amarchinthevines

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


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Oddities

En francais

In the next couple of posts I am going to look at some photos taken during vendanges which highlight some oddities and insights into vines and wines which I have not covered in the story of the harvest.

This photo may look like a bunch of red grapes has been placed in amongst bunches of white grapes. The oddity is in fact that they came from the same vines. The grapes are mainly Grenache Blanc, the others are Grenache Gris. Grape varieties are basically variations of one another.

The Grenache family (Noir, Gris and Blanc) are all the same DNA, with the slightest mutation between them. This is also true of the Pinot family for example. In this case one or two of the Grenache Blanc vines has somehow produced one of the mutations in some of the bunches, the result is that a Grenache Blanc vine produced Grenache Gris grapes.

Grape breeding is a very inexact science. The crossing of grape varieties produces new varieties, eg Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc produced Cabernet Sauvignon. However, if I was to try to cross Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc it is unlikely that I would produce Cabernet Sauvignon vines, the original cross is a unique event.

The vines we see across vineyards worldwide are often cuttings propagated from successful vines which show characteristics favoured by the producer, such as quality or quantity of grapes. These clones are planted but, again, slight variety amongst the billions of cells in the vine means that they could well be different to the original vine, not identical clones at all.

Therefore, this case of grapes was fascinating to me. It is not that unusual for this to happen, but it certainly piques my interest as I learn more about grape varieties and grape growing.


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New moon

En francais

Delicate flowers, brown hoods which fall off the bunches

The weather continues to confound here in the Languedoc. A couple of days of sunshine and heat and then back to grey clouds, warmth and wind. And now we have humidity and a few short but heavy showers.

The vines have been in terrific health until now and they still are as I write on June 10th. The new moon was on June 3rd and that is a time when biodynamic producers start to get twitchy as they believe it can bring out disease. The alternation between heat and chilly nights with humidity certainly encourages oidium and there have been a few hints of it emerging, for example in the Maccabeu. Nothing too concerning yet but Jeff used an organic treatment last week to nip any danger in the bud.

A tour of the vines the day after the new moon showed what good condition they are in and how quickly they have grown.

Sainte Suzanne Grenache, growth in one week

It also showed how mistaken I was when I wrote recently about the end of flowering. In fact everything is a couple of weeks delayed due to the dry winter and spring so there were flowers in profusion. A week later flowering is done, there are a lot of bunches on the vines and it is still very promising but let’s hope this humidity disappears soon.

One point of interest, the new plantings in Rome. The thick material around the base of the vines is to deter weeds from competing with the young plants and also to preserve moisture in the soil for their benefit.

Meanwhile the radio show I mentioned recently was broadcast and the podcast is well worth a listen, not least for The Clash classic.


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Midsummer at Mas Coutelou

After a month back in the UK due to bereavement I apologise for not posting for the last two weeks.

It was good to return to the Languedoc even in the midst of a midsummer heatwave. After a day’s acclimatisation I was at Jeff’s on Thursday morning, good and early. Well I thought so though he and Julien had been at work in the vines from 6am! Michel and Vincent were busy labelling some bottles of 7, Rue De La Pompe.

Leon Stolarski and his wife Diane arrived to meet up with Jeff, I can reveal that Leon will be the importer of Mas Coutelou wines in the UK along with Noble Rot bar in London. I showed them the updated cellar and Jeff led us on a tasting through the 2016 wines, of which more next time.

Almost as much as the people I missed the vineyards. They offer such variety, calm and beauty. The one advantage of being away for a while is to see the change over a month. The sun has seen off the wildflowers, the greenery of the vines now contrasting sharply with the parched grass. The flowers on the vines have also long gone and the grapes are now well formed and starting to swell, the size of peas. There is no sign yet of the red grapes starting to change colour (véraison).

The vines look to be in very good health. The 700mm of rain through the winter, the spell of very cold weather too have helped them to rest and be strong, a vibrant green colour. The humidity of recent days brings the threat of mildew and oidium (downy and powdery mildew respectively) and Jeff has sprayed the vines with organic treatments to help them fight against the disease.

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Mildew spots

The other main risk is from snails. In 2016 they ravaged Flower Power vineyard for example, reducing the harvest there to virtually nil. There is less evidence of them there this year but there are huge numbers in Peilhan and Segrairals. In the former they are covering the trees which Jeff planted around the vines a couple of years ago, feasting on the greenery amidst the parched vegetation.

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Nevertheless so far so good, 2017 promises to be a good vintage.

 


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Busy times

busy

En français

Busy times. In the vines and in the cellar.

I mentioned recently that the cooler weather had delayed some of the growth in the vines and that flowering was late. Well, recent hotter weather has brought sudden change. Flowering happened around the turn of the month and was over very quickly, perhaps catching up lost time. In particular there was a heavy thunderstorm on Saturday June 4th which brought a torrent of rain. The water and the sunshine has really got the vines going. Tendrils reach for the skies and there is more bushiness to the vines.

The flowers gave way to the little hoods which cover the nascent grapes, capuchons. These quickly fall away too revealing the grapes for 2016. On some vines all of this is happening at the same time such as this Carignan (above) in Rec D’Oulette. The weather has also encouraged the growth of the grafted vines which we did back in March.

This brings work too. The palissage has to be lifted to support the vines, hard physical labour. And, sadly, the heat and rain bring problems of disease. Mildew has been around for a couple of weeks and I mentioned that Jeff was spraying in the very early hours and late at night last week. He worked until 1am Friday/Saturday and started again at 6am. Just as things seemed to be settling a big attack of mildew on the Grenache at Ste. Suzanne meant more treatment on Tuesday morning. This ‘curious’ year is proving to be hard work.

Not all negatives though. The storm brought such a downfall that I was fearful for the flowering bunches. damage to them means no grapes. I happened to be in Puimisson during the storm (next article!) and the rain was lashing down, converting streets and roads to waterfalls and lakes. Yet as the rain eased I went to a couple of vineyards and the flowers were coping just fine. A trip round the vines on Monday morning revealed healthy growth and the soils had absorbed the rainfall.

This is not true of everyone. Much of the water on the roads was also full of clay from vineyards nearby, hence the yellowy brown colour. Vineyards which are treated with weedkillers, where the soils are ploughed deeply, even irrigated, were unable to cope so well with the heavy rain. Soils were carried away. Compare these photographs of Jeff’s vineyards with the parcel next door belonging to someone else. The difference is marked. Water can help or can damage.

Meanwhile back in the cellar there was more work to be done. Recent changes to the fabric of the cellar, especially the floor, have brought more efficient drains and a smoother surface, easier to clean. Further work will soon be done to the rest of the floor so the bottling of the next wave of wines had to be brought forward to allow the works to be done and dusted before vendanges.

The spring bottling of wines such as 5SO, PM Rosé, 7 Rue De La Pompe I described earlier. These are wines for early drinking, vins de plaisir. Now it was time for wines with a little more body. On Thursday June 2nd 10,000 bottles of Classe were made, and it is really something special in 2015. It took almost 12 hours and went very smoothly but believe me it is a hard day’s work. On Friday, Flambadou, made from the Carignan vines above, was bottled along with other smaller cuvées.

Before anyone rushes in with orders Jeff will let these bottles rest for a few months to allow them to be at their peak when released, Flambadou probably in 2017 for example. There remains one or two cuvées still in tank which need a little more time, Flower Power being one.

So, most of the 2015  wine is now in bottle, the vines are revealing the grapes for 2016 and there are wines stored for 2017. Busy times at Mas Coutelou for everyone, well except one.

 


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Turning over a new leaf

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Version française

When you live in the Languedoc you are surrounded by vines. They are everywhere and form the world’s biggest vineyard area, producing one third of all France’s wine. Vines stretch over hill and valley, coastline and plains. As you walk around it is easy to think of vines as all being the same, part of one big plantation, but when we have received visitors and we go on walks through the vineyards they often ask me what sort of vine we are passing. Cue guesswork on my part unless I am in the vineyards of Mas Coutelou. To remedy this ignorance and to meet the brief at the top of this blog that I should be “learning about wine, vines and vignerons” I set myself the challenge of being able to identify the main types of vine in the region.

           

Ampelography is the study of identifying and classifying grapevines. There are many learned books on the subject, some running to hundreds of pages. However, I wanted a simple guide, to learn the basic varieties before expanding to others. I took some photographs in the parcels of vines of Mas Coutelou and using the internet and Jeff himself I hope I have put together a simple reference piece. As we enter harvest it has proved useful to me so that I know what I am picking or sorting. Hopefully it will be useful to you too, whether you visit vineyards or just take an interest in wine and vines.

Experts use features such as the shape of the grape bunches, size and colour of the grapes. However, for me the most obvious way of distinguishing between vines are the shape of the leaves.

The colour of leaves varies but so too the number of lobes (from just one to seven), the colour of the veins and the shape of the sinus around the stalk (pétiole). The sinus is the gap between the lobes. So here is my simple guide to identifying some Languedoc vines. I have started in this post with the five main red wine varieties.

Red wine vines

Syrah

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                              Syrah in Segrairals vineyard

Syrah is one of the great varieties of the Languedoc. Famous for its wines in the Rhone Valley and around the world (Shiraz in Australia) Syrah produces great wines here too. The leaves are quite a light green in colour with 5 lobes which are well separated out including a big sinus (V shaped) around the stalk (pétiole). The veins are quite light and stand out. The leaf edge has small, gentle teeth shapes. The grapes tend to be oblong shaped and fairly small in size. Syrah is one of the earlier red varieties to ripen.

Recommended wines:

Mas Coutelou – La Vigne Haute

Others – Sylvain Bock, Raffut;      Plan De L’Homme, Alpha;      Haute Lignières, Sur Le Fil;      Terre Inconnue, Sylvie

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                                    Syrah grapes

Grenache

Grenache

                                        Grenache in La Garrigue

A variety which loves the heat, very much a Spanish and Mediterranean grape. Grenache leaves have a more round appearance than Syrah with big, wide lobes which are not so separated as the Syrah giving the impression of a big, whole leaf. There is a wide sinus around the stalk. The leaf edges have saw teeth which are quite marked. Light veins and round, medium sized grapes. Grenache is a late ripening variety. Often used to blend it is not often used for single variety wines.

Mas Coutelou – Grenache, Mise De Printemps

Others – Engelvin, Même-Si and Vieux Ronsard;       Treloar, One Block Grenache;

Grenache (2)

                                         Grenache grapes

Mourvèdre

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                                        Mourvedre in Segrairals

                 Mourvedre3

Mourvèdre is a late ripening and, sometimes, a difficult grape to ripen. The lobes are broad and form three rather than five as you can see in the photo on the right of the page above.  There is a little green colouring in the veins and the sinus around the stalk is a lyre shape. The teeth around the edge are distinct and quite big all around. The grapes come in biggish bunches though the grapes are medium in size.

Mas Coutelou – Sauvé De La Citerne

Others – Clos Fantine, Cuvée Courtiol;     La Liquière, Tucade;     Treloar, Motus

Mourvedre grapes

                                Mourvedre grapes

Carignan

Carignan

                                 Carignan in Rec D’Oulette

Carignan has big leaves which are quite hairy underneath and have a more dimply appearance than most in the upper surface. Five lobes usually though in the photo above the lower lobes are small with big upper lobes and a distinct top lobe. The teeth are tapered and distinct. The veins are hardly coloured. This is a late ripening variety and you can see the grapes below which are still turning black, even though this was taken at the same time as the other photos. The grapes and clusters are medium to large in size.

Carignan grapes

                                Carignan grapes

Mas Coutelou – Flambadou

Others – Mas Des Capitelles, Loris;      Coume Mayou, La Loute     Mas Gabriel, Trois Terrasses    Deux Ânes – L’Enclos

Cinsault

Cinsault3

                       Cinsault in Segrairals

I like to think of Cinsault leaves as being very like the grape’s flavours, open, friendly and welcoming. These are big widely spaced lobes and a deep, open sinus around the stalk. The veins are light and clear and the teeth are big, almost rounded which cover all the leaf edge. Often used in rosé wines Cinsault is starting to be used to make some great red wines in the region.

Cinsault Rome

     Older Cinsault in Rome vineyard

Cinsault grapes are big and form big clusters.

Cinsault Rome (2)

  Cinsault grapes

Mas Coutelou – 5SO and Copains

Others – Pelletier, L’Oiselet;   La Fontude, Fontitude;     Thierry Navarre, L’Oeillade    Julien Peyras, Gourmandises

leaves


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May – the force be with you

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La Garrigue, vines flourish in the ploughed soils

 Version francaise

An old French saying runs as follows

“Nul ne sait ce que vaudra le vin

Avant du mois de mai la fin.”

( 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.

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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.

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Early buds

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The grappes divide

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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.

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Conventional spraying

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jeff at the controls of the bottling machine

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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.

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Flowers and (right) butterflies in Rome vineyard

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The year so far

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The vineyards of Mas Coutelou

We are a third of the way through 2015 already and the work of making wine has been hard throughout those 4 months. I have put the links together to show a summary of everything that Jeff, Carole, Michel and Renaud have been up to so far. And occasionally me too.

January Part 1  – work in the vineyard

January Part 2  – Pruning (La taille)

February Part 1 – vineyards

February Part 2  – vineyards and grass

February Part 3  – ploughing (labours)

March Part 1  – new planting

March Part 2  – bottling (embouteillage)

March Part 3  – vineyards

April – vineyards

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