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The 2017 harvest in Chablis


Last weekend saw us travel to Chablis to participate in the Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.  We weren’t there just to pick grapes, but to also learn about all of the work in the cellar at harvest time to press the grapes, put them into the vats, and to follow their progress through the first stages of fermentation.

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After a welcome coffee and brief introduction, we made our way through the rolling vineyards to the Butteaux vineyard, a Premier Cru plot where the winery’s team of harvesters were already hard at work.  Emilie and Cécile distributed the secateurs and buckets, and we had a few volunteers to be porters.

Emilie and Cécile explained which grapes to cut and which to leave behind.  To make the job easier, the first task is to remove the leaves from in front of the grape bunches so that you can see them and get to the stalk more easily with the secateurs.   In twos we spread out among the rows and started to harvest the grapes.

Participate in the harvest and learn about the art of winemaking

Once the buckets were full we called out to the porters to come.  We then emptied the buckets into the hops carried on their backs.  Their role was to then carry the grapes to the truck, climb a ladder and then tip the grapes out.  It’s not as easy as you would think to throw the grapes over your shoulder whilst at the top of a ladder, but after the first couple of attempts, the porters soon found their individual styles!  We rotated roles, so that all of those who wanted to have a go being porter could see what it was like to carry a load of grapes on their back.

Biodynamic wine gift in France to get involved in the grape harvest

Time flies when you’re concentrated on harvesting, and before we knew it, we met up with the team of professional harvesters.  Emilie and Cécile walked through the rows to see how we had got on, and announced that we had done a great job, leaving behind very few of the precious grapes.

We then followed the grapes journey through the delightful scenery back to the winery.  Here the grapes were weighed, and then wait for a press to become free.  When we arrived, Julien Brocard was busy emptying the marc of skins, pips and stalks that had been left behind from the previous load.  He explained what he was doing and how he had been battling with a blown fuse that had slowed progress down during the morning.

Wine-making experience gift in Chablis

Our harvest was then emptied into the press and we watched as it started working to extract the juice from the grapes.  We learnt about how the juice is held in a vat until the solid particles that manage to get through the press filters have settled in the bottom of the vat, a process known as débourbage.  The clear juice is then drawn off and put into another vat or wooden cask to begin the fermentation process, transforming the sugar into alcohol.

Adopt a vine and get involved in making your own personalised bottles of biodynamic wine

It had been a busy morning, and our aperitif well deserved!  On the terrace overlooking the Sainte Claire vineyard, we tasted a Petit Chablis, Chablis Sainte Claire and Chablis Premier Cru, all from the 2015 vintage to see how the wine differs between the three appellations.  We then sat down to lunch and continued the wine tasting with some older vintages.

Wine tasting gift at the winery in Chablis

In the afternoon, we walked out into the Sainte Claire vineyard to find our adopted vines.  Having taken a few souvenir photos, we learnt more about the challenges of planning for the harvest and the differences between harvesting grapes manually and by machine.

Rent-a-vine in a French biodynamic vineyard

We then made our way back to the winery for a final tasting of the day.  We first tasted the grape juice from our harvest.  It was very sweet, a good sign of the maturity of the grapes.  We then tasted some juice from grapes that had been harvested five days previously.  The fermentation had already begun, and we could taste that it was less sweet and could feel the fizz in our mouths of the carbon dioxide that is released during the fermentation process.

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We look forward to coming back early next year for the Vinification Experience Days to see how our wine has developed and to learn about the work that remains between now and the wine being ready to be bottled.  Many thanks to all who participated for a great day!

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Harvesting the grapes in the Rhone Valley


As we were setting up on Saturday for the Harvest Experience Day with Marie-Pierre and Eric, the winemakers at Domaine la Cabotte, we looked out at the surrounding vineyards and noted how dry the soil was and how warm it was despite the early hour. The team of harvesters were already at work. With the heat of the summer, the harvest started earlier than usual, and the winery is trying to get the grapes in more quickly to try and keep as much juice as possible for this harvest that will be small in quantity. The Gourmet Odyssey apprentice harvesters were therefore very welcome to lend a helping hand!

Over a coffee and croissant, we listened to Eric quickly introduce us to the winery. We then headed into the vineyard just below the winery building to harvest the clairette grapes before the rain arrived, which was forecast for the end of the morning.

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As Eric explained, normally that white grapes such as the viognier and clairette are picked first, then the red grapes such as the syrah, moruvèdre or grenache. This year, the high temperatures in July and August meant that the harvest started on the 25th August, some 2 weeks earlier than a typical year, and with the red grapes.

The night time temperatures have also not been cooling as much as they would normally in September, meaning that the maturity is progressing very quickly. The harvest usually spans over almost a month, but all will be finished by Monday the 11th September, meaning that the whole harvest will have taken just two and a half weeks. If we wait any longer, the heat will have dried the grapes out, meaning less juice, and therefore less wine.

All of the red grapes have now been harvested and there is just the clairette left, which has been allotted to us. The clairette that we picked is not used for the usual white wine, but for a wine that will be made and aged in a large clay amphora, something that the winery has been experimenting with for a couple of years now. For making wine this way, we’re looking for a more ripe grape that has less acidity than for a classic white wine where you need more freshness. That’s why these grapes had been left to the end.

meet the winemaker at a harvest experience day in france

It was therefore up to us to pick a good harvest for Marie-Pierre and Eric, both of whom are particularly passionate about this wine. The secateurs were distributed, and then we split up among the vine rows.

harvest experience day at the winery in the cotes du rhone france

The grapes were of a very good quality, making our work that much easier. We didn’t need to sort the grapes whilst picking, as all the grape bunches were in good condition. However we had to take our time as the colour of the grapes were camouflaged with the leaves.  We therefore first stripped away the leaves to make it easier to see the grapes and cut the stems.

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The buckets quickly filled up, and as Eric and a few courageous volunteers emptied them into the trailer, the conversations abounded regarding the grape varietals, weather and the early harvest. Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the row, and just in time, as the rain started to fall. Along with the team of harvesters next to us, we had enough grapes to fill the press.

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We followed the tractor and trailer full of the precious harvest back to the shelter of the chai. Here we saw how the grapes were emptied into the press. Eric then gently rotated the press to ensure that the grapes were evenly spread in the press and to make place for the rest of the grapes. Once it was full, Eric set a gentle programme during an hour and a half to extract the juice as gently as possible which helps preserve the aromas.

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We had earned our aperitif and enjoyed it with the hum of the press in the background. Marie-Pierre brought out some homemade savoury cake to accompany the Colline, a very lively white wine. We also tasted a previous vintage of the white wine that is made in the amphora to see how the grapes that we had harvested in the morning might end up.

harvester meal and wine tasting for the harvest in a french vineyard

We tasted the red wines from the winery over lunch, prepared by a local restaurant, Au Temps de Vivre in Uchaux. We talked with Eric, Marie-Pierre and Jacqueline about the 2017 vintage which will be small, but should be of a good quality. We’ll be able to see for ourselves during the Vinification Experience Days early next year!

By the time we had finished our meal, the press had finished, and so we saw how the pressed juice is pumped into the vat. It will stay there for a couple of days to allow the solid particles to settle in the bottom of the vats, before the clarified wine is pumped into another vat where it will start the two week fermentation process. The skin, pips and stalks that remained in the press were removed and will be sent to the distillery to make liqueur.

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While the press was being cleaned, we made the most of a dry patch, and went to the vineyard where our adopted vines are located to see how they had fared since the last Discovery Experience Day. After taking a few photos, we returned to see if the vat had been filled with the juice from our harvest.

Eric explained what happens during the first days of fermentation and how the grape juice transforms into wine. We then finished the day answering many questions about biodynamics, a way of making wine that Marie-Pierre and Eric are expert in and passionate about.

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We could stay listening to Eric talk about his terroir and vines for hours, but all good things must come to an end.  At least a few bottles, taken home in the boot of the car, will allow the pleasure to last a little longer!

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The 2017 harvest gets underway in Burgundy


Last weekend saw the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients give the first snips of the secateurs to get the 2017 harvest underway at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy.  We were there to participate in the harvest, and to follow the grapes journey into the fermentation tanks.  As were to learn, there is much more to the harvest than just picking grapes!

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After the introductions in the garden of the château and some coffee and croissants to give us strength, secateurs in hand, we made our way to the Clos des Cornières vineyard.  This is where our adopted vines are located, and so before getting down to the serious business of harvesting, we took a few minutes to locate our vines and take a few pictures of them laden with grapes.  For those that had already joined us for a Discovery Experience Day, we could see the fruit of our labour in helping the vines produce the best possible grapes!

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Jean-François explained how to harvest the grapes, which ones to cut and which to leave behind.  In pairs, we were assigned a row and given a crate to put the picked grapes in.  To make it easier to see the grapes (and to lower the risk of cutting our fingers!), we started by removing the leaves in front of the grapes, and then snip snip, we started picking!

Weekend break in France to get involved in the grape harvest

This year there are many more grapes than the very meagre 2016, and the grapes were in very good condition, so the crates soon filled up with our harvest. Once we had filled a crate, we brought it back to the beginning of the row, and took a new one.

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We then followed the grapes back to the winery to see how they are received.  First we emptied the grapes onto the sorting table to remove any unripe ones or leaves that might have made their way into the crates.

Wine-making experience weekend in Burgundy, France

The sorted grapes then slide down a shoot into the cuverie below.  The grapes that we had picked were not separated from their stems, and so the whole bunches were put into the vats.  The stems contain tannins and help add structure to the wine.  Over the past couple of years, part of the harvest is left with the stems and part of it goes through the destemming machine so that just the berries go into the vats.  This is yet another decision that the winemaker takes depending on the year and the wine that he or she is trying to make.

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Down below, the grapes fall into a trolley, which is then wheeled to the vat and emptied onto a conveyor belt that carries the grapes up and into the vat.  The aim is to get as many whole grapes as possible into the vat to help preserve the fruitiness and aromatic qualities of the wine.

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By this time, we had earned our aperitif!  In the garden overlooking the vines, we enjoyed a glass of Santenay Saint Jean 2015 white wine and a few gougères, the local delicacy!

Wine tasting gift experience with the winemaker in Burgundy

We then sat down to lunch in the harvesters’ refectory, prepared by the excellent local caterer, Olivier Huez in Meursault.  During the meal we tasted some of the winery’s red wines; the Santenay Clos des Cornières 2013, the Santenay “Les Gravières” Premier Cru 2012 and the Santenay “Comme” Premier Cru 2006.

After lunch, we returned to the cuverie, where Jean-François explained how the grapes will ferment over the coming couple of weeks, and the work that will be necessary before the wine is ready to be racked and put into barrels to start the long process of malo-lactic fermentation and ageing.  He also told us about the different process used to make white wine.

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At the end of the day, hopefully we had all learned a little more about all of the effort, care and dedication that goes into making wine.  We look forward to coming back next year to see how our harvest is developing during the Vinification Experience Days, and to learn more about the remaining work until the wine is ready for bottling.

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Raising the training wires in Burgundy


Last weekend we welcomed the participants of the Discovery Experience Days to Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy for a couple of hands on wine courses focused on learning more about the work in the vineyard.

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After a welcome coffee and a brief introduction to the day, Jean-François, the owner and winemaker, recounted his family history and that of the Burgundy wine-growing region: how it was formed, the geology, and the birth of the different appellations.  From the garden in front of the chateau we could see the different terroir and how they determine the hierarchy of wines in Burgundy.

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We then headed to the vineyard where our adopted vines are to be found.  They were in fine fettle and we took a few minutes to pamper them and take a few photos!

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Simon, the son of Jean-François who will one day take over from him, then started to explain the different stages of work that happen in the vineyard.

We also learnt about what it means and takes to be organic before getting involved ourselves in some of the work.  We raised the training wires and ensured that all of the branches were supported between them, at the same time separating the branches and trying to space them out as best as possible to improve the airflow around them.  This is an important task to help the grapes mature and to keep them healthy.  If it rains, it’s vital that the air can circulate around the grape bunches to quickly dry them, reducing the risk of rot.

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Back at the winery our hard work was rewarded with a glass of Santenay white wine, accompanied by some gougères, a famous Burgundy hors d’oeuvre.

Wine tasting experience gift in an organic Burgundy vineyard

We enjoyed lunch in the harvester’s refectory.  A sandre terrine, beef bourguignon, local cheeses, and a pear, chocolate and blackcurrant desert, each course served with a different wine from Domaine Chapelle.

Make your own wine gift in an organic French winery

In the afternoon, we visited the fermentation hall and cellar with Jean-François to see where the wines are made and age.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days in September and the beginning of next year.  We look forward to seeing you again soon.

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Wine Experience day in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet


We spent a fantastic week-end learning what it’s like to be a winemaker in Saint-Emilion during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Days at Château Coutet.  The vines are growing at a frantic pace at the moment, and as we were to find out, there is much to be done in the vineyard to try and produce the best possible grapes for the harvest.

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On Saturday, we were accompanied by Alain and Juliette, and by Adrien on Sunday.  All three of them are incredibly passionate about their work and the winery, and the days started with a brief introduction to the winery’s 400 year history, during which time the winery has always been organic.

We then headed into the vineyard to be brought up to speed on the work carried out in the vineyard since last year’s harvest to prune, de-bud and attach the vines to the training wires, as well as the way the soil is worked.

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As we made our way up towards the Saint-Emilion plateau, we saw the change in the soil, and the identified the different grape varietals by the different shaped leaves.  We passed a plot that had been planted with sunflowers and has now been left fallow to regenerate the nutrients in the soil before it will be planted with vines.  As with everything, the winery looks to nature to maintain the equilibrium of the biodiversity.

We stopped at a terrace of cabernet franc vines just below the plateau.  The grapes have now formed on the vines and will reach their full size in the next couple of weeks.  The flowering went particularly well this year, so the vines are well laden with fruit.  The grapes will mature over the next couple of months as the sugar levels increase.  One of the risks that the vines face is rot, especially so if the conditions are hot and humid.  To help protect the vines, some of the leaves are removed from around the grapes to improve the air flow around them, making it quicker for the air to dry them after any rainfall.

Wine experience gift in an organic French vineyard

To get a better idea of just what is involved in removing the leaves, after receiving our instructions, we had a go ourselves.  The vines we were working on were planted North to South.  We removed the leaves just from the East facing side of the rows, keeping the leaves on the West facing side in place to protect the grapes from being burnt by the stronger afternoon sun.

On the plateau we passed the plot of vines that are worked by horse and used in the making of the winery’s famous Emeri and Les Desmoiselles wines, before arriving at the Peycocut vineyard where our adopted vines are to be found.

As we admired the wonderful views across to Saint-Emilion and the neighbouring Grand Cru Classé vineyards, we took a few minutes to visit our adopted vines and immortalise the moment with a few photos!

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After this full morning, we returned to the garden in front of the château for a well-earned aperitif.  A nicely chilled clairet rosé wine was awaiting us before we sat down to a lunch that was prepared in the château by a local caterer.  During the different courses, we tasted 4 different vintages of the winery’s Saint Emilion Grand Cru wine, learning about the four different years, and seeing how the wine changes over time.

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We started the afternoon with a look at the Vitirover robot that has been developed at the winery.  This solar powered buggy linked to GPS and equipped with cutters roams in a pre-defined area of vines, cutting the difficult to reach grass and weeds that grow around the vine trunks!

Vineyard robot

The harvest is fast approaching, and so we learnt about what is left to do in the vineyard and how the winemakers will choose the moment of the harvest.

We then entered the fermentation hall where the grapes will be received at harvest time, and where they will then macerate and ferment in the vats.

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We marvelled at the cellar containing the old vintage bottles, everyone trying to see if there were any bottles left from their birth year or other notable vintages.

Wine experience gift with personalised bottles of Saint-Emilion GRand Cru wine

The day then finished in the barrel room where the wines are aged for around 18 months before being ready for bottling.  We’ll be spending more time in here during the Vinification Experience Days at the start of next year.  Before then we’ll be back in September to participate in the harvest and see how our grapes have matured over the summer!

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Removing the unwanted vines branches in the Loire Valley vineyard


Following the few days of heatwave conditions, we were glad to have slightly cooler weather to host our new adoptive vine parents for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Discovery Experience Days at Château de la Bonnelière.  We had perfect conditions to work in the vineyard, the main activity for the weekend being de-budding to remove the unwanted shoots that have started to grow.

Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner of Château de la Bonnelière introduced us to the winery over a coffee, outlining how the 2017 is shaping up so far, and then we headed straight out into the vineyard to get to the heart of the matter!

Wine box day at the winery in the Loire Valley

The recent good weather, interspersed with a few showers had meant that the vines had rapidly grown during the past couple of weeks. They are currently so far ahead that they are already at the stage where they would normally be in mid-July, some 3 weeks ahead of usual, and as a result the work in the vineyard is a bit behind schedule.

Marc was therefore even more excited than usual to welcome the participants to have a few extra hands to help out! But before getting down to work, we started with an introduction to the adopted vines and a few photos for the “My Vine” photo competition. Judging by some of the ideas for posing in front of the wines, Château de la Bonnelière will perhaps see one of the winners at the end of the year!

Vine adoption wine gift in the Loire Valley France

After this fun moment, it was time to get involved with the de-budding. The aim of this job is to remove the shoots and branches that have grown from the trunks of the vines. These branches won’t produce any fruit and will just sap the energy from the vine.

The Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard is particularly susceptible to the growth of these shoots, and each year the plot needs many hours of attention from Marc’s team.

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Our participants, some also armed with spades and hoes, spread out among the rows and got stuck in. The work was interspersed with conversations on how Marc organises the work, the decisions taken in the vineyard, the work carried out so far, and even what goes on in the cellar. The work progressed well, and Marc was very appreciative of our help.

Wine Experience Day in the Loire Valley France

After the effort, the reward!  Lunch was awaiting us, prepared by Mme Plouzeau, accompanied by a good range of the wines from the chateau!

Winemakers' lunch in a French castle in the Loire Valley

The programme for the afternoon was a little less sporty thankfully as the idea of having a siesta in the shade of the vines was a very appealing idea! We walked a little in the vineyard to see a young plot of vines, recently planted with Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc.

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We also saw the oldest plot of vines in Chinon that was planted in 1929, the grapes from which are used in the Vindoux wine.

The day drew to a close and we each headed our separate ways, a few bottles in the car to remember the day by, and to share with friends at a later date!

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Supporting the vines in the Rhone Valley


We welcomed some of the 2017 vintage adopt-a-vine parents of the 2017 vintage last Saturday at Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhone Valley.  There was a little wind and a few clouds, which we were all pleased to see following the heatwave that the region had endured in the preceding days with the temperature in the high 30s.

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Eric Plumet, the winemaker, led us down through the vineyard to a plot that we were to work in.  The vines have been growing lots recently and our task was to raise the training wires and clip them together ensuring that the vine branches were held between them.
On the way, Eric showed us the different grape varietals grown in the vineyard.  We passed plots of syrah and clairette, and in a plot of Grenache, branch in hand, he showed us some shot berry which was the result of the late frost in spring.  Some of the flowers had been harmed, and so the number of grapes produced will be less.

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After a few technical explanations, we got down to work to place the vine branches between the training wires.  Eric explained the important role of the very tip of the vine branches which forms a Y shape, and absorbs the nutritive elements from the air to feed the plant.

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As the winery is worked biodynamically, Eric only starts to trim the tops of the vines when the apex dries.  The vine then stops growing to concentrate on ripening the grapes.

Marie-Pierre arrived to quench our thirst.  Water at first, but she had also brought a rosé wine produced at the winery, a fresh and very aromatic wine that gave us a glimpse of the tasting to come.

We returned to the winery at lunchtime and sat down at the wooden tables under the shade of the trees.  With the light breeze, it was the perfect place to relax.

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We compared a clairette aged in oak barrels with a clairette aged in an amphora.  Same grape varietal but very different wines!  We each had our own preference for one or the other.

Over lunch, we tasted the Côtes du Rhône, Massif d’Uchaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines which paired perfectly with the tourte, pâtés, quail and fruit tart, all home-made by Marie-Pierre.  Our palates revelled in the different tastes and we in the good company!

After coffee, we went on a hunt to find our adopted vines, to say hello to them, and take a few photos.  With all that we had learnt during the day, we were more appreciative of all the effort that our bottles of wine will contain once our grapes have reached maturity!

Rent-a-Vine gift and personalised bottles of wine

The day finished in the chai to see the vats and take in the smells of the wines that are finishing ageing.  We’ll be back again in September to participate in the Harvest Experience Days.

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De-budding and hoeing the vines in the Languedoc in preparation for the 2017 harvest


In the Languedoc, the heat wave has been intense, and the temperatures were already high when we welcomed the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day participants at Domaine Allegria.  The adoptive vine owners had come to learn about what happens in the vineyard to produce the best grapes come harvest time.

We started the day by visiting the plot where the adopted vines are located, accompanied by Paco and Bella, the two faithful dogs at the winery.  We applied the sunscreen and put on hats as the sun was already high and beating down strongly, and took a few minutes to take some photos of our adopted vines.

Rent-a-vine gift experience in the south of France

Since the winter, much has already happened in the vineyard and so we were brought up to speed about the various tasks, and learnt about what remains to be done between now and the harvest, which will be a little earlier than usual this year due to the high temperatures and sun of the past few weeks.  We also discovered what being an organic vineyard entails.

The vines had been growing quickly over the previous few weeks, and so there was much to do in the vineyard.  The bravest had a go at hoeing around the vine trunks to remove the grass and weeds.  This is necessary in organic winemaking as the plough that is pulled behind the tractor can clear the weeds between the vines, but has more difficulty directly around the trunk.

Vineyard experience gift to participate in working on the vines

We also ensured that the vine branches were growing between the training wires so that they are better supported and to avoid being damaged by the passing tractor.

Organic gift experience for wine lovers

And we also got to work by removing any shoots that had sprouted on the vine trunk or from the roots.  These shoots will not produce any fruit, and so by getting rid of them, we help the vine concentrate its energy on ripening the grapes for this year’s harvest.

Organic wine experience in the Languedoc

Before lunch, we had a quick visit of the cellar for an introduction to the art of vinification.  We’ll learn more about this process during the Vinifcation and Harvest Experience Days.

Weekend break for wine lovers in the south of France

We enjoyed lunch in the shade because the sun was even stronger by now.  We tasted the Dolce Vita 2016 rosé wine in a magnum for the aperitif.  During the main course, we discovered the Cinsault Abuelo 2016, Carignan Gourmand 2015 and Poivre de Mourvèdre 2014.  With cheese from the local Mas Roland, we tasted the Tribu d’A 2015, and ended the meal with the Grande Cuvée La Belle Histoire 2015.  A great way to end a very sunny day.  We’ll see you again soon for the harvest!

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Raising the training wires in Chablis


The vines have also been enjoying the glorious weather that we have been having for the past few weeks and have been growing rapidly.  There’s much work to be done to keep on top as we were to discover during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis last Saturday.

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After the introductions we set out into the vineyard.  Here we learnt about all of the work that has been carried out in the vineyard since the last harvest.  Arnaud showed us how the vines had been pruned and de-budded, and also explained how the soil has been worked.  The winery is the largest organic and biodynamic winery in Chablis, so we also spent quite a lot of time discussing the differences between organic, biodynamic and conventional wine-growing.

Learning about winemaking and the work in the vineyard

With the recent growth spurt of the vines, there are currently two main tasks to do.  One is to trim the branches on the sides and tops of the vines.  This is done using a special cutter that is attached to the front of the tractor .  We watched a tractor in action on the adjacent vine plot, and the driver then stopped to give us a demonstration of the versatility of this tractor, which can be fitted with different tools to plough, treat the vines, or even harvest the grapes.

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The other task of the moment is more manual, and involves raising the training wires to support the weight of the foliage and future grapes, and to better space out the vines.  Arnaud had left us a plot to work on, and after receiving our instructions, we rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in!  In twos, one either side of the vine row, we unclipped the two top training wires, raised them up to the final level, and then re-clipped them together.

Rent-a-vine gift in an organic vineyard

On our way back, we made sure that each of the branches were in between the training wires.  This will prevent them from being damaged by the passing tractors and becoming entangled with the opposite vines.

We then returned to the winery for a well-earned wine tasting.  Anne-Laure served us a Petit Chablis 2015, Chablis Sainte-Claire 2015, and a Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 2014.  Over lunch, prepared on-site by Julie, a great local caterer, we enjoyed a Chablis Vielles Vignes 2015 and a Chablis Saint-Anne 2004 from a magnum to see how the Sainte Claire wine that is chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience can age over time.

In the afternoon we visited the Sainte-Claire vineyard to meet our adopted vines, and take a few pictures with them!  They too were in fine fettle, and looking great.  They have just finished flowering, and are said to be at the peppercorn stage  where the grapes are starting to take shape, and we can see the bunches forming.  The grapes will increase in size over the next few weeks, before the vines will concentrate their energy on ripening them and producing the sugar needed to ferment and create the wine.

Adopt-a-vine in France in an organic vineyard and make your personalised bottles of wine

The day ended with a visit of the fermentation hall where the wines from last year are ageing.  They have finished their fermentation and are now resting on their fine lees, until they will be ready for bottling.

Original personalised organic wine gift

And so we leave the vines to bring the grapes to maturity over the coming weeks.  We’ll next be back for the harvest, which although still too early to say when, looks like to be slightly earlier than usual.  But that depends on the weather to come.  We hope for dry, sunny weather, interspersed with a few rain showers that are followed by sun and wind.  That would be perfect! 

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The perfect wine gift for Fatherís Day


If you’re looking for a Father’s Day gift that goes further than a bottle of wine or a wine-tasting course, we have a great gift idea for you.  Original, completely personalised, and fun, the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience is the ideal Father’s Day gift. Adopt some vines for your wine-loving Dad, and turn him into a wine-maker!

For a wine-making year, by adopting some vines for your Dad, he’ll follow the making of his own organic wine from the vine to the bottle at one of our partner wineries in France.

Personalised bottles of wine for the Fathers'Day


Through our Wine Experience gift box, he’ll keep up to date with the progress of his wine via the newsletters and photos. At the end of the wine-making year, he’ll receive a bottle of wine for each adopted vine. He can even choose the name of his wine and we’ll personalise his wine labels!

Oenology course in a French Vineyard for the Fathers' Day

And to make the experience even more memorable, include one or more wine experience days at the winery to meet his adopted vines, and to work alongside the wine-maker in the vineyard, harvest the grapes or discover what goes on in the cellar.

Vineyard tour and wine tasting as a wine gift box
Each day with the wine-maker lasts from 09:30 to 16:00 and includes lunch and wine tasting. The day is valid for two people, so is also a gift that can be shared with another wine lover!

All of our partner wineries have been chosen for the enthusiasm and passion of the wine-makers. They are all organically or biodynamically certified and produce excellent wines that are often acclaimed in the major wine competitions and in the wine press.
Wine gift box for the Fathers'Day

And to have a gift box to give on Father’s Day, the Wine Experience welcome gift pack includes a wine cooler bag, a re-usable glass wine stopper, a DropStop and a vine adoption certificate. Standard delivery is two working days for mainland France, and between 3 and 6 days for the rest of Europe. And for last minute Father’s Day gifts, we can send the certificate by email, and send the welcome pack by express delivery.

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Vine de-budding in Burgundy


The Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day last Saturday at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay, started with a cool breeze and a hot cup of coffee!  We were there to learn about the first stage in wine-making; what goes on in the vineyard, and notably de-budding which was the work of the moment.

Jean-François, the owner of this charming winery began by explaining the history of his family, the winery and how they had converted to being organic some ten years ago already now.

Meet the winemaker at the winery in Burgundy France

Outside in the garden overlooking the surrounding vineyards, we learnt about the local geology and terroir, and how that has determined the different appellations over time.

We then made our way into the Clos des Cornières vineyard below, where we introduced ourselves to our adopted vines and took a few photos!

Jean-François explained the vegetative life-cycle of the vines, from pruning to harvest, talking about the different work involved such as arcing the branches, de-budding, removing some of the leaves, and the organic treatments used.

Vine-tending course in Santenay, Burgundy, France

At the moment, the wine-growers are being kept busy in the vineyard with de-budding, which consists in removing the unwanted shoots from the vines. These are sometimes shoots that grow below the head of the vine, will not produce any fruit, and will unnecessarily use up the plant’s energy.  Sometimes you get two or even three shoots growing from the same node, which will mean more grapes, but of a lesser quality as they will be less concentrated in sugar. The winemaker will choose a maximum number of grape bunches per vine, and will remove shoots to ensure that this limit isn’t surpassed, thus controlling the potential of the future yield.

After being shown how to de-bud the vines, we had a go ourselves, and we quickly learnt that a seemingly easy task requires more reflexion that you would think. 

Wine-tasting in Burgundy as a wine gift box

We then made our way back to the courtyard for a typical Burgundy aperitif. We tasted the Santenay Saint-Jean white wine, accompanied by the delicious gougères!

The traditional local cuisine followed with a Beef Bourguignon, and during the course of lunch, we tasted a Burgundy 2014, a Santenay Clos des Cornières 2013, and a Santenay Premier Cru Comme 2011.

After lunch, we enjoyed a walk in the vineyard to see the Beaurepaire plot that had recently been replanted. From this vantage point, we admired the magnificent views of the village and vineyards of Santenay. Jean-François explained the work involved in replanting vineyard and the patience required to wait for three years before harvesting the first grapes, and at least 7 years before harvesting more qualitative grapes. The choice of replanting is made for the long-term future of the winery and is something that the next generation will benefit from.

Vineyard tour and winery visit in Burgundy, France

We finished the day with a quick tour in the cellar to see where the wines ferment and age. We look forward to coming back for the harvest!

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De-budding the vines in Saint-Emilion


After much excited anticipation, the first Discovery Experience Days got underway last week-end at Château Coutet, our new partner wine-maker in Saint-Emilion.  The warm welcome and passion of the winemakers lived up to expectation and we had a fantastic time learning about the work in the vineyard and the fascinating history of the winery.

Original wine-making gift in Saint Emilion.

The day started in the vineyard, where we learnt about how the vines had been pruned during the winter months to control their growth and ensure that they produce less grapes, but of a higher quality come harvest time.

Vineyard experience gift for wine lovers

We slowly made our way up the hill as we learnt about the different grape varietals and the geology of the Saint-Emilion region.  Château Coutet is one of the few wineries that has vines planted in each of the three different types of soil to be found in Saint-Emilion.

Just before we reached the plateau, we stopped in front of a plot of vines that had been left for us to work on.  With the rain that had fallen in the past few days, and the rising temperatures, the vines are growing rapidly at the moment.  Our first task was to de-bud the vines by removing any branches that had sprouted from the trunk of the vines, and any double shoots growing from the same node.

Rent-a-vine-gift-experience-saint-emilion-france

Simple enough you would think, but a little more complicated when you have to decide for yourself which shoots to remove.  This is especially so for the shoots around the head of the vine, that might be useful to leave to help rejuvenate the vine next year or the following year.

The next job was to raise the training wires to help support the weight of the growth, and to ensure that the branches grow upwards, and don’t fall into the middle of the rows, where they could get damaged by the tractor or transport unwanted fungi up from the ground.   In pairs, we walked down the rows, first to detach the training wires, and then back a second time raising the wires and clipping them together at each stake.

Original vineyard visit to participate in working on the vines

We then continued our journey up onto the plateau where the most renowned Saint-Emilion vineyards are located, including our adopted vines!   Here we had a wonderful view of the surrounding Grand Cru Classé vineyards and the church spire of Saint-Emilion.
Château Coutet have their oldest vines on the plateau, the oldest being between 80 and 95 years old.  The vines from this plot are cultivated organically as with the rest of the estate’s vineyards, but here horses are used to work the soil, no electrical tools are used, so pruning is done by traditional secatuers, and the organic treatments are administered by hand.  The grapes that are produced are used for the wineries prestigious Emeri and Les Demoiselles wines.

The neighbouring plot of vines are home to our adopted vines.  We took a few minutes to meet them and take a few photos to immortalise the moment!

Rent-a-vine gift experience in an organic Saint Emilion vineyard

We returned to the winery via the old Roman path that linked Libourne to Saint-Emilion, passing a plot of vines that had been replanted a couple of years ago.  The vines have taken root nicely and work had begun to put in place the training wire structure.

Back at the winery, we enjoyed an aperitif of Chateau Coutet’s clairet, a deep pink rosé wine that is traditional to the Bordeaux region.   We then tasted the Saint Emilion 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages over lunch, learning about the different characteristics of each of these years, enabling us to see how the wine develops over time.

Tasting the estate's wines in front of the château

In the afternoon, we returned to the vineyard next to the winery buildings to learn about the work that remains in the vineyard between now and the harvest.  Removing some of the leaves, raising the training wires, trimming the branches, treating the vines against mildew and black rot as necessary.  There is still much to do before the grapes will be fully ripe and ready to be harvested.

Guided tour of the vineyards to learn the different work

We then had a quick tour of the fermentation hall and visited the cellar where the old vintages are stored. A real treasure trove!

Cellar tour in Saint-Emilion to see the old bottles of wine

The day finished with a visit of the barrel room to see where the wines slowly age before being ready to be bottled.  We’ll learn more about this stage of wine-making during the Vinification Experience Days next year.

Visiting the oak wine barrels

So much to learn about wine-making and the fascinating history of the winery.  Our first week-end at the winery was all that we could have hoped for, and we can’t wait to return, as there is so much more to discover! Many thanks to our fantastic hosts, and to all of our participants for making it so memorable!

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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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Working in the vineyard during a Wine Experience Day in the Loire Valley


We had a sunny weekend in the Loire Valley last weekend to welcome the participants of the Discovery Experience week-end at Château de la Bonnelière.

  Vine-Adoption and winery visit in Chinon, France

It was the first visit to the winery for this new season of apprentice wine-makers, and so Marc Plouzeau, the owner and wine-maker at Château de la Bonnelière told us about the history of the winery, and introduced us to the characteristics of the Chinon wine appellation, particularly the Left Bank wines, where all of the 30 hectares of Marc’s vineyards are located.

One of the principal aims of the Discovery Experience Day is to participate in the life at the winery and to help work in the vineyard. The plan was to help out with the de-budding during the week-end to remove some of the unwanted shoots, which in turn will help control the amount of fruit produced. In Chinon, the appellation charter stipulates that there should be no more than 14 grape bunches per vine.

Oenology and wine-making course at the winery, Loire, France

Unfortunately Mother Nature hadn’t been very kind to the Loire Valley wine-makers for the second consecutive year.  The château’s vineyards had been hit by two frosts in April.

The first was a “black frost” where the temperatures fell to as low as -7°C during the night in some areas of the Chinon appellation. In Marc’s vineyards, the temperatures didn’t fall as low as in other parts, but a second frost hit the following week, this time being a “white frost”. Here the cold temperatures see frost form around the vines, creating a magnifying glass effect for the early morning sunrays that then scorch the moist buds and leaves.

Wine lover perfect gift vine-adoption in the Loire Valley, France

Despite trying to protect the vines by lighting paraffin candles in the vineyards to raise the temperature by a few degrees, the frost still impacted some of Marc’s plots of vines.  But fortunately the vines are fairly hardy plants, and there were some good surprises, notably in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard where the vines resisted well.

As the number of shoots had already been reduced from the impact of the frost, we decided to get involved in another activity, less glamorous, but essential nonetheless; hoeing! It’s a physical activity and gave us a good work out as we removed the weeds and grass growing around the vines that the plough had difficulty in reaching.

Get involved in the making of your own wine in Loire, France

Marc answered our many questions regarding the different aspects of working in the vineyard, and took us on a tour of the chai.

Wien-tasting at Château de la Bonnelière, Chinon, France

By this time, we had earned our aperitif and lunch, which was accompanied by a tasting of the different wines from the winery, including the two new Chinon white wines.

Vineyard tour and winery visit in the Loire Valley, France

In the afternoon, we took a walk in the vineyard, and visited the chenin blanc vines which are used in the Chinon white wine and which are pruned using a different technique. We also visited a plot of cabernet franc vines dating back to 1929, which are used in the “Vindoux” red wine, a name which hides the strength if this cuvée!

The day finished with the sun still shining brightly. We look forward to returning to see the ripe grapes at harvest time

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De-budding the vines in Alsace


We had a full and very enjoyable weekend at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace.  On Saturday we welcomed some of the 2017 vintage clients for a Discovery Experience Day to learn about the work in the vineyard to ensure the best possible grapes are produced for this year’s harvest.

Original white wine gift.  Make your own organic wine in Alsace.

After the introductions, the day started in the Rosenberg vineyard, where our adopted Pinot Gris vines are located. We took a few minutes to visit our adopted vines and pose for some photos before getting down to the more serious business of the day!

Rent-a-vine gift in Alsace, France and participate in making your own personalised bottles of wine

The rest of the morning of the Discovery Experience Day was spent learning about the work that has been carried out in the vineyard during the winter.  Stéphane explained how the vines have been pruned using the guyot double method, and the remaining branches attached to the training wires.

The first leaves have already appeared on the vines, enabling us to see the differences between the different grape varietals.  The initial bud burst was almost a month earlier than last year, but the cooler weather of the past couple of weeks had slowed the growth down again.  Some unwanted shoots are beginning to form on some of the vines, and the next job will be to remove these and any double shoots, so as to concentrate the plants energy on the fruit bearing branches.

Vineyard experience gift in Alsace.

Stéphane then showed us a plot of vines that had recently been replanted.  We learnt about how the vines are grafted onto a phylloxera resistant root stock, and the special way in which the vines are cared for during the first couple of years when they are very fragile.

Adopt-a-vine gift and meet the winemaker in Alsace

As with much of France this year, the region had been hit by frost during the cold spell a few weeks ago. Stéphane took us to one of their vineyard plots lower down on the plain that had been affected.  We could see the buds and leaves that had been burnt by the frost.

Learning about the work in the vineyard

The flower buds have now formed and will open during the flowering season next month.  This is the next tricky period to negotiate as if it is too wet, the flowers won’t be able to self-pollinate as effectively, which can reduce the potential yield.

Original wine-lover gift to learn about the art of wine-making

Back at the winery, Céline took us through a tasting session of a cross section of the winery’s wines, including their 2015 Muscat, 2015 Pinot Gris Rosenberg, 2012 Steingrubler Riesling Grand Cru, and 2015 Hengst Gewürztraminer Grand Cru, explaining the differences between each wine as we went.  We continued the tasting with the 2015 Pinot Blanc, 2014 Pinot Noir, and 2015 Gewürztraminer Rosenberg wines over a typical Alsacian lunch.

Organic wine tasting gift box in Alsace

In the afternoon, Stéphane talked to us about the work in the vineyard that is still to be done this summer, and how he will decide when the grapes are ready for harvesting.  With so many different grape varietals and plots of vines that all ripen at different speeds, it’s quite a difficult thing to do to coordinate and plan for the harvest.

We also took some time to talk more about what is involved in being an organic winemaker, and the differences between conventional methods.

Make your own wine gift

We finished the day with a brief tour of the cellar to see where the grapes will be pressed at harvest time and where the wines ferment and age. We look forward to learning more about each of these steps during the Harvest Experience and Vinification Experience Days.

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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!

Read some of the feedback from our clients

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What to get the person that has everything ?

Adopt a Vine in France and Let Them Follow the Making of Their Own Wine !

From € 159

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