying with us in Margon and our neighbours Martin and May had relatives and guests staying too so I thought it was a good time to organise a Mas Coutelou tasting.

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Carignan during the tour with Cora and Brian

Brian and Cora had shown an interest in the vines and we had made a tour of the vineyards and cellar on Tuesday 2nd. Jeff kindly invited us to take a few bottles from the cave and I made up a series of ten bottles. They were served in the following order, nine from 2015, one from 2014 to show vintage difference:

2015: Carignan Blanc / Grenache Gris; PM Rosé; 5SO Simple; Buvette A Paulette; On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que; Le Vin Des Amis; Classe; Flambadou; Flambadou 2014; L’Oublié.

Martin initiated a scoring system and at the end of the evening the results showed some agreement about the top wines but some differences too. Wine is personal and that is one reason why I am becoming more sceptical about scores generally. However, this was in fun and here were the results of the Anglo-Irish jury.

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At number 10, the Carignan Blanc / Grenache Gris. My fault this, I had a bottle from the first six off the bottling line and it contained a little water so came across dilute. However, there were some lovely apple and pear characteristics and it was a hit with one guest who doesn’t usually like white wines. I know from other bottles that this is a lovely wine which wasn’t done justice on the night.

8=  PM Rosé An interesting result, perhaps showing that rosé finds it hard to be taken seriously (or just that people loved the reds). PM is so much more aromatic and punchy than most rosés that perhaps it confounded expectations. For me it is a cracking wine, with real character and heft as well as being bone dry and perfect on a summer’s evening.

8= 5SO Simple Another surprise for me as 5SO is really hitting its stride. I served it slightly chilled and everyone liked it though some found it too light for a red. I love the cherry bright fruits and clean finish, it is a great alternative to summer rosés.

7 On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que Liked by all, loved by some, a little austere for a couple of people. My opinion is changing on this wine. I thought it was a light Syrah which was for short term drinking but the last couple of bottles seem to suggest it is entering a phase of taking on weight and a serious side. Certainly I shall be keeping the rest of my bottles for a few years to see how it develops, I think it will become something special. It may not be La Vigne Haute but it is a serious Syrah of real quality.

6 Flambadou 15 Well liked though suffered by comparison with the 2014 which was more developed. There is an elegance to this, perhaps the best cuvée from Mas Coutelou in the last several vintages. Jeff likens it to Pinot Noir at time, there is a limestone layer beneath the fine clay soils of the vineyard and this seems to add the lightness and elegance. Red fruit aromas and flavours with a streak of tannins. This is very youthful and will develop with time, complexity is already there. A great wine from a great vintage.

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5 La Buvette À Paulette Round, blackcurranty, juicy, very enjoyable. This was popular because of its sheer drinkability though some found it a little green. No doubt the Cabernet Sauvignon will develop further but this was on song already. It won’t be released until January 2017 and it is definitely one to wait for, a cuvée I hadn’t realised could be so good.

4 Flambadou 14 The extra year added more roundness to the wine making it more enjoyable in the short term. The extra complexity appealed to many of us as well as the red fruits. It is lovely though I do think the 15 will become better, being such a good vintage.

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3 L’Oublié Another recently bottled wine which we assembled a few weeks ago. The aromas were immediately a sign of complexity, hints of tobacco, coffee, dark fruits, there are notes from the barrel and you can tell there is some older wine in here but there is also a freshness from the 2013 Cinsault. The story of the wine and its assemblage I wrote about recently and the air of mystery about L’Oublié added to its appeal at the tasting.

2 Classe No label on as this was another bottle recently put together and has not yet been prepared for sale. As soon as it was opened the exuberant fruits, blackcurrant and raspberry, almost leaped from the glass. There is a depth, richness and a darker profile in there too, this is one of the very best cuvées of Classe. Not hard to see why it appealed so strongly on the night with everybody.20160802_224234

1 Le Vin Des Amis Ever popular, ever first choice. When I serve Coutelou wines to friends it is almost always Vin Des Amis which is the most appreciated. The open, fruity nature makes it immediate and the complexity gives it a sense of being special. Which, of course, it is. It really was on good form here and a clear winner on the night.

A great evening. Lovely people around a series of great bottles, how could it not be? And wow those wines are great, hopefully more people converted to natural wines and to Jeff’s in particular.

A word to for the 2015 vintage. I am, of course biased as this was my first full vintage, but it is proving to be top class, everything is drinking well and the bottles still to come will highlight its class still further.

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In  order of preference from right to left

For what it’s worth my own order read:

  1. L’Oublié
  2. Classe
  3. Flambadou 15
  4. La Buvette A Paulette
  5. Flambadou 14
  6. On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que
  7. PM Rosé
  8. Le Vin Des Amis
  9. 5So Simple
  10. Carignan Blanc / Grenache Gris

 


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The story of a wine – we can’t really say

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En francais

On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que * is a new cuvée from Mas Coutelou in 2015. So how is a new cuvée born? This is its story.

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My favourite Jeff  wine over the years has been La Vigne Haute, a pure Syrah coming from the vineyard La Garrigue. This vineyard has a small ridge running west to east meaning that part of it faces north and part faces south. Jeff planted Grenache on the southward side as Grenache is a Mediterranean grape and likes the heat. On the north side is Syrah, a grape from the Rhone, which likes heat but not too much if it is to reveal its best.

La Vigne Haute is a wine of subtle Syrah. Perfumed with red fruits and tasting of silky smooth red and black fruits it carries elegance and restraint. However, in 2015 Jeff took the decision at the last minute not to make La Vigne Haute but rather to change the whole vinification of the grapes which were harvested. Here is the story in his own words, as told to Paco Mora a caviste in Ivry sur Seine. Jeff kindly gave me permission to reproduce it here.

“To thank you [for a generous comment on Facebook], I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you the story of “On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que.” A story which confirms that to make wine, we must first know, love and pamper both vineyards and grapes.

It comes from the parcel “La Garrigue”, my only parcel on villafranchien soil, which I planted:
 On the north side: Syrah (planted north / south) to be always caressed but never assaulted by the sun.
 On the south side: Grenache as it is not afraid of the heat.

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The buffer zones in Garrigue

This decision made me lose 10 vine stocks per row of vines (300 in total) to leave a buffer zone between the two varieties but it was a decision which seemed most suited to making the Syrah I dreamed of. It normally makes “La Vigne Haute” but also produced “PAF La Syrah” in 2012. This plot has a vein of water running underneath which the presence of horsetail fern confirms. This year, even during the heat wave, it never suffered and continued to push …. It was the most beautiful vineyard at harvest time.

The day of the harvest, we had planned to make Vigne Haute by implementing the classic method; destemmed grapes, putting it into tank, maceration of 2 to 3 weeks with little pumping, to encourage infusion and not to seek extraction.

The vineyard was beautiful, beautiful grapes, everyone at the winery was excited that this would be a great vintage. The first grapes arrived, and as son as I saw them, I thought I had to change everything … ..
The fact that they had not suffered from the July heat wave but instead had profited from it (because of the sun caressing that north facing slope, the heat effect lessened because of that vein of water). It had produced berries more swollen than usual … and I could really see that when they arrived in the cellar.

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After an hour, I said to myself “if you do as usual, you will not get to do what you want.” The fact that the liquid / solid ratio is different, if I had made a classic wine, I would have to extend the maceration time to extract enough material relative to the juice and in that case, there is also the risk of extracting good but also the less good.

So within 10 minutes I decided to change everything.

We continued by putting whole bunches into tank with the idea of making a short vinification. On that day, everyone was down in the mouth in the cellar because I had told them that there would be no Vigne Haute …. But I trusted my grapes and they told me that they would repay my faith in them .

We just left the grapes in vats for 7 days without any intervention and then pressed. So there was almost no exchange between the skins and juice in tank. The tannins and colour were extracted because of pressing the skins, which were ripe, and released them after their short stay in the vat.

In the end, it’s just the juice of the vine and the terroir that you have in the bottle ….
Nothing technical, just grapes that were cared for and nursed from their birth to their maturity ….”

So that is the story of On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que. I was one of those who was ‘down in the mouth’ on that day when Jeff changed everything. Yet it was, of course, the right thing to do. The wine is very like the Paf of 2012, fruity but with a lovely vein of soft tannin and bite running through it. It is elegant above all, a Syrah worthy of the great Rhone appelations but with Languedoc warmth and fruit.

And OPPVDQ is a tribute to the talent, intuition and knowledge of Jeff Coutelou. He knows his vines, his grapes and how to help them to express themselves to maximum advantage. I can’t really tell you how he does it… it’s natural.

A phrase which can be translated as ‘we can’t really say’.


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Vineyard, vinification and VAT

There are three main aspects to the life of a winemaker and it’s time to bring you up to date with all three.

Vineyard work. 

It is a lovely time of year to be in the vines as they start their growth for the year, buds of striking colour, first leaves and greenery. 

In Rome vineyard on April 10th there were butterflies, birdsong and bees, beautiful.

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Rome through a new Coeur de Pigeon cherry tree

Taille is complete, ploughing completed (for the moment) and we have even had some rain at last which has encouraged the growth we see in the vines. However, it’s not all green for go. The buds are fragile and any more high winds could cause some damage to them leading to reduced yields in September. Moreover, Jeff pointed out another problem. Some of the buds are actually auxiliary buds (contre bourgeons) which would reduce yields further. The contre bourgeons generally don’t yield fruit and also take energy from the main buds so these don’t grow to full height.

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The winter saw not one single day of frost in Puimisson, the vines were restless and unable to sleep in the face of cold weather. Therefore sap, which should be still, continued to flow and with mild temperatures in January and February the sap nudged the buds. However, a cooler spell at the end of February and March meant that the sap retreated a little and the buds were left stirred but not able to unveil themselves. As warmer weather returned the sap nudged auxiliary buds as the main buds had already seemingly started. In fact they may not now emerge at all and it is these auxiliary buds which will be left. Something to raise concern at a preliminary stage of the season. The vines generally are starting well but a few have this issue. More importantly the vines have had little rest, will they be able to offer their best in 2016?

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Nonetheless it was good to see the newly planted vines in Font D’Oulette are already budding, a promising start.

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Vinification

The 2015 wines made for early drinking, e.g. Vin Des Amis, PM Rosé and Classe, have been bottled and dressed (habillage) with their labels. Other cuvées are still in tank resting after fermentation, maturing towards wines such as Flambadou. 

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Soutirage was carried out on some of these more complex wines as reported in the last article. Meanwhile Jeff continues to taste and to check their progress, to ensure the quality and health of the wines. 

Some wines from previous vintages have been bottled, for example the new barrel aged Maccabeu / Grenache Gris wine ‘5J’. New labels have been designed for these and they will eventually become rare treasures for followers of Mas Coutelou wines. One new wine is the Syrah ‘On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que’ and I will be narrating its story in a coming article, a story which reveals again the vinification skills of M. Coutelou.

VAT, sales

It is all  very well making good wines but, if you are to continue as a winemaker, you must be able to sell them. Jeff is in the position of being able to sell all of his wines and he could sell much more if he had it. That is the result of years of great wines which people want but also his ability to sell it. He has built loyal buyers around the world, often former students from his days as a teacher in Paris, for example his importers to Paris and New York, Fleur Godart and Camille Rivière. 

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However, Jeff still attends salons such as Les Affranchis in Montpellier, La Dive Bouteille in the Loire and, last week, La Remise in Arles (again more about La Remise soon). He was very happy with the salon and sold more wine, Vincent was regularly spotted carrying cases from the van to various cars!

Last Wednesday palettes of wine were sent to Paris and it was good to see Paco Mora, whose Cave d’Ivry is a loyal customer, publish some photos of their arrival. He looked happy and was very complimentary about Jeff’s skills and the new syrah.

So, there we are. It’s a busy life being a vigneron. Jeff has lots of paper work and admin to carry out this week as well as spending time in the vines. All with a bad back which he has nursed for several weeks. As you sip, or quaff, your Mas Coutelou wine (hopefully) spare a thought for the work which has gone into the wine in your glass.

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Paperwork? Count me out