amarchinthevines

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


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Vendanges 17 – the finishing line

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Version francaise

I started my coverage of the 2017 vendanges with racing terminology and, so, I finish in the same way.

It’s definitely over. Vendanges 2017 with all its quality, with so little quantity.

On September 27th the final press of the grapes was completed. It was the turn of the Cabernet Sauvignon, two weeks after picking. The skins, pips and other solids had done their work in giving up flavour, colour, tannins and so much more. The yeasts had started their work of fermentation. Now it was time to press before that grape must started to be problematic rather than beneficial.

The must was pumped from the cuve by the powerful pompe à marc directly into the press. Julien ensured that the press was filled in all corners and then the press began. It inflates a membrane inside which gently presses the must to extract the juice without releasing the more bitter, astringent tannins left in the skins and pips.

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Sediment after the must has gone to press

The grape variety (cépage) will determine the amount of pressure applied, Cabernet has small berries and thicker skins so needs a little more pressure than juicier, thinner skinned Cinsault for example.

 

The juice flows and is sent to another cuve to continue its fermentation, then its malolactic fermentation (which removes the more acid flavours). Indeed the analyses of the 2017 wines show that fermentations have gone through quickly, without fuss or problem. There is no sign of volatility or any other problem, the wines look on course to be as high quality as the grapes themselves. Which, of course, is the goal. Jeff believes in letting the grapes express themselves with as little intervention as possible. This year interventions are minimal, the grapes have done the work.

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Sadly, the quantities do not reflect the quality and that will bring a financial blow to the domaine and to virtually all domaines in the region. When you are asked to pay a few euros for a bottle of 2017 Mas Coutelou, I hope that you will recall all the work which I have described, the stresses and strains, the love and care which has gone into that bottle and you will consider it money well spent.


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Centiment de Grenache

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Version française

No excuses for using a  French title and a misspelling too. This is the hundredth article on my blog and so a play on the word cent is justified. I mentioned to Jeff Coutelou that this post would be a landmark and he decided that it should be celebrated with something special. I had thought about a review of the previous ninety nine, a greatest hits if you will, but Jeff had something much more spectacular lined up; I should make a special cuvée from the Coutelou vines, and not just any parcel but my absolute favourite vineyard, Rome.

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This was such a lovely gift, in the middle of the harvest, a time of increasing pressure and stress, Jeff allowed me to take up time, grapes and equipment to make a special wine. How generous is that?

So it was decided to use the Grenache grapes from Rome a complanted vineyard of traditional, gobelet vines. The Grenaches were planted back in 1962 by Jean Claude Coutelou, Jeff’s father who told me about them at lunch on Friday, the day of the harvest and pressing. There are approximately 4 rows of Grenache Noir but mixed in there are quite a few Grenache Blanc vines and a smaller number of Grenache Gris. These would make a true assemblage of Grenache, a real feeling for Grenache, “sentiment de Grenache”.

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My wife Pat was persuaded to come along and do some picking along with our friends Martin and May Colfer, neighbours in Margon, and great people. They had expressed interest in finding out about the harvest and were to get first hand experience! I was also delighted that we were joined by Céline and Delphine, two nurses from Bordeaux who had come down to Puimisson to take part in harvest. It is a mark of how highly Jeff is valued by his friends that many come along to help out and I shall mention more in the next vendanges diaries. Céline had done some picking in the first week of harvest when she and her family were staying with Jeff and had clearly enjoyed it, returning with Delphine.

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It has to be said that none of us were the most experienced pickers and it took us around two and a half hours to harvest the four rows. One issue proved to be the complantation as mixed in with the Grenache Blanc were some Muscat vines and the Cinsault and Muscat Noir vines were easily mistaken for Grenache Noir. Fortunately my recent articles on ampelography meant that I was able to guide us into collecting the sought after Grenaches with just a few extras. It was made easier by the grapes themselves which were in excellent condition, really healthy. Mixed with Queen tunes and chatter we worked hard to pick and the first grapes were transported back to the cellar along with myself, there to start the pressing.

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As this was a small quantity of grapes they would be pressed in one of the small hydraulic presses and so I had to tread them first so that they would not burst in the press, squirting juice everywhere. Then into the cage and the juice began to flow, sweet, clear and weighing in at over 15º of potential alcohol.

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Back to the vineyards to rejoin my friends in order to complete the picking. At 11.45 we had completed all the Grenache vines. I have said before in this blog that I call the vines of Rome vineyard ‘centurions’, as they stand tall and proud. Roman centurions were older, were trained and gave everything for each other. These vines are exactly the same and making an assemblage of the different Grenaches seems appropriate, centurions stand together.

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Lunch beckoned and it was good to share together and enjoy some of the bottles of Mas Coutelou, coincidentally including a magnum of ‘Grenache, Mise De Printemps 2014’. As this is the 100th article it also made me think of a year ago when I sat around that table and Jeff told me his story of the <Chaud Doudou>, a fairytale with a moral of sharing and love, very much Jeff’s philosophy. Looking around the table with Jeff, Jean-Claude, Michel from Puimisson with visitors from the Loire, Bordeaux, UK, Ireland and Australia it was hard not to think that this was exactly what that philosophy is all about.

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In the afternoon I pressed the grapes three times in total. Between each one I carried out a rebeche, dismantling the gateau of grapes made by the press and rearranging them for the next pressing. The contrast between the black, pink and white grapes was beautiful to look at.

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The end product was only around 125 litres of wine after all that effort, this will be a true collectors item so send your bids in now! Jeff thought it would be interesting to see how the wine will develop in different containers, so some went into a 60 litre barrel, more into two, older 15 litre barrels and the rest into a big 27 litre bottle.

First pressing

First pressing

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Second pressing, slightly darker in colour

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Delphine and Karim checking my work

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During the whole process other parts of the cellar were busy as more Grenache from Sainte Suzanne were brought in. Yet Jeff gave me his time, advice and encouragement through it all. What can I say? I am a very lucky man to have been able to share my experiences with you all through this blog and I am grateful to very one of the 10,000 people who have read my words in just over a year. It has been an exciting and hugely enjoyable time and hopefully this cuvée will embody the sentiment of sharing and love and represent the beautiful Rome vineyard and the amazing generosity and talents of its owner.

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Castets II – return of the Rugbymen

In a previous post on October 1st (Fin de Vendanges a Mas Coutelou, One Day Like This) I described the hugely enjoyable day spent harvesting Grenache Noir grapes in the company of the Rugbymen of Béziers. Well, the grapes were placed in tank and left to ferment using carbonic maceration. After 3 weeks it was time to press the grapes and the Rugbymen were back.

The grapes in tank, the cage and press

The grapes in tank, the cage and press stand ready

Jeff kickstarts the pressing, with very clean boots!

Jeff kickstarts the pressing, with very clean boots!

The grapes tasted wonderful, full of fruit but with added layers of strength and alcoholic sweetness from fermenting within their skins. Then it was time for the Rugbymen to show the results of all that training.

Loading the grapes into the cage

Loading the grapes into the cage

The juice ran freely even as the cage was being loaded and then the press began its work.

First juice runs freely even before the pressing

First juice runs freely even before the pressing

Look at that stunning colour!

Look at that stunning colour!

The wine was put into bidons (bonbonnes) of glass wrapped in straw for safe keeping and to avoid light damaging the wine. Each bonbonne was carefully marked to ensure that it will be possible to taste the different stages of the wine pressing, from the first freely flowing juice to the last of the pressed wine. It was interesting to taste the wine as it appeared through these stages, there were distinct differences. Various Rugbymen, Jeff and myself all had their own,differing preferences. It will be fascinating to monitor their evolution.

Transferring wine into the bidons

Transferring wine into the bonbonnes

Once again thanks to the Rugbymen, they really are good fun, warm hearted and top men!

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Preparing the grapes for a final pressing, called a rebeche

It was also a good opportunity to taste the wine from Castets, the rare variety which is grown by Jeff as one of only two producers in the world.

WOW! This is already something special. Fruit, light at first just grows in flavour and depth as it coats the mouth and lingers there for a long time. It is amazing and with time in tank and then in bottle (magnums are the likely future) this is a wine I really want to drink when it is mature.


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“Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.” (Pasteur)

Louis Pasteur is one of my historical heroes. As well as showing the links between germs and disease (by investigating alcohol) he discovered how vaccines work (partly by working to prevent the vine disease phylloxera). The quote above is also very topical after working in Jeff’s cellar. Let me explain.

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The Mas Coutelou team (left to right) – Annie, Michael, Carole, Jeff and Tina (sadly Michel was not in this photo)

The year has been a trying one for Jeff. The very dry weather through spring and summer has caused a major drop in production, Jeff reckons most parcels are 30-50% down on quantity even if the quality is very good. That is a big burden to bear and must be a financial blow.

The team which Jeff assembled for the harvest were cheerful, helpful and hard working. Carole has been working periodically with Jeff for 8 years and her experience allied to his leadership meant that work was done according to his wishes but with plenty of smiles and respect. Michel who works for Jeff was also a steady and reassuring presence. Harvest took place this week in hot, sunny weather. The team in the vineyard picked mainly under the stewardship of Carole and the grapes were ferried back to the cellar within half an hour or so of being picked.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, freshly picked

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, freshly picked

The ‘caisses’ of grapes are then placed on the sorting line. I worked on triage on Wednesday. The grapes are taken out of the caisse and inspected for any signs of disease, under ripeness or foreign bodies such as leaves or snails. Ripe grapes are placed in the égrappeur which destems the grapes.

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The destemmer at work

The grapes are then pumped into tank ready to await pressing and to allow the first stages of fermentation. The bunches which were taken out are then checked, and healthy grapes added to the tank. This is slow and careful work, after all Jeff wants only the best quality grapes to go into his wines. The grapes are given as light a pressing as possible.

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Healthy, ripe Grenache grapes being pumped to tank

Jeff uses a range of containers for the wines, cement, stainless steel and wood. He is seeking neutral influence in the main as he wants the grapes to tell their own story rather than, for example, new wood. After the grapes have settled and begun to ferment they are pumped into another tank and some of the skins, pips etc are removed as they pass through very broad sieve like stainless steel. Jeff checks the wines at every stage to measure the stage which they are at, alcohol levels, sugar levels etc

Jeff testing the first stages

Jeff testing the first stages

After that initial pumping the wine is allowed to settle and the solids which are left in the wine begin to rise to the top of the tank as they are lighter than the grape juice. This produces a thick layer or ‘cap’ (chapeau in French). The skins in the cap though contain flavouring and colour for the wine and so it needs to be mixed with the juice. The cap has to be physically pushed down into the juice.

The wines are also ‘pumped over’ (remontage) every day. This means the red wine in the bottom of the tank is pumped over the top of the cap to moisten it and to extract the required amount of colour, flavour etc. This requires the working of an expensive but vital pump to caress the wine rather than force it. This pump works non stop all day (there are back ups!).

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The (very) expensive pump

As the harvest progresses more tanks are filled so more and more pumping over takes place. The cellar begins to resemble a plate of spaghetti as hoses run from one tank to another. Yet another machine also chills the wine slightly or heats it up if fermentation needs to be encouraged. This machine is in the top right of the photo underneath.

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How does Jeff keep all these sorted in his head?

All the while Jeff tastes the juice which is gently turning into wine and testing its progress using equipment such as a refractometer and other scientific equipment. A real mix of personal judgement and science mixing to best advantage.

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This continues until Jeff is happy that the wine is right. Several weeks of pumping, testing, tasting – an enormous task. There are so many pieces of information for him to keep in his head about the development of each cuve, an amazing effort which leaves him with a definite air of fatigue during the very enjoyable lunches and the post work drink.

So what of the Pasteur quotation? Well as I was working (oh yes I was) two things really struck me apart from the sheer physicality of lugging cases of grapes, hoses, pumps and various items of equipment.

Firstly, patience. Jeff waits patiently for the grapes to be just right before picking, he wants the best and is prepared to give nature the time it requires to deliver its best. In the cellar he nurtures each cuve and each drop of wine, each stage of the process takes place when the wine dictates to him. The temptation to rush or to do things because it suits the winemaker is resisted with determination and confidence. He knows because he produces great wines that if he waits he will produce more great wine.

Secondly, cleanliness.

Jeff makes natural wines and for the last couple of years without the use of sulphur to stabilise the wine and help it to fight dangers such as oxidation. To do so everything has to be clean. At every step equipment is washed down and cleaned. Again and again and again. This is drilled into all of us. The risk of harmful bacteria is reduced by hyper vigilance and cleanliness. Jeff told me that for each litre of wine produced he estimates that he uses a litre of water for washing and cleaning. I can believe it and in fact it must be much more. Now before I upset other winemakers who clean rigorously and take every care with hygiene I am not claiming that Jeff is unique in this. I was just amazed at how much washing and cleaning takes place. Hence my Pasteur quotation.

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Cleaning

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More cleaning

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And, yes, more cleaning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My other job this week was pressing some grapes for some very special wines. More of that in the next post.

Happy in my work

Happy in my work