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 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)

 

 

 


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Vendanges Diaries (3)

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Grenache Gris waiting to be collected

Version française

September 3rd began with further picking at the southern quarter of the vineyards of Mas Coutelou, Peilhan and Font D’Oulette, followed by an afternoon of picking in the northern end in Segrairals.

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Peilhan and Font D’Oulette are both complanted, ie they have lots of different grape varieties being grown and often in the same rows. However it was the Grenache Gris in Peilhan which was being picked first to provide the juice for a rosé wine. Grenache Gris is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting cépages in the Languedoc Roussillon providing many of its best white wines. It also has a grey, pink skin which can provide a little colour to the wine if the juice is allowed to stay in contact with those skins for a few hours. In this case it would provide a very pale rosé wine, I heard the style described recently as a gris de gris. How this turns out we shall see, it could yet make a white wine.

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Cameron loading the press with the Grenache Gris

When the Grenache Gris was through the press it was time to bring in the grapes from Font D’Oulette. This has a whole variety of cépages from the traditional Aramon Noir to the more unusual Oeillade Muscat, Clairette Blanche and Aramon Gris along with many others.

Clairette Blanche

          Clairette Blanche

Clairette Musquée

         Clairette Musquée

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                Aramon Gris

Oeillade Muscat

                   Oeillade Muscat

Oeillade Noir

              Oeillade Noir

This assemblage will be added to some Cinsault (perhaps from Rome vineyard, perhaps not) to make Flower Power which was made for the first time in 2014 and has proved to be a big success. Indeed we shared a magnum on Friday at lunch and it was excellent, starting to really open up.

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                 Syrah from Segrairals

Then onto Syrah, some lovely bunches from Segriarals and Caraillet, the biggest of the Coutelou vineyards. The rich juice provided plenty of colour as you might see!

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And then, of course….

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 Cameron and Michel are becoming a true double act

This was a long day, we finished around 7.15 pm, the day starts at 7.30am. I slept well that night.

September 4th brought a whole day of Syrah grapes from Segrairals and Caraillet again. It was also the last day we had the superb Carole with us for the harvest as she heads to Champagne for picking there. Carole is a true expert in all aspects of the vineyard and cellar and she is always willing to teach and to share, she will be a big miss.

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Boxes of Syrah waiting for destemming on Friday (Sept. 4th)

Whilst we worked on the sorting of the Syrah Jeff and Cameron set about testing and remontage (pumping over the grapes already in the tanks).

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          Remontage of Flower Power grapes

We also tasted samples from the various tanks. The Syrah shows real fruit and is already developing different characteristics. Segrairals was gaining weight and power, Sainte Suzanne much more floral and elegant. The white juice from the complanted Peilhan, still in contact with skins, is beginning to ferment quickly as the yeasts get to work, perhaps because the yeasts are on those skins.  It is a treat to watch the development of these wines from infancy as they take their first steps towards the final wine.

And of course….

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We finished around 6.15 and then went to Jeff’s for a special treat to send off Carole in some style. Oysters and mussels together with some Chardonnay from the brilliant Spanish domaine, Casa Pardet, lovely. Even the sky responded.

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Meanwhile Icare fans, your hero was guarding his favourite toy, a plastic, squeaky sandwich. And sleeping, it is fun to watch him as he dreams because his tail wags furiously.

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Saturday September 5th was a day off for me but not for the rest as they continued to process the Syrah form Segrairals, I did say it is a big parcel. The Grenache and Cinsault are still not quite ready and they will dictate when the team can start to harvest them but that will not be before Tuesday. The weather forecast is good for next week so conditions should be right.

I did call round however and the work had certainly been going on as you can see from the bacs of the stalks (rafle) .

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And of course….

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I did manage to sneak into lunch however. These are a highlight of the harvest season, with food prepared by Marie France from Puimisson and bottles opened including a terrific bottle of Castets, that rare grape I have described before. We sit at a big table int he garden of Jeff’s father, right next to the cellar.

Sunday will be a day of rest except for Jeff and Cameron who will do a round of the tanks to check on their progress and carry out more remontage. There is already a lot for Jeff to be thinking about, which wines are where, how are they progressing, have the remontages been done, are the analyses done. Plus all the options about which grapes to blend, what cuvées to make and, for example, whether the Grenache Gris will be white or rosé. Then off to the vineyards to check on the grapes and their readiness for harvest. Pressure, worries, and hard work – spare a thought for the vigneron.

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Even during lunch Jeff is up and down checking on things in the cellar


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Vendanges Diaries (2)

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Version française

Aug 30th was a Sunday so no picking but Jeff was still in the cellar working. The early wines needed to be checked and moved as necessary.

Monday 31st dawned cloudy again and it was time to tackle the biggest of the vineyards at Mas Coutelou, Segrairals. The Syrah was ready to be picked and Jeff had decided to use carbonic maceration to ferment the grapes which are probably not of the same top quality as those from La Garrigue or Sainte Suzanne which were picked last week.

Grapes which are pressed like those described last week ferment in tank as yeasts react with the juice to change the sugar to ethanol, ie alcohol. The yeasts are natural from the skins of the grapes and the atmosphere of the cellar. In the case of Mas Coutelou and many artisanal winemakers this is the case though other winemakers will buy yeasts some of which are designed to add particular flavours to the wine. None of that in Puimisson, these are natural wines.

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        Carbon dioxide pumped into the tank

Carbonic maceration means that the whole bunches go into the tanks, grapes and stalks alike. The tank is filled with carbon dioxide which permeates the grape skins and starts the fermentation within the cells of the berry. Some of the berries at the bottom of the tank will be crushed by the weight of the grapes and so there will be some conventional fermentation too.

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Whole bunches in the tank

All the grapes are given a light crushing later by which time ethanol will have formed inside the skins and so the resultant juice is ready made wine. The result is often more fruity and juicy wine.

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Grapes arrive through the little back door above the cement tanks

To achieve this the tanks are filled from above so we worked in the space above the cement tank with the grapes arriving at the back door which is a level higher than the front door. The space is smaller and the heat from the grapes was high. It was hard work, believe me. Sorting still had to be done before the grapes could go into the tank, quality comes first.

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                 Some of the rejected bits

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 The pipe carries the CO2 into the tank

And after 9 hours of back breaking lifting, carrying and sifting it was, as ever, time to clean everything from top of the cellar to bottom as we see here with Jeff and Michel.

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        One visitor from the vineyard

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The boss letting us know we should get a move on

The night of the 31st brought a big storm with lots of rain, not the ideal conditions for harvest at all. Rain can cause rot and problems. However, it could have been much worse as news arrived of huge damage caused by hail in the Chablis region. For all the forecasts of how the harvest might turn out it is only when the grapes are safely in the tank that a vigneron can be assured of the quality of wine they might make. Commiserations to the Chablis producers.

September 1st was a quiet day as the rains from the storms meant the grapes were too wet to harvest. In the cellar more checking and remontage, the process of pumping the wine over the cap of skins and must. Further analysis of the wines showed that the yeasts are acting quickly and the fermentation is progressing very well.

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      Hard work!

Today, September 2nd, the remaining white grapes, Grenache Blanc, from La Garrigue. Then on to Peilhan to gather some of the white grapes there, Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, Carignan blanc and Clairette Musquée.

Grenache Gris

                                  Grenache Gris

Carignan Blanc

                                  Clairette Musquée

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      Michel

The core team of Jeff, Carole, Michel, Cameron and myself were joined by Matthieu who has worked the harvest before here. There were some lovely bunches though the wet weather has caused some rot inside some of them, Careful sorting took place in the vineyard to take only the best grapes which tasted really sweet and juicy, the Clairette was especially tasty.

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Cameron especially pleased with this bunch of Clairette

The white grapes were taken back to the cellar and placed in tank after being destemmed. It is possible that Jeff will make his first orange wine with them. An orange wine is a white wine made like a red wine, ir the wine is fermented on the skins thus extracting more colour, texture and flavour from them and giving the wine an orange tint. However, analysis and the next few days will be needed before the final decision is made.

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In tank and the future might be orange

In the afternoon, Matthieu, Jeff and myself did more remontage of the Syrah grapes harvested in the last week, which is already tasting well, with very healthy technical analysis and beautiful aromas. And, then, as ever, the cleaning.

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              Matthieu carrying out remontage

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  Remontage, the juice flows over the cap of must

Syrah from Ste Suzanne

    Beautiful colour of the Syrah from Ste Suzanne

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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