amarchinthevines

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


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Vendanges Diaries #8 – Vendanges to vinification

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Version française

Now that (nearly) all the grapes are picked the vendanges enter a new chapter. The grapes, bunches and juices are all in tanks in various forms and in various tanks or cuves. Some wines were pressed immediately, e.g. most whites, and the rosé after just a few hours on their skins to extract the rosé colour. These wines now sit in their cuve and are fermenting gently, changing from grape juice to wine. The sugars are changing to alcohol and, naturally, the result tastes different. One of the most interesting things about the last fortnight has been to monitor the change in flavours from pure sweetness of fruit to a cleaner, drier, infant wine.

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 Some baby wines

The decisions which face vignerons such as Jeff now are about what to make of the wines. The reds could be made for aging with lots of tannins and colour extracted from the chapeau de marc, (the cap of grape skins, pips and, possibly, stalks) which is still in tank with the juice (also called the moût). Alternatively they might want a fruitier, more immediate wine and so the juice will be separated earlier from the marc.

Processes such as pigeage and remontage, which I have mentioned before, help to extract colour, tannin and flavour from the skins. The marc contains chemical compounds such as anthocyanins which are what gives red wine its colour. To keep all of the juice in contact with the marc these processes can be used.

Pigeage is where someone pushes the chapeau down, breaking it up into the juice by using tools such as a fork or even by using your feet. This can be dangerous, if you fall in there is a real risk of death due to the carbon dioxide being given off by fermentation. The chapeau does become incredibly tough and hard so it takes a real effort to carry out pigeage. I speak from experience.

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Remontage is the process of pumping the juice from the bottom of the cuve up and over the top of the chapeau, soaking it and allowing interaction between the chapeau and moût. Both processes also stop the chapeau from drying out on the top of the tank.

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       Me, doing a  remontage of Flower Power

However, if you carry out these processes too often and too long you can end up with harder, more astringent wine. A decision has to be made about the style of wine you want. There is a third option, délestage, where the juice (moût) is pumped into a separate cuve and the chapeau settles in the original cuve. Its own weight causes some crushing and so when the moût is pumped back into the tank a couple of hours later it comes into contact with the pips etc from this crushing, having added extra weight to the chapeau when first pumped back into the cuve. This process can produce a lighter, fruitier wine with a little more body. Jeff has used this for just one tank of Syrah, he thinks it can be harsher on the grapes. Pigeage and remontage are the more usual methods at Mas Coutelou.

So, over the last week Jeff, Cameron and Michel have been very busy doing all of this work as Jeff decides which methods best suit the grapes which were harvested. The best fruit will stand more work but even that will suffer if overworked. As someone who wants the grapes to reveal their health and terroir Jeff would choose to do only what is necessary.

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So, on Friday October 2nd the Grenache from Sainte Suzanne which were put into cuve as whole bunches (carbonic maceration) were pumped out and then pressed, a long day of hard work. Pumping juice, lifting out the marc by fork and shovel, pressing the marc, sending the juice to a new tank. This was one day of many, the same processes repeated many times and between each one … lots and lots of cleaning, to reduce any risk of contamination and spoilage.

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The Mas Coutelou name continues to expand globally, visitors to the cellar on Friday came from Sweden and Canada. There have been others in recent weeks from the UK, Australia and other regions of France. Selling the wine which is being made is another aspect of the whole process.

Other work last week included sorting the solera cellar on Wednesday October 1st. Wines were moved and blended, barrels were emptied and filled – more complexity for Jeff to get his around. A vineyard visit also unveiled a few rows of Grenache in Saint Suzanne which had not been picked. The grapes are starting to shrivel and concentrate their juices, possibly to be blended with the Muscat of Rome vineyard which are now well on the way to being dried out.

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These grapes now taste like raisins, sweet but with not much juice so the Grenache would give volume. Rain which fell on Saturday, 3rd might change this plan, we shall see.

Two updates.

The Grenaches of my 100th blog post are progressing well. The barrels were racked to take the wine off the lees and leave a clearer wine. The smaller barrel was more cloudy than the big barrel, possibly due to it being pressed earlier but everything is going well and they now continue their slow fermentation. The 27l bottle stands in the main cellar and the fermentation is still bubbling through the equipment given to me by my friend Barry when I left the UK.

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I tasted the wines today (Monday 5th). The bigger barrel produced a fruitier light red wine with the sugars still obvious. The smaller barrel was a little darker, with more texture and drier. Fascinating to see them adopt different personalities at such a youthful stage.

The team from London Cru tweeted to say that the Cabernet Sauvignon which they took back to London is really starting to show well as you may see from this photograph of remontage.

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Meanwhile back in Puimisson autumn is really starting to show in the colours of the vines, they are stunning at present. The partridge family were waiting for me as I visited Rome on Friday, hopefully they will survive the hunting season which is getting under way in France. The olives are also ripening in some of the groves, these were in Sainte Suzanne on Friday. Unfortunately the olive flies which damaged so much of the harvest across southern France last year have been causing damage again in other groves.

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And one hungry member of the team can be relied upon to brighten up any day.


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Vendanges Diary #7 – London Cab

Version française

This was the final big week of harvest and it centred around Cabernet Sauvignon. There is a big parcel (around 1.5ha) of the grape in Segrairals and it is not a variety which really excites Jeff for a Mas Coutelou wine. It has done especially well in 2015 though the small berries have swollen with the rains and the alcohol levels had therefore fallen a little to around 14%. They taste sweet and juicy and came in fantastic bunches, not the same size as the Cinsault and Mourvèdre from this vineyard, but small and healthy nonetheless.

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Cabernet Sauvignon on the vine in Segrairals

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                              Cabernet Sauvignon

Part of it was picked on Monday 21st September which will be used by Jeff, purpose as yet unknown though Cameron may be flexing his winemaking muscles with some. The other major work on Monday was to use the Muscat d’Alexandrie grapes from Peilhan which were also in good health.

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         Muscat d’Alexandrie

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They have very thick skins so the pressing took longer than usual to extract the juice. They were mixed with some Muscat À Petits Grains grapes. I will come back to these grapes and the juice later in this article.

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      Michel loads the Muscat into the press

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               Muscat juice after pressing

Tuesday 22nd was the big day for the Cabernet Sauvignon. I have explained before that Jeff sells most of these grapes to London Cru, an English winery as the name suggests. London Cru buy grapes from around Europe, eg Chardonnay from Limoux, Albarino from Rias Baxas, Grenache from Spain. This is the third vintage of the project and the grapes were ready at last. In 2014 they had been ready on September 4th, my first day at Mas Coutelou after our move to the Languedoc. This year the rain had delayed them so Gavin and Alex flew into Béziers on Monday evening. They had been in Italy on Saturday and only just got back to London before flying here. The refrigerated wagon was in situ as I arrived on Tuesday morning, waiting to be loaded with the grapes.

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Confidence was high amongst the London Cru team after some very good reviews including one last week by Dr. Jamie Goode who gave the top mark (94/100) to the Cabernet Sauvignon using Jeff’s grapes. The fruit for 2015 should bring more high marks and good wine. We tasted the 2014 over lunch and it was very good, clear, direct fruit with ripe tannins which mean that the wine will be at its best in 2 to 3 years.

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                Alex and Gavin loading the grapes

Gavin, Alex and Jeff directed and led the picking carried out by the Moroccan team as usual but also by Cameron and myself together with two excellent new additions to the team in Fabrice and Romain. Fabrice puts on shows (spectacles) around France whilst Romain is an artist. They have picked here before and were good fun and hard working, more new friends. (Fabrice on the left, Romain to the right.

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After picking the 6 tonnes or so of grapes they were driven straight off to London under refrigerated conditions to keep them fresh. Gavin and Alex flew back to London that evening ready to receive them at their base. London Cab, fine fare.

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                  Fine bunch of Cab I picked

Lunch was excellent with the London Cru wine and a magnum of Flambadou 2014 which was excellent, still in its infancy but already drinking well. Afterwards Cameron and I did some pigeage of the Carignan grapes amongst others. It was also Cameron’s birthday, hopefully it was one he will remember with affection.

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Birthday boy Cameron looking for his present

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        Pigeage of the Carignan

Wednesday 23rd was a day for working the cellar. Jeff was keen to aerate the Syrah a little and to start to maximise the cuves by assembling some of the tanks and filling the new ones. Thursday saw similar work whilst Jeff also did some admin work.

On Friday 25th I returned to the cellar. Cameron was enjoying a well earned break and so I joined Jeff and Michel. They were continuing to fill the tanks, aerate some wine and then we moved to the muscats from Monday.

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                       Aerating some Syrah

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Muscats macerating with a little older Muscat wine

The Muscats are destined for the solera system and after a few days maceration they were showing lovely aromas, already slightly sherry-like due to being mixed with some older wine. The juice went straight into barrel whilst the marc was pressed again to extract more juice and flavour. Tasted straight from the press these included lovely apricot, plum fruits along with the slight oxidised note which adds complexity. Truly delicious, I’m afraid my description fails to do it justice.The barrel will allow the wine to age and gain contact with oxygen and the wine will develop into a luscious sweet wine. As stated previously I shall write more about the solera in the near future.

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Michel removes the skins for pressing

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     Michel then loads the press

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               Gateau de Muscat

There are one or two small parcels still to pick but the main harvest is now over. It began back on August 21st so lasted just over a month. I shall be reflecting upon it and the lessons I have learned from it in the next article. Meanwhile I look forward to picking the Muscat from Rome and went to the vineyard on Friday lunchtime to take some photos. I was met by a family of partridges, butterflies and birdsong – Rome really is a magical place. In La Garrigue the vines are starting to show their autumnal colours, their work is done for 2015. The vines have given everything to their fruit in the last month and the leaves which remain after harvest are looking tired after a long, hot summer. All, or nearly all, is safely gathered in. 

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La Garrigue, Friday. The grass across the centre marks the ridge with Grenache near side and Syrah far side.

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Grenache leaves showing that autumn approaches, harvest is over

Rome on a beautiful autumn day

                   Rome on a beautiful autumn day

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Luscious Muscat bunch

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Berries shriveling and concentrating the sugars

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    Jeff seems to approve of the London Cab


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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.

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              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.

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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.

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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.

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            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!

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Cameron getting a sample for analysis

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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.

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Skull crusher

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Jeff (Jean Francois if you want to be formal) Coutelou is passionate about nature, about plants and trees as well as vines. He sees his job very much as making the best from nature whilst doing as much as possible to protect and enhance it. Mas Coutelou has been organic since 1987, long before it became fashionable. Jeff has now gone further and has been making natural wines for a number of years, the first small tests in 2003. Natural wines are wines which have minimal chemical or mechanical intervention. To prevent or combat diseases only natural products are allowed to be used. Equally, in the cellar minimal intervention is required for example in using, for example, only natural yeasts. The wine which results is the natural result and product of the grapes. There are bad natural wines for sure but winemakers such as Jeff pour huge efforts into their vineyards to make sure that the grapes are as healthy as nature allows and, in cellar, hygiene and close supervision ensure that quality prevails and top quality wine is produced. Moreover, in recent years he has gone further and has used no added sulphur. This is usually used by vignerons to fight the risk of oxidation and help preserve the wine. Many people don’t like sulphur in wines, some are sensitive to its effects. It is a risk not to add it but Jeff has been able to avoid it for the last few years.

My first visit to Mas Coutelou many years ago included a tour of the vineyards in Jeff’s van with my wife sat on a concrete block in the back and Héro, Jeff’s previous dog, keeping her company. As we travelled around and stopped to look at vines and grapes what shone out was Jeff’s passion for the land, the vines and the olive and fig trees which he has planted to ensure polyculture and a varied landscape.  At one point he stopped the van and pointed to two sets of vines. To the left was a neighbour’s vines, They looked beautiful; vivid brown soil with bright green vines in straight rows, all cut to the same shape and size, all neat and tidy. So beautiful that a film company was actually filming with them as a background. But Jeff asked us to look closer. There was no life in the vines or the soil, it was devoid of insects, butterflies, herbs, nothing. Next to these vines were Jeff’s. They looked, to my untrained eyes, much more messy – the vines weren’t regular, there was grass and herbs and flowers between the rows. But they were absolutely teeming with life, insects, butterflies and, as if on cue, partridges running through them. And it’s that life which emerges in the wines. As soon as I tasted them I was blown away by their vivacity. powerful fruit and flavour. These are not just in your face wines though. They have complexity and age very well. I have tasted some from 2001 which are still drinking well and show no sign of being tired. Jeff opened a Flambadou (100% Carignan) from 2007 at lunch last week which was still bright, lively but deep and with layers of flavour. I find it hard to not drink these wines young because they are so delicious young. Vin Des Amis I have usually drunk in the first few months after purchase. Yet a 2010 magnum tasted on Saturday was still full of that freshness but also with more complex flavours. A lesson for me that I must put some bottles away.

As part of his determination to look after his land and plants (of all kinds) Jeff is interested in preserving wine varieties. He is one of only two vignerons in the world to have a variety called Castets (Break your head, or skull crusher as I have liberally translated. In fact it is named after the man who developed and spread the variety). (The other is Chateau Simone in Palette neat Aix-en-Provence).

Jeff with some Casse Tete grapes

Jeff with some Casse Tete grapes

There are only a few rows of the grapes and not enough to vinify separately so they are being blended with Carignan. Can’t wait to taste the results.

Casse Tete being prepared for pressing by Michael, a fellow Liverpool fan and genuine Scouser

Castets being prepared for pressing by Michael, a fellow Liverpool fan and genuine top class Scouser

Casse tetes in tank, the skins, pips etc on top of the wine

Castets in tank, the skins, pips etc on top of the wine

 

The chapeau is really tough and so Tina has to really force it down into the juice (pigeage)

The chapeau is really tough and so Tina has to really force it down into the juice (pigeage)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My wife, Pat, clearly liked the Casse Tetes

My wife, Pat, clearly liked the Castets!!