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Archive from May 2016

De-budding the vines in the Côtes du Rhône


We had a marvellous Discovery Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte in the southern Côtes du Rhône region. After a few days of the mistral wind blowing, the good weather set in and we enjoyed a wonderful sunny day, perfect for spending the morning in the vineyard.
Vine adoption in the Rhone Valley

Over a welcome coffee, Eric and Marie-Pierre introduced us to the day. On the agenda was some work in a nice plot of Mourvèdre vines, where we would have a go at de-budding.

Vine life cycle and de-budding course at the winery

Our hosts explained how to de-bud, and then in pairs, we got stuck in. The demonstration that Eric gave us looked fairly simple. All we had to do was to remove some of the unwanted shoots to help control the yield that each vine will produce.

Wine gift vine de-budding course at the winery

But when you have to do it yourself, it's not quite as easy as it appears. No two vines are the same, and you end up asking yourself lots of questions. Is this shoot the one that needs to be removed? We didn't yet have Eric's expert eye. We de-budded a couple of rows each, which took us a little more time than it would have done Eric!

Vineyard tour wine gift in the Rhone Valley

Eric then took us on a walk through the vineyard, explaining on the way a whole host of things such as why some vines were pruned using the "gobelet" method and others using the "cordon de royat" technique.

Biodynamic wine making in the Cotes du Rhone

We took a little detour so that Eric could show us the biodynamic preparations that they use on the vineyards, notably the biodynamic cow manure compost, which nature transforms from a foul smelling matter into rich compost that encourages the microbial life in the soil. After a couple of weeks this compost is put into cow horns and then buried for a few months before being diluted and dynamised with rain water before being sprayed throughout the vineyard. Then the magic does its work!

Wine tasting at the winery in the Cotes du Rhone

Back at the winery, a nice cool aperitif awaited us in the shade of the trees. We tasted a 2015 Côtes du Rhône rosé and a Côtes du Rhône red wine from the same year. Marie-Pierre presented the wines, explaining their blends and how they had been worked in the chai.

Winemaker meal at the Domaine la Cabotte Rhone Valley

Marie-Pierre than invited us to sit down for an al fresco lunch that she had freshly prepared: a lentil salad, tomatoes and pumpkin seed salad, duck and nut terrine, local goats cheese and a delicious cake. During the meal we tasted the range of wines that are produced at the winery, the "Garance" and "Gabriel" Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d'Uchaux wines and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 red.

Vine adoption gift box France Rhone Valley

After lunch, we went to meet our Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines, giving us the chance to immortalise the moment by taking a few photos. Eric then told us about the specificity of the Uchaux terroir and how it differs from other areas in the Rhône valley.

Biodynamic winemaking course at Domaine la Cabotte

We then headed to the chai, where Eric briefly explained how the wine is vinified and the differences between the biodynamic methods they use from conventional. He showed us some of the plants that are used to make the treatments such as horse tail and fennel. He told us how the dynamiser works and the impact of the different biodynamic treatments on the vineyard.

The 2016 harvest is still a long way off, but the day enabled us to better appreciate the importance of the preparative work that is done beforehand throughout the year by Eric, Marie-Pierre and their son Etienne to ensure the best possible grapes.

The path is still long before we can taste the "Garance" 2016 wine, and we'll have to be patient, whilst hoping that Mother Nature is as kind as it was in 2015. Warm thanks to Marie-Pierre and Eric for their generous welcome and to all of the participants for a great day!

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Organic, biodynamic and natural wines


With all of Gourmet Odyssey's partner winemakers being organically certified, and some being also biodynamic, we're used to talking about what this entails during the wine experience days, and how the practices in the vineyard and cellar differ. But with the multitude of labels, and the plethora of information available, it's sometimes easy to get lost!

Wine lovers are becoming more and more demanding when it comes to the environmental impact of making wine on the vineyards and surrounding land, and in knowing what has been added to the wine before it reaches their glass. And so a number of labels and charters have been developed and applied to the world of wine, the most common of which are organic, biodynamic and natural wines.

Learning how to make an organic wine

 

The main differences

In this article we're going to set out the main characteristics of each practice, whether in the vineyard or cellar, but we it would make for far too long an article to be completely exhaustive. To dig a bit deeper, please take a look at some of our other articles on organic winemaking or biodynamic winemaking.

Conventional winemaking practices are currently being questioned because there is no longer the same importance put on forever increasing yields and the development of chemical products to enable it to happen. The use of synthetic substances to protect the vines from disease and produce more grapes per vine has seen opposition in the form of sustainable or integrated winemaking.

Whilst not organic, sustainable winemaking attempts to limit the deterioration of the soil and to better respect the environment by restricting the chemical treatments to the bare minimum, as the label for sustainable winemaking, Terra Vitis hopes to promote.

Integrated winemaking is a blend of sustainable and organic practices that also try to keep the use of chemical products to a bare minimum. The Tyflo label is used to signal this approach.

The Tyflo label for integrated winemaking

 

Organic winemaking is founded upon the suppression of chemical products that penetrate the vines, protecting them from within. As such, all chemical pesticides, fungicides, fertilisers and weed killers are banned. To receive the organic label, within the EU it's the green leaf logo made up of small stars, it takes three years to convert and receive the certification. In France, certification is controlled by independent organisations such as Ecocert or Qualité France. (See a complete list of organic certification bodies).

In organic winemaking, the winemaker uses natural products such as plants, copper or sulphur. These are all contact products and protect the vine from the outside. This is all well and good during dry weather, but has the disadvantage of being washed away when it rains, meaning that the vines need to be treated more often in wetter climates. Organic farming techniques have the advantage though of improving the quality and microbial life of the soil, and promoting a more natural environment in which insects and plants co-exist and compete.

The EU's label for organic winemaking

 

But it's not just in the vineyard that the difference can be found. Since 2012 making wine organically also means regulating what happens in the cellar, such as reducing the level of sulphites, using indigenous or organic yeast cells, and using organic sugar if chaptalising wines. That is why for vintages prior to 2012, a phrase such as "wine produced using organically certified vines" could be found on the wine lables, and it is only since 2012 in France that the words "Organic Wine" could be printed on the labels, once the whole of the production chain was controlled and certified.

Biodynamic winemaking is all about looking at the vines and wine in the context of their surrounding environment. In the vineyard, an equilibrium is sought between the plant and the soil based on the lunar calendar. It is sometimes compared to homeopathy and the treatments are created using plants, silex and animal matter.

It should also be noted that the levels of copper and sulphur used are considerably lower than with organic winemaking. To become biodynamically certified, the winery needs to first certify the vineyards concerned and wine-making process used as being organic, and then it needs to conform to the charter of a biodynamic organisation such as Demeter or Biodyvin.

Demeter's label for biodynamic winemaking

 

Natural wines have gained momentum over the past few years, and this term is used to describe wines that have been made from grapes having had the least intervention possible and where the juice has had nothing added to it. The idea is to let nature do virtually all the work and for the winemaker to act just as a facilitator. For example the grapes are harvested by hand, no yeast cells are added to start the fermentation, and no products are added to the wine to help stabilise and preserve it.

There isn't currently any official label or certification process for natural wines. Some organisations and associations who promote natural wines, recommend organic certification, but it's not an obligation, and none of their charters is bound by law.

 

How to recognise the labels?

So with the exception of natural wines, different labels exist to help the consumers of French wine to know whether a wine is certified as being organic, biodynamic, or sustainable.

But when looking for labels, you have to bear in mind that they only identify those winemakers that have taken the route to be certified. Many winemakers use organic, integrated or sustainable approaches without necessarily going through the certification process due to a lack of time, for financial reasons, or to be free from added bureaucracy and controls. Official certification however remains the best proof though that the winemaker has indeed respected the charter.

The important thing is to understand the approach used by the winemakers and to discuss this with them if possible when you taste their wines. Your beliefs and convictions will also be important when choosing a bottle, but of course the principal criteria when choosing which particular wine should always remain its taste. As with conventional wines, there will be wines that you like and don't like. Any label, whether it be organic, biodynamic or sustainable, isn't a guarantee of its perceived quality. The final step is to put faith in your senses to make the best pick!

 

Related articles

What makes French Organic Wine, Organic ?

What is biodynamic wine?

No to European Organic Wine?

 

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Learning about the work in the vineyard in Alsace


Much of a wine’s quality is the direct result of the work that is carried out in the vineyard to manage and nurture the vines, and as we were to learn during the Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher, there is much more to do than you would at first think!

Original wine experience gift.  Adopt vines in Alsace and make your own personalised bottles of wine

After the introductions to the Alsace wine growing region and a brief history of the Stentz-Buecher family, we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard, where our adopted vines are to be found.  We took a few minutes to introduce ourselves to our vines and to encourage them to work hard in producing a good harvest for this year’s vintage!

Adopt-a-vine gift in france for wine lovers.

But then time to get down to the serious business of the day and to learn about the key stages involved in preparing the vines for the harvest.  To do so, we were joined by Jean-Jacques, who passionately explained the different aspects of this complex, demanding, and, often, highly manual profession.

Organic wine gift.  Work in the vineyard alongside the winemaker

Pruning, de-budding, trellising, planting new vines, fighting against diseases and so on, the questions and topics covered were varied and numerous.  We also talked about the differences between organic and conventional farming methods used to weed the vineyards and treat the vines, and how the life of a winemaker and the local community has changed over time.  Jean-Jacques is extremely passionate about his profession and given the chance would have kept us in the vineyard forever!

We then headed back to the winery, making a quick stop at a plot of vines lower down on the plain that had recently been damaged by frost and which will have a severely reduced yield as a result.  Difficult to believe given the glorious sunshine and blue skies of the day, but a reminder that however good and dedicated the winemaker may be, Mother Nature can have other plans.

Wine tasting gift in Alsace at an organic winery

We tasted a range of the different wines produced by Domaine Stentz-Buecher, starting with an unusual wine, called Who Am I? that is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling.  We then moved onto a more classic Riesling Tradition 2014, followed by the 2014 vintage of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the Pinot Gris Rosenberg.  We then tasted a more complex Riesling, the Tannenbuehl 2011, and an unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011.

We tasted a Crémant d’Alsace “brut de nature”, made from 100% Chardonnay grapes with no added liqueur before sitting down to lunch which had been prepared by a local caterer.

In the afternoon, we visited the cellar to get a brief overview and appreciation of the wine-making side of things.  Stéphane showed us the wine press, and the vats and barrels that contain the wine during the fermentation and ageing processes.  We finished the day in the “vinothèque”, an impressive room used to showcase some of the older vintages.

Winery tour gift in Alsace, France

We’ll get to see the press in action during the Harvest Experience Day and will spend more time in the cellar during the Vinification Experience Days, but until then, there is still much to do in the vineyard, as the day hopefully taught us!

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Organic wine-making course in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


Once the grapes are harvested, the work of the winemaker is far from over.  There is still much to do during the fermentation and ageing stages before the wine is finally ready to be bottled, and this is what we were gathered at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace to find out during the Vinification Experience Day.

The quality of the wine depends also on the work carried out in the vineyard, and so after the introductions, we headed to the Rosenberg vineyard, to see where our adopted vines are located and to get a better understanding of the local terroir. Céline pointed out the different plots of Grand Cru vines around us, and we also took a few minutes to take some pictures of our adopted vines.

Rent-a-vine-giftin Alsace, France

We were also accompanied by Jean-Jacques, Céline’s father, who founded the winery with his wife, Simone, in 1975.  With the hot weather of the past few days, the vines have sprung to life and Jean-Jacques briefly explained the work that will shortly be keeping them busy to de-bud the vines.

But the principal purpose of the day was to learn about the wine-making side of things, so we headed back to the winery.  To prepare us for the different wines that we would taste throughout the day, the first workshop was designed to develop our senses and help us describe our appreciation of the wines.  We talked about how the different senses can be used to help us identify the characteristics of the wines, and we put our noses to the test to try and name some of the aromas that can be found in white wine.  Not always as easy as you would think!

Oenology gift for wine lovers.

We then descended into the cellar with Stéphane, who manages the wine-making process at the winery.  He talked to us about how the grapes are received and pressed at harvest time and how the fermentation process then transforms the sugar into alcohol.

We had the chance to taste the 2015 vintage of our Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine directly from the cask, and to get a first impression of the potential for our wine.  The wine had finished its malo-lactic fermentation and was very concentrated both aromatically and on the palate.  Very promising t this stage!

Organic wine tasting gift experience in an organic Alsace winery

Stéphane then took us into the barrel room and talked to us about the difference in vinifying and ageing red wines.  We tasted a wine made from Pinot Noir grapes that those of us that had participated in the Harvest Experience Day had helped to pick.

Wine-making gift experience with the winemaker

Alsace is a wine-growing region where, for the most part, the wines are defined by their grape varietal and the terroir in which the vines are located.  To better understand these differences, there’s no better way than to taste the wines!

To start with, a blind tasting test of three different wines, where we had to identify three different grape varietals.  In the second series, we again tasted three different wines, but this time each were Riesling wines, the only difference being the terroir.  The first wine was a Riesling Tradition wine that had been blended from different plots, the second a Riesling Ortel that contains the grapes from one single vineyard, and the third a Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru, from one of Alsace’s most sought after vineyards.

Wine tasting course in Alsace with the winemaker

We then tasted a Crémant d’Alsace with a savoury Kouglopf before sitting down to lunch where we tasted some more of the wines produced by the winery.

In the afternoon, we returned to the cellar, and saw the where the wines are bottled and labelled and talked more about the choices of the winemaker in using cork or alternatives.  Time for a few more questions, and the day drew to a close.

Winery tour and visit in Alsace, France

Many thanks to all the participants for a very interactive and lively day, and of course to the Stentz-Buecher family for welcoming us and sharing their passion for winemaking.

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