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


Work life balance – soutirage, surchargé

Soutirage? It’s where you take wine from one container and move it to another. Traditionally this was done from barrel to barrel by gravity but these days it applies to moving the wine by other methods too. Why? Well the wine has been fermenting on lees, the dead yeast cells and other parts of the grapes. The wine needs to be removed from these as they cause cloudiness and you don’t want to drink wine full of lees. The lees can also cause off flavours in the wine so once they have served their purpose in helping to ferment and flavour the wine in a positive way they need to be separated.


                         All pumps to the full

By moving the wine you also add oxygen to it and remove the risk of carbon dioxide building too much in the cuve which might cause issues such as reduction, a wine fault leading to odours of rotten eggs, rubber, struck matches or worse. That oxygen acts as a kind of inoculation too, a little bit helps to reduce the risk of wine oxidising later.



Julien checking the level of wine in the recipient cuve

Therefore, on Friday 30th October, Jeff decided to carry out soutirage. Also, as the weather has been very warm they will continue to ferment a little longer in their new home before the colder weather does arrive. This means that there will still be some CO2 in the wine. Too much is bad but a little is good and this is the core of winemaking – finding the balance between all these different pros and cons. CO2 in small quantities helps to stabilise a wine and makes not using SO2 easier (important at Mas Coutelou) and also adds a little freshness and sense of texture, possibly a sense of acidity too. Oxygen, carbon dioxide, lees – you want to get just the right amount but no more.


               Cuve being emptied to another

What this did mean was more planning and more of the puzzles of what wine goes where. My last post showed how complex this is. And here we bring in the surchargé part of the title. Jeff has had a busy week with lots of paperwork, orders to sort, bottles to label, package and get ready for sending out to cavistes around the world. Add in administration work for customs, taxes and many other agencies. The side of being a winemaker that people don’t really see.


Same wine before (left) and after (right) soutirage, there was a noticeable difference in taste

I went to the vineyards on Thursday to take some photos of the beautiful colours in the vine leaves, unexpectedly I found Jeff in Peilhan digging out cannes de provence near a stream with a pick. He said this was his break from the paperwork, he needed some fresh air.


Looked like more hard work to me, and people ask me if I would not want to become a vigneron!

Please note that I have updated the Out And About and Tastings pages recently, click the links at the top of the page to see what’s been happening.


     The last leaf on a Grenache vine in Rome


                        There’s always one


Peilhan, wild rocket growing between the vines


                              Cinsault in Rome                             



Vendanges Diaries (4) – Sept 6th to 8th

Carignan Blanc

                                        Carignan Blanc

Version française

This was the busiest week of the vendanges and required long hours of picking, sorting, pressing, remontage as well as lots and lots of carrying, lifting and often in confined spaces. In short it was hard work.

Why so busy? Well, Syrah which was the first of the red wine grapes to ripen makes up around a third of all the vines at Mas Coutelou and Grenache, the next to ripen, is also the next main cépage with up to 12% of the harvest. Together this meant that around half the 2015 harvest would be picked this week. Add in other smaller picking and the parcel of Merlot and this was definitely the crunch time.

Sunday September 6th was a day of rest for most but Cameron and Jeff were in the cellar working as usual, carrying out checks and analyses and remontages as necessary.

Monday 7th was a long day at work. It was around 8.45pm before we stopped. Syrah in Segrairals makes up around 2ha in total, though as with all land there are some prime areas whilst other vines, around the edges and in a few hollows where water gathers, are not of the same quality. In a typical year these would go towards cuvées such as Classe and 7, Rue De La Pompe but, as ever, plans are fluid.

Car Blanc grapes

              Superb bunch of Carignan Blanc

In addition a parcel of Carignan Blanc was harvested from Peilhan vineyard. There were some wonderful grapes and they were given special treatment, carefully sorted and then pressed using the small hydraulic press. The juice ran very clear and green and then gradually took on a slightly brown colour as it developed light oxidation. This is actually good as it helps to protect the juice later in its life and prevents damaging oxidation. Moreover, the effects of the oxidation from the pressing are removed through fermentation. Around 600l were produced in total, around 750 bottles worth. This makes a very good wine, something I was to be reminded of on Tuesday night, as we shall see.


This was a long day but much good work had been done.

Tuesday 8th brought more Syrah to the cellar, this time from La Garrigue. These are the vines I have described before which face north on a slight slope to preserve the freshness and fruit flavours, good quality grapes which are often used for my favourite cuvée, La Vigne Haute, so I was even more keen to help to sort carefully and there were some lovely bunches of healthy fruit. Here’s hoping for a good vintage of LVH, as ever Jeff will make the call.


Cameron unloading some Grenache Gris

Yet again another smaller harvest was done, again from Peilhan, this time with Grenache Gris. The lovely pink, grey berries are flexible in their use and might produce, white or rosé wines or be added to red wine as you will remember from my special cuvée post.


            Grenache Gris after being pressed

Meanwhile lots of analysis of the wines in tank and work to ensure that they are in good health. This even involved Jeff removing his trousers and jumping into the Flower Power tank to do some pigeage! Modesty means that I shall not share these photographs!


Cameron getting a sample for analysis



The after effects

And of course there was plenty of this… (I couldn’t resist adding the tune)

A bonus was to come though. We had been joined by two new additions to the team. Thomas is from Toulouse originally but has been working as a sommelier in the Languedoc and spent most of the week with us and will return next week. Karim is a fishmonger from Tours with an extensive knowledge of natural wines. He spent the week in Puimisson and brought a lovely surprise in the form of lobsters and scallops which made a wonderful dinner on Tuesday as Karim is also an excellent cook. We shared a magnum of Casa Pardet Chardonnay to accompany the shellfish as well as two Carignan Blancs, one from Mas Coutelou and the other from Jeff’s friend Cyril Fahl of Domaine Rouge Gorge in Roussillon. It was a special and hugely enjoyable meal, thanks to Karim and Jeff for the food and wine.