amarchinthevines

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


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The first Coutelou of Spring

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It’s a while since I wrote about the happenings at Mas Coutelou, so time for an update. I am thankful to Jeff, Vincent and Julien for keeping me up to date in my absence.

The first few months of 2017 have been damp in the Languedoc, a contrast to the arid 2016. The photos by Julien above show water standing a week after rain and his feet sinking into the soil as he pruned. Jeff had planned to plant a vineyard of different types of Aramon at Théresette next to La Garrigue which has lain fallow for the last few years. However, the soil remains very damp and planting has not been possible, unless things change quickly the project will be postponed until next year. For the same reason, the first ploughing would have begun by now in most years, but is on hold for drier conditions.

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Pruning the last vines (photo and work by Julien)

Julien completed pruning (taille) around March 10th. He photographed the first budding (débourrement) amongst precocious varieties such as the Muscat. However, Jeff told me this week that, generally, budding is later this year, the damper, cooler weather again responsible. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Remember that frost can cause great damage to vines, especially buds, and the Saints De Glace (date when traditionally frost risk is over) is May 11-13. I recall visiting the Loire last April and seeing frost damage, whole vineyards with no production for the year.

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Julien photographed some early buds

The weather conditions are favourable for something, sadly not good news either. Snails, which ravaged large numbers of buds and leaves in Flower Power and Peilhan last year, have found the damp much to their advantage. They are a real pest, a flock of birds would be very welcome or we’ll see more scenes like these from 2016. Of course, one of the reasons why birds and hedgehogs are lacking is the use of pesticides by most vignerons in the region.

In the cellar the new office and tasting room is complete. Our friend Jill completed a montage of Mas Coutelou labels which we gave to Jeff as a gift. Hopefully that may decorate the walls of the new rooms.

The floor which was half covered in resin last year has been finished all over and another new inox (stainless steel) cuve has arrived. (photos by Vincent).

On March 22nd the assemblages of the 2016 wines took place. Or at least most of them. One or two cuves still have active fermentation with residual sugar remaining but otherwise the wines were ready and the conditions were favourable. I won’t reveal what cuvées are now blended, that is for Jeff to unveil. However, I can say that the reduced harvest of 2016 means fewer wines are available and fewer cuvées made. In the next article I shall be giving my thoughts on the 2016 wines from tastings in October and February.

Finally, there was an award for Jeff himself. On March 30th he was made an official ambassador for the Hérault by the Chamber of Commerce of the département. This was an honour for Jeff himself and the generations of the Mas and Coutelou families who made the domaine what it is. Founded in the 1870s at 7, Rue De La Pompe by Joseph Étienne Mas who planted vines and kept cows after he had fought in the Franco – Prussian War of 1870-1. Five generations later Jeff is an ambassador for Puimisson, vignerons and the Hérault and with his wines he is really spoiling us.

 


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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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New year, new start

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If only winemaking was like this! Bottles, however, do not produce themselves. The year round process of winemaking I have previously described on this blog. Readers will be aware of the work, effort and stress involved.

As 2017 began Julien returned from his travels in Iberia to Puimisson to start the long, finger numbing job of pruning (la taille). He will be joined by Carole who also returned to the village and who has pruned for many years at Mas Coutelou.

Jeff tells me that there is plenty of other work going on. I referred in a previous post to January being named after the Roman god, Janus. He was two faced, one looking to the old year, the other looking forward. So too in winemaking.

The pruning, for example, is finishing off the work of the vines of 2016, cutting away the last vestiges if that vintage whilst preparing the vines for the year ahead. Normally the wines of the previous vintage would be approaching readiness for bottle, the first wave. However, Jeff tells me that they have developed more slowly from 2016 and he is likely to wait until they tell him that they are ready. That may happen when I return to the area at the end of this month or maybe later. In which case he will have to prepare wines for the major salons ahead straight from the tank.

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Floor renewal

Other work is taking place in the cellars. Half of the floor was replaced in early 2016 and the rest will now be done. Other changes will add more facilities such as an office.

Meanwhile the weather is not playing its part so far. It has been warm again allowing no rest to the vines. However, a forecast I saw today suggests that freezing conditions will arrive this weekend. Perhaps, after two years, the vines will finally shut down and rest. This would certainly help 2017 be a more promising vintage. New year, new hopes.


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A year in the vines, Mas Coutelou in photos (Part 1)

January

The year begins with a series of wine salons and assembling wines for those tastings from the previous year. Jeff took me through the various cuves to see how the 15s were developing. Meanwhile the serious work of pruning (la taille) dominates the early months of the year and Julien was hard at work, patiently shaping the vines to enable them to produce their best. This was especially important in such a mild winter where the vines were unable to lie dormant.

February

Bottling of the 2015s began, this time Vin Des Amis, perennial favourite. Jeff has his own bottling line and the full crates of wine now head to storage for a few months to get over the ‘shock’ of bottling (mise en bouteille).

March

A March in the vines for sure. One of the highlights of 2016 was also the wettest and filthiest I could possibly be. Grafting vines (la greffe) in Flower Power (Font D’Oulette) on a day when it became impossible to lift the pioche because of all the mud stuck on it. I learned a lot and I loved the whole day.

April

Spring brings the vines truly to life (though the mild winter meant they were restless all winter). Look at the tendril extending from the pink bud on the left, this vine is already growing fast. Small shoots in Rome vineyard and also the ladybirds, sign of  a healthy vineyard. (ébourgeonnage)

May

The grappes begin to form in clusters and spring flowers are everywhere around the various vineyards of Mas Coutelou. May is perhaps the most beautiful month of all in the vine, warm days, clear light and the colourful natural world – blossom, flowers, butterflies, birds. There is literally no place on earth I would rather be.

June

In the vines the flowering season (fleuraison) lasts just a few days. They are very delicate and easily damaged by strong winds or heavy rain. Here the Carignan vines of Rec D’Oulette (which make Flambadou) are in full flower.

Meanwhile in the cellar the bottling season restarts and the tanks are emptied and then cleaned with a vivid colouring for the floor. And welcome visitors arrive sometimes bringing delicious gifts of food with which we can accompany the wines. It’s a hard life, believe me.


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Coutelou catch-up

It’s been a few weeks since I updated about events at Mas Coutelou, partly due to Millésime Bio and, partly, because it’s a relatively quiet time. That is not to say nothing has been happening, far from it.

Millésime Bio and Le Salon des Vins De Loire are two huge events in France attracting many thousands of trade visitors. As you have seen with Millésime Bio these salons also attract satellite events and Jeff takes part in those. Les Affranchis in Montpellier and La Dive Bouteille in Saumur last two days each and so adequate samples of the wines need to be prepared, transported and poured for guests to taste. Those events alone take about 7 days of the last month. I know from feedback from various people who sampled Mas Coutelou wines at both events that they enjoyed the wines which were samples from cuve (tank) of the 2015 cuvées such as Vin Des Amis, Classe, Syrah, PM Blanc and Flower Power. Hopefully the salons will spread the word about how good they are, the elegance and finesse of the vintage is obvious as you taste it.

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Bottles of the 2015 wines made specially for the salons

Those visitors were also presented with Jeff’s annual Carte Des Voeux, his new year greetings card, together with his summary of the last year’s events, weather, vintage and cuvées. The Carte’s original is printed by hand and this year’s was especially complicated to print because of the different colours used. The message is worth the hard work.

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For the last several weeks pruning (taille) has continued. Julien is leading the work this year and his back must be getting sore by now. It is hard work! The importance of good pruning should not be underestimated. It maintains the health of the vines, removing damaged or sick wood. It reduces the number of canes which will grow grapes so that the vine’s energy will produce quality rather than quantity, probably reducing potential yields by half. It also shapes the vine so that future work such as ploughing and harvesting will be more straightforward. I wrote about pruning last year describing the different methods.

I visited Julien in Peilhan vineyard on Monday, the same day as I saw a pruning machine at work in a nearby vineyard. It certainly does the job quickly and more cheaply but looking at the vines afterwards it was hard not to think that the machine did not reduce the number of canes to limit yields and, of course, cannot check the health of the vines. Julien and his fellow tailleurs are more costly but, to my mind, essential for good vineyard management and, ultimately, good wines.

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Michel was also in Peilhan, making sure that the pruned vines were tied to their trellis. If the vine is not straight he might stake itfor support and then tie the vine to the stake using a fastener called a ‘queue de cochon’ as it resembles a pig’s curly tail. This will help to avoid the vine being knocked during ploughing or other work.

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Michel and Julien hard at work

Meanwhile, in the cellar it has been a hive of activity. One of the features of the cellar has been a large basket press which has been used by the Coutelou family for generations.

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Sadly, it has been out of use for many years and became something of an obstacle as work was done, especially during the vendanges. Jeff reluctantly decided to remove it, I know this was a difficult choice for him. It proved to be a much more difficult task than anticipated as the press screw went deep into the ground and a massive hole still didn’t get to the bottom of it so, eventually, it was sawn through to enable the whole press to be moved.

The story does have a happy ending though as the press is on its way to Jeff’s friend Didier Barral where it will be put to good use. The result is certainly more space in the cellar, even if a part of the domaine’s history has disappeared.

Another big tank (cuve) has also been split into two. Jeff will be able to vinify smaller quantities of wine and have more choices about the most suitable cuve for grapes as they come in at harvest time.

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Finally, for those of you who want to find out more about Mas Coutelou a new website is available. I have included a link at the top of my page and invite you to have a look at the site.

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Jeff wrote the text for it (I did the English translation) and it will inform you about the philosophy, methods and wines of the domaine. And it is those wines, the different cuvées, that I shall be writing about next time.

Pour les lecteurs français je m’excuse, j’ai des grandes difficultés de mettre à jour la page en français. J’ai demandé à WordPress pour résoudre le problème.


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Taille, tasting and temperatures

 

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One of the new fruit trees planted at Peilhan

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First visit of 2016 to Mas Coutelou this morning. We tasted the 2015 wines, now mostly assembled, and whilst I am sworn to secrecy about what they will be I can confirm that the cuvées are looking excellent. There is a real elegance and refinement to them already, Jeff has compared them to Rhone and Loire wines rather than the typical, fuller Languedoc wines. They are still in their infancy of course, tasted from tank, and in midwinter they are still coming around. However, the structure, aromas and flavours are in place for wines of real quality.

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The weather was much discussed as the temperatures in Puimisson and the Languedoc remain above average (see last post). The effect on the wines can be important, the wines restive, troubled in warm conditions, for example they don’t clarify. A few colder days early this week has helped them to settle a little more, Jeff has already noted changes.

The warm temperatures were evident in the vineyard too. I went to see Julien who is carrying out la taille (pruning) this year. He showed me how some of the precocious vines, such as Muscat, are showing signs of the buds swelling already, way too early. This fits in with the wider vegetation, fruit trees showing signs of blossom, even our tomato plants have flowers!

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Bud swelling in the vine

Julien was busy in Peilhan vineyard and explained how he was trying to prune the Muscat in a gobelet sur fil style, rather like guyot, pruning to create two main canes for growth in 2016.

This weekend sees a huge wine salon, Millésime Bio, in Montpellier. Nine hundred domaines represented with many more at various ‘off’ events around the city. Jeff will be preparing bottles for Les Affranchis. Then it’s on to the Loire for more salons. So the cuvées will make their first public appearance. I shall be explaining some of the different Coutelou cuvées in my next couple of posts as well as reporting on the Montpellier salons.

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Icare playing with his Christmas present from Pat, a toy sheep

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The Falling Leaves

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Vine leaves which will become compost in the vineyard

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Autumn is often a melancholy time as the days shorten, temperatures drop and the first signs of winter approach. And yet 2015 in the Languedoc has seen a most untypical autumn. Last week the warmest November day ever was recorded and we have enjoyed blue skies, warm sunshine and hot afternoons, 26°C has been regularly seen on our garden thermometer. The resulting sunshine has produced the most breathtaking scenery, with colours across a wide spectrum of autumn. As I wrote on the Out And About page, every time you turn a corner there is another heart stopping view.

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The vines are now closing down, preparing for winter. Their fruit has gone except for a few overlooked grapes which the birds, wasps and insects have been enjoying. Their leaves are shedding and the skeleton of the vine stands out again for the first time since early May, their form revealed, cordon or guyot for example.

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       First taille of autumn 2015, guyot vines

Indeed, some vignerons have actually started to prune again ready for 2016. I suspect they are working to a pre-prepared timetable as the vines have been slow to lose their leaves and still show some life. At Mas Coutelou the taille will not take place until next year and most top vignerons will leave it until then, just before the growing season. The extra wood helps to protect against frosts for example. Some vignerons are starting to cavailloner, in other words to move earth from between the rows of vines towards the plants themselves, the extra soils will again act as a blanket against the frosts.

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       Puimisson basks in autumn sunshine

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Dew on some Grenache Blanc grapes left behind in Rome

Other jobs remain to be done. After the months of busy vineyard work and harvest it is a time for sending wine to be sold. Pallets have left Puimisson to cavistes and restaurants around the world. Last Friday, November 6th, they set off to Germany, Finland and various regions of France. More have already gone to New York, London, Melbourne amongst many cities.

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The season of salons has started in earnest too. This weekend I was in the Roussillon for La Bande De Latour, highlighting many of the best natural wines of the Roussillon and elsewhere.

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The following day I was in Autignac for a tasting of some of the best Faugères wines and also their fines or brandies. I shall post about these soon. I was talking to the excellent Hausherrs, vignerons who had driven to the Pyrenees from Alsace for La Bande, a long, long way. Hard work.

In the next few weeks Jeff will be starting to assemble the wines for the main cuvées of 2015, the likes of Classe and Vin Des Amis. Decisions to be made about what proportions of which cuves to blend for the wines. Sadly, I shall miss this process as we head back to the UK for a wedding. Into every life a little rain must fall.

It has been a beautiful autumn, the weather and the vendanges have made it a magical time. Thanks as ever to Jeff for allowing me to share the experiences and insights of the season.

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