amarchinthevines

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


3 Comments

Curiouser and curiouser

curious-curiouser-featured (1)

A detail from an illustration by Sir John Tenniel depicting Alice with the March Hare, Hatter and Dormouse at the Mad Tea Party. From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

It has been a most curious year and as it goes on it becomes curiouser and curiouser, just as Alice said. *

P1010116

To quote another famous character, a certain Jeff Coutelou, during these last few months there was no proper autumn, no real winter, no true springtime. The last few months of 2015 and early 2016 were abnormally warm, not one single day of frost in Puimisson. Plant life started very early, there was blossom on trees in February, mimosa everywhere. People recorded their vines starting to ‘cry’ as the sap rose. And then, it all stopped. As March and April unfolded the weather was chilly with cold northerly winds. The plant life closed down its growth to a minimum. Budding (ébourgeonnage) was late even after the mild winter.

May is usually warm in the Languedoc and we have had some hot, sunny days but interspersed with cooler days and plenty with a lot of cloud cover. The vines pushed quickly some days, 25 – 30 cm the week before last and then… cooler weather slowed the growth again. Flowering (fleuraison) began last year around May 5th but this year Jeff and I spotted the first flowering on May 26th. Appropriately that was in the Flower Power vineyard, Font D’Oulette. Yet in the white grape vines, such as the Muscat in Peilhan, there is no flowering.

It is likely that most of the vines will flower at the beginning of next week, most varieties at the same time which is, again, most unusual. Curiouser and curiouser. As the vendanges are calculated at 100 days after flowering, the likely date for harvest to get under way is now well into September, ie 10 – 14 days behind 2015. After a very precocious start to the year!

So why does this matter? Well, the vines have been unable to rest since last harvest. The lack of frost or cold weather in winter meant that the vines did not shut down fully. The sap has been on the move for months. Those early reports of vines crying in February, then delayed growth. Vines have sent out a lot of growth but the lack of sunshine has not produced much photosynthesis, the vines are often green in lower parts but lighter green higher up. The grafted vines in Font D’Oulette have been slow to send out growth, the sap flows and then cooler weather arrives.

P1010010

Peilhan, note the lighter green near the tops

Humidity and grey clouds means a threat of mildew and some spots are evident on leaves in certain parcels. Jeff spent the night of May 20 spraying from 9pm to 1am, starting over again at 6am the next day. Why then? During the night and early morning the vines are more receptive to the influence of the spray as the pores are open in cooler temperatures. Not the usual spray of course. Mas Coutelou has been organic since 1987 and Jeff has gone much further. This spray was of nettles, horsetail, seaweed mixed with a tiny amount of sulphur and copper (allowed in organic farming). And also in that mix were essential oils of sweet orange and rosemary, pampered vines indeed. This prompt action has mastered the problem supported by timely sunshine and northerly winds.

P1010003

Spots of mildew on the leaves and on the grappe

Whilst in Rome vineyard the other day we looked at the soils and Jeff pointed out the growth of good mushrooms and fungal life in there. The photos show this life, the white spots. Scientific research shows that it is through fungal life such as this that the vines communicate with each other and support each other. This has taken a lot of soil nurturing and management.

And to further demonstrate the health of the vineyards, remember the vandalism of the Carignan vineyard and the flowers that were planted there? Well they are growing back stronger than ever. Nature wins in the end. We can only choose to support it or fight it, but in the end nature will win.

P1010071

Cinsault in Rome

At present despite this most curious of years the vines are in good health. The next three months will decide whether the grapes will be of good quality or not. Jeff reckons that the period from April 15 to July 15 the vigneron must be always present, always monitoring the vines to ensure that any problems can be sorted as soon as possible. That will make or break the vintage.

P1010008 Collage

Flowers in the Coutelou vineyards

Meanwhile we have been treated to some beautiful flowers in the wild and around the vineyards. As well as birdsong in Rome vineyard. Nature at its best despite the curious year.

That is if the problems can be solved. Just this week Sancerre and Burgundy were hit by massive hail storms causing damage which means that the year is a write off in some vineyards. The third such storm this year in some of these areas. And on Saturday, May 28th Beaujolais was badly hit too. Again nature decides.

beaujo hail

Hail damaged vines in Beaujolais (photo with permission from @duc_lionel)

A curious year, yes. But a disastrous one for some.

*  (No rude comments about mad March please).

 

 

 

 


13 Comments

Vendanges Diaries #8 – Vendanges to vinification

IMG_2698

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.

IMG_2633

 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.

IMG_2579

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.

Je fais un remontage de Flower Power

       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.

IMG_2648

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.

IMG_2650

IMG_2652

IMG_2626

IMG_2654

IMG_2635

IMG_2627

IMG_2700

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.

IMG_2691

IMG_2672

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.

IMG_2646

IMG_2492

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.

cabernet

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.

IMG_2683

IMG_2685

IMG_2669

IMG_2665

IMG_2664

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


Leave a comment

Mas Coutelou – vineyard portrait

Version francaise

The traditional image of a vineyard is that of one big parcel of vines surrounding a chateau as in Bordeaux, with its smart house and cellar buildings for making and storing wine. However, that is not the reality for most vineyard owners. Jeff Coutelou has his home and his cellars in the centre of Puimisson in the Hérault, surrounded by a childrens’ nursery, houses and work buildings. The vineyard itself surrounds the village but comes in a number of small parcels rather than one big vineyard. Each brings its own characteristics in terms of soil, surroundings and exposure to the elements, ie its own terroir. The parcels have been accumulated over the years by Jeff’s grandfather, father and himself. In the satellite photograph below you will see the parcels and how they relate to the village. Vineyards are shown in green, olive groves in red.

satellite

(Photo taken from Rapport Biodiversité d’Exploitation Mas Coutelou produced by Agrifaune)

There are about 17.5 hectares (43 acres) of land though olive trees occupy about 2.5ha (6.7 acres) and well over 1 ha (3 acres) is fallow land or has other trees, hedges and plants. The soil is virtually all clay and limestone. As you may be able to see in the satellite photograph much of the land to the south of Puimisson is vineyard, to the point of monoculture. Jeff wants to use his land to produce biodiversity so olives, figs, roses and hedges help to create little oases of wildlife. More details are outlined at the end of this post.

Untitled

Segrairals and Caraillet (6.8ha, 5.7 under vines)

This is the biggest of the parcels and the only one situated to the north of the village and closest to it. Surrounded by the village and a couple of roads it is well protected by trees and hedges, including figs and olives. A variety of grapes are planted with the oldest being some Syrah planted in 1993, Cabernet Sauvignon planted 1998 and younger plantings of Mourvedre, Syrah and especially Cinsault. The Syrah goes into bottles such as Classe and 7, Rue De La Pompe. Mourvedre goes into Sauvé De La Citerne and the Cinsault into 5SO. The Cabernet grapes will be used for blending in various cuvées or sold to the UK to make the new London Cru Cabernet Sauvignon, a project run by Roberson in London.

Main body of Syrah and Cabernet grapes

Main body of Syrah and Cabernet grapes

Planted olive trees in the foreground with some younger Cinsault and Syrah vines in the background

Planted olive trees in the foreground with some younger Cinsault and Syrah vines in the background

        

La Prairie (0.5ha)

To the west of Puimisson La Prairie is an olive grove in a very pleasant area with an official ecology walk going past it. No vineyard planted.

Mountains seen from La Prairie

Mountains seen from La Prairie

Prairie olive plantation

Prairie olive plantation

Le Colombié (0.6ha)

Just at the southern tip of the village Le Colombié is planted entirely with Merlot vines. These will produce grapes used to blend for cuvées prepared for restaurants, bag in box etc. Merlot is not a typical Languedoc variety, these were planted in 1999.

Colombié - Merlot vines

Le Colombié – Merlot vines

Rome (0.7ha)

Possibly my personal favourite vineyard of them all. It is quite isolated even though there are other vineyards around. Isolated, because there is a wood which shelters it. The gobelet Cinsault vines date back to 1966 and 1975 and go into the Copains or,in some years, Vin Des Amis or Classe. These old vines are also surrounded with young olive trees and the parcel is an attractive and quiet haven. There is also a planting of some 20 different varieties of grapes including various types of Muscat which are used in a solera system. This was started many years ago by Jeff’s grandfather and ever since wines have been used to top up the old barrels to make Vieux Grenache and Vieux Muscat. Sensational wines. The added benefit is that because there are so many different types of vine they cross pollinate and this adds an extra layer of complexity to the Cinsault in the Rome vineyard.

All vines lead to Rome

All vines lead to Rome

 

Gobelet Cinsault vines, olive trees and the surrounding woods

Gobelet Cinsault vines, olive trees and the surrounding woods

Metaierie (2.3ha)

The parcel which was the basis of my post One Day Like This when we harvested the last grapes of 2014, some Grenache. There are a few older Merlot vines (to be replaced in 2015) but the parcel is mainly the home of Grenache and Syrah grapes which are used to make the ever popular Vin Des Amis.

Smaller Metaierie parcel

Smaller Metaierie parcel

Main Metaierie vineyard, home of Vin Des Amis

Main Metaierie vineyard, home of Vin Des Amis

La Garrigue (1.8ha)

Described in some detail in the post Working In The Vineyards (January). Made up of three sections: some younger Syrah facing north for freshness, a section of Grenache facing south, as it likes the heat and some 20 year old Sauvignon Blanc vines too. The Sauvignon is used to make the white blend PM or other white cuvées, the Syrah goes into my favourite La Vigne Haute and the Grenache is used to make Classe along with the Syrah from Segrairals.

IMG_0763

Grenache

IMG_0764

Sauvignon Blanc

 

La Grangette (0.5ha)

A parcel of half a hectare (just over an acre) surrounded by vines, Jeff decided that it is compromised in terms of quality grapes so he planted 112 olive trees in 2011 to provide contrast to the fairly barren land and vines surrounding Grangette.

Rec D’Oulette (1ha plus a smaller, separate parcel of 0.3ha)

Actually made up of two parcels of land. This has seen a lot of work in recent years as Jeff has tried to diversify it. The central block is half a hectare of 30 year old Carignan, used in making Flambadou, a wine which is really improving and was one of the stars of 2013. Surrounding these vines Jeff has planted half a hectare of olive trees to keep them away from the chemicals of neighbouring vineyards. The second part of Rec resembles Grangette as an isolated small parcel and again Jeff has planted olive trees to diversify as it is too small and isolated in its organic nature for grapes.

IMG_0743

Carignan vines for Flambadou

  IMG_0744

    

Font D’Oulette (0.65ha)

A parcel where Jeff has worked hard in recent years. More olive trees planted in 2011 as were those in the small section of Rec. In addition he has grafted an older variety Aramon into the vineyard covering over half a hectare. These grapes will be used to create new cuvées and the first blend of grapes produced in 2014 is highly promising tasted from tank.

IMG_0766

Olive trees to protect the new Aramon vines

IMG_0770

Aramon vines

Les Roques (1ha, not on satellite photo)

One hectare of land to the south east of the village heading into Lieuran-les-Béziers, this was the vineyard I showed after the storms of November 28th 2014 when it was flooded. In fact the vines have been grubbed up and there is a programme in place to plant trees and to provide a barrier to the Libron river in case it should flood gain.

Les Roques shortly after the November storms

Les Roques shortly after the November storms

Peilhan (2.2ha)

An attractive vineyard nicely protected. About a hectare is planted with white grape varieties, including a section of Carignan Blanc which has been used to make a cuvée all on its own. Maccabeu, Grenache Gris and different types of Muscat make up the other white varieties and these are usually picked, assembled and vinified together as part of the PM white blend. This also the home of the Castets vines I have written about a lot, one of only two Castets vineyards in France. More Carignan vines are joined by another interesting grape variety, Clairette Musquée which was blended with the Aramon from Font D’Oulette last year. This is the vineyard where a recent plantation took place to bring back older varieties to the area. Terret Blanc, Riveyrenc Gris and Piquepoul Gris were planted along with Terret Noir, Morastel and Riveyrenc Noir. picked, assembled and vinified together as part of the PM white blend. This also the home of the Castets vines I have written about a lot, one of only two Castets vineyards in France. More Carignan vines are joined by another interesting grape variety, Clairette Musquée which was blended with the Aramon from Font D’Oulette last year. This is the vineyard where a recent plantation took place to bring back older varieties to the area. Terret Blanc, Riveyrenc Gris and Piquepoul Gris were planted along with Terret Noir, Morastel and Riveyrenc Noir.

IMG_0774

Main parcel with white vines, Castets, Carignan and Clairette Musquée

IMG_0886

Planting the new parcel of Peilhan

The domaine

Overall Syrah is the predominant grape variety making up around one third of production, although 2014 saw a big reduction in the harvest due to the dry spring and early summer. Red grapes dominate with well over 90% of production.

Jeff et ses Castets

Jeff and his Castets

(g-d) Vin Des Amis, & Rue De La Pompe, Paf

(L-R) Vin Des Amis, 7 Rue De La Pompe, Paf

   015

Organic since 1987, no synthetic chemical products have been used on the soils for over 25 years now. No artificial yeasts are added in the winemaking process, the grapes produce healthy yeasts themselves to stimulate fermentation. Grapes also naturally produce tiny quantities of sulphites but Jeff has been experimenting with using no added sulphur since 2003 and has successfully completed the last three harvests without adding any sulphur to the wines. This dedication to producing wines which are as natural as possible, made with as little intervention as possible means that Jeff is restless in seeking to improve the quality of his soils and in protecting them from the non-organic practices of neighbouring vineyards. He has also brought in Agrifaune to put together a project to plant over I kilometre of hedges. These will help to prevent soil erosion, protect Coutelou vines from surrounding vineyards and also provide shelter to wildlife which in turn will help to protect the vines, for example by eating damaging insects. Trees such as oak, laurel and elder are being planted along with plants such as agrypis and wild rose. Around the vineyards wider borders of grasses and wild plants are being allowed to grow even if that means that vines have to be scrubbed up. Similarly ditches and fallow land will be used to encourage biodiversity. So in an area of monoculture these oases of biodiversity and wildlife will help to enrich nature, the vineyards and, ultimately, the wines.

IMG_0879


3 Comments

Mas Coutelou vineyards under threat

IMG_0775

Peilhan vineyard

 

IMG_0776

Puimisson from Rec D’Oulette and the ‘Flambadou’ Carignan vines

Version francaise

In my last blog entry I wrote about the planting of a new vineyard with a range of old varieties of vine. The parcel of land is part of the Peilhan vineyard and sad to say it is under threat together with the vineyard (Rec D’Oulette) which provides the Carignan grapes for the Flambadou cuvée, one of the most highly rated bottles of Mas Coutelou.

The threat comes from a plan by the company Quadran to plant 6 or 7 wind turbines on the plain behind the commune of Corneilhan. Ironically the village of Corneilhan will profit from the plan but is on the other side of a small hill from where the turbines will be situated, therefore the impact upon Corneilhan will be minimal unlike that upon neighbouring villages such as Pailhes and Puimisson whose residents will have to look at the turbines every day. Planning restrictions means that the turbines would have to be built on a stretch of land running across the area where Peilhan and RecD’Oulette are to be found.

Windfarm plans

Some neighbouring viticulteurs might be tempted to have a turbine on their land as they will receive a payment of 3000€ per megawatt per year created as compensation for not being able to produce wine from their vineyard. Jeff, and others, will not do so but the turbines will have a significant effect on the climate and terroir of his vineyards, if the project comes to fruition. Air turbulence, noise and the movement of the turbines will clearly alter growing conditions such as temperature and humidity but there are other consequences. Jeff has been working to provide biodiversity in the form of hedges, trees and plant life which shelter birds, bats and insects that provide a means of controlling vine pests such as ver de grappe and wasps. This helps to prevent the use of chemical pesticides and thus helps the environment. The presence of these ‘environmentally friendly’ turbines will undoubtedly upset the healthy ecosystem provided by these birds, bats and insects.

IMG_0738

Puimisson from Peilhan, how much would wind turbines dominate this landscape!!

IMG_0743

Trees and plants border the vineyard

IMG_0739

Olive trees in Rec D’Oulette

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, Jeff’s main concern is simply for the visual and auditory impact upon the area as a whole rather than just his personal loss. The area will be completely changed by the project and it does seem strange that they would build wind farms on agriculturally useful land rather than unproductive land elsewhere. It is ironic that so called green energy threatens the local environment. Without mentioning the threat to tourism which is economically important in the area.

In any case the best renewable energy is the one you don’t consume!

To show support for the people of the area as well as the vineyards you can sign this epetition now. I shall, of course, update with further news.

The fight begins..

IMG_0977

Notice in Pailhes Wednesday March 11th


2 Comments

Grapes, work and love

It has been a stormy week in the Languedoc and the weather has certainly disrupted the plans of vignerons in the region. Tragically five people were killed in a flood in Lamalou Les Bains and that event puts winemaking into perspective. However, the fortunes of wine growers and makers have also been hit by such extreme weather. Driving past Pézenas up the A75 on Thursday swathes of vineyards were under water on the low lying plains. The humidity also means that where grapes are left to pick there is a real risk of disease and even rot. I was talking to the excellent winemaker Emmanuel Pageot this morning as we visited Gabian for the jour patrimoine and he was explaining how complicated such problems have made the harvest. I was invited to join Emmanuel for a tasting soon and I will definitely report here on his latest wines. They are amongst my favourite wines of the region but I shall try to be objective.

In Margon Wednesday saw thunder and lightning and sheets of rain non stop through the day. Yet, in Puimisson, where Jeff lives and has his vineyards there was only a small rainfall, a reflection of the dry year there which has caused the smaller harvest. Normally Jeff would harvest 200-250 hectolitres from his 4 hectares of Syrah grapes, this year that production is down to 145 hectolitres. This means less wine, of course, and also a lot more thinking on his feet as smaller quantities mean that he has to decide which of his wines he uses the grapes for. Therefore it seems unlikely that there will a cuvée of 7, Rue De la Pompe this year as the grapes are needed for other cuvées. The quality of grapes is high though, for example the Syrah which is going into the Paf cuvée is concentrated and finer, partly due to a miserly production of only 25 hl per hectare.

(l-r) Vin Des Amis, & Rue De La Pompe, Paf

(l-r) Vin Des Amis, 7 Rue De La Pompe, Paf

Other grapes have been small in size and so because there is a lot of skin and pips compared to juice the wine needs to be blended with other fuller grapes. Jeff is also thinking of introducing new cuvées to use what he has. Cinsault, for example, has done well this year so offers new possibilities and there is also the possibility of producing a cuvée which Jeff’s father used to make. I will write more about that as the year develops and decisions are finalised.

As picking was on hold at some points due to the weather Tuesday lunch was more leisurely and Jeff had more time to relax and talk. He recounted a French fairy story The Chaud Doudou. Basically it is about sharing and how everyone feels better for having done so.

le-conte-chaud-et-doux-des-chaudoudoux

Jeff went on to share an Occitan proverb which translated means “What you give flourishes, what you keep to yourself perishes” and I think this sums up Jeff Coutelou’s wines, he shares his skills and his passion for the land and for nature. The title of this post are the words he uses to describe his winemaking philosophy; grapes, work and love. To produce such high quality wines he needs the best grapes, he works tirelessly and he instills endless love into the wines he produces. If you think that sounds far fetched then try some, he is telling the truth.