amarchinthevines

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


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Vendanges 2018 – Part 2

 

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Tuesday 4th to Thursday 6th September

After the break harvest really kicked into gear this week. One of the effects of mildew (and compounded by the hail storm later) was damage to foliage. The vine uses the foliage to ripen the grapes but also to nourish itself via photosynthesis. Damaged and desiccated leaves mean that there comes a point where the vine struggles to ripen the grapes any more and, even worse for the winemaker, things go into reverse; the vine begins to take back nutrients from the grapes in order to feed itself. This will have consequences not just this year but into the future, as the vine has struggles so much and is weak, it will not be at its best next year and further ahead.

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Riveyrenc Gris grapes in good health but note the mildewed leaves 

Therefore, Jeff Coutelou has had to spend a lot of time in the vines ensuring that he knows exactly the health and condition of the vines to get the best possible grapes for this year whilst being mindful about the health of the vines. A balancing act to cause him more stress in a difficult year.

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Tuesday saw some lovely Muscat being harvested from Peilhan, the grape which smells of grapes. The video below shows them being pressed and I wish I could convey the lovely fresh, grapey aromas which emerged from the press.

 

This is Muscat being made for dry wine, in 2016 for example the Muscat D’Alexandrie made a lovely orange wine which we have shared at lunch. Afterwards the pickers moved into the 2015 plantation at the top of Peilhan, the 12 rows of Morastel, Terret Noir and Riveyrenc Noir picked to blend with Syrah from Sainte Suzanne where the pickers headed next.

On a beautiful Wednesday morning the remaining Syrah was picked. Jeff decided to make a grappe entière wine so Julien and I headed into the top of the cellar to sort the grapes and send them through the chute into the tank. This had been given a dose of CO2 to encourage the fermentation of the grapes inside their skins. After a short period the skins will burst and the resulting juice will have a light, fruitiness. This process is called carbonic maceration. Sorting meant removing any leaves and other vineyard products such as spiders and snails. Mainly though we were looking for the dried grains of berries damaged by mildew and the green, unformed berries caused by millerandage.

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Onto Thursday and the deployment of two teams of pickers. The Moroccan crew picked some lovely bunches of Macabeu from Peilhan before moving on to Syrah from Segrairals.

 

Macabeu and Syrah (note the green unformed berries needing to be sorted

We were also joined by a number of pickers who would tackle some of the more interesting vineyards. As a result of mildew damage in Faugères some growers have little or nothing to harvest and some of their pickers came to join the Coutelou team. And we were joined by Louis who, having completed his professional baccalauréat has begun a course to help him achieve his ambition of becoming a sommelier. His stage will certainly teach him a lot about vines and wines, the numerous cépages he picked will certainly have opened his eyes to the wide world of wine.

This team picked my favourite vineyard, Rome, with its old Cinsault vines, Muscats of various kinds and all three versions of Grenache. In the afternoon the moved on to Font D’Oulette now simply referred to as Flower Power after the wine made from the numerous cépages in there. Using two teams meant that cases were returned thick and fast by Michel and Julien and I had a long, back breaking day sorting these grapes.

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Julien and Nathan sort the last case on Thursday from Flower Power

I have to say the juice tastes great, fruity with good acidity. Now all we need is for the yeasts to play their part and ferment that juice into good wines. The picture below shows yeasts at work in a tank where some of the skins from the pressing of last week’s Grenache. As with the grapey Muscat these bready aromas deserve to be more widely shared. Vendanges is all about the senses.

And, for Icare lovers around the world, he is taking a very keen interest in this year’s harvest.

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New vines, old grapes – back to the future

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Following on from the new plantation of old and rare grape varieties in Segrairals, Jeff wants to develop further this aspect of the Coutelou vineyards. He has been consulting with the nursery in the Aude which specialises in organic and old vines and has placed orders for more.

Amongst those are some known in other regions and countries. Alicante is a variety known in Spain as Grenache Tintorera, a cross between Grenache Noir and petit Bouschet. Widely grown in Portugal and Spain its red flesh which adds a deep colour to wine is becoming fashionable in the USA. Farana is a grape which was grown in Algeria mainly but after its independence from France plantings there have shrunk to very little. Spain has some and there is a little in the Barossa Valley in South Australia. Beni carlo is a grape better known as Bobal, usually grown in Spain and resistant to extreme climatic conditions. Like Alicante Beni carlo is good for adding colour and tannin to wine. Lledoner Pelut, a Spanish grape by origin, is a mutation of Grenache but has the advantage of being more resistant to rot.

 

More familiar varieties such as Aramon, Morrastel, Terret Noir and Clairette Blanche, already planted elsewhere in Jeff’s vineyards, will become more widely planted.

Varieties such as Villard Blanc, Lignan and Mancin are also little known grapes which will begin to bear fruit. Villard was a cross made by a horticulturist and his father-in-law who gave their names to it (also known as 12375 Seyve-Villard). There used to be 30,000ha in the South West of France as late as the 1960s, now only a handful of hectares remain in the Ardeche and Tarn but also in Hungary. Very resistant to mildew. Lignan is unusual in being a grape which ripens before Chasselas, the benchmark for maturity. Originally Italian (known as Luglienga) Lignan Blanc is widely grown as a table grape, is vigorous and needs heavy pruning. Mancin was originally a Bordeaux grape but has disappeared there and little grown elsewhere. Another early maturing grape it adds body to wine when assembled.

 

Jeff has ordered a few vines of each of these as well as more of the Inconnue which is already planted in Font D’Oulette (unknown elsewhere), Marocain Noir, Oeillade Noir and Valenci Blanco some of which are so rare I could not find any information about them! They will be added to vineyards to replace vines which don’t take after grafting or simply die.

Why is Jeff so dedicated to planting and conserving these grapes? Partly because he simply believes it is simply the right thing to do, partly through passion for vines and their history as well as the traditions of French viticulture. It is also a question of diversity in a sea of vineyards across the region. And, in an age of climate change, it behoves viticulteurs to look at how they are going to respond to more extreme weather conditions in future. Finally, these grapes will certainly add a unique character to the Coutelou wines. Old vines but the way forward too.

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Rare grapes and Vin De France

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This chart was published two weeks ago even though the information refers to 2010. I found it fascinating (I am a sad case I understand). Some of the information would be expected, New Zealand with its Sauvignon Blanc for example, Australia with its Shiraz. I was rather surprised to see Merlot as 13.7% of the French vineyard area however. Admittedly this is partly because it is one of my least favourite grape varieties, though, as always, fine examples are available from good vignerons.

Merlot, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Viognier, were in vogue in the 80s and 90s when I became interested in wine. Languedoc producers reacted to this popularity by planting these cépages, it was commercial sense. One of those producers was Jean-Claude Coutelou and Mas Coutelou still has his Cabernet and Merlot parcels.

However, one of the more recent trends in the region has been the revival of older and rare grape varieties. At Mas Coutelou Jeff has planted grapes such as Riveyrenc Noir, Riveyrenc Gris, Morastel, Piquepoul Noir and Terret Noir in Peilhan (see photos below).

Earlier this year Jeff received a visit from Domaine De Vassal, guardian of the national treasury of grape vines. They record and keep examples all grape varieties as I described after a visit to Vassal. On this occasion they were intrigued by two vines in particular; firstly Clairette Musquée, planted in Peilhan and, secondly, the unknown variety in Segrairals. These are just part of the programme of replanting and grafting which has taken place at Mas Coutelou. The photos below show grafting of other cépages in Flower Power such as Aramon Noir and one unknown variety.

After months of research the experts at Vassal have concluded that Clairette Musquée has its origins in Hungary where it was known as Org Tokosi. It was planted in the Maghreb and after Algerian independence it was probably brought to France by those who repatriated to France.

The unnown variety turns out to be an Italian cépage, quite rare, called Delizia Di Vaprio. This is, according to my copy of Pierre Galet’s “Dictionnaire Encyclopédique des Cépages”, a grape authorised in Italy and Portugal. Under the rules of France’s AOC system it would not be allowed. Jeff, however, chooses to issue his wines under the Vin De France label which means he is free to choose his own methods and grape varieties. Whereas a Languedoc AOC wine must include grapes such as Syrah and Grenache Jeff can choose what to put in his wines including wines from just one grape variety. It also means he can plant these rare grapes and make wines from them which he truly loves and wants to make.

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Interestingly one AOC, Burgundy, is starting to show signs of concern that Vin De France is becoming more popular. They have started a campaign criticising Vin de France. To my mind they should be looking to their own failings and regulations. For example, as climate change bites harder vignerons will have to adapt, investigating different grape varieties will be part of that.

So, yes Merlot has its place (and thrives in the Colombié vineyard in Puimisson) but is it not exciting to see rare, old, traditional grapes being cherished and brought back to prominence? Let us appreciate the range and variety of grapes and the vignerons who bring out their best.

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Vendanges 2016 #9 – Days Like This

“When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit
Then I must remember there’ll be days like this”               (Van Morrison, Days Like This)

As we approached the end of vendanges a number of the team were moving on. It was an inspired move to have a farewell day, picking, tasting and celebrating together, though we were already missing some like Charles, Carole and Maylis.

The morning dawned over Peilhan and the vineyard which we planted in March 2015. Rows of Terret Blanc and Noir, Riveyrenc Gris and Noir, Piquepoul Noir and Morastel produced grapes this year. They cannot be used in major cuvées sold to the public as they are too youthful. However, Jeff decided to pick them to make something for himself out of interest. So, on a bright, warm autumnal morning we gathered, picked, chatted and laughed.

Interesting to see how some varieties produce more than others already, more precocious perhaps, the Terret Noir being especially shy. Altogether we picked around six cases only but there was a real mix of colour and some nice looking fruit which went into a small cuve in whole bunches.

 

Later that day we gathered again, this time in the main cellar along with Thierry Toulouse, Jeff’s oenologue. We tasted through the whole range of 2016 wines in cuve before heading to a local restaurant for a meal. The results of the tasting were fascinating. Clearly, they are in a stage of transition, fermentations still progressing. Nonetheless the wines were already showing their character. I won’t go into too much detail here, though I did take notes to help me record how the wines change in coming months.

In summary though I was amazed. I have said many times on here how difficult this year has been. A very warm winter, drought, mildew, delayed summer being just some of the problems. Yet here we tasted some lovely fresh fruit, lively acidity and other promising signs. I would mention the Carignan Blanc, lovely Syrah and Grenache from La Garrigue, juicy Mourvèdre and in particular the wonderful Carignan Noir of Flambadou. All those puzzles which Jeff had to hold in his head about harvesting dates, moving wines, possible assemblages etc, well those puzzles were solved in the glass. I had expected some disappointments but somehow Jeff has conjured some potentially top quality wines.

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2003 Roberta

At the end of the current wines Jeff also shared a 2003 bottle of white wine based on Grenache Blanc, Noir and Gris, called Roberta (it’s a long story!). This was one of three cuvées which were the first that Jeff made sans sulfites. Yet it was complex; fresh, fruity, nutty. A wine which made my heart sing, proof that SO2 is not required for ageing wines as we are often told. Perhaps in 13 years time we shall be tasting the 2016 wines and marveling at them too.

A fitting way to close the vendanges period, a team rightly proud of what it had achieved.

“When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit
Then I must remember there’ll be days like this”

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Old vines, new vineyard

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Friday March 6th brought a hot sunny afternoon and the birth of a new vineyard at Mas Coutelou. Well, a new section of vineyard at least. Peilhan is the most southerly of Jeff’s parcels and already contains a variety of grape varieties ranging from Carignan planted in 1992 to fairly new white grapevines such as Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, and Carignan Blanc. However, also planted are some rarer old varities such as Clairette Muquée and the Castets which I have so praised before.

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Peilhan

If you look in the photo towards the top you will see a sloping area of land just beyond the planted vines and it was this section which, after lying fallow for many years, was to be planted. I have highlighted it below.

peilhan highlightedBeing Jeff Coutelou though this would not be a simple planting of Grenache, Syrah or Mourvedre but instead he wants to increase the diversity of vines in the vineyard and contribute to the movement of restoring old Languedoc vines to a prominent role in  the region. So 24 rows of vines would be planted, almost 2,500 plants of 6 cépages ;

  • Terret Blanc 1 row
  • Piquepoul Gris 6 rows
  • Riveyrenc Gris 2 rows
  • Riveyrenc Noir 6 rows
  • Terret Noir 3 rows
  • Morastel 6 rows

They would be planted as a mix to help resist disease as well as diversity.

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Piquepoul Gris vine

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The plants are laid out ready, roots in water. Renaud, Michel, Carole and Jeff lead the way. Jeff, as usual, is on the phone as someone wants some wine!

 

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The vines came from a trusted supplier in Carcassonne and resembled large matchsticks. The vine foot is an American rootstock, the only ones capable of resisting the phylloxera beetle which almost wiped out French vineyards in the 19thC. The plant is grafted onto this root stock and then covered with the red wax to protect the grafting stopping air getting between the plant and the root stock. The wax will fall away naturally in the next few days. As you can see they arrived with long roots and we had to cut these down to make them easier to plant.

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Jeff had hired two expert plantsmen to lead the way, the two to the right in the photo above. They demonstrated how short the roots should be and left Renaud, Michel and myself to carry on whilst Jeff and Carole (in the photo) went to help the planting.

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The field was marked out to show where the vines would be planted. Each variety was to be planted at different intervals according to its specific needs, some need wider planting such as the Piquepoul Gris, others should be planted more densely such as the Terret Noir. The spaced to the right of the rope will be planted with hedges, including rose trees. These will provide shelter for birds and bats, natural predators of damaging insects and vers de grappe (worms) as well as providing a natural boundary to the parcel.

IMG_0891Wire cables ran along where each row was to be planted, in the photo you will see a blue mark where the vine was to be planted. The two experts did the planting with Jeff and Carole (later Michel) dropping the vine  for them to plant.

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This video shows just how fast they work, on a hot day it very impressive. There was a welcome beer break (with English beers from County Durham no less!) but the work continued solidly for 4 hours.

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New vineyard takes shape

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Icare supervised, of course

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new plants need water of course so Jeff and Carole set to work. 1500 litres were used for 2 rows of vines!

 

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Jeff asked me at the end of the day what my thoughts were about the planting, how I felt about it. I had to think about it for a while. It had seemed like hard work but it was with a real sense of being present at a new beginning. The vines have a 99%+ survival rate and they will in a few years be producing white and red wine of great quality. And I was there for the birth of this project, a privilege. It was impossible not to feel excitement about what was to come and to wonder at how these small sticks would become beautiful vines. And to feel proud that Jeff is willing to plant something which reaches back into the past as well as providing for the future. Let’s hope we are here to enjoy the wine in a few years.

As if to crown my day of feeling close to nature I was able to take these photos of bees on the rocket flowers in the main parcel at Peilhan. This is one corner of the Languedoc where nature still rules, with a little help.

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