amarchinthevines

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


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Visitors – Vendanges 17

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An unusual few days to report upon. Let’s start with some bad news. Twice in the last week people have dumped their rubbish in Jeff’s vineyards. As these were at opposite ends of the village it must be assumed that there are two selfish, anti-social idiots who would prefer to spoil the local environment than drive to the local tip (déchetterie).

Another unwelcome arrival was Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean. Jeff’s sister Catherine and her husband live on Guadeloupe so we were all concerned for their welfare. Happily she reported that the worst of the storm missed the island. Others may not have been so lucky of course.

 

For me there was one more unwelcome visitor. As I entered the cellar on Tuesday morning I mentioned the smell of Carbon Dioxide in the air. This had built up from fermenting grapes and with the cellar being less busy than usual the CO2 had built up. As Tuesday was hot the cellar doors stayed shut as much as possible and with remontages and open vats the CO2 was strong. Alas it seems I am particularly sensitive to it and it made me breathless and nauseous. I can understand better how some people have serious accidents with gas build up when they are working at open cuves. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old but the others were unaffected, and I’m the non – smoker! Happily, I have soon recovered.

Yet another visitor arrived in the form of the inspector who controls organic certification for Ecocert. I wrote about her annual visit in 2014, this was a spot check during vendanges to ensure that everything is done following organic principles. Reassuring for those of us who want to know that Bio wines are truly organic. Obviously, there was no concern as Mas Coutelou goes well beyond the standards required.

Animal visitors too. Buried in a case of Grenache from Sainte Suzanne was this 6cm caterpillar, quite a size. And, amongst the Carignan vines today was this dragonfly who was there with others and many butterflies. Which makes the actions of the fly tippers even more senseless.

And so to grapes. More cépages to keep me happy. Piquepoul Gris and Terret Blanc along with Maccabeu picked from Peilhan on Tuesday morning will form a new white wine. The pink tint of the Piquepoul Gris will not colour the wine as it was pressed directly to remove the juice from the skins.

The aforementioned Grenache was supplemented with more Grenache on Wednesday this time from La Garrigue. So good was this harvest that Jeff is considering making a special cuvée with it. Together with the excellent Syrah from the vineyard La Garrigue has certainly performed well this year. Cinsault from Segrairals followed on.

With smaller yields and dry weather the picking has been quick this year, efficient too with an excellent team working well. You will see in the photo below how they work in pairs across a vine to ensure that all the fruit is picked, hopefully avoiding each others’ fingers.

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So, what remains? Well probably five days of vendanges with Cabernet, Mourvèdre and Carignan still to come, the latter of course being the headline act in recent years. There are also a few rows of vines in Peilhan, eg the reds such as Oeillade and Castets and more Muscat too. All is set fair for a good finish.

 

 


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The grapes, they are a-changin’

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Syrah in Ste. Suzanne, photo by Jeff

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Come gather round people.

The summer heat is settled and the vines are entering their final stage of the year. They have pushed out long stems, tendrils reaching around supporting wires, foliage at its maximum size and fruit has turned from tiny, green, pea-like balls into round, plump grapes. Taste them and they are still highly acidic, sour and sharp. Pips have formed and the red grapes are just beginning to change colour.

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Vines in La Garrigue reaching 2m into the air

This process of véraison is one of the magical turning points of the year, the grapes are now becoming the focus of the vine’s energy. It will spend less time growing and reaching out and more time in creating sugars for the grapes. The bunches are tightening up, the grapes swelling. From now until vendanges they will continue to grow and to store more sugar. The reason, of course, is to attract birds and animals to eat them and scatter the pips to allow the vines to reproduce. It is humans who have learned that this energy from sun and soil can be directed to the creation of wine, we encourage the sugars to change into alcohol and the juice to become wine.

Grapes 2 weeks ago above, and now (below)

Neighbouring vines to Mas Coutelou show dark green foliage, fed by nitrates. the natural evolution on this domaine means that they are a lighter colour but they are vigorous, healthy and all is set fair. Small outbreaks of mildew have been managed by a few organic tisanes. Most of the disease has formed on the new growth which has not been treated, so Jeff has been around affected areas cutting back the foliage to remove the mildew and its spores which could bring back the disease if rain splashed them onto the vines in the next few weeks.

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Some mildew on outer leaves, these will be cut away

2017 has been relatively kind, much more so than the drought affected 2016 vintage. Yet other regions have been hit by frost and hail, Beaujolais recently damaged by the latter for example. Remember it was August last year when a hail storm hit the Languedoc and wiped out much of the production in Pic St. Loup and some vines in Puimisson. So, it is still to early to say that 2017 is set fair but it is promising. The vines are a-changin’, time to start getting excited.

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Grapes and vines battered by hail in Ste Suzanne 2016


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Return to the vines of Mas Coutelou

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Looking from La Garrigue towards Sainte Suzanne

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After almost three months away it is good to be back in the Languedoc, and especially to be back in Puimisson, the home of Mas Coutelou. Jeff and Icare greeted us warmly and it didn’t take me long to get back into the vines.

Carole and Julien were hard at work pruning in Rome vineyard, my favourite of all, I was happy to see them all. Fortunately, the day I was there (24th January) was a lovely, sunny afternoon and quite warm but recent weeks have seen freezing temperatures overnight and pruning on such mornings is brutal. However, it is vital work.

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Dead vines removed, their place ready for new ones

The vine needs to be trained for the season to come, cutting away dead wood and restricting the growth of the vine so that it is does not overproduce which would reduce the quality of the wine. Pruning also offers the opportunity to check the health of each vine and to identify vines which need to be replaced.

The vine is studied, first cuts remove the growth of last year and then decisions made about which branches to remove and which to leave as spurs, which direction the growth will take and, also, about which spurs might be prepared for the following year too. All with freezing fingers and aching back.

Much work had already been done but much remains ahead. In the photos below the Grenache of Sainte Suzanne has been pruned but the Syrah remains to be done. Similarly, the reds of Peilhan are pruned but the white parcel remains to do.

Work has also begun on preparing a parcel next to Sainte Suzanne which has remained fallow for a few years giving recovery to the soil. Known as Théresette this parcel will be planted with Aramon (Noir and Gris) which is what used to be planted in this parcel many years ago and which was well suited to the soil.

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The ‘new ‘ parcel under preparation. La Garrigue in the background.

The winter also offers the chance to see the bare vineyards and their topography. When people talk about the value of a particular parcel or vineyard it is easy to overlook how even within a small area there are variations of slope and gradient which would alter drainage and exposition to the sun. Vines are all different even within a parcel and the pruning process treats each vine on its own merits to help it to produce the best fruit it can.

The vineyard soils are covered in white this January, not with snow, not here in the Languedoc at least. The white flowers of wild rocket form a spectacular blanket contrasting with the stark wood of the vines themselves. Even in winter there is something special and beautiful about being in this place, a march in the vines is so fulfilling.


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Nature can be harsh: Part 3 -pests

In Parts 1 & 2 I have tried to explain some of the difficulties encountered at Mas Coutelou during 2016 due to natural influences such as climate and disease. In this final part of the series I look at pests which have added to those woes.

Vers de la grappe

These are literally grape worms, more specifically caterpillars, which form and grow on bunches of grapes. The caterpillars are the larvae of Eudémis moths which prefer to lay their eggs on shiny surfaces, so grapes are the target more than the rest of the vine. The larvae obviously damage the grapes themselves but that damage is worsened because of juice running on the bunches attracting infection and disease.

The warm weather and humidity of 2016 definitely encouraged vers de la grappe though it is an ongoing problem. It can be treated chemically of course though that is not an option for organic producers. Substances such as clay can be sprayed in spring to add a chalkier, duller surface to new grapes so that moths are not attracted to them. However, the solution favoured by Jeff Coutelou is to plant hedges and trees. These not only act as barriers to less environmentally aware neighbours, add polyculture to a region which can appear solely planted by vines but also they can shelter bats.

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Bat shelter in Sainte Suzanne

Bats feed on Eudémis larvae and moths and can eat thousands every day. Bat shelters are to be found around Mas Coutelou, eg in Sainte Suzanne and Rome vineyards.

The photographs above show a vers de la grappe cocoon and, on the right distinctive holes showing where the moth laid its eggs. When the vendanges begin the pickers and sorters must look out for signs such as these but also damaged, shrivelled grapes in bunches where the larvae have been.

Snails

If I could have named 2016 in the Chinese form  I would have called it the year of the snail. They were everywhere. The two photos below show an olive tree in Segrairals. This was  one of many which were completely covered by snails, blanched by the sun and feeding on the greenery and moisture in the tree.

However, vines were equally attractive to them. I spent whole mornings picking snails from vines during the Spring only to find them covered again a day or two later. Flower Power (Font D’Oulette) was particularly badly affected with the snails heading straight for the new growth and buds in April and May.

The virtual drought in the first six months of 2016 meant that the snails were desperate for moisture and food and so the healthy, young vines were too good to miss. The consequence was obvious, production of this much lauded new wine was reduced drastically, partly by the weather but equally the work of the snails. Birds and other predators would help solve the problem but the monoculture of the area (outside of Mas Coutelou) means there are, sadly, no great numbers of them.

Vendangeurs and sorters must try to pick off snails as they hide in the bunches. Dozens get through to the cellar especially in the early morning when there is moisture around. The photo on the right shows a lot of rejected material, leaves, poor grapes but lots of snails as you will see if you enlarge it. Just imagine how many get through into the wine with machine picking and limited triage.

Neighbours

Yes they can be included under the title of pests. Well, one of them can be. As regular readers will know 2016 has been punctuated by two occasions of vandalism by one particular neighbour, both upon the Carignan Noir vineyard of Rec D’Oulette. First he mowed a patch of wildflowers which Jeff had sown to encourage insects and birds (for reasons identified above). Then he took a machine to some of the young trees Jeff planted around the vines, destroying four year old trees such as hazelnut.

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Vandalised trees with tyre tracks revealing the culprit

Jeff was justifiably upset by these attacks. He was simply trying to enrich the area, bring diversity to it but that was clearly too much for a traditionalist, more used to destroying wildlife for his own short term gain and dreadful wine. However, he was encouraged and revitalised by the massive support of friends and colleagues around the world. The flowers grew back and more densely, the trees replanted in greater numbers and Jeff Coutelou stands tall as the man trying hard to improve the reputation of Puimisson and its wines.

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Vendanges 2016 #1

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First cuts of 2016 at Mas Coutelou

In 2015 vendanges began on August 21st, in 2016 things kicked off on August 30th. The protracted cool spring and the drought contributed to a later harvest though not so late as predicted because of the hail on 17th August. This damaged some grapes especially in Sainte Suzanne (Metaierie) and Jeff decided that the grapes needed to be picked as they would lose acidity if left on the vine.

On the 30th it was the Syrah which was picked, unusual for a vendanges not to start with white grapes. Syrah normally produces small berries but these were especially small. The cagettes in which the grapes are transported back to the cave are usually running with grape juice, requiring regular cleaning. Today they were virtually dry. Jeff calculated that the volume of juice produced was around half of the normal harvest which is not good news. Hopefully other grapes in other vineyards have fared better but we shall see. This is all the result of the protracted dry spell in the region. Rainfall, other than the occasional storm where the rain comes too heavily. has been pitiful. The vines have found it hard to cope and give water to swell the grapes. The hail confounded the problem by shredding leaves which would help to nourish the grapes.

The good news was that the grapes gave lovely juice; fresh, very raspberry fruit and they smelled of beautiful warm spices. The measure showed potential alcohol of 12% so it will make a light, fresh Syrah wine or blend.

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There was a full house to help out. Michel, Julien and Vincent as usual. We were joined by James, an Australian who is staying for the harvest to help his learning for making wine in the future. Charles who spent a few days with us last year is also here for a longer spell, he adds humour and energy. Jeff’s primary school classmate Maylis  was also present spending the day in the vineyards. And Céline, Brice and their two girls were here on the way back from their holidays, it is always fun to see them.

One or two bits of machinery creaked under the strain of a new harvest but the changed cellar made cleaning so much easier. The team is taking shape for the challenges ahead. The Syrah sits in cuve 2A, I shall keep you up to date with its progress and path to the bottle.

 

Day 2, August 31st

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The last of the Syrah was picked first. If you look at the photo of the vines with James picking you will notice the lack of foliage and therefore why Jeff felt the need to harvest now. First official analysis of the Syrah from yesterday showed healthier than expected acidity and potential alcohol, a welcome fillip.

Then came the Grenache from Ste. Suzanne, in many ways more problematic than the Syrah due to mildew earlier in the year. However, when it came in there were many good firm bunches of healthy fruit with possibly a little more juice than the Syrah. It was a very hot day so Jeff worked some magic by using frozen pellets of CO2 to stop the juice from starting to ferment too soon so that it doesn’t extract too much of the flavours of the dryer grapes before it is moved for the first time. This was the first time that Jeff has tried this method due to the nature of the vintage and its drought. Difficult to take a photo as all you could see was the mist of the frozen gas.

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The juice tasted healthy and fresh with red fruits, a little vegetation still present. Yesterday’s Syrah was already darker, more weighty and very different to yesterday. Wine alchemy. It now sits in cuve 2B next door to the Syrah.

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Grenache grapes

Tomorrow (September 1st) is a new moon and so no picking or work. It is also the 2nd anniversary of my arrival in France, days like this remind me why that decision was a good one.

Salut to Jean-Claude, tu nous manques

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The guardian

 


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Busy times

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En français

Busy times. In the vines and in the cellar.

I mentioned recently that the cooler weather had delayed some of the growth in the vines and that flowering was late. Well, recent hotter weather has brought sudden change. Flowering happened around the turn of the month and was over very quickly, perhaps catching up lost time. In particular there was a heavy thunderstorm on Saturday June 4th which brought a torrent of rain. The water and the sunshine has really got the vines going. Tendrils reach for the skies and there is more bushiness to the vines.

The flowers gave way to the little hoods which cover the nascent grapes, capuchons. These quickly fall away too revealing the grapes for 2016. On some vines all of this is happening at the same time such as this Carignan (above) in Rec D’Oulette. The weather has also encouraged the growth of the grafted vines which we did back in March.

This brings work too. The palissage has to be lifted to support the vines, hard physical labour. And, sadly, the heat and rain bring problems of disease. Mildew has been around for a couple of weeks and I mentioned that Jeff was spraying in the very early hours and late at night last week. He worked until 1am Friday/Saturday and started again at 6am. Just as things seemed to be settling a big attack of mildew on the Grenache at Ste. Suzanne meant more treatment on Tuesday morning. This ‘curious’ year is proving to be hard work.

Not all negatives though. The storm brought such a downfall that I was fearful for the flowering bunches. damage to them means no grapes. I happened to be in Puimisson during the storm (next article!) and the rain was lashing down, converting streets and roads to waterfalls and lakes. Yet as the rain eased I went to a couple of vineyards and the flowers were coping just fine. A trip round the vines on Monday morning revealed healthy growth and the soils had absorbed the rainfall.

This is not true of everyone. Much of the water on the roads was also full of clay from vineyards nearby, hence the yellowy brown colour. Vineyards which are treated with weedkillers, where the soils are ploughed deeply, even irrigated, were unable to cope so well with the heavy rain. Soils were carried away. Compare these photographs of Jeff’s vineyards with the parcel next door belonging to someone else. The difference is marked. Water can help or can damage.

Meanwhile back in the cellar there was more work to be done. Recent changes to the fabric of the cellar, especially the floor, have brought more efficient drains and a smoother surface, easier to clean. Further work will soon be done to the rest of the floor so the bottling of the next wave of wines had to be brought forward to allow the works to be done and dusted before vendanges.

The spring bottling of wines such as 5SO, PM Rosé, 7 Rue De La Pompe I described earlier. These are wines for early drinking, vins de plaisir. Now it was time for wines with a little more body. On Thursday June 2nd 10,000 bottles of Classe were made, and it is really something special in 2015. It took almost 12 hours and went very smoothly but believe me it is a hard day’s work. On Friday, Flambadou, made from the Carignan vines above, was bottled along with other smaller cuvées.

Before anyone rushes in with orders Jeff will let these bottles rest for a few months to allow them to be at their peak when released, Flambadou probably in 2017 for example. There remains one or two cuvées still in tank which need a little more time, Flower Power being one.

So, most of the 2015  wine is now in bottle, the vines are revealing the grapes for 2016 and there are wines stored for 2017. Busy times at Mas Coutelou for everyone, well except one.

 


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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

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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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