amarchinthevines

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


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Vendanges 2016 #8 – from grapes to wine

En français

The grapes are picked, how do we make this become wine? That has become the main objective now at Mas Coutelou.

The grape skins, pips, flesh and solids are with the juice in the tank (cuve) for as long as Jeff feels that they will benefit the juice. They give the juice chemicals such as anthocyanins which give colour to the juice (for rosé and red wines), tannins and flavour compounds. The solid parts of the mix tend to rise to the top of the tank and float on the juice. This cap must be kept moist, a dry must would give unpleasant flavours and is more prone to harmful bacteria. That is why remontage and pigeage have to be carried out, as explained before.

Jeff will taste from each cuve every day and samples are sent to oenologue Thierry Toulouse for analysis.

When he is happy that the right balance of sugars, acidity, colour and flavours is achieved it is time to press the wine. Some of the must is left behind in cuve and will be collected to use again, for example in distilling.

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Michel removing must from the cuve

The pressed juice goes into a new cuve and will continue its fermentation into wine. The yeasts on the grape skins and in the atmosphere of the cellar change the grape sugars into alcohol. The fermentation will have begun when the must was in contact but will continue when just the juice remains.

I wish I could convey the smell of the fermenting juice via the page you are reading. It is like walking into a boulangerie in the early morning,  bready aromas fill the air as the yeasts go about their work. One of the real highlights of the whole process.

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Fragrant, yeasty fermenting wine

Whilst that is all going on the equipment which has been used so much in the last month is checked over, taken apart and given a thorough cleaning. Not a pip, not a grape skin must be left in the sorting table, presses, égrappoir (destemmer) or anything else. No chance of bacteria gathering.

It is not straightforward. The process of grape juice to wine is a natural one and things can go wrong. Any vigneron who had a year where the process went without any hiccoughs would be either the luckiest alive or a liar. Yeasts can suddenly stop working, fermentations become too hot, bacteria (both helpful and harmful) are unpredictable. Jeff must be aware of every cuve and of their analyses, he must use his experience to tackle any issue which springs up at any time of day or night. He rejects the use of sulphur dioxide (SO2) to act as an antiseptic or stabiliser for the wine, therefore that experience is tested time and again. No wonder he wears an air of fatigue.

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Vendanges 2016 #4 -cellar and weather

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En français

The weather has had its say and threatens to shout out loud in the next few days. Should we expect anything different in this most problematic of years? Saturday (Sept. 10th) was supposed to be a day for picking but a heavy shower fell in the morning and that was enough to stop the day in the vineyards. Grapes covered in rainwater would provide diluted juice, no good for quality producers though that did not stop some in the area.

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Some picked on Saturday

However, there was still work to do in the cellar, remontages and pressing. The previous day some of the team had been clearing space in the solera cave so that the Muscat and Grenache picked from Rome vineyard would have room.

Sunday was a day off though more remontage and cellar work was done. There is no rest. Today (Monday 12th) was a normal day for many vignerons but at Mas Coutelou a big part of the team are the Moroccan pickers and it is Eid Mubarak. Therefore Jeff decided that they deserved the opportunity to celebrate their holy day and so no major picking. An act of respect which deserves mention.

Sadly, that act seems unlikely to be rewarded by the weather. There is a major threat of a large storm on Wednesday which would halt work again and require a few days for the grapes to recover before they could be harvested. More careful triage will also be required. Let us hope that the storm weakens or diverts.

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Carignan Noir Saturday

Meanwhile Carole, James, Vincent and Charles were out picking Carignan Blanc this morning in Peilhan and the Grenache from Sainte Suzanne was pressed. Work continues despite everything this year throws at us. Tomorrow will see the harvest of Syrah from La Garrigue, the grapes which usually make La Vigne Haute.

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La Garrigue, Syrah on the left

 


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Vendanges 2016 #2 – adolescence

En français

When I mention vendanges to most people they think of grape picking and, maybe, putting the grapes into a tank (cuve). However, vendanges means much more than that and we are now entering stage two of the process.

When the grapes have been picked and sorted they are stored in a cuve where the juice interacts with the skins extracting flavour, colour and also coming into contact with the yeasts which grow naturally on the skins. These yeasts then begin the process of fermentation which turns the sugars in the juice into an alcoholic wine. This mix of juice, skins, pips and flesh is known as must.

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Checking progress

So, whilst picking continues at Mas Coutelou Jeff must already plan what is happening to those cuves of grapes which were picked a few days ago, You will remember from #1 that we picked Grenache and Syrah on days 1 and 2 and that they were in cuves 2A and 2B. They are picking up colour and the fermentation means that the sweet grape juice of last Wednesday is already very different. Still plenty of raspberry and red fruit flavours but the sugar levels have fallen and the liquid is now more austere, a little acidic and with a weight of alcohol. It has turned from child into young adult.

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Today – Grenache and Syrah has matured

To ensure that the grape skins do not give unpleasant flavours, volatility etc., Jeff must ensure they do not dry out as they float on the juice, forming what is known as the cap (chapeau). Therefore, wine is pumped from the bottom of the cuve over the top of the chapeau to push it down a little and to moisten it. This is known as remontage.

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Carole carries out a remontage

Alternatively, an instrument or hand can be used to push the chapeau down into the juice, a process called pigeage.

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James performs a pigeage

When Jeff is satisfied that the juice is ready and has had optimal skin contact he will begin pressing the must to leave the final juice. We await the first press as yet but it will be in the next couple of days as the Grenache and Syrah are already showing their adolescence.

Meanwhile picking continues. Friday saw Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat À Petits Grains as the first white grapes of 2016 at the domaine. Monday saw the picking of the Merlot from Colombié which will, unusually, find its place in the Coutelou cuvées. I am no great fan of Merlot but the grapes were lovely and the juice tastes especially rich and full.

Today (Tuesday) was Flower Power day, sadly the snails won the battle this year. They ate so many of the buds in Spring that the vines struggled to produce much. The dryness merely confirmed Font D’Oulette would be low yielding in 2016. Around twenty cases is not much return for such a lovely parcel of vines. High quality grapes from the various cépages but very low quantity.

Clairette and Oeillade from Peilhan with some Grenache Gris and Muscat Noir was added to the mix. Also picked was the Cinsault from Rome which was in good condition with nice big berries. So my two favourite vineyards are already harvested.

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James models the lovely Segrairals Syrah

Finally, some lovely Syrah from Segrairals was picked and there will be much more of this tomorrow. This Syrah is such good quality that Jeff is already excited about what he can do with it. Segrairals is the biggest vineyard of the domaine and is also serving up some of its best fruit.

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Charles, Vincent and the new sorting table

A new sorting table was brought into play this week and it is certainly much more efficient than the previous method of sorting from the cases themselves. Triage of better quality but also much speedier too. The table is already paying for itself.

So, stage 1 (picking) is well under way, stage 2 (the must in cuve) is under way for some and stage 3 (pressing) will shortly begin. The jigsaw is already becoming more complicated for Jeff Coutelou.

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There really is a puzzle under there


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Full steam ahead

En français

There was something of the nautical in these two photographs hence the title.

The preparations for the vendanges are in full swing, the hail has speeded up the start date as damaged grapes, especially, the Grenache in Sainte Suzanne, need to be picked earlier than foreseen. A tour of the vineyards on Wednesday morning with Jeff was an opportunity for him to taste the grapes and use the refractometer to measure the sugar and potential alcohol in them.

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Picking will require even more care than usual in some parcels as the bunches will need to be checked thoroughly for any damage due to mildew, hail, vers de la grappe or any other issue. Many grapes will be left on the ground. The rest will be sorted back in the cave and Jeff has invested in a new sorting table to ensure scrutiny can be absolute. No chances will be taken as always, only healthy fruit will go into the wine. That is the how natural wines have to be, made from the healthiest fruit as nothing will be added to it to disguise faults, unripe grapes or unhealthy grapes.

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Karcher washer has been well used

In similar vein everything has been cleaned down, washing equipment is a time consuming but vital part of ensuring healthy grapes. Harmful bacteria are the enemy, with no SO2 antiseptics we have to make sure that everything is spotless.

And there have been plenty of other changes in the cellar to ensure that the winemaking will be top quality. Out has gone the old press and some big tanks (cuves) as I have mentioned before. In has arrived new stainless steel cuves, temperature controlled. There is more room, a new resin covered floor to make cleaning easier.

Steel gantries have been erected to make it easier to access the cuves from above. This will make it easier for any whole bunch winemaking as the grapes can be put in tank much more simply and with more checks on quality. It will also be easier to carry out pigeage (punching the grape skins, pips etc down into the juice) and remontage (where the juice is pumped over the top of the cap of grape skins etc). A new staircase to the gantry makes life a lot easier and safer too.

Some of the big cement cuves have been divided to enable Jeff to make smaller quantity wines which will offer more options at the time of assemblage.

 

So, Monday. We are ready. The grapes will be ready. Let the vendanges begin.


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Vendanges Diaries – #9 Dream

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Our last picking of 2015, Rome vineyard, October 9th; Michel, Cameron and Jeff

Version française

The very last week of vendanges, definitely.

Lots of work continued in the cellar during the week, pigeage and remontage as described in the previous post, and more wines which are now completing fermentation and being put into tanks to mature or to allow malolactic fermentation if it hasn’t already happened. This fermentation produces softer lactic acid which will make the wine taste more supple and fruity. The cellar is now much quieter and there is a sense of job done.

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                              Pigeage

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                      Carignan in tank

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Cameron cleaning tanks, cleanliness remains the priority

However, the final wine remained as grapes in the vineyards. Muscat grapes in Rome vineyard and Grenache in Sainte Suzanne have concentrated their sugars, developed a little noble rot even. So, on Friday October 9th Jeff, Michel, Cameron and myself ventured out to pick the Muscat and some of the Grenache. (The remaining Grenache was picked by the experienced Moroccan team on Saturday morning.) A beautiful autumnal morning cast shafts of sparkling sunlight on to the myriad colours of the leaves. It was incredibly peaceful and dreamlike.

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The Muscat was dried out in the main, the berries now like raisins with a lot of sweetness but not too much juice. The Grenache would give more juice to produce around 4.5hl of sweet wine in the end, which Jeff was happy with.

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                     My first bucket of Muscat

In the press the Muscat and Grenache were added one on top of the other in successive layers to give more complexity and allow the Grenache to fill out the Muscat. The juice was slow in emerging but eventually arrived in a lovely, light red colour with strong aromas of sweet raspberries.

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The following day, Saturday 10th, the Grenache arrived and the last cagette of 2015 grapes entered the press.

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                   Grenache in Saint Suzanne

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  The last cagette of 2015 grapes goes into the press

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     Pressing the button for the last time this year

It was a moment to breathe a sigh of relief, to feel a sense of pride in what has been achieved in the last 2 months and, a hint of sadness as the bonds of a team, which worked so hard and so well together, are gently loosened.

The relief also showed in recent days by getting together with other vignerons. An evening in Roquebrun at the excellent Cave St. Martin and then on Thursday a visit to Domaine Vassal, a conservatory of vines, with a who’s who of natural producers in the area. I shall write more about Vassal in a future post.

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Vignerons including Julien Peyras, Alain Castex, Axel Prufer, Yannick Pelletier, Jean Marie Rimbert, Carole Andrieu celebrate with Raymond Le Coq (red shirt) at his Cave St Martin

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l-r Rémy Poujol, Jeff, Yannick Pelletier, Julien Peyras, Joe Jefferies, Bernard Bellahsen (Fontedicto), Olivier Andrieu (Clos Fantine)

Then, on Sunday, team Coutelou gathered at Le Terminus in Cruzy, one of the best restaurants in the Languedoc. Jeff kindly paid for our celebration lunch together, the food and wine were excellent (including Clos Fantine and Julien Peyras wines) and the company could not be better. Cameron will be heading back to London this week though hopefully returning soon. So, it was an occasion to say ‘au revoir’ too.

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    l-r me, Cameron, Michel, Jeff – team Coutelou

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Jeff wondering how Cameron got a bigger glass! (It’s actually a decanter)

And to show that we really are moving into the next stage after vendanges Monday October 12th saw the first bottling of 2015 wines. Bibonade rosé is a sparkling, sweetish wine with 20 grams of residual sugar to produce 4 bars of pressure and, consequently, the sparkle. Jeff stopped the fermentation on Sunday and bottling under capsule took place this morning.

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           Bibonade rosé, bottled and stored

So 2015 vendanges is done, 2015 wines are on the way. Job very well done. It has been a joyful experience for me to take a full part, thanks to Jeff, Michel, Cameron, Carole and everyone else who has been part of the team. A dream come true.
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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 Diaries #6 – Mystery, Mourvedre and Flambadou

Mourvedre 17th

Version française

The storms which brought so much rain to Puimisson and the Languedoc on Saturday meant that there would be no picking on Monday or Tuesday the 14th and 15th.

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             Preparations for cellar work

Instead Jeff, Michel and Cameron were hard at work in the cellar for the two days. There is lots to do there so it was an opportunity to get everything on track. Lots of remontage, sous tirage etc. On Monday the 14th the Syrah which was to be made with carbonic maceration was pressed after its few days in tank with the fermentation inside the skins.

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                     The Syrah being pressed

The video shows Michel in the cuve moving the grapes to the front where Jeff forks them into the pump. You will see the grapes moving through the pipe into the press.

 

By Wednesday 16th the weather had turned much clearer and good winds meant that the grapes and soil were beginning to dry out nicely and so picking recommenced. The centre of attention was Rec D’Oulette known locally as Chemin De Pailhès and the Carignan grapes which grow there. These are the grapes which make the excellent cuvée «Flambadou», perhaps the outstanding wine of 2013 (and Jeff tells me of 2014 too). The bunches which arrived were excellent in quality, so fingers crossed for another great wine.

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                         Picking the Carignan

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                                    Carignan

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                         The Carignan in tank

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          Analysing the Carignan

Meanwhile cellar work continued as Cameron carried out more remontages and analyses. Today one of the wines to be moved was the Merlot which was bright, fresh and colourful.

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                         Délestage of Merlot

As each wine is moved around the cellar, for example to take it off its skins, each cuve has to be cleaned thoroughly and then it will be filled with another set of grapes or fermenting wine. There is a seemingly never ending merry-go-round of wines and quite how Jeff keeps track of them all remains a mystery to me. Each move has to be planned to ensure that cuves are available, cleaned and big enough.

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                 Cleaning from the inside

As a former teacher it reminds me of planning a timetable fitting in students, teachers and classrooms into the correct combination. Add in working as a mechanic to keep all the machines ticking over and the work of a vigneron becomes more complex, the job description is long.

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              Maintenance of the égrappoir

Thursday 17th brought Grenache from Sainte Suzanne (Metaierie), again carbonic maceration was to be used so back to the top of the cement tanks. Thomas was back and he, Cameron and I shared duties up there filling the tank.

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        l-r Cameron, Michel and Thomas

Then cleaning of the cagettes ready for the next new cépage. Following the Carignan of Wednesday it was time to harvest the Mourvèdre from Segrairals. One of my favourite grapes, somewhat fickle in character but when grown by good producers it adds a complexity and depth with a hint of dark mystery. The bunches which arrived were certainly amongst the best of the whole harvest at Mas Coutelou.

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                            Magnificent Mourvedre

 

They were clean, big bunches, the grapes with thick skins and smelling already of spice and blackcurrants. Some of the bunches were very heavy and it wouldn’t take many to produce a bottle of wine, on average you need about 1.25kg of grapes to make the 75cl of a normal wine bottle. Sorting was quick and easy, the pickers had done a good job and the fruit was in such good condition. I look forward eagerly to finding out what Jeff has in mind for these grapes, when I have asked he simply smiles mysteriously, something is afoot!

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Friday 18th brought the rest of the Mourvèdre still in tip top condition. When the pickers reached some of the lower parts of that parcel the quality did begin to dip a little so these bunches were taken away to be used separately, possibly for a rosé wine. I say possibly because final plans are a long way from being ready. Other jobs included pressing the Cinsault grapes which will make a rosé (definitely!!) and more remontages and analyses.

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                           Remontage

We were joined today by Charles, a young Frenchman who works in a restaurant in Berlin, and whose mother was a former colleague of Jeff when he was a teacher in Paris. Coincidentally his boss in Berlin was a student of Jeff! Charles added a real sense of fun and worked hard.

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                     Charles fills the press

By Saturday I was ready for a rest and so the 19th was the work of the Jeff, Michel and Cameron as they processed the last red grapes from Peilhan. Some of these will be used for blending but amongst them was the famous Castets. This you might remember is a cépage produced by only two winemakers in France, Chateau Simone in Palette and Mas Coutelou. The first harvest was in 2014 and we had watched eagerly its development. In fact we have been drinking some during harvest lunches and it is very promising, brooding with deep, dark fruit flavours and a freshness to lift it. Only 3hl was produced again this year, the same as last year.

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                 Castets in tank

On Sunday 20th Jeff carried out a débourbage of the Cinsault rosé which was pressed on Friday. Débourbage means taking out the pips and skins etc to leave the juice on its own. The harvest is starting to slow down a little though much work remains to be done in the cellar. Jeff and the ‘Coutelou Gang’ will have certainly benefited from a little siesta in Sunday.

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Icare licking his lips at the great wine being made (maybe)