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How can you protect vines from frost?


Vines are very hardy plants and can withstand much adversity; drought, wind, storms, and cold for the most part. But with the latest cold spell and frosts that recently touched most of France’s wine-growing regions, we are once again reminded that the winemaker remains at nature’s mercy. Why does frost harm the vines and what can a winemaker do to protect their vines from it?

Conditions for frost to damage the vines

The most sensitive part of the vine is the bud which, when newly exposed, can’t survive at temperatures less than -2/-3°C. The bud is also the most important part of the vine as it from where the fruit and harvest for the new year will grow. That’s why the frosts that cause the most damage are the late spring ones, because it is at this stage that the buds have started to flourish and are more vulnerable.

The vineyards most at risk from frost are those situated at the bottom of the hillsides, in hollows, or on the valley plains, because that is where the cold air gathers. Plots that have grass between the rows are also more at risk because the vegetation holds humidity and cold. And if the vine varietal or the year is early in exposing the buds, the risk of damage from spring frosts is greater.

Oenology course on vine tending in a French vineyard

It’s worth noting that an early autumn frost before the leaves have fallen, or a prolonged winter freeze below -15°C can also harm the vines.

How does the vine freeze in spring?

As the temperature rises in spring, the sap starts to rise in the vine, and we can see the “vine tears” form from the wood exposed during pruning. The buds appear, burst and then the first leaves unfurl. The buds and the first leaves are rich in water.

When it freezes, this water cools so much that it destroys or burns the cells in the bud or the leaves. There are two types of frost. The white frost burns the moist vegetative matter through the sun rays, and the black frost which occurs when the temperature drops below -7°C in dry and windy conditions.

What is the impact from frost?

Damage caused by spring frosts is more frequent but less serious for the longevity of the vines compared to the autumn and winter frosts. Even if there is a direct result on the year’s harvest, they don’t cause the vine to completely die.

Frost damage at a winemaker experience day in the Loire Valley, France

If the primary buds are burnt, there is always the hope that the secondary buds will appear after the frost has passed. These buds burst later, but are also fruit-bearing. Months of working and caring for the vines can be ruined in just a few hours due to frost.

Protecting the vines from frost?

The most common solution is to light candles or torches to protect the vines using smoke. The winegrowers place them every few metres in the vineyard, which is enough to rise the temperature by 2-3°C, and often avoid frost from forming. In the past they also burned wood or fuel in old oil drums, but that gave off lots of carbon dioxide, so now large blocks of paraffin are preferred. The smoke that they emit stops the early morning sun rays burning the buds that have been thinly covered in frost.

Wine-making Experience Vineyard tour in Chinon France

Another solution, but more costly, is to spray the vines with water. An ice cocoon forms around the buds which stops the water inside the buds from freezing. The vines are sprayed frequently until the temperature rises above freezing to avoid the ice from melting too fast, thus protecting the buds from the sun rays. This method is generally reserved for vine plots that are most at risk because the installation of the water pipes and sprinklers is very expensive.

Wine course in Burgundy, France as a gift box

More and more often now, you can also find wind turbines being used nowadays in the vineyards. These small turbines cause the air to circulate and the warm air to come back down and warm up the vines. A few degrees gained can often be enough to avoid the buds from freezing.

Heated wires which run along the training wires have also started to appear in the past few years. Of course, this can only be used in vineyards where the vines are trellised. Apparently this system has proved to be very effective in the plots that it has been tested in, and can be set to automatically activate below a set temperature. Running costs are fairly reasonable, but the purchase and installation costs are high given the kilometres of vine rows that have to be equipped, so explaining the small take-up for the moment.

Some winemakers even call in helicopters to fly low level over the vines and circulate the air as the turbines do. It’s fairly dangerous as the pilot must fly very low, most of the time at dawn when the light is not necessarily the best, and the pilot perhaps not the most awake!  It’s fairly expensive, but is worth the cost for some of the better quality vineyard plots.

Vine protection course in a French Vineyard in Chablis, Burgundy

And then sometimes, as our partner winemakers at Château Coutet reminded us, it’s simply nature that offers protection. Having dense vegetation or trees around the vineyards can help stop the temperature form dropping too far and can protect the vines from wind and the morning sun rays which can be so fatal for the frost covered buds.

Vine tending course in Saint-Emilion, France
The winegrowers are becoming better equipped at protecting the vines from frost, and the weather forecasts are becoming more refined, but over the past couple of years the frost attacks and other sources of weather damage are seeming to become more and more frequent, reminding us that winegrowing is still at the mercy of nature’s whim!

  

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From Vine to Wine. An unforgettable Motherís Day gift.


Mother’s Day is nearly here again, and so the search begins to find a creative way to say thanks Mum. Replace the bouquet of flowers with some vines if your Mum loves her wine, and give her an original Mother’s Day wine gift by adopting some organic vines in France for her. She’ll follow their progress in the vineyard, learn how the grapes are transformed into wine, and she’ll end up with her own personalised bottles of organic wine.

This unique Mother’s Day present is much more than a wine course or wine tasting gift.  With the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, your mum will follow all of the key stages in making wine through newsletters and photos from the winemaker.

Wine Gift Box for the Mothers' Day

You can also add one or more wine experience days at the winery for your mum to visit her vines, meet the winemaker and get involved in working in the vineyard or cellar.  It’s a good excuse to get away for a weekend break in France, and a fun way to learn about the secrets behind organic winemaking whilst exploring some of France’s great wine growing regions.

Vineyard and winery tour in France as a wine box

Each day is a full programme from 9:30 to 16:00 spent learning from the winemaker and their teams, tasting wines from the winery and enjoying a lunch of regional delicacies.  The day is valid for two people, so you might to get to go along too!

Wine-Making experience in a French Winery

At the end of the Wine Experience, your Mum will choose the name of her wine and will end up with one personalised bottle of her own organic wine for each adopted vine.  As she opens them over the coming years, she’ll be sure to remember this unusual Mother’s Day gift!

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Pruning the Chardonnay vines in Chablis


Much of a wine’s quality is directly linked to the effort and care taken in the vineyard to produce the best quality grapes.  For without good grapes, it is very difficult to make good wine.  We ventured to Chablis last weekend to learn about the important work in the vineyard during a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.

Adopt-a-vine gift for wine lovers in Chablis, France

We spent the morning in the vineyard under the expert of guidance of Arnaud, one of the most experienced members of the vineyard team.  Arnaud brought us up to speed on what they have been busy doing in the vineyard during the winter.

Most of the time since November has been taken up with pruning, which is probably the most important task of all in the vineyard, as it not only helps determine the potential yield for the coming year’s harvest, but also lays the foundation for the following year.  Arnaud had kept back a small plot of vines for us to have a go at pruning ourselves.  He explained and showed us how to select the branch that will bear this year’s grapes, and how to choose the two spurs that will be used in the future.

Vineyard experience gift in organic Chablis vineyard

Listening to Arnaud, it all sounded very easy, so secateurs in hand, we set about having a go ourselves.  But wait a minute, the vine in front of us resembled nothing like the ones that Arnaud had used to demonstrate on!  We were to soon learn that each vine seems to be an exception to the rule!  Arnaud flitted between us to help us or to confirm our thinking, and little by little, we became more confident in our choices.  It’s much more complicated than you would imagine. Having a go yourself is the only way to really understand, and also to appreciate the mammouth task that the winemakers face when you look around the surrounding vineyards that spread as far as the eye can see.

Rent-a-vine birthday gift in a French vineyard

Arnaud then showed us how the branches are attached to the training wires to ensure that the growth will be spread evenly.  He answered our many questions, and we also spent quite a lot of time talking about the differences between conventional, organic and biodynamic methods.  The domaine is one of the largest organic and biodynamic wineries in Burgundy, and the plot of vines that we were working in is cultivated biodynamically.

On the way back to the winery, Arnaud showed us a some vines that had been pruned using the guyot double method, which leaves two branches instead of one in the guyot simple method that we had used.

Wine enthusiast gift.  Rent-a-vine in Chablis

We had earned our aperitif, and back at the winery Jean-Louis, had prepared a tasting of Petit Chablis, Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru to whet our appetite.  We continued the tasting over lunch of other organic wines from the winery, including Les Preuses Chablis Grand Cru.

Wine tasting experience gift at the winery in Chablis

After lunch we headed back into the vineyard to visit our adopted vines and to get in some training for Easter as we each hunted for our micro-plot of vines!

Adopt-a-vine in a French organic vineyard

We then learnt about the work that remains in the vineyard between now and the harvest.  There is still lots to do, and as we enter this crucial period now that the buds are starting to burst we hope that the frosts stay away.  The vines will grow rapidly now over the next couple of months.

The day finished with a quick tour of the upper fermentation hall to see where the wines are aged in oak casks.  We’ll learn more about what happens here during the Vinification Experience Days.

Wine-making experience present in Chablis, France

And so the day came to a close, and we left our vines in the care of the winery to be nurtured and managed as they grow and bear their fruit.  We look forward to coming back for the Harvest Experience Day!

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Attaching the vines to the training wires


We spent last Saturday at Domaine Chapelle in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay. We were there to learn about the winegrower’s work in the vineyard and to help attach the vines to the training wires.

The day started in the warmth of the winery where we listened to Simon, the son of the owner and who will one day succeed Jean-François, talk about the history of the family and introduce us to the classification system of Burgundy wines.

In the vineyard there has already been lots of work done to prune all of the vines, and with the arrival of spring, there is no let-up in the winegrower’s workload!  It’s time to get back out into the vineyard.

Adopt-a-vine experience in Burgundy, France

We make a quick stop to meet our adopted vines, and take a few photographs. We start to talk about organic winemaking, Domaine Chapelle having now been organically certified for several years. Simon explained the philosophy and principals applied in the vineyard. We also learnt of his desire to work biodynamically, and 5 hectares of the estate are already worked biodynamically to test the different method of working.

Vineyard tending stage in Buegudy as a gift

Simon brought us up to speed on the work carried out in the vineyard so far for the 2017 vintage, notably the different pruning methods used. For the most part, 5 to 7 eyes are left on each of the branches and 2 eyes on the short spur. The longer branch will produce the fruit for the coming year, and the shorter spur will prepare the vine for next year’s pruning.

Oenology course at an organic winery in France

Now that the pruning has finished, the next stage is to bend the branches and attach them to the training wires. This helps to better spread out the foliage and in the coming months will also mean that the grapes are better spaced, limiting the risk of mould developing.
We each had a go at this delicate operation. It’s quite stressful because the vines make a cracking sound when the branches are bent.

A perfect wine lovers gift with a vine adoption and tending box

The April showers started to fall a little harder, so we then headed back to the shelter of the cellar for a nice Burgundy aperitif!

We tasted the Santenay Saint Jean white wine, accompanied by the famous Gougères, a delicious Burgundy speciality. We then tasted three different red wines during the meal which included an excellent beef bourguignon.

Vineyard and winery visit in Santenay, Burgundy

The sun was out again after lunch, so we headed back out into the vineyard to visit the Beaurepaire Premier Cru vineyard which had been replanted two years ago.  It enabled us to better understand how vines are selected and nurtured, and the work and time that it takes before the first full harvest can be reaped.  From our vantage pot, we admired the view of the surrounding vineyards and the village below.

We finished the day with a quick tour of the cellar where the wines are aged and stored. Our wine isn’t yet there, but we’ll be back in a year’s time to see how it is getting on during one of the Vinification Experience Days. But before then, we also have the Harvest Experience Days to pick the grapes!

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Getting involved in the work in the vineyard


The 26th March saw the new season’s adoptive parents arrive at the winery to start work on the 2017 vintage of the Clos de la Bonnelière. And despite the change of clocks, everyone arrived on time, eager to start the day!

Over coffee, Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner, explained the history of the winery which was brought back to life by his father in 1980.  In 1989, a great vintage for the Loire Valley, the first Château de la Bonnelière wine for over 60 years was born.

Winery touring wine gift in the Loire Valley, France

Marc took over the running of the winery in 2000, and has gradually grown the winery over the years and as the opportunities arose.  Today the winery has 30 hectares of vines, all of which are situated on the left back of the Vienne river.

It was then time to get to the heart of the day’s matter, and find out what happens in the vineyard to nurture the vines. The pruning season has just finished, and it is now time to get ready for the vines future growth and to work the soil, which has been resting since the last harvest.

We had a double mission for the day.  First of all to pull away the cut branches that had been left behind after pruning, and then to attach the remaining branches to the training wires.

Adopt-a-vine gift box for wine lover in France

We worked in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, where our adopted vines are located.  So before getting stuck in, we took a few minutes to meet our vines and take a few pictures for the My Vine photo competition, some of which were very acrobatic!

Work in the vineyard course with the winemaker in France

But enough larking around, it was high time to do some work!  Pulling away the cut branches is a fairly physical task as the tendrils from last year grip tightly to the training wires, but one which we soon got to grips with, leaving the dead wood in the middle of the rows to be crushed, allowing some of the nutrients to return to the soil.

Oenology course at the winery in France as a wine gift

The next task to fold the branches and attach them to the training wires was a little more difficult.  The fruit-bearing branch which will carry this year’s grapes needs to be supported by the wire, and the branches folded without breaking them.  You need to be careful, and the sound that they make when being bent causes you to worry at first.  But you soon get the hang of it, and we made a good job of it!

By this time, we had built up a good appetite, and we enjoyed lunch, accompanied by some of Marc’s different red and white wines.

Wine tasting during a discovery day at the winery, Chinon, France

We resisted the urge for a siesta in the afternoon sun, and listened intently as Marc explained the work involved in being an organic winegrower, and how the work differs in some of his other vine plots.

The day then drew to a close, and we each headed off in our separate directions having learned more about the work that goes on behind the scenes in making quality wine.  We look forward to learning more when we come back for the Harvest and Vinification Experience days.

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The art of wine-making in Alsace


The varied terroir of Alsace and the different grape varietals that are grown in the region ensure that the winemaker is kept busy.  When the work in the vineyard finishes the winemaker turns his attention to the work in the cellar.  And as each grape varietal from each vineyard plot is vinified separately, there is lots to do as we were to discover during the Vinification Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.

Original wine gift for wine enthusiasts. Adopt a vine and follow the making of your own organic white wine

To remind us that wine is first and foremost the product of the work carried out in the vineyard, we started the day with a quick visit to the Rosenberg vineyard to see our adopted vines.  No matter how good the winemaker is, if the grapes aren’t of a good quality, it’s very difficult to make a good wine.  Having taken a few pictures of our vines to mark the occasion, we then headed back to the winery for the main purpose of the day, to find out what happens to the wine, and the decisions that the winemaker must take between harvesting the grapes, and the wine being ready for bottling.

Rent-a-vine gift in a French organic vineyard

We taste many wines during the day, and to help us better prepare for the wine tasting to come, we put our sense of smell to the test with a fun, yet testing exercise to identify different aromas that can be found in wine.

Wine tasting workshop to develop wine tasting skills

In the cellar, Stéphane took us on the journey that the wine takes.  First stop was the press room, where the grapes are pressed and the juice separated from the solid particles during the “débourbage”.  We saw how the winery had designed the layout to use gravity as much as possible, and limit the use of pumps, which can adversely affect the wine.

Winery tour gift with the winemaker in Alsace, France

The red wines are aged in oak barrels, and Stéphane explained the role of the oak and shared his passion for pinot noir, one of his fetish grape varietals.

Fermenting and ageing pinot noir red wine in oak barrels

We then moved through to the cellar room where the white wines ferment.  Accompanied by the gentle gurgling of the wines that had yet to terminate the fermentation process, Stéphane explained how the wines ferment, and how he monitors their progress as the sugar in the wine is transformed into alcohol.  But the best way to understand the different stages is to taste the wines, and so we tasted some of the wines directly from the vat to better appreciate their evolution.

Make your own wine gift experience in Alsace, France

The sun was shining, so we then headed outside to make the most of it, and to taste some of the winery’s different finished wines, starting with a Pinot Blanc.  During the aperitif and lunch we tasted wines from different grape varietals and terroir including Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer.

Wine tasting with the winemaker in Alsace

In the afternoon we returned to the cellar to learn about how the wine is prepared for bottling, and saw the machines used to bottle and label the wines.  Stéphane also showed us how the Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wines are worked.

Learning how sparkling wine is made

Throughout the day, the questions flowed, and we covered many different topics including the material used to close the bottles, when and whether sugar is allowed to be used, the amount of sulphites added to wine…  Much to learn and to take in, but hopefully some of it will stick, and that the next bottle of wine that is opened will be looked at in a slightly different light.

And so the day drew to a close and we left our Pinot Gris Rosenberg 2016 in the cellar to continues its ageing process.  We can’t wait to taste the finished product at the end of the year!

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Pruning and folding the vines in Alsace


The sun was shining for the first of the 2017 Discovery Experience Days in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  The aim of this day is to learn about all of the work in the vineyard to obtain the best possible grapes at harvest time, and so naturally the day started in the vineyard, not just any vineyard, but the prestigious Hengst grand cru vineyard, where the winery has a plot of Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer vines.

Original birthday gift idea for wine lovers.  Rent-a-vine in an an organic French vineyard

We were accompanied by Jean-Jacques and Céline, who explained to us how the vines are pruned to control their growth and limit the quantity of grapes that they produce.  When pruning you have to think not only of the year’s harvest, but also leave a spur that will produce the branches used to bear the following year’s fruit.  We soon got stuck in, and quickly warmed up with the effort of pulling away the cut branches.

Wine gift experience to learn the work of a winemaker

We put the cut branches in the middle of the rows, where they will later be crushed to return some of the nutrients to the soil.

Vineyard tour gift that gets you involved in the winemaker's work

Once the vines have been pruned, the remaining branches are then folded in an arc, and attached to the lowest training wires. This helps to slow the flow of sap, and better space the future growth of the plant, helping the grapes to ripen and the vines to dry after any rain, which in turn helps reduce the risk or rot.

Vineyard experience gift in Alsace, France

We then made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard, where our adopted vines are located.  The plot is planted with Pinot Gris vines, and we admired the view of the surrounding vineyards and castles that dot the hills behind.

Organic rent-a-vine gift in Alsace, France

Jean-Jacques then talked more about other aspects of working in the vineyard, and showed us a plot that they had replanted last year.
By this time, our appetite and taste buds had opened up, and we were rewarded upon our return to the winery with a nice glass of wine.  We tasted a range of the estate’s wines including the Pinot Gris Rosenberg, chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, and Riesling, Muscat, Sylvaner, and Pinot Noir wines, as well as a glass of Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine.

Organic wine tasting gift experience in Alsace, France

After lunch, Stéphane explained the work that remains to be done in the vineyard between now and the harvest, and how the winemaker chooses when the grapes are ready to be harvested.  We also learnt what is involved in being an organic winemaker.

Winery tour and wine cellar visit in Alsace, France

The day finished with a visit to the cellar to see where the wine will be made once the grapes have been picked, something that will be covered in much greater detail during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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Learning to prune the vines in Burgundy


The Spring sun was out to welcome us for a Discovery Experience Day on the 12th March at Domaine Chapelle, in the Burgundy village of Santenay. This hands-on wine course at the winery was dedicated to the work in the vineyard, and at this time of year, the principal task is pruning the vines.

    Learn about the Burgundy vineyards in Stanenay, France

After a welcome coffee, Jean-François introduced us to the winery and winemaking in Santenay. He took us out into the garden to explain the local geology and its role in defining the classification of the surrounding vineyards.

Adopt-a-vine in France as a gift for a wine lover

We then headed to the Clos des Cornières vineyard, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located. It gave us the chance to meet our vines and to take a few pictures for the “My Vine” photo competition!

Learn how to prune the vine in a winery in Burgundy, France

Yannick, the technical director, then started to explain the work in the vineyard to get the vines ready for harvest. It’s the end of the pruning season at the moment, so he showed us which branches to cut, and which to keep. He also explained how the number of buds that are left on each vine will help determine the quantity of fruit produced. The questions flowed, and we also had a long discussion on organic winemaking and the philosophy in implementing it at the winery.

Oenology course at Domaine Chapelle, a winery in Santenay, France

But enough talking - it was then time to put the theory into practice!  We quickly learnt that when it was our turn to prune, it wasn’t as easy as the explanations. The vines all grow slightly differently and there seemed to be an exception to every rule!  But it was a fun time, and everyone obtained their pruning diploma!

Wine and course tasting in a French winery, Santenay, Burgundy

Back at the winery, we enjoyed a typical Bourguignon aperitif in the sun. To accompany the Santenay Saint Jean white wine, we enjoyed some gougères, which are a local specialty. And we continued the wine tasting over lunch of beef bourguignon with three of the winery’s excellent red wines.

Learn how to tend a vineyard in Santenay, Burgundy

After lunch, we took a stroll in the vineyard to visit the Beuarepaire premier cru plot of vines. On the way, Yannick explained the different terroir that we could see.  We learnt about the work involved to replant a vineyard, the costs involved and its impact on the production.

The grapes are green harvested for the first two years which means picking them, but not using them. This helps the vines to develop their root system. The grapes will be picked and used from the 3rd year, but the wine that will be made will be classed a level down until the vines are about 10 year’s old and the grapes start to express the quality of the terroir.

We then returned to the winery for a quick tour of the cellar before finishing this informative and interesting day. The vineyard is where the hard work begins, and we look forward to coming back to learn more from Jean-François and Yannick during the Harvest and Vinification Experience days.

Many thanks to our hosts who once again welcomed us warmly! 

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Wine-making in the Côtes du Rhône region at Domaine la Cabotte


Today is a festival for our taste buds! We're going to taste and re-taste all of the wines at Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône Massif d'Uchaux region during a Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Day.

The 2016 vintage wines are still slowly finishing the vinification process in the vats. The weather is a little unstable, and the arrival of the rain sees the participants put on our boots. The vines are delighted and all of the young buds get ready to soak up this lovely spring rain.

Adopt-a-vine gift box in a French vineyard

Marie-Pierre and Eric, the owners take us to meet our adopted Grenache vines that are used in making the Garance wine. The cameras come out and click away to immortalise the moment.

As the first drops of rain start to fall, we head for cover in the chai. Here, Marie-Pierre had prepared a long table with wine glasses, bottles and spittoons. We each take a seat as Eric explains how the grapes are transformed into wine.

Oenology course in the Rhone Valley France

The questions flow and we cover lots of topics. We learn about the fundamental role of yeast, which is naturally present on the grape skins, and turns the sugar into alcohol. Each vat of wine ferments at its own pace, one of the wonderful mysteries of wine-making. We taste different wines that are still ageing to appreciate for ourselves how they are each developing.

Wine tasting and visit of the winery in Mondragon, France

We then head to the caveau to put our noses to the test. We try and identify the floral and fruity aromas that can be found in wine: blackcurrant, lime tree, blackberry chocolate truffle, raspberry, lemon, honey etc...

Aroma workshop as a wine gift in a French winery

There are two or three "noses" in the group who are very good at naming the different aromas, but for the majority of us, it's more difficult to put a name to them. That is until we're told what the smell is, and we hear a chorus of "of course it is!"

Winemaker lunch with wine pairing Domaien la Cabotte France

It is now lunch time, and we sit down to enjoy a pork confit, local goat's cheese and dessert. Each dish is accompanied by different wines, and we enjoy our glasses of Clairette, Colline, Gabriel, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Organic vineyard visit in the Rhone Valley France

In the afternoon the sky clears, and Eric takes us on a walk around the vineyard to better understand the Massif d'Uchaux terroir and its influence on the wine's style. The ground is very rocky and the vines share the plateau with trees and scrubland, giving the wine both complexity and freshness.

The day draws to a close, and we look back on the variety of tastes and smells that we have enjoyed and discovered. We also load the car boots up with a few bottles of our favourite wines to take a little piece of Domaine la Cabotte home with us!

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Wine-making in Chablis


Last weekend we were in Chablis to learn all about how the grapes that we harvested last autumn have been transformed into wine.  This wine-making experience day spent at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard enabled us to get behind the scenes to visit the fermentation halls and follow the process right up to bottling.

Oragnic wine-making gift experience in Chablis, France

We started the day by following the journey that the harvested grapes take, and saw where they are weighed before being emptied into the wine presses.  Raphaël explained how the presses work to separate the juice from the skins and pips.

Follow the making of your own organic Chablis wine

The juice is then held in a vat to allow the sediment to fall to the bottom, before the clearer juice is then drawn off and put into another vat.  Here the sugar in the wine will be transformed into alcohol during the fermentation process.  We learnt that the fermentation is closely monitored, and that the temperature is regulated to ensure that the fermentation gets started but doesn’t happen too quickly.  We covered a whole host of topics from yeast, to chaptalisation, and the adding of sulphites.

Guided tour of the fermentation hall at the winery

After the alcoholic fermentation, comes the malo-lactic fermentation, which decreases the acidity of the wine and makes it smoother.  The malo-lactic fermentation has happened earlier than usual this year, and all of the vats had already finished, including the Chablis Sainte-Claire that the 2016 vintage clients will have at the end of the experience.  We had brought some glasses with us, and Raphaël gave us a taste of the wine, directly from the vat.  It was slightly cloudy, as it has not yet been filtered and although it shows promise, we all agreed that it needs time to age further before being ready for bottling!

Tasting the different stages of fermentation

We then moved onto the area where the wine is bottled and the corks or screw tops are applied depending on the country that the wine will be consumed.  Raphaël also showed us the machine that is used for labelling the bottles and where the bottles are boxed up before be sent to the four corners of the world.

The machine that will label the personalised bottles of wine

Back at the winery, we started to put our senses to the test to prepare us for the series of wine tasting to come.  First of all we made our noses work by trying to name different aromas that can be found in white wine.  We then had to identify different sweet, saline, acidic and bitter solutions, an exercise that also taught us that we have different captors in our mouths depending on the taste.

Wine tasting lesson at the winery to develop the senses

But enough of the theory.  To better understand the differences between wines, there’s no better way than tasting them!  We blind tasted three series of wines, which helped us to better appreciate the characteristics of different grape varietals, appellations, terroir and the way in which the wine is aged.  We continued the wine tasting over lunch, which had been prepared by a local caterer.

In the afternoon, we started by descending into the cellar to see the geological dissection of the kimmeridgian soil.  This enabled us to better understand the soil that gives the Chablis wines their distinctive minerality.

The vineyard terroir

We then visited the hall where some of the premier cru and grand cru wines are aged in oak casks.  Jean-Louis explained the role that the wood plays in developing the structure of the wine.  We had one last tasting in store, that of the Montmains premier cru, directly from the oak cask.

Ageing the wine in oak casks

A few brave clients then headed out into the wind to visit their adopted vines, and take a few souvenir photos!  A great way to end the day.

Adopt-a-vine gift and make your own personalised bottles of wine

Many thanks to all you participated and made it such a fun day.  We’ll keep you posted how your wine progresses over the coming months!

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Learning how to blend wine in Bordeaux


Blending wine is a fine art as we were to learn during the Vinification Experience Days at Château Beau Rivage last weekend.  The winemaker chooses not only which grape varietals to use and in what percentages, but also chooses between different lots of the same wine, and notably at Château Beau Rivage, between the same wine aged in different types of oak barrel.  The possibilities are endless!

Adopt a vine gift.  Learn all about making and blending wines with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

After the introductions, we headed into the cuvier, or fermentation hall, to see where the grapes end their journey at harvest time.  Here we learnt all about the fermentation process to transform the sugar contained in the grapes into alcohol, and the work carried out to extract the tannins from the marc of grape skins and pips during maceration.  The first weeks after the harvest is a very busy time for the winemaker as the wines need to be constantly monitored to track the temperature, sugar content, and evolution of the wines.

Learning how wine ferments

Once the fermentation has finished, the wines are racked to separate the wine from the larger lee particles that are formed by the skin, pips, stems and other solid matter.  If it was left in contact with the wine, this would make the wine unstable and give undesirable aromas.  The wine that is drawn off is known as the “vin de goutte”.  The marc that remains in the bottom of the vat is then pressed to obtain the “vin de presse”, which is then aged separately to have another possibility during blending.  The vin de presse is much more tannic and concentrated than the vin de goutte.

At Château Beau Rivage, the wines remain in the vats until the malo-lactic fermentation has finished, a process which reduces the acidity and results in a softening of the wines.  The wines are then moved into the barrel room.

Learning about the interaction between wine and oak barrels

The barrel room at Château Beau Rivage is very impressive.  Chrsitine, the owner and winemaker comes from a family of coopers, and the family cooperage is just the other side of the village.  Here we were introduced to the influence that oak barrels play in ageing wine, and learnt about the different effects they have on the wine depending on the provenance of the oak and the way in which the barrels are made.  Barrel making is an art form in itself!

For the most part the wines are left alone in the barrel to age.  This takes time as the wines at Château Beau Rivage are made for lasting.  Each barrel is regularly tasted to check on its progression, and any wine that has evaporated is replaced to keep the barrels full, protecting the wine from the oxygen in the air.  After tasting, the winemaker will decide whether the finer lees that are present in the barrels need stirring in a process known as “battonage”.

It was then time to put our senses to the test.  At the cooperage, a series of workshops had been set up, the first of which was to identify some of the aromas that can be found in wine due to the grape varietal or from the ageing process in oak barrels.  A fun exercise that’s not as easy as you would imagine!

Workshop to develop the wine tasting senses

Now that we had the vocabulary in place, we started the first wine tasting session of the day.  We were served two different wines, and had to try and guess the singular difference between them.  Were they from different grape varietals, different years, or had they been aged in different types of container?  The difference aromatically and on the palate was striking, and tasting in this manner is the best way to understand the variables that a winemaker has at his or her disposal.

Tasting wines that are still in the process of ageing

Lunchtime was approaching and so we tasted some of the winery’s wines during lunch at the restaurant of the cooperage.  After the rosé wine, we tasted the Phare 2002 red wine with the foie gras and fig chutney starter.  We then tasted the Benjamin Bordeaux Supérieur 2010 red wine with the main course, and the Clos la Bohème Haut-Médoc 2010 with cheese, followed by the Château Beau Rivage 2007 with the chocolate mousse. This last wine is the cuvée chosen at the winery for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gift pack.

After lunch, we had lots more wine tasting in store during the blending workshop.  At our disposal were samples of four different grape varietals from the 2016 vintage that are currently still in the ageing process.  To understand the different qualities of each, we started by tasting them individually.  We noted that the merlot was full of fruit but not so long on the palate, the malbec brought a touch of spice, the cabernet sauvignon had a long finish, and the petit verdot had more acidity than the others.

Wine lover gift to learn how to blend wines, Bordeaux, France

Then it was time to have a go at blending the wines together.  We tried several different blends to see how the wine changes with the different grape varietals and percentages used.   Even small differences can considerably change a wine, and some of the blends were more pleasing than others!  One thing that we were unanimous about was that it takes real skill to choose the blend, and to be able to project into the future about how the wine will be.

Many thanks to all who participated in this very enjoyable weekend and to Château Beau Rivage for giving us a great insight into the art of winemaking.  We now have to wait patiently as the 2016 vintage slowly matures and is ready in the winter of 2018/19.  The 2015 vintage will be ready at the end of this year, or beginning of next depending on its evolution over the next few months, and the timing of this year’s harvest.

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Pruning the vines in the Rhone Valley


The first Discovery Experience Days for the 2017 vintage got underway recently at Domaine la Cabotte.  Marie-Pierre and Eric, the winemakers, were waiting for us with a nice warm coffee, and we admired the view over the vines and Massif d’Uchaux terroir as we waited for everyone to arrive.

We were at the winery to learn about the work of the winemaker in the vineyard to grow and nurture the best possible grapes come harvest time.  And as we were to learn, there’s a lot of work involved between now and the harvest!

Eric explains how to prune the vines

Eric and Marie-Pierre explained their philosophy of working the soil and the wines.  Why do you need to prune?  Why at this time of year?  Having been shown how to prune, we each had a go for ourselves under the guidance of Eric & Marie-Pierre.

The participants have a go at pruning under the guidance of Marie-Pierre

At the end of the morning, we visited the plot of Grenache where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located, and took some photos of the plants that will hopefully give us the fruit to make an excellent wine this year.

We then enjoyed a home-made lunch prepared by Marie-Pierre of endive salad, provençal stew, and raspberry tiramisu, paired with the Garance, Gabriel and Colline Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.

Enjoying lunch in the caveau overlooking the vineyard

After lunch we returned to the vineyard to finish the pruning and to perfect our cutting.  It’s not always easy to choose which branches to keep and which to cut!

Pruning is not as easy as it looks

In the chai, we talked about how biodynamics impacts the work and the environment at the winery.   We learnt about how it helps to improve the biodiversity in the vineyard, and how prevalent it is in the Massif d’Uchaux appellation, respecting the soil and nature’s rhythm.

And so the day drew to a close, a day full of information and the clip clip of the secateurs.  We’ll soon be able to see if our pruning bears any fruit as Eric and Marie-Pierre update us on how the buds develop.  Many thanks to our hosts for welcoming us and for being as authentic as ever.

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Wine-making gift experience in the Loire Valley


Last weekend, we participated in the first Vinification Experience Days of the year at Château de la Bonnelière.  The programme for the day was to learn about the work involved to vinify and age the wine after the harvest and up until the wine is ready for bottling.  As we were to discover, there is much to do, and there are many decisions to be taken by Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker!

The day started with a welcome coffee or cup of tea, whilst Marc recounted the history of the winery and brought us up to speed on the work in the vineyard since the last harvest.

Visiting our adopted vines

We ventured out into the vineyard to pay a visit to our adopted vines.  They had been pruned at the start of the winter, but the cut branches hadn’t yet been pulled clear of the training wires, giving some the occasion to have a go at this fairly physical activity!

We then divided into two groups, one going with Marc to the chai, and the other heading to a workshop to train our senses to help us better taste wines.

Marc explains the vinification process in the chai

In the chai, Marc gave us an insight into the world of vinification and his chosen way for making wine.  He uses gravity to put the grapes into the vats to best avoid any damage to the grapes.  He then closely monitors the wines to control the fermentation process, and then chooses how to age the wines, either in vats or in different types of oak barrels.

Putting our noses to the test in the aroma workshop

In the caveau, we put our noses to work!  Wine gives off lots of different aromas that we can put into three categories.  The primary aromas are linked to the grape varietal, the secondary aromas to the way in which the wine is vinified, and the tertiary aromas from the way that the wine is aged.  We tried to identify different aromas to help us prepare for the wine tasting to follow.

Lunch prepared by Mme Plouzeau

After this full morning, it was the time for lunch.  A lovely meal, prepared by Mme Plouzeau, was accompanied by wines from the winery, including an avant-première tasting of Marc’s latest wine, “Silice”, a Chinon white which paired perfectly with the starter.

We continued the day with a visit to the cellar underneath the Chinon fortress where the wines are aged.

This magical place is a large cave, forming one of many underground galleries beneath the streets of Chinon.  It was from here that the stone was extracted to build the castle above.  The cellar has been in the family for 3 generations and Marc uses it to age his wines in oak barrels.

In the cellar beneath the Chinon fortress to taste the wines that are still ageing

We had the good fortune to taste a number of different wines that are still in the ageing process.  This is an unconventional way to taste wines as they have yet to reach their maturity and so you have to try and imagine what they might become in a few months or even years time!  As we were to find out, some of the wines still have many months to go before their tannic structure softens.

And so the day drew to a close after this wine tasting full of potential and promise.  We now have to wait patiently until the Clos de la Bonnelière will be ready for bottling!

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Learning about the winemakerís work in the cellar


The 2017 Wine Experience Days got underway last weekend in Burgundy at Domaine Chapelle with a couple of great Vinification Experience Days with the clients of the 2016 vintage.  The aim of this wine course spent at the winery is to learn all about the work in the cellar and the choices that the winemaker takes to make the wine between the harvest and the time that it is ready for bottling.  As we were to learn, the winemaker’s job is far from finished once the grapes have been harvested.

Organic wine-making experience gift in Burgundy France

The days were split into different workshops.  After the introductions, one group followed Jean-François Chapelle into the fermentation hall.  Here he explained how the grapes are received during the harvest and then put into the vats.  We learnt about the fermentation process and how the winemakers closely monitor and control it to ensure that it takes place in the optimal conditions.  Jean-François explained the difference between the “vin de goutte” and the “vin de presse”, and the differences in making white and red wine.

Original wine gift for a birthday, retirement or wedding.  Follow the making of your own organic French wine

After the first fermentation has finished and the wine has been racked, the majority of the red wines at Domaine Chapelle, including the Clos des Cornières red wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, are moved to the underground cellar to continue their ageing in the oak barrels.

Winery and cellar tour gift in Burgundy, France

Amongst the barrels, Jean-François explained how the wine loses some of its acidity during the malo-lactic fermentation and let us in on the choices that he makes regarding the different types of barrel used.  To better understand the role that the barrels play in making wine, we tasted some wines directly from the barrel to compare the difference between new and old barrels. The same wine had been put into the barrels, so the only difference was the barrel.  It’s amazing to see how the aromas and taste vary.  The questions abounded, and we covered many topics from chaptalisation, the levels of sulphites added, and the different methods used to close the bottles.

Wine-tasting experience gift in a French organic winery

Upstairs, another workshop run by Yvette Chapelle prepared us to better taste wine by putting or senses to the test.  Using small bottles containing different aromas found in red wine, we had a go at trying to identify the individual smells.  Not as easy as you would at first think!

Oenology gift for wine lovers.  Learn how to taste wines from the winemakers themselves

We then tasted four different cups containing a saline, sweet, acidic and bitter solution to appreciate how they feel differently in the mouth.

After the morning’s full programme, we made the most of the glorious sunshine and enjoyed a glass of Santenay St Jean 2015 white wine in the courtyard whilst Jean-François answered more of our questions.

Wine enthusiast gift

Over lunch, we continued the wine tasting with some of the red Burgundy wines, starting with the Santenay Clos des Cornières 2012, followed by the Santenay La Comme premier cru 2014, and finishing with the Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot premier cru red wine.
We started the afternoon in the Clos des Cornières vineyard to visit our adopted vines.  They were revelling in the sunshine and were only too happy to have their photo taken with their adoptive owners!

Rent-a-vine gift in an organic French vineyard

Jean-François then explained the different geology of the surrounding vineyards and how that determines the AOC classification system of Burgundy and Santenay wines.  He pointed out the three distinct areas of our Clos des Cornières vineyard, knowledge we needed for the final wine tasting of the day.

Back in the courtyard, we tasted the three different wines from the Clos de Cornières vineyard that are vinified separately and are only blended together shortly before bottling.  This enabled us to see the difference that the age of a vine plays, and to get a sneak preview of the potential of the 2016 vintage.  The wines were at different stages of the malo-lactic fermentation process, so also enabled us to see how they change.

Wine-making experience present in Burgundy, France

And so the day drew to a close.  Many thanks to Jean-François and Yvette for sharing their passion for winemaking with us, and to all of the participants for making it such a great weekend!

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Wine-making and blending experience day in the Rhone Valley


Last Saturday, we were welcomed by Marie-Pierre and Eric Plumet at Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhone Valley to learn more about the vinification process of the 2016 vintage.  For some of the participants it was their third wine experience day at the winery, having already participated in pruning the vines and harvesting the grapes last year.

Wine-making experience gift at the winery in France beside the wine-maker

The programme of the day was to talk about how the wine progresses through the fermentation and ageing stages once the harvested grapes arrive in the chai, and for this, we were in the expert hands of Eric.

Original wine enthusiast gift to learn about wine-making

At Domaine la Cabotte, whenever possible they blend the different grape varietals together to make each of their different wines.  Marie-Pierre and Eric prefer that the juice from the grenache, mourvèdre, carignan and cinsault mix and ferment together.  It’s not something that is easy to do, and sometimes they opt to vinify the grape varietals separately.  It’s all a question of the vintage.

They regularly taste the wines to determine the best moment to rack them and separate the wine from the solid matter of skin, pips, and stems that is deposited at the bottom of the vats.  The fermented juice becomes “vin de goutte”, and continues to be closely monitored to check that nothing untoward is happening.

Tasting the wines that are still ageing

Four to ten months after the harvest for the most part, the wine is then racked again, bottled, labelled and then enjoyed by wine lovers all over the world, including the adoptive parents, who have followed the birth of the vintage from first bud to the bottle.

We then returned to the caveau for a workshop that put our noses to the test.  We had to try to name a series of different aromas that can be found in wine.  Honey, lemon, pear… for the whites.  Raspberry, blackcurrant, liquorice… for the reds.

A couple of the participants were very good at this game, but all were agreed to step out into the sunshine to smell some real aromas from some real wine!

We tasted the Garance and Gabriel red wines and the Clairette white wine that had been aged in Italian amphorae.  A real treat.
To accompany the wines over lunch, we enjoyed a home-made salad, lamb tagine, and fruit cake.  And Jacqueline, the sommelier, recited ‘L’Ame du vin”, Beaudelaire’s tribute to the divine nectar.

Rent-a-vine gift in the rhone valley in a biodynamic vineyard

We spent the afternoon in the vineyard, amongst the plot of grenache vines that have been adopted by the Gourmet Odyssey clients.  Here, Eric recounted the geological history of the Massif d’Uchaux terroir, and explained the influence it has on the aroma and structure of the wine.

We finished the day in front of the chai, where we learnt a little more about the biodynamic philosophy, and the importance of respecting nature’s rhythm which help to create the balance in the wines at Domaine la Cabotte.

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The role the vine roots play


At the beginning of this year, and with particular reference to the cold spell that we have had over the past few weeks, the winemakers have been talking to us lots about the importance and the benefits of the vines resting during winter. During the cold winter months, the sap descends into the roots to help protect the vines. This article looks at the role of the vine roots, and their importance on the vegetative life cycle.

First of all, what are the roots?

A vine is made up of two parts.  The top part that is above ground is a graft of the vitis vinifera, and the part below ground that is a rootstock, often a hybrid between American and vitis vinifera species that are resistant to phylloxera, a disease that ravaged the European vineyards in the 1860s.

Since the phylloxera crisis, it is very rare that vines are planted “franc de pied”, that is without being grafted to a rootstock that is resistant to phylloxera.  The roots are the part of the rootstock that are under ground and bring the necessary nutrients to the plant.

What role do the roots play?

The vine roots have multiple functions.  Firstly, they serve to anchor the plant to the soil.  They also absorb water and the minerals necessary for the vines development.  And lastly, they also have a role to support the vegetative growth in spring.  After the harvest, photosynthesis continues, and carbohydrate reserves are produced and stored in the vine trunks and roots for winter and spring.  

Learnto protect the vine in a oenology course at the winery

  

How deep do the roots go?

A vine has three levels of roots that reach down 2 – 5 metres on average, and they can descend much further if needed.  The principal roots are those which already exist when the vine was planted.  Then the secondary roots form and from these the rootlets or very fine roots grow.  These rootlets are produced each year, and the rootlets which age then become secondary roots.

The depth to which the roots grow depends on many factors such as the type of rootstock used, the soil type which can be more or less compact and deep, the density of vines planted, and how the soil is worked by the winemaker.  And also the older a vine is, the deeper the roots generally penetrate.

Are the roots impacted by the weather?

We often hear that vines are robust plants, which generally speaking is true.  The winemaker must however help to protect them, particularly when they are young and their root system hasn’t yet developed deep enough to protect themselves.

To protect against the cold in the vineyards that are the most exposed, once the leaves have fallen from the vines, the winemaker will heap soil around the base of the vines to help the shallowest roots be better protected against the frost.  A short period of sustained cold temperatures during winter is one of the best protections against disease for the vines as many of the bacteria that reside in the soil are killed off.

Learn how to protect the vine from the cold with the winemaker

  

Vines don’t like too much humidity.  Some rain is beneficial during the growth of the vine and when the grapes are maturing, but it is best that they avoid being stood in water.  Too much stagnant water causes disease to form and spread through the soil.

Drought is less of a problem for vines, particularly if the roots are well developed and are deep enough to find water and the necessary nutrients.  Having said that, in certain southern vineyards, if it doesn’t rain enough in spring to replenish the underground water table, the winemakers can be obliged to irrigate.

And if drought strikes, it’s not the roots that suffer first, but the fruit, because the plant will always favour its overall survival over producing fruit.  Nature is well done, even if it sometimes disappoints the winemakers!

How do you protect the roots in organic or bio-dynamic wine-making?

As previously mentioned, vines are pretty resistant to the climate, but what they do fear is disease, particularly those that are spread throughout the soil.  Two of the most common are root rot, a parasitic disease, and phylloxera, a sap sucking insect that can cut off the flow of nutrients and water to the vine. These illnesses can cause the vine to die, and the symptoms only appear late, once the contamination has set in.

You therefore have to act preventively, particularly in organic or biodynamic winegrowing where you cannot easily treat the vines once the illness has struck.  To have as healthy a soil as possible, the surface is tilled regularly to aerate the soil and thus encourage the microbial life.

Learn how to grow and harvest a vine in a course at the winery

In biodynamics, the health of the plant is thought to pass directly from the soil, so in biodynamic winegrowing the general aim is to restore and enhance the organic life in the surrounding environment of the vines.  By improving the natural exchange between the soil and the roots, you can help to enhance the vitality and resistance of the plants.

The majority of winemakers who have changed to organic or biodynamic methods have noted the development of a better root structure, and better qualitative and quantitative results over time.

Winter is a time of rest for the vines.  Nothing happens in the part above ground where the sap no longer circulates.  The sap descends into the foot and roots to prepare for spring and to develop the reserves necessary for the future grapes.


Related articles

End of the winter holidays... for the vines
Bud burst of the vines in Spring
What is biodynamic wine?

 

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