La preuve que les vins Coutelou sont bons pour la santé
Cartes des voeux 2015 and 2016
Carte des Voeux 2017, election year
Every January Jeff Coutelou sends out to customers a Carte Des Voeux, a New Year’s card, in which he sends out information about the previous year’s events in Puimisson, thoughts about the vintage and general news. The card is always fronted by a striking, witty image and this year’s was no exception.
The main headlines from this year’s card concerning the wines were:
The difficulties of the 2017 vintage, the extremely hot weather and drought and how only a timely wind from the sea (brise marine) saved the harvest
The small harvest, though one of very good quality
Details of the likely cuvées which Jeff blended in November, these include regulars such as 7, Rue De La Pompe, Vin Des Amis, PM Rosé, Classe, Flambadou, Flower Power and the Blanc but also the Amphora wine from 2016 and …… La Vigne Haute! (Happy writer here)
New products, spirits and ‘tonics’. Gin, Fine and Grappa together with a Kina (a wine flavoured with plants) which is delicious.
Other news headlines:
The 2016 vintage as proof of how nature decides. The wines were slow to develop and, so, Jeff decided to sit on up to 75% of them rather than commercialise unready wines. (That said, the 2016 bottles which I have opened recently have been very good indeed, well worth waiting for. Good news for the customer with patience, less so for Jeff’s turnover).
Problems in the vineyards due to heavy rain in late 2016 meant that new plantings had to be postponed.The problems caused by vandalism in autumn 2017 have damaged the work and progress of biodiversity in the vineyards, eg hedges and trees burned.
Perhaps most startling of all the Domaine will, in future, no longer be named Mas Coutelou. The authorities informed Jeff that a domaine releasing wines as Vin De France rather than AOC or IGP is not permitted to use the term Mas. In Jeff’s case this seems daft as that is the family name of his mother and founders of the Domaine. No matter the logic and common sense, the wines will now simply be called Coutelou.
As for 2018.
The plantations foreseen for 2017 will, hopefully, take place this Spring, eg next to Ste Suzanne where traditional and older grape varieties will take their place amongst the dozens already planted across the domaine.
The sodden vineyard which could not be planted in 2017
Jeff intends to bring back to life the parcels in the Saint Chinian area which belonged to his father. They will be tidied, replanted as necessary and improved with biodiversity as a core principle. In ten years we can look forward to a whole new range of Coutelou wines from this renowned region.
Saturday June 4th was supposed to be the Festival De Magie in Puimisson, a family magic show. Sadly it had to be postponed until September as, around 5.30pm, a huge thunderstorm broke over the area. Booming thunder and heavy rain were the main features as Puimisson and the wider region were treated to an alternative fireworks display to that scheduled in the Festival. Yet 2 hours later the skies were clear, the streets were dry again.
Four of us though were treated to a magical evening. Jeff welcomed Cedric who runs the best website on French natural wines at vinsnaturels.fr (and I don’t say that because he chose one of my photographs on the opening page!) It gives great detail about vignerons, technical details about their wines and where they can be bought. His friend Ghislain was with him, another natural wine expert and promoter in the Grenoble area. Pat and I were invited along too and it was a real pleasure to meet up with them, they proved to be excellent company.
We were treated to 7 hours of tasting with Jeff in the cellars and at his home. And there was no question that Jeff is a true magician, conjuring up an amazing range of wines and of such a consistently high standard. I may be biased as he is my friend but the demand for his wines proves I am not alone in thinking so.
We tasted all of the 2015 wines, those in bottle and already sold, those just bottled and those in tank and barrel. Whites, rosé, reds, sparkling and selection de grains nobles. Plus many wines from previous years in barrel and bottle. Before moving to the solera cave to taste, amongst others, the Grenaches wine I made. Hand on heart there was not one dud wine and there were many special wines.
Amongst white wines the Maccabeu and the macerated wine we bottled the previous day were showing well. So too the Bibonade sparkling wines, white and rosé. 5SO Simple was on form from the early wines alongside Vin Des Amis.
Of the next wave of wines, Classe was outstanding, Jeff thinks maybe the star of 2015. Tête À Claques was good, a blend of VdA and Syrah; Buvette À Paulette too, a blend of Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon. Flambadou will be excellent, it needs time but has all the ingredients to be especially good, just as it has been the last few years.
One wine which was noteworthy was Flower Power. This is the red produced from the complanted Font D’Oulette vineyard with its Aramon, Clairette Musquée, Cinsault, Oeillade and six other cépages. Its first vintage in 2014 won plaudits even from the conventional press. The 2015 I had tasted on Thursday and it was in a dumb moment, Jeff actually carried out a soutirage on Friday and by this Saturday evening it was singing. For me, this could be the star of 2015.
Flower Power’s complanted vineyard
Ghislain had brought some cheeses from Meilleur Ouvrier De France Bernard Ravaud. They were superb cheeses including a truffled comté which shall live long in the memory. Jeff opened one of the 2012 barrel aged 5J which I wrote about recently, and it is a great marriage with cheeses.
We moved to the solera cellar where we tasted some of the old Muscats and Grenaches. However, it was also good to taste my Grenaches wine from all three of its containers, the new 60l barrel, the old 30l barrel and the 27l glass bottle. As before the older barrel has a sweeter, fruitier profile whilst the new barrel gives a slightly leaner, more complex wine. The glass bottle is all sweet fruit and still fermenting! It was good to hear Cedric, Ghislain and Pat all give their approval.
My Grenaches from new barrel
The hours flew by, always the sign of a good night. Thirty wines or so, Jeff just keeps bringing them out from up his sleeve. Or have I just given away a magic secret?
On Wednesday June 8th more visitors to the cellar. Paco Mora of La Cave D’Ivry and a friend of his Charlotte, a caviste in Montpellier, visited. I have mentioned Paco before on here and I would love to visit his Cave. He takes time and trouble to visit the winemakers whose wines he stocks and to offer his support. He’s passionate about wine and good fun as well as having a keen social conscience. We shared wines, laughs and lunch and two more great wines.
La Vigne Haute 2010 was lovely, showing maturity, the Syrah fruit now brooding and dark with great length and depth. LVH has always been my favourite cuvée but even this had to bow down before Flambadou 2007. Pure Carignan, more leathery and plummy notes with a smooth as silk chocolate finish. If anyone tells you natural wines cannot age then I would ask you to quote this bottle as proof that not only can they age but they can become truly great! Spellbinding.
La Vigne Haute 2010
And even time for a little levitation. Told you it was magic.
Yesterday (February 23rd) was the first big bottling day of Mas Coutelou 2015 wines. First in line was Vin Des Amis and 11,400 bottles were prepared. As Jeff put it, “Le vrai jour pour la belle cuvée”. (The bringing into the world of the beautiful wine). It proved to be the most aptly named of wines as Jeff welcomed friends from far and wide.
Vincent, a friend of many years who has featured before, was here from Paris. Another Paris based teacher, Sébastien, is spending a week in Puimisson in order to learn about being a vigneron (see his report on the domaine here). The most important visitor yesterday was Céline who was celebrating her birthday.
Bordeaux based Céline has been a regular visitor to Puimisson for many years and helped me with picking grapes for my 100th blog wine last September. Her husband, restaurateur Brice, and friends Thibaut and Anne from Monein in the Béarn, were here to help her to celebrate and threw themselves into the bottling work with gusto. Michel, Julien and I were present too.
The bottling line was in operation from 7.30am to around 5.30pm. Cuve 7, which contains up to 100hl, was emptied and the bottles taken to be stored for a few months until they are ready to label and to market in springtime. With 10 of us available we were able to share the load and take the occasional break as Jeff provided food and wine to ease us through the day. The Vin Des Amis was opened of course and it is already a bright, clear, delicious vintage of this popular cuvée, fresh red fruits with a lingering spiciness. Another sign of how good the 2015 will be. Jeff also opened a 1997 Mas Coutelou, a wine from his first solo vintage which had a lovely earthy perfume combined with red fruits which carried into the taste. The age was showing, the flavours cut short a little but still very drinkable. We also tasted some of the white wines from tank, they are developing beautifully, an amazing Maccabeu in particular. Could this be the year white wines steal the show at Mas Coutelou?
I thought I was the star!
The theme of friendship continued as Pat and I were invited along to dinner at Jeff’s to celebrate Céline’s birthday. Brice prepared some delicious fish dishes; marinated mackerel, squid in garlic and parsley, fresh cockles in a seafood broth, monkfish with garlicky potato purée and delicious sauce. He is clearly a very talented chef as well as restaurateur, ably assisted by Thibaut who made some very tasty flour-free crêpes.
And then there were the wines. A veritable who’s who of natural wine’s top producers. Plageoles’ sparkling Mauzac was a good start with which to toast Céline. Her phone rang throughout the day, she clearly personifies vin des amis.
A delicious rosé from Clos Des Grillons in the Gard followed, full flavoured, very appetising. Much more fruity than many rosés, this originates in Tavel.
Perhaps my favourite wine was the Pinot Blanc 2010 of Gérard Schueller, very full, a honey edge but dry – not sure that I have ever tasted a Pinot Blanc of such quality. I must track down some other wines from the domaine.
Céline had brought along a 2012 Leon Barral Blanc, Terret Blanc and Gris with some Viognier and Roussanne. Textured, a golden colour but very fresh and a good match with the fish.
La Bégou 14 made by Maxime Magnon in the Corbières was lovely, fresh white peach flavoured and very round, Grenaches Gris and Blanc. I liked this wine a lot, more evidence of how good Grenache Gris can be.
JF Ganévat’s J’en veux encore is a light red wine from an amazing blend of umpteen local Jura grapes by a producer who makes up to 40 cuvées (he must have amazing powers of memory to keep on top of so many wines). I tasted some of the range earlier this year and must admit to preferring the white wines but this was nice, very drinkable red fruits and a good match with the monkfish in its seafood sauce.
Back to Barral for Jadis 2001. Shy at first but this opened up in carafe through the night. Plummy, spicy, very long and terrific Faugères, the Carignan shone through with roundness from the Grenache. I have not always ‘got’ Barral’s wines but this showed me that they need time and patience. Very good.
Sébastien brought along a biodynamic Sauternes from Rousset-Peyraguey, a 2000 yet youthful with lovely sweetness but also freshness.
And then, just when you think you have got to grips with Jeff’s wines, there appeared two remarkable bottles. The first was Robert A, despite the label. This was Grenache Gris and Blanc from 2003, his first year of going sulphur free in the cellar. It passed through some interesting stages in its development and early bottles spat out their cork so it was put into sparkling wine bottles. It was amazing. Unbelievably fresh for a 12-13 year old white wine, white fruits with a tight edginess but clean and bright. It continued to develop in glass and in bottle through the evening, wine of the night.
R for Robert
Then came another new cuvée to me BL002, also from 2003. A Sauvignon Blanc but I’d never have identified it as such, with a sweetness (from the Muscat in the blend) and delicious freshness. Many around the table chose this as their preferred wine and it was another amazing wine. How does he do it? Vincent chose this because it reminded him of those early days of Jeff’s winemaking adventures and of their long friendship, a perfect fit for the theme of the day.
A birthday. A long day. A rewarding day. A memorable day. A day for friends, for vin des amis.
Jeff Coutelou produces a large range of different wines, or cuvées, every year. There are a number which are made every year, les incontournables. These are the biggest production wines, the breadwinners and, probably, his best known cuvées, Classe and Vin Des Amis. Depending upon the vintage Jeff will then decide what to do with the grapes he has left and which cuvées to produce. Some of these extra cuvées reappear regularly, others very occasionally and some will be new.
So, let’s start with the more celebrated wines.
A magnum of Classe
This is the wine which was described in The Guardian by wine writer David Williams like this in April 2015:
Mas Coutelou Classe, Languedoc 2013 For the natural wine-sceptic, it’s hard to think of a better place to start than the wines of Jeff Coutelou: full of vivid, finger-staining blackberry fruit, this carignan is explosively juicy and succulent: pure pleasure.
Usually a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah from Segrairals and Sainte Suzanne vineyards. In older years the remainder was Carignan, more recently Cinsault and a little Mourvèdre. Around 13,000 bottles of Classe are made with their distinctive pink labels showing a diamond. I always think of Classe as having a slightly darker fruit profile than Vin Des Amis whilst retaining its charm and drinkability.
Le Vin Des Amis
The wine which was my first experience of Jeff’s wines and which blew away my preconceptions of good wine. It was the sheer vitality and energy of this Syrah and Grenache wine which impressed me. From the Metaierie or Sainte Suzanne vineyard it is made in similar quantity to Classe. The wine writer Jamie Goode described the 2012 as:
Rich, dense, vivid and pure. Quite backward with real grip under the vivid black fruits. Powerful and structure with amazing fruit quality, dominated by fresh blackberry and black cherries. 93/100
Whenever I share Vin Des Amis with people they always sing its praises and ask for it next time, it is well named. Another striking and unusual label gets it noticed but the fruity freshness are what makes people love it.
7, Rue De La Pompe
from wine anorak website
More Syrah from Segrairals with just a little Grenache from the same vineyard blended in. The different cuvées are based around different vinification methods as well as different parcels. The 2010 of Rue De La Pompe was a wine of the week for Jancis Robinson who also considered the 2012 as being like a northern Rhone wine with a bone dry profile. There are raspberry and pepper notes and the trademark freshness and vivacity.
Another large production in most years, around 10,000 bottles or so, it didn’t appear in 2014 because the Syrah was very low yielding that year and was used for the two big cuvées. The wine is called after Jeff’s address incidentally.
Sauvé De La Citerne
Citerne was another well known cuvée which did not appear in 2014. Largely Mourvèdre with some Grenache, again from Segrairals, this is wine which was originally made from grapes which Jeff didn’t use elsewhere, hence the name of the cuvée meaning saved from the tank. This was always one of my favourites with blackberry and blackcurrant flavours and an earthiness from the Mourvèdre. That cépage has done very well recently and was bottled as a single variety wine in 2014. Jeff has other plans for the Mourvèdre of 2015 with another cuvée planned mixed with Syrah and Cinsault, I have tasted it and it is lovely, very elegant and precise.
Sauvé De La Citerne will reappear with a 2015 however. It fits with the idea of making the cuvée from otherwise unused grapes that this year will see a blend of Grenache with a little Syrah. It will therefore be different but again my early tasting of it suggests a very attractive wine.
La Vigne Haute
This is probably my favourite cuvée of all and sadly it hasn’t appeared since 2013 and nor will it this year. Made purely from Syrah from the La Garrigue vineyard where the vines face northwards, this might explain the fresh acidity and vitality of La Vigne Haute. That acidity means that Vigne Haute ages extremely well and gains even more complexity. It is classic Syrah, red fruits and spice with great length and balance and beautiful aromas. It would be my desert island wine.
There was a pure Syrah in 2014 and another is planned for 2015 but under a different name, it is lovely but I do miss Vigne Haute, fortunately I have quite a few bottles tucked away until it reappears (please).
Jeff surveys the Vigne Haute vines
5SO has quickly become established as a Coutelou favourite, around 7,000 bottles are made. Its name is a play on Cinsault and the wine is indeed pure Cinsault from the Segrairals vineyard. Designed as a light red, easy to drink it is delicious in summer slightly chilled and a great wine for drinking without food. Fresh cherry and raspberry flavours and a light structure make for a lovely wine.
Cinsault vine in Segrairals
Named after a barbecue tool Flambadou is pure Carignan from the vineyard Rec D’Oulette. It reappeared in 2013 and was also made in 2014 and 2015, made in smallish quantities as this is a small, low yielding vineyard. Jeff considered the 2013 as the star wine of that vintage and the 2014 is also amongst the best.
More full bodied than some of the other wines the Carignan brings dark fruit flavours and aromas. There is a brooding undertone of spice and plenty of red fruit freshness on the finish. Another wine which ages well. The vines are on an open parcel of ground so well exposed to the sun, the freshness a reflection of the healthy soils and skilled winemaking. Carignan is making a comeback in the Languedoc Roussillon and this is one of the best examples of why. Carignan enthusiast Michel Smith in his series on Carignan bottles praised Flambadou as follows, ” La bouteille a été vite vidée, ce qui est un bon signe”.
The Rec D’Oulette vineyard
from Roberson Wine website
A relatively new addition to the Coutelou cannon. Flower Power is a true expression of terroir as this is a wine made from a variety of grapes from one parcel, Font D’Oulette (as the name suggests not far from where Flambadou originates). Jeff has begun to complant grape varieties more and more and to produce wine made from that mix of grapes. This is the first wine to show the results and it is a winner.
Aramon and Oeillade Noir are just some of the grapes in the mix of Flower Power. Aramon was once one of the most planted of all grapes in the Languedoc but went out of fashion as it was often overcropped and dilute. Now vignerons are realising that when it is grown with lower yields Aramon produces flavoursome wine. Oeillade is also interesting, a grape related to Cinsault, another old Languedoc variety which Jeff wants to bring back. Just to add some mystery there are some Clairette Musquée grapes in here, a white grape.
Flower Power is lightly structured but packs a punch with flavours of black cherries and red fruits, and, appropriately, it is very aromatic, perhaps from the influence of the Clairette. As the vines age this will become more structured I would imagine but it is already a favourite.
In the last week La Revue Du Vin De France selected Flower Power as one of their top 50 Languedoc wines, an accolade from a source which does not usually favour natural wines.
Now here is a fascinating wine. L’Oublié is a blend of cépages AND vintages. The wines are aged in old barrels, not the usual practice of the domaine. Carignan was the forerunner with some 2001 and then more Carignan 2007 and 2010 were added. Then Syrah joins the assemblage, grapes from 09, 10, 12 and 13. This blend forms L’Oublié, the forgotten one. I imagine this refers to the original 2001 Carignan barrel.
It has aromas of dark fruits and leathery, spicy notes too. It is dark flavoured too, blackberries, liquorice and even coffee are just some of the many complex flavours. It benefits from decanting to allow that complexity to resolve itself a little, and it will stay fresh for days after opening. There are not many wines like this around and I honestly don’t know why. It is unusual and one of my favourite wines because of its complexity, its balance of older and more youthful flavours. Terrific.
This was a wine which used to be a regular but disappeared after the 2003 vintage. It reappeared in 2013 and became my favourite wine (or have I already chosen another?!). Cinsault is the grape but it is a more complex wine than 5SO Simple, richer, darker and more structured. The grapes come from the beautiful Rome vineyard and are from 40 – 50 year old gobelet vines which bring low yielding fruit, rich and elegant. The wine is recognisably Cinsault with cherry notes but it has attractive depth and power, very long flavours of red fruit and peppery / spicy too. Sadly 2015 did not bring enough fruit to make Copains so enjoy what is available, it is worth ageing a couple of years but difficult to resist now.
Rome’s Cinsault vines
Other red cuvées are made for restaurants and and as one offs. A lovely pure Grenache was made in 2014 for example whilst Tete A Claques and Buvette A Paulette are others which appear from time to time.
It is fair to say that Mas Coutelou is best known for its red wines but there are some very good white wines too. They make up around 15% of the vineyards made up of a multitude of white grape varieties.
The most regular of the white bottles though Jeff has started to experiment with various other blends and single variety wines. Most of the white grapes are grown in La Garrigue and Peilhan vineyards. PM usually contains Sauvignon Blanc from La Garrigue but assembled with other white grapes which are available such as Grenache Blanc, Macabeu, Muscat and Carignan Blanc. Dry, clean and full of flavour PM has texture and white fruits galore.
Single variety white wines in recent years have included, for example, Carignan Blanc from Peilhan. If Jeff feels that the grapes are of particularly high quality he will make a single variety wine. They always wear the mark of fresh acidity and the grape brings different fruit profiles, the Macabeu with aromatic yellow fruit for example. The Macabeu will appear from the 2015 vintage. I am a particular fan of Carignan Blanc and Jeff’s version was very clean, mineral and long lasting in flavour. This year he is combining it with Grenache Gris which did well in 2015 in Peilhan. Most of these white wines come in small quantities.
Muscat grapes grow in Peilhan and Rome and appear in some white blends as well as PM Rosé. The rosé is very aromatic and a dry wine, good with food and also on those hot, Languedoc summer days. It usually has juice from Syrah and Cinsault, pressed after a short time on skins.
Sparkling wines are also made at Mas Coutelou. Bibonade (think lemonade) has appeared in various forms, white and rosé and sometimes sweet! The dry version is fresh, clean and appley, a perfect quaffing wine and disappears very quickly after opening. There is usually Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and some Grenache Blanc in there but again Jeff will play around with what he has available. This is my wife’s favourite wine!
Another sparkling wine which was popular in the 2013 vintage was Blanc Frisant. Macabeu and Grenache Gris grapes were bottled with a small quantity (8g) of sugar to encourage a second fermentation in the bottle. This produces a small quantity of CO2 bringing a light fizz when the bottle is opened. It was wonderfully refreshing with citrus and spice flavours. It is another example of Jeff’s inventiveness and experimental nature.
Carignan Blanc grapes in Peilhan
Sweet wines are made too, have a look at my article on the solera system.
So there we are, a huge array of different bottles, something for everyone. Fruit, freshness and drinkability are the hallmarks of Coutelou cuvées, they all contain those three qualities and many more. Jeff’s restless search for better wines means that the cuvées change every year (with two main exceptions). As he develops the cellar with more cuves available he will no doubt continue to produce new wines. As new plantations of grapes such as Riveyrenc, Terret, Morastel and Piquepoul Noir mature there will be even more variety. However, buy with confidence whatever is available is very good.
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.
Flower Power 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
photo from Jeff
photo from Jeff
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.
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.
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.
The harvest (vendange) began on Friday August 21st with a small parcel of Muscat grapes as described here. The next few days saw further preparations for the main harvest, for example clearing space in the barrels of the solera system for this year’s grapes. I shall write more about the solera later in the year.
So, it was Thursday 27th which was the start of the real vendanges with parcels of white and Syrah grapes collected from La Garrigue. This day was described here.
Friday 28th saw more Syrah being harvested, this time the Syrah of Metaierie usually referred to as Sainte Suzanne by Jeff. This is the vineyard of Vin Des Amis though options are always open. The pickers, led by Carole and Julien, worked through a cloudy morning to collect some high quality bunches.
Michel transported the cagettes back to the cellar as quickly as possible. The cagettes are about two thirds filled so as not to overload the grapes in there which might damage them.
No, these cagettes are not full!
Upon arrival at the cave the cagettes are quickly taken for triage, sorting through the grapes to select only the best quality. Foreign objects such as snails and spiders are removed as are unripe grapes, any damaged or rotten grapes. It is important that only the best goes into the wines to keep them fresh and at the high quality we expect from Mas Coutelou. Two people sift through the cagette, removing any inferior grapes for further sorting by a third person. Jeff, Cameron and I took these roles on Friday. It is hard work, on your feet all day and lifting, carrying and sorting requires physical effort and also full concentration. There is, happily, also time to chat and laugh.
Cameron is from Melbourne, Australia and has been living and working in London as a sommelier for four years. He decided to learn more about the winemaking process and to “get his hands dirty”. He is already proving his worth and is a great addition to the team.
Meanwhile, the grapes which had gone to vat (cuve) have to be taken care of. Fermentation has started and the wine is already producing material which needs to be removed to keep the wines clean. They are, therefore, pumped out of their original cuve into another to allow the waste to be cleaned away and the fresh, juice ready to settle for its longer journey of fermentation.
Fermentation beginning in the Sauvignon Blanc grapes collected yesterday (Thursday)
And at the end of the day the cleaning work is intense. Everything is cleaned throughout the day but at its end another full clean takes place. This removes the risk of contamination from dirt or damaged fruit which would ruin the wine. It is laborious but necessary.
Julien cleaning the cagettes
Ready for tomorrow
The égrappoir (destemmer) ready for tomorrow too
What else needs cleaning? Proof that I did work!
Analysis of the Syrah showed that the alcohol level was around 12.7% with medium levels of acidity. Later picking would have added more sugar and more potential alcohol but would have lowered levels of acidity. The skins are essential to the quality of the wine as they contain the colour, tannin and much of the flavour of the wine. These were in excellent condition according to the analysis, good news.
Jeff’s own calculations from cellar tests. Samples go to the oenologue for full analysis
Classic shape for a bunch of Syrah grapes
There have already been some concerns expressed by winemakers and analysts that the heat of 2015 might affect the quality of wines around France especially regarding acidity. The decision to harvest the Syrah was therefore the right one, fresh, cleansing acidity is a hallmark of Jeff’s wines. Many winemakers have been waiting to start harvest as, on August 30th, the moon is at a perigee, the time when it is closest to Earth in its orbit. As it begins to wane and move away from Earth many winemakers will start their harvest. Jeff has chosen to put the quality of the grapes first rather than principles about biodynamics.
Moon over Margon at its perigee on August 30th
Saturday 29th was a work day for the cellar and the pickers and saw the harvesting of Cinsault grapes from my favourite vineyard, Rome. The grapes were big and juicy though some were uneven and needed more careful sorting. Clearly these were precious grapes as Icare was guarding and watching over them assiduously. The harvest was not as big as many years and so the pickers moved onto Sainte Suzanne again for more Syrah grapes whilst yesterday’s grapes have begun to ferment already.
All photos taken on August 2nd unless otherwise stated
It was June 12th when rain last fell on Margon and the vines in the region, although generally doing well, were starting to show signs of fatigue and heat stress; leaves curled in upon themselves, some yellowing, a slight shrivelling.
Vines near Pézenas showing some stress
Vines in Margon which were not pruned in spring and are really suffe
A few drops fell on July 25th but the skies had been very dark and had promised much more, it was almost cruel to have that rain, a tease of what might have been. However, July 31st brought around 10mm to Puimisson. A decent rainfall, enough to give the vines a drink and to stop the drying out process. Not enough of course after weeks of lack of moisture and some more rain in the next few weeks would be very much welcome to swell the grapes and the harvest. The vines are now pouring their energy into their fruit rather than their vegetation, but they need the nutrients to do so.
So, how had the vines responded to the rain which fell? Well a tour on Sunday (August 2nd) showed the vineyards of Mas Coutelou to be in rude health, a decent harvest is now predicted though that extra rain would be most welcome.
Segrairals in full bloom, healthy, happy vines
Segrairals, biggest of the vineyards, showed some healthy Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache with no signs of stress or disease. As the home of Classe, 7,Rue De La Pompe and 5SO this is especially welcome, as they are some of the big sellers.
Cinsault in Segrairals
To Rome, my favourite vineyard. The gobelets were looking well, plenty of grapes both the white varieties and the Cinsault. There was a little mildew around the entrance but minimal, no cause for concern. Could there be a cuvée of Copains in 2015? Jeff tells me that no decisions are made as yet, caution prevails and he will wait to see what the harvest gives him before he makes final choices about how to use the grapes and the wines which result.
Rome’s centurion vines in good health
Muscat Noir grapes, a tiny bit of mildew top left
Sainte Suzanne (Metaierie) suffered from coulure in May with the strong winds blowing off some of the flowers on the vines, which will reduce yields a bit. However, the grapes there are growing well, what might have been a problem looks now a much brighter picture, good news for fans of Vin Des Amis.
Peilhan, just a little more tired and suffering
The only vineyard parcel which has shown stress is Peilhan, There was a lot of regrafting and replanting in the spring and the dryness has caused problems for these new vines. There was also oidium in this parcel, the only vineyard to be attacked by this powdery mildew. Yet amongst those problems there are plenty of healthy grapes, some careful picking and sorting will be needed but it will produce good wine.
The famous Castets grapes of Peilhan
La Garrigue was blooming, the white varieties such as the Muscats are swollen and changing hue to lovely golden shades.
Muscat a Petits Grains in La Garrigue
The Syrah is well advanced, a dark purple colour across virtually the whole bunches, the pips though betray a little immaturity as they taste and look green and sappy. A little more time and patience will pay dividends. As the world’s biggest fan of La Vigne Haute, I have my fingers crossed.
Syrah in La Garrigue, ripening beautifully in the shade of the vine
The Grenache in La Garrigue, despite facing south, is a little more delayed in colour but getting there and very healthy.
Grenache in La Garrigue
In fact despite risks of disease earlier in the year (see here) Jeff has been able to use minimal treatments in 2015. Oidium and mildew (powdery and downy mildew) can be controlled by copper sulphate, sometimes called the Bordeaux mix when added to slaked lime. This is a bluish colour when sprayed by conventional and organic vignerons and is often seen on the leaves of vines. Vignerons might also use chemical fungicides if they are not organic producers.
Neighbouring vineyard which was given herbicide shortly after harvest last year and whose new vines have been treated regularly
Some neighbours have also irrigated their vines and one alarming consequence is the changing of the soil and its pH as the calcium carbonate in the water shows through, you can see it in the white parts of the soil in this photo taken on July 22nd.
The irrigation is also causing the vines to grow quickly and tall with thin trunks as seen below. It should be acknowledged that there are many conventional producers who take great pride in the health of their soils and vines and would be horrified by some practices described here.
As a proud holder of Ecocert organic status and as a natural wine maker Jeff must use natural products only. Tisanes of plants which fight mildew such as horse tail, fern and nettles can be sprayed and this is the basis of many biodynamic treatments. However, the two main weapons in the armoury of organic producers are copper and sulphate, both natural products.
Copper is used against mildew, but is harmful to the soils and kills life in them if used in significant quantities. Organic producers are limited to 30kg per hectare over a 5 year period, allowing more to be used in years with more downy mildew for example but only if less is used in the other years. In fact Jeff has used just 200g per hectare in 2015 and this after years of well below average use, his use of copper is on a major downward trend. He is reluctant and very careful in using copper as he is aware of its danger to the soils, yet mildew has not been a major threat this year.
Oidium seen in May
Similarly Jeff has used sulphur in soluble form at doses much lower than the permitted level, three treatments over the course of the growing season. In addition one dose of sulphur powder was sprayed when the risk of oidium was high (May) and a second spraying for Peilhan only as it is the vineyard which was attacked by oidium. In contrast to neighbouring vignerons who have sprayed every 10 days including after the bunches closed up (so more than a dozen treatments) this really is minimal intervention.
So July’s parting gift of 10mm of rain was welcome, August might like to follow by offering some rain soon. Too near the harvest is bad as it would dilute the juice rather than help the grapes to reach a good size. Things look promising, let us hope that nature completes its bounty. There is an old saying that June makes the wine and August makes the must, ie the character of the wine with its colour, yeast and flavour. With 3 weeks or so until picking begins it is an exciting, and nervous, time, waiting to see what that character will be.
No Icare this time but look what we found amongst the vines, he’s been here!
NB there are lots of reports about recent wine tastings here.
( How the wine will turn out no-one can say, before the end of the month of May)
Hopefully the rest of this post will be better than my rhyming translation. The point is however, that May is the turning point. The preparation of pruning, ploughing and pampering paves the way for the lush growth of May. In the wild vines grow in forests and are climbing plants using trees to help them reach sunlight so that photosynthesis can take place to feed the grapes and their seeds. Cultivated vines still climb relentlessly and the growth is stunning to see. Tendrils reach for the sky pulling the vine higher and the leaves fill out.
Tendrils reach up
The buds have grown showing the development of the bunches and these in turn are now dividing ready for the start of flowering which will bring pollination and then the fruit.
The grappes divide
The division accelerates
As for the vignerons it has become a very busy time. In the vineyards a second ploughing to prepare the soils with organic matter as they need help to sustain their rapid growth. In addition the first treatments of pesticides to protect the new growth. Insects are also growing fast and tender buds, leaves and shoots are welcome nourishment. Conventional vignerons use chemical sprays, those who prefer a lutte raisonnée use synthetic chemicals which do less damage to the soils.
A spraying machine with octopus like arms to reach different rows of vines, this one is used on a conventional vineyard
For organic producers the choice is a little diluted sulphur (some use more than others) but also treatments based on plants such as nettles, horsetail weeds and ferns. I shall be picking up this topic in a later post as it is a controversial issue.
Tractor with tank of organic treatment for spraying
The other risk has been the development of mildew. Powdery mildew (oidium) is a threat as colder nights and hot days encourage humidity which oidium requires. The first signs appeared this week (May 10-17) and this is why sulphur and horsetail are used in the spray.
Oidium, powdery mildew, photographed this week. Happily the only vine affected in Peilhan
The nettles and ferns act as insecticides. I am told that mildiou or downy mildew is also appearing in some vineyards in the area though not so far at Mas Coutelou, fingers crossed it stays away.
The other major job in the vineyard has been ébourgeonnage, the removal of some of the lush growth of the vines, sometimes also known as épamprage. They are so fertile at present that the vines need to be cut back so that their energy is not dissipated on surplus leaves and growth.
Carole ties a young vine to support it
Carole is back in Puimisson and she demonstrated to me how ébourgeonnage works in the video below. She was working on newly grafted vines which won’t necessarily be producing much fruit this year but the process is the same. No prisoners are taken.
In the cellar work continues apace. As more of the 2014 wines are ready further bottling has been taking place. Not helped by the breakdown of one machine but older equipment was brought out to continue. In the picture you will see Jeff and Renaud corking a jereboam of Vin Des Amis. Magnums and even Balthazars were also bottled as well as the regular 75cl bottles. More deliveries were sent to various countries around Europe and the USA.
Jeff at the controls of the bottling machine
Magnums standing after bottling. They stand to allow the large corks to expand and seal the bottle. They will then be laid horizontally
A third part of the work is commercialisation and there have been a number of salons where amateurs and professionals have tasted the wines and placed orders or bought wine. Jeff has been to salons in Paris and in the Languedoc and will shortly be heading to the Loire. All time consuming but a necessary part of the job, sales are after all what keep the vines growing.
Finally the office work. France loves its bureaucracy and there are many hours of paperwork to complete. Daily record keeping of work done, treatments used, employment data etc etc etc.
So whilst May has been a beautiful month to be here in the Languedoc with temperatures now consistently high and sunshine aplenty the vignerons are working hard. Ironically France has numerous bank holidays in May, yet I know at least one vigneron who doesn’t get time off.
My favourite vineyard Rome is a lovely place to be at present, the work with the pioche (pick axe or hoe) and grass cutting has prepared the vines. Flowers, butterflies and birds enjoy the peace and shelter of this parcel, two partridges were there on Friday but sadly flew off before I could get my camera ready. The video shows Rome and its beautiful centurion gobelet vines and you can hear the birdsong in all its glory including a hoopoe.
“Come gather ’round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown”
Magnificent old vine in Rome vineyard, a centurion
After a couple of months of dry and windy weather in the main April brought some relief for vignerons with some good rainfall. Indeed not so much April showers as steady rain on a couple of weekends. The results were immediate in terms of the vine growth as they have shot away in the last week or so as temperatures rise too.
Beginning of April, La Garrigue
Mid April, ploughing evident
End of April
The work of previous months continued; hard work, unglamorous work but vital work for the vineyards and domaines to prosper. I spoke to a very good producer (Plan de l’Homme) and he told me that the commercial side of winemaking is hard work. He was at a salon in Montpellier to celebrate 30 years of Coteaux du Languedoc, one of many salons throughout the month. He and others attend regularly to find buyers, especially cavistes. Deborah Core of Mas Gabriel assured me that such salons do pay for themselves and are worth the effort but they are hard work, long days of repeating the same information to tasters who all matter of course, though some are more receptive than others. Reminds me of being a teacher! I shall come back to the commercial side another time as it is the third important part of the job after vineyard and cellar work.
With Corine Andrieu of Clos Fantine at a Faugeres tasting
Bottling also continued as well as habillage, getting the bottles ready to send to cavistes across the world. Previous posts have shown this work so please have a look for them if you have not seen them before. More of the 2014 wines are now in bottle including my old favourite Vin Des Amis which in my view is the best of this cuvée since 2010.
Cases sent to Belgium, early April
However, the real change has been in the vineyards and it is there that the work has been centred as they are literally blossoming. Vines are a climbing plant and will grow very quickly in the next few months. It has been a joy for me to watch their early development, seeing in real life what I had only read about before.
The buds emerged towards the end of March and the beginning of April and as I described their emergence varied in time according to the cépage and the position of the vine. Leaf break, flowering and the formation of the grape bunches, grappes, all quickly followed. In the last week or so the small grappes began to divide showing how they will form.
Buds form, the leaves just visible
Leaves and flowers
To encourage and support this growth the vineyards were ploughed twice to provide organic matter from last year’s growth of grass, flowers and other plants. Long hours on a tractor going up and down the rows makes for tough days. Then further weeding using a pioche or intercep, forms of hoe, to get inbetween the vines. In some vineyards the base of the vines were covered a bit more in autumn to protect against frost, cavaillonage. These are now removed and the vines stand ready for the heat to come.
Syrah vine, La Garrigue beginning of April
Syrah vine, La Garrigue, mid April
Same vine, La Garrigue, end of April
I went to Barcelona for a few days last week and the difference in the vines was staggering in that short space of time. Nature and the dedication of the vigneron are at work.
The assemblage for the 2014 wines is well under way, the wines are settling in tank for some of the well known cuvées such as Classe and Vin Des Amis. (Above are glasses of richly coloured Vin Des Amis). Both are delicious already and in the few days since I first tasted them they have shown development as they marry together. The fruit and freshness which characterise Mas Coutelou wines are evident and there is a marked concentration which shows that the wines will mature well.
Jeff has published his vintage report for 2014. Winter, spring and early summer were exceptionally dry (less than 150mm or 6 inches of rain in the 9 months to the end of June) and at that moment Jeff was far from sure that he would be able to harvest any grapes. Some relief came from a summer which was not too hot and peppered by storms. However, the vines had to dig deep into their reserves of energy in order to produce grapes. Troubles continued with some storms towards the end of harvest time and then the Marin wind with their warmth and high pressure meant that through the autumn and into December the wines in tank were not able to truly rest. It was a difficult year in short, a reminder that nature rules the life of the vigneron. Indeed some local producers have seen their crops virtually wiped out by hail and mildew so the wines that Jeff has produced are to be even more cherished.
Nevertheless there are some drawbacks. The harvest was smaller especially for Syrah, (down by 40%), Carignan and Mourvedre. Syrah is a major part of many Coutelou wines so Jeff has had to improvise and make the most of what he has. The lack of Mourvedre may mean that one of his popular wines ‘Sauvé De La Citerne’ will not be made. In addition the effort made by the vines means that they would benefit from a rest and yet this winter (thus far) has been so mild that they are starting to show signs of producing buds even in January (débourrement). Instead of resting they are starting to work hard already.
The wines I tasted from tank are marked by concentration and minerality. The vines had to push deep into the soil for water in the arid early part of 2014 so they have drawn up minerals from the soil’s depths. The mineral flavours are evident when drinking. A difficult vintage has produced some highly promising wines but in smaller quantity, so guard what you already have and appreciate the quality of the new wines.
Two wines to note.
PM, the rosé, is already gorgeous, full of fruit and perfume yet dry and absolutely delicious. At only 11% alcohol it is a wine to drink and enjoy.
A new wine made from old Cinsault, Aramon, Oeillade and Muscate. Tasted from tank this was already sensational, a red wine with grapey, perfumed scents and deep, concentrated red fruits. Can’t wait to see how this develops.
Jeff will be showing some of these new wines at a couple of tastings in the next 10 days, in Montpellier and the Loire. Today Jeff put the bottles together for those tastings, including some corking by hand. Nothing was easy about 2014!!