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Archive from April 2016

A lesson in pruning vines at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis


Pruning is probably the most complicated and hardest of all the work that is carried out in the vineyard. It is probably the most important too, as it helps determine not just the yield of this year’s harvest, but also lays the foundation for the following year. It might sound simple in theory, but as the participants in last Sunday’s Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard were to find out, it’s not quite as simple!
Vineyard experience, Chablis

The aim of this hands on wine course is to learn about all of the work that the winemaker has to do in the vineyard to ensure the best possible grapes at harvest time, so after the brief introductions, overview of the Chablis region and the history of the winery, we headed out into the vineyard.

We made our way to the Boissonneuse vineyard, which is where our adopted vines are located, and which was also the first of the winery’s vineyards to be organically and biodynamically certified. Here you have a great view of the rolling Chablis hills, planted with vines as far as the eye can see, and so we took a few minutes to take some photos of our vines in this wonderful setting.

Adopt a vine, Chablis, France

It was then time to get down to some serious business! We were accompanied by Fred, one of the key members of the vineyard team. He told us about what had been keeping him busy since the last harvest, most of the time which had been spent so far pruning the vines. The pruning at the winery has finished, but Fred had kept a few vines back so that we could have a go for ourselves. He showed us how to choose which branches to cut, and which to select to produce this year’s harvest. Easy!

Wine experience, Chablis, France

Secateurs in hand, we then had a go for ourselves. Hang on a minute. What did Fred say? Is this the right branch to keep? This vine doesn’t look anything like the ones he used for the demonstration... The first thing we learnt is that the theory is all well and good, but each vine has its own exceptions! However, after the first couple of vines, it starts to get a little easier, but we have a much better understanding of the complexity of what appears to be a simple task. And when you look at the hundreds of thousands of vines growing on the surrounding hills, you realise what a mammoth task pruning is.

Wine lover gift, Chablis,France

Fred then showed us how the branches are bent and attached to the training wire using a fantastic tool that ties and cuts some string at the press of a button, considerably speeding up the job.

Unique wine gifts, Chablis, France

We also had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics as varied as working the soil, grafting and planting new vines, as well as the differences between conventional, organic and biodynamic farming.

We then made our way back to the winery for a well earned tasting of some of the Chablis wines produced on the estate. We tasted a Petit Chablis 2014 and Chablis Sainte Claire 2015, produced from the vineyard immediately around us. We then tried a Chablis Premier Cru “Butteaux” 2011, followed by a Chablis Grand Cru “Valmur” 2011. Over lunch we continued the tasting with a Chablis Boissonneuse 2013 and one of the few red wines produced at the winery, the Irancy “Les Mazelots” 2014.

Original wine gift, Chablis, France

After lunch and all those wines, it was good to get some fresh air! We headed out into the Sainte Claire vineyard, where we could see the notable difference in terroir from the Boissonneuse vineyard. Here we talked about the different tasks that lay ahead in the vineyard between now and the harvest, and how the winemakers will choose when the time is right to pick the grapes.

Adopt a vine france, Chablis

The day ended with a quick visit to the fermentation hall that is home to all of the wooden casks at the winery. It’s an impressive room, and is where part of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey cuvée is aged.

Personalised wine gifts, France, Chablis

We’ll go into more detail about the winemaking side of things during one of the Vinification Experience Days. For now the attention swings back to the vineyard, as the next couple of weeks will be crucial as we hope that the last of the frosts are behind us, and that the buds continue to flourish unhindered.

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Start your retirement by learning to be a winemaker


Retirement is a big milestone, and some embrace it better than others! We received this message from Daniel, a client who received a Wine Experience at Château de la Bonnelière. His colleagues gave it to him for his retirement present, and we’re delighted to see that this original gift pleased him. Here is what Daniel told us:

No chance of me sitting in a chair, twiddling my thumbs for my retirement. That’s what I told my former colleagues, and they held me to my word. With the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gift they gave me, I became an apprentice winemaker and had to roll up my sleeves to help make my personalised bottles of wine!

When they gave me the retirement gift, they told me that I would follow the making of my wine from the year that I retired at Château de la Bonnelière in France’s Loire Valley, from the work in the vineyard through to the bottling, which of course they hope to share with me! What they didn’t say straight away is that I would get to go to the winery and spend a day working alongside the winemaker in the vineyard.

I participated in the Discovery Experience Day last year in the spring, where I met Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker. He showed us the vineyard where my adopted vines grow and produce the grapes used in the making of my wine, and also put us to work to de-bud the vines and lower the training wires. We also had a very nice lunch and of course got to taste the different wines that the winery produces.

It was a great day and very hands-on, so when I got the chance to come back, this time to learn more about the work in the cellar, I signed up straight away. I’ll participate in this day this winter, and I’m looking forward to seeing, and most of all tasting how my wine is coming along!

Many thanks to my colleagues for this great idea for a retirement present. It’s been almost a year since our paths separated, but I’m not missing them too much! We’ve agreed to meet up once I’ve collected by wine so that we can share a glass or two!

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The role of vats, barrels and other types of container in making wine


With all of the different Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Days taking place at the moment in our different partner wineries, we’ve been struck by the multitude of different methods and techniques used in the cellar to make and age wine depending on the different regions and partners. In this article we wanted to take a closer look at just one of these differences, that difference being the type of container used to produce wines. Here’s a quick overview of some of the different containers used to make wines.

After the harvest, the winemakers have to make a whole raft of crucial decisions in the cellar that will directly impact the quality, taste, and characteristics of their wines. Among them is the choice of container to age the wine once the fermentation has finished. Generally speaking, once the second fermentation has finished the wines are racked, and they are transferred from their fermentation tank to another container to continue their ageing process. There are lots of different types of container, but the most popular by far are either vats or barrels.

Vats

Vats come in all shapes and sizes, and can be made from different materials. The largest capacity vats can hold up to 1 000 200 litres, which is the colossal amount that the world’s largest oak vat holds at the Caves Byrhh. Vats of this size are far from the norm as there are very few wineries that would have the space to house them!

Unique wine gift, Alsace, France

The most common materials used to make vats are stainless steel, concrete and wood. Each has its own advantages. Wood and concrete vats are more porous and allow a micro-oxygenation of the wine which can be something favourable that the winemaker is looking for to make the wines softer and rounder. Wooden vats can also bring some extra tertiary aromas to the wine, particularly when they are new, to add to those present from the fruit and terroir. Stainless steel vats don’t allow these aromas to develop, but they can have the advantage of concentrating the aromas on the primary and secondary ones found in the must. All depends on what type of wine the winemaker wants to develop!

Wine making experience, Burgundy, France

When it comes to the shape, we often imagine that they are all more or less cylindrical, and that is indeed the case in the majority of wineries, but there are also less common forms such as cubic, ovoid, pyramidal, or rectangular. Each shape has its advantages. For example, an ovoid vat allows the wine to perpetually move, keeping the lees in suspension, without having to stir the lees at all. This results in fuller, more concentrated wines.

Original wine gift, Chablis, Burgundy, France

Barrels

When you think of wine ageing at the winery, more often than not you will think of it doing so in an oak barrel. The volume that a barrel holds varies from region to region, and in French, there are also different names for them depending on the region and the size of the barrel. For example, in Bordeaux, the typical Bordelaise barrel, a “barrique,” can hold 225 litres (300 standard sized bottles of wine). A Bordelaise “tonneau” is four times bigger, containing 900 litres, and it is this size of barrel that is used for pricing the wines. In Burgundy, the standard measure for a barrel of wine is called the “pièce” and has a capacity of 228 litres (304 standard sized bottles of wine). For much larger quantities there also the “foudres”.

Wine experience gifts, Loire Valley, France

There are two main reasons why the winemaker might choose to use oak barrels. The first is the micro-oxygenation that takes place as we mentioned in the section before on vats. The second is the impact that the interaction between the wine and the oak has on the aroma and taste of the wine. The majority of tertiary aromas found in wine are developed thanks to prolonged contact with the oak. Vanilla, cinnamon, hazelnut, toast, leather, etc – different aromas depending on the type of wood, its origin, and the way in which it was toasted during the manufacture of the barrels. Choosing the right barrel that will enhance the characteristics of a wine without overpowering it can be a difficult decision for the winemaker.

Vineyard experience, Bordeaux, France

Choosing the right container

Each type of container has its qualities and its supporters, the choice resting with the winemaker to help produce the desired wine. At our partner winemakers, we often taste the same wine that has been aged in different types of container. For example at Domaine la Cabotte, they have started to test using clay amphorae like the Romans used. They are trying to benefit from the porosity of the clay jar for the micro-oxygenation that is similar to a barrel, but without the exchange of tannins and development of tertiary aromas.

Wine lover gift, Rhone Valley, France

Whatever the choice of the container to be used, its impact will diminish as the volume increases, as the surface area becomes smaller relative to the volume of wine contained. The larger the container, the slower the ageing process will be. Controlling the temperature is also important, not just during the fermentation process, but during ageing as well to regulate the ability of the oxygen to dissolve into the liquid. Yet more choices for the winemaker!

 

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Vinification and ageing of wine

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The art of vinifying and ageing wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon


Last Saturday, a beautiful Spring day awaited the participants of the Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Day at Domaine Allegria.
Vineyard experience, Languedoc, France

To get the day started, we headed off into the vineyard with the winemaker, Ghislain to find our adopted vines. It gave us the opportunity to take a few photos of our vines and to learn a little about the vines growth cycle and the work that is carried out in the vineyard. It is after all the work here that has a big impact on the quality of the wine at the other end of the cycle!

Rent a vin, Languedoc, France

Upon our return from the vineyard, we visited the chai from top to bottom, and covered a whole host of questions regarding the fermentation and vinification of wines. We also talked about the differences in making red and white wine.

Next on the programme was an aromatic workshop. We had to try and identify 12 of the most commonly found aromas in red wine. It puts both your nose and memory to the test as you try and put a name to the smell contained in the small glass bottle. Not as easy as it would seem!

Wine gift packs, Languedoc, France

We ate lunch outside on the terrace to enjoy the spring sunshine. For the aperitif, we tasted a magnum of the Dolce Vita 2015 rosé wine that had been bottled just a few weeks previously. During the meal, we tasted several of the estate’s wines, the 2014 Cinsault Abuelo, the Carignan Gourmand from the 2013 vintage, and a Cousu Main 2011 in magnum. To accompany the goat’s cheese from the neighbouring Mas Roland, we tasted the 2014 Tribu d’A white wine which pairs perfectly. We finished the meal with La Belle Histoire 2013, a great vintage for Languedoc wines.

Wine tasting gift, Languedoc, France

After lunch, we returned to the chai to taste three different wines from the 2015 vintage that are still in the process of ageing. A great opportunity to get a sneak preview of this promising year and to talk about the different characteristics of each grape varietal. We tasted a Cinsault, a Syrah and a Mourvèdre. The wines are still very young, and fizzy from the caron dioxide released during the fermentation period, but they are also astonishingly soft and enjoyable to drink at this early stage in their evolution!

At the end of the day, we hope that everyone had learnt a little more about the art of making wine, and will have a few more wine stories to recount. Many thanks to all of the participants for sharing this day.

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The vines come back to life in Spring


As our adopted parents for the 2016 vintage will have noticed during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Days that are currently under way, the vines are slowly waking up from their winter rest. The winemakers have been busy finishing the last pruning, bending and tying the remaining vine branches to the training wires before the first buds peek through, so it’s now time to take a look at what happens during spring in the vineyard.

Once the harvest has finished and the first cold winter weather sets in, the sap descends into the roots and foot of the vine stock. The vines are further protected from the frosts by heaping earth around the trunks, and last year’s branches are cut away so that the plant can concentrate its energy on producing the growth necessary for the coming year’s harvest. Even if this winter was uncharacteristically mild, the vines still passed through this hibernation mode, the length of which varied depending on the region of France.

Waking up

With the warming of the weather towards the end of March, the sap starts to climb back up the plant into the branches. Sometimes you can even see tears of sap form and drop from the where the branches have been cut.

Adopt a vine, Alsace, France

The tears herald the arrival of the first buds breaking through on the vines. This is a much awaited moment in the vineyard, but one that causes lots of worry for the winemakers. At this stage the vines are very vulnerable, and next year’s harvest is at the peril of frosts or wild animals that love to feast on the fresh, succulent buds. It’s time to watch and protect the vines as best as possible.

Vineyard experience, Burgundy, France

When it comes to buds, there are various different types. There are those that we leave on the main branches at the time of pruning, which are also sometimes referred to as eyes, and from these buds will grow the first shoots.

On these shoots, another type of bud, terminal buds, will form at the end of the new branch. These buds are responsible for the growth of the branch, and so once the vine has sufficiently grown and the winemaker wants the plant to turn its attention to ripening the grapes, the ends of the branches are cut off, and the growth is then stopped.

Adopt a vine france, Bordeaux

Then there are auxiliary buds, found under the leaf axils. These are latent, and won’t develop this year, but will burst next year. Vines have a two year vegetative cycle, and it is these buds that we leave when we prune for the following year’s campaign.

The growth of the vines

Once the bud burst period has finished, the vines enter a growth phase for the rest of spring and summer until the temperatures start to fall again in September or October.

Leaves also develop on the branches and they have a double role. They enable photosynthesis to take place, and they help the vine to regulate its temperature through releasing water. The leaves from each vine varietal haven their own distinct morphology, making it much easier to name a particular type of vine in springtime than in the depths of winter!

Original wine gift, Loire Valley

At the same time as the growth of the leaves, tendrils also develop to help the vine support itself. The green and supple tendrils reach out and wrap themselves around whatever they can find, the training wires being ideal. As time goes by, the green tendrils turn brown and into wood, which is why it’s so much harder to pull the branches away at pruning time.

Spring work in the vineyard

Ren a vine, Rhone Valley, France

From Spring onwards, a large part of the winemakers work in the vineyard is to control and manage the growth of the vines in such a way as to help the grapes reach optimal maturity at harvest time. De-budding and removing any unwanted shoots, and training the vines are the first tasks to be undertaken as the growth gets under way. Read our post on the spring work in the vineyard for more information.

 

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Bud burst of the vines in Spring

In the vineyard. De-budding and training the vines

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Wine-making Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


The Vinification Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte got started as always with one eye turned towards the weather. We’d had lots of wind from the mistral for the previous few days in the Rhone Valley, but everything had calmed down by Saturday. The sun was shining and the vibrant green of the first vine leaves were gleaming. Everything was in place to share a great day.

Our guests arrived from as far afield as Belgium and the Reunion Island, as well as from closer to home such as Marseille, Avignon and Courthezon.

Rent a vine, Rhone Valley, France

After the introductions and a welcome croissant, we set off to greet our adopted vines. For some it was their first meeting, for others a warm reunion and the pleasure of taking a photo with the first buds peeking through.

Under the spring sunshine, Eric, the winemaker, took us to the highest vineyard plot behind the chai to start talking about the vinification process. It was a good way to remind us that everything starts in the vineyard and results from the earth under our feet. We briefly touch on topics as varied as pruning, biodynamics and the influence of the terroir on the taste of the wines.

Vineyard experience, Rhone Valley, France

The questions flow and the time flies by. We return to the wine boutique to start getting down to some practical work.

Marie-Pierre had prepared some pens and paper, and some small bottles containing the aromas to be found in red and white wines. It was a workshop designed to try and help us identify different aromas. It can be a very frustrating experience as you know you know the aroma, but you just can’t put a name to it... “I know that smell. What is it? Lemon. No, wait, grapefruit?... Ah that one I know for sure. Lime tree! I’ve got one in my garden.”

Wine making experience, Rhone Valley, France

One of our participants managed to correctly name all of the aromas!

We then hurried to the chai to put our new found nasal skills to the test, this time with real wines!

Eric spoke passionately and expertly about what happens in the vat, how the work of the yeast is measured daily, how the temperatures rise and fall as the fermentation starts and then slows down. A good wine doesn’t just happen by itself, and we had the honour of tasting some of the wines that are still in the ageing process in the chai.

Wine lover gift,Rhone Valley, France

À table ! Marie-Pierre had put a bench out in the sun for the aperitif of the delicious Colline rosé wine. Over lunch, freshly prepared by Marie-Pierre, we continued the tasting with the Colline white and red wines, and then the Massif d’Uchaux red wines.

Wine experience, Rhone Valley, France

To honour the Chateauneuf-du-Pape made at Domaine la Cabotte, Jacqueline, the sommelier, enchanted us with a little poem that had been written by a friend of Pétrarque who was familiar with the Vaucluse region:

 

« Je veux vous chanter mes amis
ce vieux Châteauneuf que j'ai mis
pour vous seuls en bouteille 
il va faire merveille... 
Il est fils des côteaux pierreux
Que Phoebus brûle de ses feux
C'est un divin dictame 
qui enchantent nos âmes ».

 

The day ended back in the chai where there still remained much to talk about. Blending wines, the different types of container to store the wines – stainless steel, wood, or amphorae. We also talked about how the chai itself had been designed to work using natural gravity as much as possible, about bottling, and the different demands of clients in different countries.

Unique wine gift, Rhone Valley, France

Having stocked up with a few bottles to take home, it was time to end the day, hoping that the wine will continue to tell its story when it is poured into a glass.

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Vinification and ageing of Burgundy wines at Domaine Chapelle


We visited Domaine Chapelle last Sunday in the charming Burgundy village of Santenay, where we were welcomed by the winemakers, Jean-François and Yvette, for a Vinification Experience Day. The aim of the day was to learn all about the work in the cellar from harvest time right up until the wine is ready to be bottled once it has sufficiently aged.
Vineyard Experience, France

After a welcome coffee, Jean-François, explained the family history of the winery and the way that the Burgundy wine region is structured. We then split into two groups. The first group stayed with Yvette for a workshop to hone our wine-tasting skills with a couple of exercises to put our noses and taste buds to the test. It was very difficult to name the different aromas, but it was a fun moment nonetheless!

Wine lover gift, Burgundy, France

The second group, accompanied by the Technical Director, Yannnick, started the immersion into the world of vinification and ageing of wines. After an explanation of the fermentation process, we descended into the magical cellar and tasted some wines directly from the barrel to appreciate the impact that different types of barrel can have on the sensorial characteristics of wine.

Wine experience, Burgundy, France

We spent a great moment admiring the beauty of the typically Bourguignon vaulted cellar and tasting the treasures that is holds! The groups then switched before being reunited in the cuverie for the aperitif and time to match a Santenay white wine with some gougères, a local cheese shoe pastry delicacy from the village baker.

Original wine gift, Burgundy, France

We continued the wine tasting over lunch of parsley ham, chicken gaston Gerard, local cheeses and a chocolate desert with a Ladoix “Les Vries” 2013, a Santenay “Clos des Cornières” 2012 and a Chassagne Montrachet 1er cru “Morgeot” 2014. After lunch, the weather had improved, and we headed off to the Clos des Cornières vineyard where our adopted vines are to be found. Here Jean-François pointed out the geology of the surrounding hills and explained how that relates to the hierarchy of Burgundy wines. He also showed us the three different zones of the Clos des Cornières vineyard that had been planted at different times. Each of the resulting wines from these different zones is vinified separately before being blended just before bottling.

Wine making experience, Burgundy, France

We then took a few minutes to visit our adopted vines, and to immortalise the moment by taking a few photos!

Rent a vine, France, Burgundy

It was then time to return to the winery to end the day by tasting the wines produced from these three different zones in the Clos des Cornières vineyard. Many thanks to Jean-François, Yvette and Yannick for their passionate explanations, and thanks to all who came for sharing a great day!

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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 !

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