amarchinthevines

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


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…XYZ – Vendanges 17

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The last case of 2017, Julien looks happy!

In other words, the finish. Well, the finish of the picking. Tuesday September 12th was so much calmer than the previous day as the Cabernet Sauvignon from Segrairals arrived.

Thoughout the vendanges the grapes have been good, smaller than the norm because of the dryness, but in excellent health. The Cabernet was no exception. Sorting was all about snails and dry leaves rather than any problems with the grapes and the vat filled gradually, problem – free, as the day progressed. The stalks were brown showing the maturity of the bunches as the third érafloir of yesterday completed its job efficiently.

 

As we awaited the first cases Jeff and I went around some of the vats and took samples for analysis as well as tasting the wines. I wish that I could convey the bready aromas filling the cellar of the yeasts at work, they give such a sense of change, optimism, alchemy.

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Amongst the wines we tasted were two from 2016, Syrah and Grenache, which have been sparked back into fermentation by the very presence of this year’s grapes in the cellar. The process is truly amazing. The glass in the photo below shows the top Syrah from La Garrigue harvested two weeks ago, which just may become La Vigne Haute. It is a stunner.

Vigne Haute

Quality across the board is undoubtedly high though Jeff is counting the cost of the quantity, his first estimates are that the overall yield will be around 39 hectolitres per hectare. Average years would give between 50 and 60 hl/ha.

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Joining us on the day was a  former student of Jeff and Vincent restaurateur Régis Lamazère and his wife and baby. Régis runs his autonymous restaurant in Berlin where Charles who was here for vendanges 2016 used to work.

After the grapes were in and the last cases sorted by Julien and Vincent it was time to start serious cleaning of all the equipment which will be put away for 2018. The picking may be over but the work never stops. A full programme of pressing, remontages etc is in place for the next week. Stay tuned.

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Selene and Matthie, remontage


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Routine and variety – Vendanges 17

Ambroise, Selene and Vincent in the Syrah

A week into picking and the team is in a routine, working smoothly to steadily bring in the grapes. The quality remains high but there can now be no doubt that the ongoing dry spell has taken its toll. Quantities are down by up to 50%, bottles of the 2017 Mas Coutelou wines will be more difficult to seek out I’m afraid and, inevitably, more expensive.

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Flower Power

Thursday saw the Flower Power vineyard picked (Rec D’Oulette to give it the proper name) and just 7 cases of grapes were returned from the 0,4ha of vines. They are young still and will have found it hard to cope with the arid conditions.

Julien and Max in Rome

Rome, too, was picked and I went along as this is my favourite vineyard. Cinsault, Muscat and all three types of Grenache were harvested. From Peilhan came Grenache Gris and a few rows of the Maccabeu which will go into the PM rosé wine.

Muscat, Grenache Blanc and Cinsault (left from Rome), Grenache Gris and Maccabeu from Peilhan on the right

By now we are into the second stage of the vendanges. The grapes picked previously have been sitting on skins for varying lengths of time to extract colour and flavour but they will be separated when Jeff decides that further contact will not enhance the wine further. The juice is pumped to a new tank leaving the skins and pips behind to be used as marc for distilling.

 

This process of remontage is carried out increasingly as more tanks fill up. Tracking which wines are where is a skill in itself, each time the wine will be tasted and sent for analysis to ensure that acidity, sugars, potential alcohol are all correct and no nasty surprises await.

Jeff took me round a few of the vineyards to check on their progress for picking. We started with the Carignan, then on to the Mourvèdre and Cinsault of Segrairals. In all cases the pips and stalks showed us that more time was needed, they are still a little too green. Tasting the grapes showed plenty of sweet fruit but that greenness would not be good in the finished wine.

Cinsault after pressing

Cinsault after pressing, like modern art

 

Friday was based in the biggest parcel, Segrairals. Cinsault grapes first, to be pressed immediately so that a light pink juice emerges ready to be blended with the other rosé grapes. This happened on Saturday so that all the rosé grapes will ferment together to blend fully. Jeff explained to me that Cinsault is harder to press than most, the large berries contain a lot of pulp which breaks down less easily.

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Syrah, Segrairals

 

Afterwards the remaining Syrah was tackled, again I went along to help with a bit of picking as well as doing the sorting with Jeff back in the cellar. The tri was not too difficult as good, firm bunches of healthy grapes came in case after case. Never mind the width feel the quality seems to be the motto, for Jeff’s sake greater quantity would be welcome.

More remontage, more testing in the cellar. It was good to see the white wines in good condition with fermentation already lively; bready, yeasty smells began to fill the cellar. More Syrah would be picked on Saturday morning but, readers, I admit that I took a break. The hard work, rich variety of grapes and early mornings meant that this time AMarch was not in the vines.

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Brief return to Mas Coutelou

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Version francaise

After my sojourn in Alsace it was great to return to the Languedoc. Sadly I was already aware that due to a bereavement I would have to leave within a couple of days to return to the UK. However, I was able to spend one of my two days there with Jeff and amongst those vines which I had missed so much.

It was a great time to be there, the vines were in full flower, many already past that stage showing the new grapes, firstly with their brown hoods and then just the green baby berry itself.

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The vines were looking very healthy, plentiful rain in the winter and a sharp frost in early spring had allowed the vines to rest, to gather their strength for the season ahead – a sharp contrast to 2016. Greenery aplenty, wild flowers blooming and, during my visit to Peilhan, I saw a young deer running through the vines and a pheasant. Clearly the Coutelou vines attract wildlife to its oasis amongst the surrounding desert of chemically treated soils.

During the previous weeks the soils of Peilhan had been ploughed, by a horse. Gentler on the soils Jeff asked a local man to till.

Peilhan horse

He himself was giving the soil a light rotivation that afternoon, turning the plants and flowers amongst the vines into the soil, a natural composting. Icare, with an injured paw, and I watched on in the sunshine.

 

The only real problem this year has been the return of the snails. Last year they ravaged Font D’Oulette (the Flower Power vineyard) so that only a few cases of grapes could be picked. Fortunately, that vineyard has been spared this year but they are out in force in the largest vineyard, Segrairals. It was there that I also found Michel, Julien and Vincent working, tightening the wires of the palissage and removing side shoots etc from the vines.

In the afternoon we tasted through the 2016 vines and, they are so different even from February when I tasted them last. The whites are splendid, highlight a hugely successful long maceration Muscat. The reds such as the Carignan were very good and the top wine of the year will be the Mourvèdre, a silky, complex wine with huge depth of flavour – a treat for the short and long term. 2016 was a difficult year but Jeff has still produced some great wines.

So, I look forward to getting back to Puimisson as soon as possible, to follow the vintage further and see the latest progress. There is bottling to be done and plenty more besides.

The cellar is transformed, painted with the new office and floor and the stainless steel cuves plumbed in for temperature control. And perhaps, most interesting of all, there is an amphora. This is the trendy method of vinification around the world. However, very few winemakers have an amphora dating from the time of Julius Caesar with which to make wine. Jeff plans to use it this year, connecting his wine to those made 2,000 years ago. Wines with links to the past, present and future, Mas Coutelou has soul!

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Vendanges 2016 #7 – Last Pickings

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Cabernet Sauvignon sheltering the Moroccan pickers

En français

Wednesday (September 21st) was officially the last day of summer and, appropriately, the last day of picking at Mas Coutelou. It was, as in 2015, the Cabernet Sauvignon of Segrairals which was the last major parcel gathered in. Lovely, clean bunches of small, healthy berries, classic Cabernet and virtually nothing to sort in the vineyard or in the cellar. 

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Cabernet Sauvignon

The day before had seen the start of the Cabernet in the afternoon following a morning of picking Mourvèdre, also from Segrairals. As I hadn’t ventured into the vineyard much in 2016 I took the opportunity to do so that morning. Our friend Jill had expressed a wish to do some grape picking and Jeff kindly agreed so I accompanied her (so at least there was one less experienced picker than me!). I really enjoyed being out in the fresh air but it was also good to get a grip on how the vineyard topography can have such an impact upon the grapes.

The Mourvèdre grows on an easterly slope with the rows running down the slope. The vines at the bottom of the slope gave lower quality bunches than those at the top, indeed we stopped picking the last few vines at the bottom of each row. The reason was that when it does rain the water runs down the slope taking nutrients etc. The grapes there tend to ripen much sooner with more humidity in the ground, it was a clear example of terroir. Rest assured that only good grapes went into cuve, much was left behind in the vineyard and at the side of the sorting table.

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The slope in the Mourvedre vines, rejected fruit on the ground

On Monday the lovely Carignan Noir of Rec D’Oulette (Chemin De Pailhès) was added to the tanks. The quality was high and signs are promising for yet another good vintage of Flambadou, arguably the domaine’s best wine in recent years.

Since the last article the other major harvest was some bountiful, good quality Grenache from La Garrigue on Saturday 17th.

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Gorgeous Grenache

There remain a few rows here and there with some grapes left and they may or may not be picked in coming days and weeks. However, the Cabernet marked the last of the major picking. Time to say farewell to the Moroccan pickers, part of the Coutelou crew for the last month.

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Stage 1 is therefore over. Stage 2 the cellar work of remontages and pigeage continues apace as most cuves are now full and need looking after. Stage 3, pressing, is also in full swing as grapes from previous weeks have now gone through fermentation on skins and need to be pressed to take the juice away. I shall be writing about this more in the next article.

So, we head into autumn, the vines are fatigued after a very stressful year. The leaves are already changing colour and the Languedoc will be an even more beautiful place in coming weeks. The picking may be over but the vendanges are not. 

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Mourvedre in autumnal glory

 


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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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Vendanges Diary #7 – London Cab

Version française

This was the final big week of harvest and it centred around Cabernet Sauvignon. There is a big parcel (around 1.5ha) of the grape in Segrairals and it is not a variety which really excites Jeff for a Mas Coutelou wine. It has done especially well in 2015 though the small berries have swollen with the rains and the alcohol levels had therefore fallen a little to around 14%. They taste sweet and juicy and came in fantastic bunches, not the same size as the Cinsault and Mourvèdre from this vineyard, but small and healthy nonetheless.

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Cabernet Sauvignon on the vine in Segrairals

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                              Cabernet Sauvignon

Part of it was picked on Monday 21st September which will be used by Jeff, purpose as yet unknown though Cameron may be flexing his winemaking muscles with some. The other major work on Monday was to use the Muscat d’Alexandrie grapes from Peilhan which were also in good health.

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         Muscat d’Alexandrie

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They have very thick skins so the pressing took longer than usual to extract the juice. They were mixed with some Muscat À Petits Grains grapes. I will come back to these grapes and the juice later in this article.

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      Michel loads the Muscat into the press

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               Muscat juice after pressing

Tuesday 22nd was the big day for the Cabernet Sauvignon. I have explained before that Jeff sells most of these grapes to London Cru, an English winery as the name suggests. London Cru buy grapes from around Europe, eg Chardonnay from Limoux, Albarino from Rias Baxas, Grenache from Spain. This is the third vintage of the project and the grapes were ready at last. In 2014 they had been ready on September 4th, my first day at Mas Coutelou after our move to the Languedoc. This year the rain had delayed them so Gavin and Alex flew into Béziers on Monday evening. They had been in Italy on Saturday and only just got back to London before flying here. The refrigerated wagon was in situ as I arrived on Tuesday morning, waiting to be loaded with the grapes.

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Confidence was high amongst the London Cru team after some very good reviews including one last week by Dr. Jamie Goode who gave the top mark (94/100) to the Cabernet Sauvignon using Jeff’s grapes. The fruit for 2015 should bring more high marks and good wine. We tasted the 2014 over lunch and it was very good, clear, direct fruit with ripe tannins which mean that the wine will be at its best in 2 to 3 years.

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                Alex and Gavin loading the grapes

Gavin, Alex and Jeff directed and led the picking carried out by the Moroccan team as usual but also by Cameron and myself together with two excellent new additions to the team in Fabrice and Romain. Fabrice puts on shows (spectacles) around France whilst Romain is an artist. They have picked here before and were good fun and hard working, more new friends. (Fabrice on the left, Romain to the right.

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After picking the 6 tonnes or so of grapes they were driven straight off to London under refrigerated conditions to keep them fresh. Gavin and Alex flew back to London that evening ready to receive them at their base. London Cab, fine fare.

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                  Fine bunch of Cab I picked

Lunch was excellent with the London Cru wine and a magnum of Flambadou 2014 which was excellent, still in its infancy but already drinking well. Afterwards Cameron and I did some pigeage of the Carignan grapes amongst others. It was also Cameron’s birthday, hopefully it was one he will remember with affection.

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Birthday boy Cameron looking for his present

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        Pigeage of the Carignan

Wednesday 23rd was a day for working the cellar. Jeff was keen to aerate the Syrah a little and to start to maximise the cuves by assembling some of the tanks and filling the new ones. Thursday saw similar work whilst Jeff also did some admin work.

On Friday 25th I returned to the cellar. Cameron was enjoying a well earned break and so I joined Jeff and Michel. They were continuing to fill the tanks, aerate some wine and then we moved to the muscats from Monday.

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                       Aerating some Syrah

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Muscats macerating with a little older Muscat wine

The Muscats are destined for the solera system and after a few days maceration they were showing lovely aromas, already slightly sherry-like due to being mixed with some older wine. The juice went straight into barrel whilst the marc was pressed again to extract more juice and flavour. Tasted straight from the press these included lovely apricot, plum fruits along with the slight oxidised note which adds complexity. Truly delicious, I’m afraid my description fails to do it justice.The barrel will allow the wine to age and gain contact with oxygen and the wine will develop into a luscious sweet wine. As stated previously I shall write more about the solera in the near future.

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Michel removes the skins for pressing

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     Michel then loads the press

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               Gateau de Muscat

There are one or two small parcels still to pick but the main harvest is now over. It began back on August 21st so lasted just over a month. I shall be reflecting upon it and the lessons I have learned from it in the next article. Meanwhile I look forward to picking the Muscat from Rome and went to the vineyard on Friday lunchtime to take some photos. I was met by a family of partridges, butterflies and birdsong – Rome really is a magical place. In La Garrigue the vines are starting to show their autumnal colours, their work is done for 2015. The vines have given everything to their fruit in the last month and the leaves which remain after harvest are looking tired after a long, hot summer. All, or nearly all, is safely gathered in. 

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La Garrigue, Friday. The grass across the centre marks the ridge with Grenache near side and Syrah far side.

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Grenache leaves showing that autumn approaches, harvest is over

Rome on a beautiful autumn day

                   Rome on a beautiful autumn day

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Luscious Muscat bunch

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Berries shriveling and concentrating the sugars

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    Jeff seems to approve of the London Cab


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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.

Merlot being moved

                         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)