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Archive from March 2016

Winemaking in the Rhone Valley


For this second Vinification Experience Day of the year at Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône wine making region of France, we were blessed with magnificent sunny weather all day long.
Wine making experience, Rhone Valley; France

After the initial introductions, Eric started to tell us about his work as a winemaker. He told us about the important choices that have to be taken in the vineyard, how to choose when to harvest, and about the steps taken to transform the grapes into quality wine.

The winery is both organically and biodynamically certified, and Eric explained the impact that this has had on the estate’s wines over the years. There is a big difference not just in the working techniques used, but also in the quality of the wine that is produced.

Wine lover gift, Rhone Valley, France

We then gathered outside for a workshop to awaken our senses. We had to try and identify the aromas that can be found in wine through the fruit or the way that it has been made.

Wine tasting gift, Rhone Valley, France

Eric then told us all about how to blend wine, and we tasted different wine blends from the 2015 vintage that are still in the ageing process to see for ourselves.

Unique wine gift, Rhone Valley, Mondragon

We then enjoyed an aperitif before sitting down to a meal prepared by Marie-Pierre. An endive, lentil end turmeric salad, beef stew, local goat’s cheese, and some almond cake to finish. During the lunch, we tasted several of the estate’s wines starting with the Colline rosé 2015, then proceeding with the Garance 2014 Massif d’Uchaux red wine, the Gabriel 2014 Massif d’Uchaux red, and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 red.

In the afternoon, we took a short stroll to visit our adopted vines and take some photos. Eric talked some more about the specificity of the different soil structures found in the Uchaux area, and the impact of biodynamics.

Adopt a vine france, Mondragon , Rhone Valley

We now have to wait patiently until the 2015 vintage of our Garance wine has finished ageing. Many thanks to Eric and Marie-Pierre for their warm welcome, and to all of the participants for making it such a good day.

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Learning how to prune and attach the vines at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace


Our first Discovery Experience Day of the 2016 vintage got under way last Sunday at Domaine Stentz-Buecher. The aim was to learn all about the work necessary in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes come harvest time.

After a welcome coffee, the day started with a visit to the Rosenberg vineyard where our adopted pinot gris vines are to be found. Rosenberg means pink hill, perhaps due to the rose bushes planted in front of the vine rows which used to serve as a warning of the risk of disease affecting the vines, roses being more sensitive than vines.

Adopt a vine france, Alsace

Having said hello to our vines and taken a few shots for the annual My Vine photo competition, we made our way to a second plot of vines, the Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyard. Here Jean-Jacques started to talk about the different steps taken to care for the vines, and showed us how to prune them using the Guyot method, leaving two branches and a spur that will be used to produce next year’s growth. Then, secateurs in hand, we had a go for ourselves. It’s not as easy as it seems to decide which branches to cut, and which to leave behind!

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

Thanks to Jean-Jacques’ guidance, the result wasn’t too bad! Once the unwanted branches had been cut, we then had to pull them away from the vines to leave the two chosen branches unhindered. The cut branches were then placed in the middle of the rows to be crushed, enabling some of the nutrients to be returned to the soil.

Original wine gift, Alsace, France

We then had a go at bending the remaining branches and attaching them to the lower training wire. Naturally they point straight upwards, but bending the branches helps to reduce the yield and increase the aromatic concentration in the grapes. To attach the bent branches to the training wire, we used a funny little tool that ties and cuts the string in one motion. For beginners, a knot that is too tight or too loose will cause the branch to flex like a spring, so watch out for your nose!

Rent a vine, Alsace, France

It was then time to return to the winery to taste some of the wines, accompanied by some savoury Kougloff. We continued the wine tasting over lunch of traditional Roïgebrageldi, cheese and blueberry tart.

Wine tasting gift, Alsace, France

In the afternoon, we descended into the cellar for a quick tour of the press, barrel room and fermentation hall. We’ll spend more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days. Many thanks to the Stentz-Buecher family for welcoming us to the winery, and to all the participants for their good cheer and stream of questions!

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The art of vinifying white wines in Alsace


We were talking about all things vinification and what goes on in the cellar last Saturday at Domaine Stentz-Buecher as we met up with some of the adoptive parents of the 2015 vintage to see how their wine is coming along during fermentation and ageing process.

Céline, who runs the winery with her brother Stéphane, kicked the day off with an introduction into the family history and the production of Alsace wines. And then we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are to be found. On the way we talked about the surrounding terroir and the different soil, vegetation and methods used from one plot to another, notably the differences between organic and conventional farming.

Adopt a vine, Alsace, France

Jean-Jacques, Céline and Stéphane’s father, briefly explained what had happened since the last harvest to prepare the vines for this year’s campaign. Then, back at the winery we picked up where we had left off at harvest time. We saw where the harvested grapes had been put into the press, and where the first fermentation had taken place. Stéphane told us about the work during the fermentation process and the decisions that the winemaker must take. We had a pre-tasting of the 2015 vintage of our Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine, which is still in the ageing process. We compared this to a wine that has yet to finish fermenting to better understand the changes that the wine goes through as it slowly matures.

Wine experience, Alsace, France

In parallel, we put our noses to the test during a workshop to help us develop our wine tasting skills. We had to identify different aromas found in wine that result from the grape varietals or the way that the wine has been worked. A few of them sparked some lively debate about what they evoked!

Unique wine gift, Alsace, France

We then descended into the cellar to visit the “oénothèque”, where the oldest wines at the winery are stored. Here, we tasted a series of different wines, accompanied by a traditional savoury Kouglof. The first wine to be tasted was the Who Am I blended wine, followed by the Riesling Tradition, the Pinot Gris Flavien 2010, the Pinot Gris Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2004, and the Pinot Noir Old Oak 2011 red wine.

Wine lover gift, Alsace, France

Lunch was a very local affair of choucroute, local cheeses and blackforest gateau, accompanied by some more of the domaine’s wines, finishing with a Crémant d’Alsace. There was some very animated discussion as to whether the base of traditional Alsace tartes flambées is made of bread or not, and what topping to put on it!

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

In the afternoon, we finished the cycle of work in the cellar, learning how the wine is bottled, and the choice of the winemaker in the different quality grades of cork used. The 2015 vintage will continue ageing until at least August in the cellar, so we need to patiently wait a little longer until it is ready!

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A few questions we recently asked Marc Plouzeau


At the start of the new campaign for the 2016 vintage, we asked a couple of quick questions to Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker at Château de la Bonnelière, about his history, the 2015 vintage and his projects for 2016...
Winemaker in Chinon, Loire Valley, France

How long have you been a winemaker ?

I took over the running of the family winery in 1999, and immediately started on the path to organic conversion. I’ve been managing it alone since 2003, my first year of making the wines myself.

 

What is your best memory in the vineyard or cellar ?

It has to be 2003. My first proper vintage!

It was a very unusual year and I had very little experience in the cellar. I just had to roll up my sleeves and make the wine how I felt it should be done and not take too much notice of external opinions.

I presented my wine to all of the main wine competitions to try and get myself known, and then to my great surprise:

Gold medal in Chinon

Gold medal in Angers

Silver medal in Paris

Gold medal in Macon!

For the 2015 vintage, what is at present your favourite wine and why ?

It’s still too soon to tell, but I think that the Chapelle 2015 wine will be really successful. It’s produced from a lovely vineyard plot which shows its true colours in the great vintage years.

 

What are your projects for 2016?

We launched two new prestige wines in 2014 and 2015 which will soon be put on sale:

- Chinon Vindoux l'Intégrale

- Chinon Clos des Roches St Paul

We will also launch a new pure, fresh and simple range of wines for 2016:

- Le Croquant

- Le Bouquet

- La Fine'S'

This is the year that we will complete the whole range of our wines to best express the diversity of our different vineyards.

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Learning to prune vines in the Loire Valley


A spring sun came out in force to welcome our first participants for the Discovery Experience Day of the 2016 vintage at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley. A small, but very motivated group set about a vigorous morning’s work in the vineyard after a quick coffee and introduction to the winery and winemaker, Marc Plouzeau.

Marc explained the history of the Chinon wine region, of which we have very precise information thanks to Rabelais’ hero, Gargantua, and he then told us about his own history at the winery which started in 1999 when he took over the running of the estate from his father.

Today, Marc manages some 34 hectares of vines, all of which are located on the left bank of the River Vienne, with its own particular micro-climate. The majority of his vineyards are planted with cabernet franc, the king of the Chinon grape varietals, but he also has some chenin blanc, enabling the winery to produce Chinon white wines.

Rent a vine, Loire Valley, France

After wrapping up, our apprentice winemakers started off by meeting their adopted vines. It was the occasion to participate in the “My Vine” photo competition for the most original photo of their vines. One of last year’s winners came from Château de la Bonnelière and given the creativity of those present, the winery could also produce a winner for 2016!

It was then high time to get down to the serious business of the morning. Marc taught us all about the intricacies of pruning using the Guyot method. You have to not only choose which branch to leave to produce this year’s harvest, but you also have to prepare for next year by leaving a spur.

Vineyard experience, Chinon, France

Pruning is a difficult task to understand at first, but with a little practice, the techniques were quickly assimilated and some of the group seemed to have found a new vocation! Others preferred to pull the cut branches from the vines and round them up in the middle of the rows. By the end of the morning we had a very efficient production line in place!

Adopt a vine france, Loire Valley

We then returned to the warmth of the château for an aperitif and wholesome meal prepared by Mme Plouzeau who, as usual, had pulled out all of the stops to welcome us. We also tasted a wide range of the wines during the meal.

Wine experience gifts, Chinon, France

In the afternoon, we visited the tool shed, which enabled us to get a much better understanding of the different work carried out in the vineyard during the different seasons between two harvests.

Unique wine gifts, Loire Valley, France

All in all, it was a very enjoyable and fun day. Thanks to all of those who came to share it with us, and of course to our winemaker Marc for sharing his passion for his work with us.

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Pruning the vines in a Burgundy vineyard


Last Sunday, we welcomed some Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers to Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay for a Discovery Experience Day, dedicated to learning more about the work in the vineyard.
Vineyard experience, France, Burgundy

Following the introductions to the day, Jean-François, the owner and winemaker at Domaine Chapelle, took the lead, presenting the winery and its place amongst the Burgundy vineyards. We then all got booted up to immerse ourselves in the vineyard! We formed two groups, the first under the guidance of Simon, Jean-François’ son, started by learning how to prune the vines using the cordon de royat method.

Adopt a vine, Burgundy, France

The second group started with Jean-François, learning how to fold the branch left from pruning using the guyot method, and attach it to the training wire. Jean-François also started to talk about the intricacies of working organically in the vineyard.

Original wine gift, France, Burgundy

We had a great moment in the vineyard. Everyone got stuck in and we all succeeded in becoming certified pruners!

The warmth of the winery beckoned, as did the time for a typical Burgundy aperitif. Jean-François served a Santenay white wine that went down very well, accompanied by some gougères, the traditional cheese shoe pastry appetiser. During the course of the meal, including a hearty beef bourguignon, we tasted three different wines, a Burgundy red, a Santenay “Clos des Cornières”, and a Santenay “Beaurepaire” Premier Cru.

At 14:30, we returned to the vineyard to introduce ourselves to our adopted vines. After a few quick photos, we climbed the track to the Beaurepaire vineyard, which was to be our next centre of attention.

Rent a vine, Burgundy, France

After a nice little stroll, punctuated by Jean-François’ commentary on the different soils and ways of working to till and weed them, we arrived in front of this little vine.

Wine lover gift, France, Burgundy

We learnt all about the work necessary to get the vine to this stage, and of the consequences replanting a vineyard has on the production. The vines are green harvested for the first two years, so that the plant focuses on its structure and root development. The first harvest is not until the 3rd year, but the wine it produces will be demoted to a lower class appellation. It’s only after about 10 years that this young vine will start to express the potential of the terroir. It’s a reminder that a winemaker has to have vision to lay down the groundwork for the future generation and so maintain the quality of the estate.

Personalised wine gift, Burgundy, France

Back at the winery, Jean-François took us on a quick tour of the cellar and fermentation hall. We could see the different marks that each generation had made in the fermentation hall. Wooden casks introduced by the grandfather, concrete vats during Jean-François’ father’s time, and a host of new stainless steel vats designed to work with gravity that Jean-François had introduced in a quest to further improve the quality of his wines.

At the end of this great day, we had learnt much about the work of the winemaker and the care that must be taken in the vineyard to nurture the vines. Many thanks to all who participated

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Pruning vines in the Rhone Valley


When we arrived at 8:00 on Saturday to get everything ready, there was a little worrying drizzle in the air. We were getting ready to prune during the Discovery Experience day, and it’s a little difficult to do whilst holding an umbrella!
Vineyard experience, Rhone Valley, France

But at 9:00, the clouds rolled away, and the Mont Ventoux showed off its flanks in the sunshine. Phew! Everyone arrived, and got to know each other over a cup of coffee or tea. From Lyon, the Ardèche, and even from London, we had lots of ground to cover!

Jacqueline from Gourmet Odyssey presented the programme for the day, and our winemakers, Marie-Pierre and Eric, introduced us to the winery, its history and the different grape varietals that they cultivate.

We then put on our boots and equipped ourselves with a pair of croppers, before heading to the plot of vines that had been set aside for us to prune. We’re in March, and as the old saying goes, “prune early or prune late, the best pruning is that of March”.

And so we found ourselves amongst the vines, which also happened to be the vines that we had adopted.

Adopt a vine france, Rhone Valley

Eric explained the essentials of pruning and how it helps control the quantity and quality of fruit that the vines will produce. Our Grenache vines are pruned using the goblet method. We have to leave a maximum of 5 branches, each with two eyes. We then place the cut branches in between the rows of vines. In this windy environment, we’re best to choose the branches that will be strong enough to withstand the force of the mistral. And the final advice that Eric gave, follow your instinct!

Rent a vine, France, Rhone Valley

We had 4 rows, each of about 150 vines, and so it took us until noon to get the job done, thanks to our team of ace apprentice winemakers. And noon signals the time for the aperitif!

The nice weather meant that we could enjoy the sun in front of the caveau. The sun’s rays played with the white and rosé wines in our glasses.

During the wine tasting, we learnt about the differences between conventional, organic, and biodynamic wine making.

Wine lover gift, France, Rhone Valley

Lunch had been prepared by Marie-Pierre, and was accompanied by the red wines of Domaine la Cabotte.

The Colline wine is a lovely blend of the great southern grape varietals, Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Carignan. The Garance wine, chosen for our Gourmet Odyssey wine, is a blend in equal measures of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, whilst the Gabriel wine is made up of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah. The final wine is the estate’s Châteauneuf du Pape which blends 8 of the 13 different authorised grape varietals.

After lunch, we took a walk in the vineyard to see where the biodynamic preparations are buried. Here Eric and Jacqueline explained how different substances such as cow manure are dynamised and spread amongst the vines in Autumn and Spring. These treatments help to enrich the soil and invigorate the vines.

Eric showed us the specificity of the porous rocks that make up the local terroir, and their ability to keep the soil damp in periods of high temperatures.

Unique wine gift, France, Rhone Valley

The day finished with a quick visit of the chai as the end of the day was already fast approaching. Eric & Marie-Pierre will continue the work in the vineyard over the coming months before some of us will come back to help them with the harvest. And then there still remains the work in the chai to vinify the wines, but that is the subject of another wine experience day!

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Blending wine in Bordeaux


We spent last weekend in Bordeaux for a couple of Vinification Experience Days to learn all about the winemakers work in the cellar to age and blend wine. On Saturday we were accompanied by David, the Winery Manager, and Pauline who is in charge of wine tourism, and on Sunday the owner of the winery, Christine, led the way.
Vineyard experience, Bordeaux, France

After coffee and croissants, the two wine experience days started with a visit of the fermentation hall. Here, David and Christine, explained the vinification process since the harvest. How the grapes were sorted and put into the vats, how the fermentation period transformed the sugar into alcohol, pumping over the wine, the malo-lactic fermentation phase...

Wine gift packs, Bordeaux, France

We then headed into the barrel room to talk more about how the wine is aged and the role of the wooden barrels in maturing the wine. We also covered a whole host of topics as varied as sulphites and organic wine-making, and saw the barrels where our 2015 wine is slowly going through the ageing process. Christine’s family also run a cooperage, and it is there that we went for our first wine tasting workshop. Before sampling the wines, we tried to familiarise ourselves with the aromas found in wines by identifying different smells.

Wine tasting gift, Bordeaux, France

We then tasted two Merlot wines which had each been aged in barrels, but one was made of French oak, and the other American oak. The difference between the two wines was really quite surprising!

Wne lover gift, Bordeaux, France

A glass of rosé followed, and then à table! We continued tasting the finished red wines of the winery over lunch.

Personalised wine gift, Bordeaux, France

Then back to work in the afternoon for the blending workshop. First we tasted each of the wines from different grape varietals separately, and then we tried our hand at blending. Measuring the wine, blending, tasting, and then re-blending! True budding winemakers with results that were more or less promising. We learnt that blending wines is a true art form!

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The art of vinifiying, ageing and tasting wine


We welcomed some of our apprentice winemakers for a couple of wine experience days to discover the secrets of winemaking at Château de la Bonnelière in France’s Loire Valley.

A welcome coffee to set us on our way before we headed out into the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard to meet, or for those who had already joined us for a Discovery or Harvest Experience Day, to catch up with our adopted vines. The 2016 vintage has already begun with the pruning, and so we also gave a helping hand to pull away some of the cut branches from the vines!

Vineyard experience, Loire Valley France

After this energetic start, we were ready for the full programme of events that awaited us. A visit and wine tasting session of the 2015 wines that are still ageing in the winery’s troglodyte cellar underneath the Chinon fortress, a tour of the chai and a workshop to help us identify the aromas found in wine.

So off to the cellar first, where Marc, the winemaker and owner of Château de la Bonnelière, taught us about the differences in vinifying still and sparkling wines. Marc produces natural sparkling white and rosé wines by letting the second fermentation take place in the bottle and retaining the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast.

Wine making experience, Loire Valley, France

At the moment, the sparkling wines are being riddled, a task that Marc explained to us is necessary to collect all of the unwanted deposit of the dead yeast cells in the neck of the bottle. This deposit will then be removed from the bottles.

Before tasting the “Perles Sauvage” sparkling wine, we first had the chance to taste some of the 2015 still wines that are currently in the ageing process. We also had a fore-taste of our “Clos de la Bonnelière” 2015 wine which will remain in the barrels until next winter. Each of the wines are vinified separately according to the plot of vines they come from, and Marc explained the different choices he has made to age the wine in vats or oak barrels.

Wine gift pack, France, Loire Valley

Each explanation was accompanied by a tasting of the wine to appreciate the differences. We then returned to the winery for lunch, enabling us to taste the finished wines produced by Marc.

Wine tasting gift, Loire Valley, France

In the afternoon, we visited the fermentation hall and participated in a workshop dedicated to the aromas found in wine. In the chai, Marc, told us all about the work carried out during the fermentation period.

And so we finished with an exercise to identify the different aromas that the wines display depending on the grape varietal, terroir and the way that it has been worked.

Wine lover gift, Loire Valley, France

Another full and rich day at Château de la Bonnelière, and it’s always a little sad when we arrive at the end of the cycle of the Experience Days for a vintage! We’ll now have to wait patiently before tasting the final result of this most promising vintage!

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Wine-making Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


It was a full house for the first 2015 Vinification Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte. Eric and Marie-Pierre, the winemakers, were there as usual and this time were accompanied by their son Etienne, who joined the winery at harvest time last year. On the Gourmet Odyssey side, we also had the pleasure to welcome Jacqueline and Bertrand, both sommeliers, who will be running the next experience days.

At 9:30, once everyone had arrived and had finished their coffee and croissant, we introduced the day and Marie-Pierre presented the history of the winery, how it is named after the little “Cabotte”, a stone shelter for the workers in the vineyard, and how she and Eric became winemakers.

Vineyard experience, Rhône Valley

We then went to visit our adopted vines, and talked about the different grape varietals grown on the estate. The plot of vines where our adopted vines are located is planted with Grenache, and the Garance wine that we will end up with at the end of the experience, also contains Mourvèdre and Syrah.

Rent a vine in Rhône Valley, France

We then went to the chai to see what happens after the harvest. The grapes from the different vineyard plots are put into individual vats and go through two fermentation phases before being racked to separate the wine from the marc of solid matter such as the skin and pips. Eric explained how this part of the vinification process differs slightly for the white wines.

Throughout the vinfication period, there are many controls and decisions that the winemaker must make, but as Eric reminded us, much of the work is done in the vineyard before the harvest, especially for wineries like Domaine la Cabotte who work biodynamically.

After having answered lots of questions on organic and biodynamic wine making, and the work that they entail for the winemaker, we returned to the reception to put into practice our wine tasting skills. We started with a challenge to test our noses by identifying the primary and secondary aromas found in wine. It’s not such an easy thing to do!

And it’s a task that is even more difficult for the winemaker who must identify the aromas that are all intermingled following the blend of several wines and where tertiary aromas are also added depending on the choice of ageing the wine in oak barrels.

Wine tasting gift, Rhône Valley, France

Eric took us back to the chai to taste some of the 2015 wines that have been blended and are still in the process of ageing. Of the three wines, the first two had exactly the same age and the same proportion of different grape varietals, the only difference being that the second wine had been ageing in new oak barrels for a couple of months. We could already taste a big difference. The third wine had not completely finished its malo-lactic fermentation, and was measuring 10g of sugar per litre instead of the authorised maximum of 3g. More time is needed for this wine to finish fermenting.

Wine experience gift, Rhône Valleu, France

Once we had tasted these wines, it was time for lunch, which had been prepared by Marie-Pierre. We tasted some of the finished wines too, starting with the rosé with the starter. We then tasted the Garance and Gabriel 2014 red wines with the main course and cheese. We finished with a Château-neuf-du-Pape from a recently acquired vineyard which is worked entirely by hand and by horse.

We started the afternoon with a short walk around the vineyards whilst Eric explained the geology that makes the Massif d’Uchaux such a unique place, and gives the wine its special qualities.

Unique wine gift, Rhône Valley, France

We finished the day by learning what happens to the wine at the end of the maturing period and how it is bottled, labelled and packaged. Being biodynamic, this too is done in harmony with the lunar calendar that takes into account the position of the moon and the tidal coefficients. There are still a few months to wait until our 2015 vintage of the Garance wine will be ready, but as Eric said, you need time to become mature and wise!

Many thanks to all of the participants for your curiosity

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