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

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Solera, oh oh


Version francaise

Many visitors to Mas Coutelou would cite their time in the cave des soleras as the most memorable of all. This, for new readers, is the cellar where barrels are stored containing Muscat and Grenache from many vintages. There it ages gently to make Vieux Grenache or Muscat, or a blend of course.


The system works with new wine being put into barrique as normal but the older wines are blended with wines from previous years. Evaporation and bottling means that some of the wine in the barrels disappears each year so they need to be topped up with younger wines. Gradually, as the years pass, the wines become older and more concentrated and are passed on to older barrels. Some of the wine in the oldest barrels is 100 years old blended in with slightly younger wines.


Archimedes principle to move wine from cuve to barrel by gravity

On September 20th it was time to clear space in the cellar; barrels topped up, new wine added to the system. Some of the barrels were given a soutirage, emptied of their wine leaving behind the sediment in the bottom. The barrel is then cleaned, the wine returned and topped up.


Matthieu fills the barrel with water to clean it ready for refilling with wine

Two days later we were back and amongst the barrels being refreshed was one containing the Grenaches (all three varieties) wine I made in 2015. Time to taste. This was the new barrel which permits more oxygen into the wine than the more seasoned barrel. There was definitely a sherry influence to the wine, the effect of the oak and air but still there was good fruit and length. It will soon be topped up with wine from the older barrel which should add more fruit to the profile. The wine in the 27l bottle will be even more fruity and fresh, the blending should be an interesting time.


Refilling the Grenaches newer barrel

The cellar is a true treasure trove of great wines, and I don’t mean mine. Time spent there is always time well spent. And the guard dog of all guard dogs ensures it is well protected.





Update on my Grenaches wine

In September I published my 100th blog post. To celebrate Jeff gave me permission to make a special cuvée. My wife Pat, friends Martin, May, Céline and Delphine helped me to pick Grenache grapes from my favourite vineyard, Rome. An assemblage of Grenaches Noir, Gris and Blanc was made.


Since that lovely day the wine has been gently maturing in a variety of containers. Some went into a 60l barrel, more into a 30l barrel and the rest went into a 27l glass bottle. We tasted the barrel wines in November as they were still fermenting and it was already clear that there were differences between them. Further tasting in February revealed the differences more clearly with surprising results.

I had expected that the newer oak barrel would have a more pronounced effect upon the wine than the older barrel. Take a look at the two glasses in the photo, clearly one of the wines is a darker colour than the other. So is the darker colour from the older or newer barrel? (Answer lower down the page).


On April 7th we carried out a soutirage to remove the dead yeast cells and other material which had served its purpose in the fermentation process but might now hinder the wine. There was actually little of that material as the pressing I made in September was a small scale one using the vertical press, meaning that the wine which went into the containers was actually quite pure grape juice.

I expected the older barrel to produce the darker wine but it was actually the reverse. On reflection I should have realised. The older barrel is more seasoned and the staves of the barrel are more saturated from years of wine, creating an effective barrier to oxidation. The newer barrel certainly doesn’t leak (thankfully) but allows more oxygen into the wine, producing the darker colour.

As to flavour and aroma. Well both barrel wines are both very pleasing. The older barrel certainly had fresh raspberry aromas with other red fruits, also a sweet edge which carried into the taste. It still has residual sugar but there is lovely red fruit and great length. The newer barrel gave a rounder flavour, still some sugar but there was a hint of spice and darker fruits.

The glass bottle was actively fermenting when we opened it. Take a listen.

Naturally the wine contained a little gas when we tasted it, but had very fresh aromas and flavours of red fruit with the sugar obvious due to the fermentation.

Now they are back in their various containers, topped with a little surplus Muscat to fill them. They will continue to eat the sugar and to develop their flavours. As this is almost the 150th article I hope that it won’t be another 50 before I get to taste them again. Thanks again to Jeff for allowing me to make this wine and to learn about what influences a wine and its development.


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Vineyard, vinification and VAT

There are three main aspects to the life of a winemaker and it’s time to bring you up to date with all three.

Vineyard work. 

It is a lovely time of year to be in the vines as they start their growth for the year, buds of striking colour, first leaves and greenery. 

In Rome vineyard on April 10th there were butterflies, birdsong and bees, beautiful.


Rome through a new Coeur de Pigeon cherry tree

Taille is complete, ploughing completed (for the moment) and we have even had some rain at last which has encouraged the growth we see in the vines. However, it’s not all green for go. The buds are fragile and any more high winds could cause some damage to them leading to reduced yields in September. Moreover, Jeff pointed out another problem. Some of the buds are actually auxiliary buds (contre bourgeons) which would reduce yields further. The contre bourgeons generally don’t yield fruit and also take energy from the main buds so these don’t grow to full height.


The winter saw not one single day of frost in Puimisson, the vines were restless and unable to sleep in the face of cold weather. Therefore sap, which should be still, continued to flow and with mild temperatures in January and February the sap nudged the buds. However, a cooler spell at the end of February and March meant that the sap retreated a little and the buds were left stirred but not able to unveil themselves. As warmer weather returned the sap nudged auxiliary buds as the main buds had already seemingly started. In fact they may not now emerge at all and it is these auxiliary buds which will be left. Something to raise concern at a preliminary stage of the season. The vines generally are starting well but a few have this issue. More importantly the vines have had little rest, will they be able to offer their best in 2016?


Nonetheless it was good to see the newly planted vines in Font D’Oulette are already budding, a promising start.



The 2015 wines made for early drinking, e.g. Vin Des Amis, PM Rosé and Classe, have been bottled and dressed (habillage) with their labels. Other cuvées are still in tank resting after fermentation, maturing towards wines such as Flambadou. 


Soutirage was carried out on some of these more complex wines as reported in the last article. Meanwhile Jeff continues to taste and to check their progress, to ensure the quality and health of the wines. 

Some wines from previous vintages have been bottled, for example the new barrel aged Maccabeu / Grenache Gris wine ‘5J’. New labels have been designed for these and they will eventually become rare treasures for followers of Mas Coutelou wines. One new wine is the Syrah ‘On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que’ and I will be narrating its story in a coming article, a story which reveals again the vinification skills of M. Coutelou.

VAT, sales

It is all  very well making good wines but, if you are to continue as a winemaker, you must be able to sell them. Jeff is in the position of being able to sell all of his wines and he could sell much more if he had it. That is the result of years of great wines which people want but also his ability to sell it. He has built loyal buyers around the world, often former students from his days as a teacher in Paris, for example his importers to Paris and New York, Fleur Godart and Camille Rivière. 


However, Jeff still attends salons such as Les Affranchis in Montpellier, La Dive Bouteille in the Loire and, last week, La Remise in Arles (again more about La Remise soon). He was very happy with the salon and sold more wine, Vincent was regularly spotted carrying cases from the van to various cars!

Last Wednesday palettes of wine were sent to Paris and it was good to see Paco Mora, whose Cave d’Ivry is a loyal customer, publish some photos of their arrival. He looked happy and was very complimentary about Jeff’s skills and the new syrah.

So, there we are. It’s a busy life being a vigneron. Jeff has lots of paper work and admin to carry out this week as well as spending time in the vines. All with a bad back which he has nursed for several weeks. As you sip, or quaff, your Mas Coutelou wine (hopefully) spare a thought for the work which has gone into the wine in your glass.


Paperwork? Count me out




Soutirage is known as racking in English. After the wine has fermented the tank or barrel will contain the lees (dead yeast cells) and sediment. The yeast fermented the wine, lees have added flavour and some antibacterial properties but if left in contact with the wine they will start to add off flavours, cloud the wine and generally hinder the final wine. The process is carried out as gently as possible, using gravity rather than electrical pumps.

So on April 6th Jeff messaged me to say that the day had arrived to carry out soutirage of the wine I made for my 100th blog post and the vendanges tardives Grenache we picked on the last day of the vendanges.

We started with the Grenache. A tube was placed into the stainless steel tank, suction applied and the wine flowed gently into large 15l bottles. Jeff chose clear bottles so that he can watch the progress of the wines. They will be stored in his cellar in the dark so no problems from light damage. The Grenache still contained some residual sugar, was sweet, fresh and clean.

It was appropriate that we also racked the maceration white wine. Cameron had taken the lead on this wine and he was here after attending La Remise, the natural wine salon in Arles, I’ll be writing about soon. The wine was fresh, lots of fruit and also a light texture from the 4 month maceration. Very good.

And then the 3 Grenaches wine I took charge of. Most of this has been aged in barrels so the soutirage ended with them being emptied of their sediment.

There wasn’t that much sediment as the small vertical press I used controlled what entered the barrels, ie mainly juice. Naturally we had to top up those barrels after soutirage to replace the volume taken away. And now they continue their gentle ageing. I am very happy with the progress of the Grenaches, again more soon.



Traffic light wines

A fascinating day, another new process in winemaking for me to learn.



Work life balance – soutirage, surchargé

Soutirage? It’s where you take wine from one container and move it to another. Traditionally this was done from barrel to barrel by gravity but these days it applies to moving the wine by other methods too. Why? Well the wine has been fermenting on lees, the dead yeast cells and other parts of the grapes. The wine needs to be removed from these as they cause cloudiness and you don’t want to drink wine full of lees. The lees can also cause off flavours in the wine so once they have served their purpose in helping to ferment and flavour the wine in a positive way they need to be separated.


                         All pumps to the full

By moving the wine you also add oxygen to it and remove the risk of carbon dioxide building too much in the cuve which might cause issues such as reduction, a wine fault leading to odours of rotten eggs, rubber, struck matches or worse. That oxygen acts as a kind of inoculation too, a little bit helps to reduce the risk of wine oxidising later.



Julien checking the level of wine in the recipient cuve

Therefore, on Friday 30th October, Jeff decided to carry out soutirage. Also, as the weather has been very warm they will continue to ferment a little longer in their new home before the colder weather does arrive. This means that there will still be some CO2 in the wine. Too much is bad but a little is good and this is the core of winemaking – finding the balance between all these different pros and cons. CO2 in small quantities helps to stabilise a wine and makes not using SO2 easier (important at Mas Coutelou) and also adds a little freshness and sense of texture, possibly a sense of acidity too. Oxygen, carbon dioxide, lees – you want to get just the right amount but no more.


               Cuve being emptied to another

What this did mean was more planning and more of the puzzles of what wine goes where. My last post showed how complex this is. And here we bring in the surchargé part of the title. Jeff has had a busy week with lots of paperwork, orders to sort, bottles to label, package and get ready for sending out to cavistes around the world. Add in administration work for customs, taxes and many other agencies. The side of being a winemaker that people don’t really see.


Same wine before (left) and after (right) soutirage, there was a noticeable difference in taste

I went to the vineyards on Thursday to take some photos of the beautiful colours in the vine leaves, unexpectedly I found Jeff in Peilhan digging out cannes de provence near a stream with a pick. He said this was his break from the paperwork, he needed some fresh air.


Looked like more hard work to me, and people ask me if I would not want to become a vigneron!

Please note that I have updated the Out And About and Tastings pages recently, click the links at the top of the page to see what’s been happening.


     The last leaf on a Grenache vine in Rome


                        There’s always one


Peilhan, wild rocket growing between the vines


                              Cinsault in Rome