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

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Turning over some more new leaves


Version française

In my last post I described the leaves and some other features of the five main red grape varieties to be found in the Languedoc Roussillon region. This is all part of my attempt to learn how to identify different vines more easily. So what about other varieties which are to be found at Mas Coutelou?

Red grapes

Cabernet Sauvignon

Usually associated with Bordeaux and other regions of France there is Cabernet to be found in the Languedoc. Much was planted in the 1980s and 90s as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay were the big sellers on world markets and vignerons here tried to make money from that market. It is easy to deride this move but vignerons have to make a living and if they can sell grapes then who is to blame them?  Besides the domaine which first brought the Languedoc to the world stage, Mas de Daumas Gassac, uses these international varieties as part of their blends. I have to admit that it is not my favourite wine, certainly not the domaine’s red, but it has made an impact.

Anyway, to ampelography. I love Cabernet Sauvignon leaves, they are so easy to identify with their two eyes in the leaf which makes them look like a startled face.

Cab Sauv2

               Cabernet Sauvignon in Segrairals

A rich green colour the leaves have more lobes than most and the lower lobes overlap to cover the base of the pétiole sinus (the space where the stalk meets the leaf) giving the mouth like appearance you can see in the photo above. Generous teeth around the lobes are noticeable but it is the two spaces in the leaf which makes this easy for me to recognise. The grapes are small with hard skins and form small clusters too.

Recommended wines

Mas Coutelou – Buvette À Paulette

Others – Casa Pardet, Cabernet Sauvignon (Spain)

Cab Sauv grapes

        Cabernet Sauvignon grapes


Poor old Merlot seems to be currently out of fashion. Seemingly everybody’s favourite in the 1990s I regularly hear people now say how it is their least favourite variety, and I confess it is one of my least popular grapes. It is capable of great things on the right bank of Bordeaux and elsewhere but it is little seen here in the Languedoc. Jeff has one parcel, Colombié, entirely planted with Merlot which is mainly used for restaurant blends and bag in box wine. 


             Merlot in La Colombé

The leaf in the photo shows that these are rich green in colour with 5 or 7 lobes. The sinus around the stalk is open and U shaped with a large white spot where the veins come together just above this sinus. In this photo the veins are quite green as they spread out. Medium sized teeth surround the leaves. Grapes are medium sized and so are the bunches so few clues there.

Mas Coutelou – 7, rue de la Pompe (small amount)

Others – Fons Sanatis, Coudereu


This local grape was once widely planted in the Languedoc but was grubbed up in recent years as its reputation spread as wines with little flavour. This was unfair as it was often grown to give big yields and so flavours were diluted but there are many who still scorn it. Nevertheless, with low yields it can make good wines and there is a recent trend to replanting Aramon. 


                    Aramon Noir in Font D’Oulette

The leaves are almost trefoil in character with big veins which stand out against the dark green colour. The teeth are quite large in the lower lobes and taper gently to the top. The pétiolar sinus is big and V shaped. It is the grapes which make Aramon identifiable. They are big in size and form large cylindrical clusters. This reinforces the reputation as a big cropper of light red wines, one of its synonyms is Pisse – Vin which needs no translation. However, this is unfair and Aramon is starting to make some interesting wines again.

Mas Coutelou – Flower Power

Others – Domaine Banjoulière, Aramon;   Clos Fantine, Lanterne Rouge

White grapes

Less than 30% of wine produced in Languedoc Roussillon is white, I was actually surprised at how high that figure is. The last few years has seen Picpoul De Pinet become very trendy around the world, reaching prices over £30 in some UK restaurants for wine which costs around 5-6€ around here. Improvements in vinification and the use of temperature controls means that the quality of white wine being made here is improving and there are plenty of excellent examples.

Jeff produces a few cuvées of white wine but many of the white grapes are complanted, mixed together in the vineyard, to add complexity to the blend and an expression of terroir. In terms of identifying these varieties the challenge is, therefore, more complex, as they are mixed up I tend to be too! Therefore, I have only included the main white varieties of the domaine here, there are many, many others!


There are actually many different varieties of Muscat just to make identification even more difficult, e.g. Muscat A Petits Grains, Muscat d’Alexandrie and there’s even a Muscat Noir just to completely baffle me. Muscat is usually used to make sweet wines such as Muscat De Rivesaltes, Muscat De Frontignan and Muscat De St. Jean De Minervois. Jeff uses it in dry blends, is considering using it for a pétillant wine this year and also uses it in his sensational solera system to make rich, sweet and dry old Muscats.


                             Muscat from La Garrigue

Muscat Noir

                          Muscat Noir, Font D’Oulette

Muscat has quite dark green leaves and can be in 5 lobes though both the photos above show just 3, almost like a maple leaf. There are some big teeth around the leaf edge. The leaf is also relatively long compared to the width at the base and the sinus around the stalk is V shaped. The other distinctive feature is the crinkly, dimpled appearance between the veins. The grapes are actually fairly medium in size (despite the Petits Grains name) but form small clusters. The grapes are distinctive in colour as they become golden and bronzed in the sunshine with freckles too!


Muscat grapes, admittedly more green than golden. These were picked early for dry wine.

Mas Coutelou – Vieux Muscat blends

Others – Treloar, One Block Muscat;      Clos Gravillas, Muscat de St Jean de Minervois

Sauvignon Blanc

Not a variety much found in the Languedoc as it tends to prefer slow ripening and cooler climates. In Mas Coutelou it is used for blending with other white grapes to add a little zest and bite to the mix, picked early to keep that freshness as you can read here.

Sauv Bl 2

Sauvignon Blanc, La Garrigue

Quite round in shape with 5 lobes and teeth which are sizeable but more round than angular. The veins stand out as they are not coloured, reaching down to the stalk sinus which is often closed or barely open. One distinguishing feature which is observable in the photo is that the leaf tends to curl a little at the edge, note how one lobe is curling under the other on the right of the photo. Small bunches of oblong but small grapes.

Recommended – Turner Pageot, La Rupture

There are many other white varieties which I could add but these suffice for my needs. Carignan Blanc and Grenache Gris and Blanc are related to their black grape cousins and have similar appearances. Maccabeu, Picpoul etc are for another day but I think that is enough studying for the moment!


     Viognier grapes in La Garrigue

There is a very pleasing trend in the Languedoc Roussillon towards replanting old varieties of vines. Terret, Ribeyrenc, Piquepoul Noir, for example were all planted at Mas Coutelou in March. And there remains the very rare Castets, brought in from Chateau Simone in Provence to be only the second vineyard to have this variety.

The famous Castets grapes of Peilhan

The famous Castets grapes of Peilhan

So ampelograhy is an ongoing lesson for me, if you want to find out more these websites are worth a visit.  (English and French)    (French)


Over the first hurdle

IMG_2179Friday was a warm up, today (August 27th) was the real beginning. White grapes, mainly Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah from La Garrigue vineyard were picked and pressed.

IMG_2182             IMG_2181


 My first bucket full of Sauvignon Blanc


Back to the cellar, straight into the press.



The Syrah looks especially good this year with a good balance of acidity and sugars. Some were ready and so in they came today. Great quality, 2015 is looking good, let’s hope the next month confirms it.


Coincidentally it was the official celebrations for the start of harvest in the Faugères appellation this evening with a ceremonial cutting of the first grapes. Good fun, especially getting to taste the wines of Clos Fantine again.
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Working in the vines (January)

Wintry vineyard

January vineyard

Version francaise

It was the 30th January and having promised to write about vineyard work in each month of the year, I felt that a deadline was looming! After tasting wines in Montpellier for a few days it was definitely time to get back to the vineyard the key component of those wines. Jeff took me to the vineyard called La Garrigue which is to the south east of Puimisson, home of Mas Coutelou. It is one of around a dozen parcels of land which Jeff owns, though some are home to olive and fig trees as well as hedgerows and other methods of reintroducing biodiversity into a district which has become one large vineyard. I shall be writing soon about the various parcels and Jeff’s work to safeguard and boost the local environment and biodiversity.

La Garrigue is rather like a small pyramid in form with a peak in the middle and vines around the sides.

Facing north is a parcel of Syrah planted in 2006, so the vines are still young. They face north so that the freshness and spiciness of the grape variety are preserved rather than being overcooked. They are also planted in rows facing north to south so that the wind blows down the rows, helping to prevent disease and to dry the grapes after rain. Carole was busy pruning this area and the preferred method is the gobelet style. This is the traditional and most natural way of growing vines in the Languedoc and Jeff has preferred to use this method for his vines for a number of years and so these Syrah vines are grown using gobelet.

Syrah vine pruned in the gobelet style

Syrah vine pruned in the gobelet style

However, as you will see in the video, Carole studies each vine carefully and if she feels it would benefit from a different style she will prune in the more suitable way. This may be because the vine canes are growing too vigorously between the rows of vines and need shaping along the rows. As these are young vines they are being supported by wire trellising. In this case a cordon de royat system might be used.

Syrah vine pruned in cordon rather than the gobelet style which most of the Syrah vines are. It was felt its needs suited cordon better

Syrah vine pruned in cordon rather than the gobelet style which most of the Syrah vines are. It was felt its needs suited cordon better


Facing south is a parcel of Grenache vines. This is a variety which welcomes heat and is grown through Spain and around the Mediterranean. It adds spice and complexity to wines and, facing south, the sunshine brings out these characteristics. In this parcel cordon de royat is used as the pruning method.  This was the system used when the Grenache vines were planted back in 2000 and so they continue to be grown in that style as it is not advisable or even possible to change them to gobelet now. The Grenache is usually used in the popular cuvee Classe.

Grenache vines,cordon pruning

Grenache vines,cordon pruning

A magnum of Classe

A magnum of Classe

To the easterly side of La Garrigue is a block of Sauvignon Blanc. This is not a variety often grown in the Languedoc as it gives green, fresh almost acidic notes in its wines and the region is often too hot for it to show those qualities. Facing east, however, means that the sun hits the grapes in the morning so does not overheat or over ripen them, preserving the freshness of the fruit. In this parcel guyot is the preferred system of pruning. This system allows more air to circulate around the grapes and as the white grapes are more fragile guyot training helps to protect their health. The white grapes are usually used in the white blend, PM.

Sauvignon Blanc vines pruned in guyot style up the wire trellising

Sauvignon Blanc vines pruned in guyot style up the wire trellising

 What struck me most, other than a bitingly cold, northerly wind, was how carefully Carole and Jeff study each vine to ensure that it is given a pruning which suits its needs. Direction, quality of the wood, crowding are all considered before they decide what to cut and at what length the remaining cane should be left. Some canes were cut very short, others had 8 to 10 eyes which will produce bunches of grapes. It depended upon the capability of the vine to bear such fruit. It is this care and attention which characterises the work of the skilled artisanal vineyard worker and winemaker.

Jeff studying a Syrah vine

Jeff studying a Syrah vine

First cuts

First cuts

Getting to the heart of the vine

Getting to the heart of the vine

The finished vine

The finished vine

I would compare this with a machine I watched around Margon which cut the vines to the same shape and size regardless of their health and

needs. The cutting was fast and much easier work but the pruning was brutal and imprecise with no regard for the individual vines. For vignerons producing cheap, bulk wines I can understand their actions.However, it confirmed in my mind that artisanal vignerons are the ones producing the wines I want to drink

Machine pruning vines, the yellow arm contains the blades

Machine pruning vines, the yellow arm contains the blades

Pruning is not glamorous. But is a vital part of the winemaking year, preparing the vines for when they reawaken in spring and enabling them to produce the right quantity of healthy grapes which in turn will produce great wine.