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Archive from July 2016

How the weather is impacting the 2016 harvest


As the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Days finish, our adoptive parents now turn their attention to the harvest. When will they take place and what will be involved? It has to be said that choosing the dates for the harvest is never an easy task for the winemakers, especially as the climatic conditions of the past few years haven't really helped. How can the weather influence a year's harvest?

"2013 had too much rain, 2014 was too cold, 2015... ah, 2015 had great weather, but too early to know all of its impact on the wine!" If you listen to the winemakers, it would appear that there's never a year fully free from climatic troubles. And they can put at risk a complete year's work. For all the skill of a winemaker, not everything can be controlled, particularly the good or bad fortune that the weather can bring.

What weather factors influence the harvest?

Of course some climatic factors are well known and can be almost controlled depending on the region. For example in the northern vineyards the winemakers can remove some of the leaves from the vines during the summer to allow more sun to reach the grapes and so help them to mature more quickly. In the south, regulated irrigation can be authorised if there is drought, or the grapes may be harvested earlier if there are sustained high temperatures.

Removing some of the vine leaves to help the grapes mature

But, often the weather can be unpredictable, striking violently and quickly. A large hail storm can completely strip a vine bear of its leaves, buds or grapes depending on the time of year. The frost can kill the first buds. Heavy rain can change the quality of the grapes, or rain during the flowering period can severely reduce the potential yield volumes.

Lighting candles in the vineyards to help protect the vines from frost.

The winemaker has to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws up. Even if there aren't any extreme conditions, a relatively wet year or a relatively dry year can change when the harvest will take place, can impact the quality of the harvest, or can even change the organisation of how the grapes are picked.

The main pre-occupation in the minds of the winemakers over the coming weeks will be in fixing the date for the harvest. It's important to do so as early as possible from a logistical point of view to recruit the teams of harvesters, to order the necessary equipment, and to get the tools, machinery, and cellars ready for the new harvest.

Veraison when the grapes start to change colour and mature

Choosing when to harvest is a balancing act between waiting for the perfect level of maturity and mitigating the climatic risks of rain or hail storms that don't do much good to ripe grapes. Rain can bloat the grapes, diluting the sugar and aromatic concentration levels to the detriment to the wine's quality, and hail can simply destroy the grapes altogether.

At the end of summer the winemaker is constantly inspecting the vines, observing the maturity of the grapes, and looking to the sky or scouring the weather reports to try and avoid any trouble.

Harvesting in the rain

The weather can be fickle right up until the end, and even during the harvest. Harvesting during the rain can dilute a wine's structure, and make the grapes more difficult to sort. It can also allow rot to set in if the grapes don't dry quickly, which in turn can reduce the quantity.

Picking grapes in the rain also means that the harvesters work more slowly, and if the weather is very changeable, it makes planning and organising the teams that much more difficult and time consuming to ensure that they are picking the grapes in the right vineyard depending on the maturity levels and risk of rot. And when it's really hot, sometimes the teams have to start earlier, or harvest during the night to pick fresher grapes.

These are just some of the headaches that the winemakers face during harvest period! Fortunately, for most of the time, the harvest remains one of the highlights of the year, where the wineries are bursting with energy and conviviality. If you would like to find out for yourself what harvesting is like, join us for a Harvest Experience Day and adopt some vines in one of our partner wineries!

 

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Conference - Threat to wine. The challenges of climatic change.

Last preparations for the harvest

 

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A personalised wine for the wedding couple


The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience makes for an original wedding gift because the newlyweds get to follow the making of their wine from the year of their mariage. We've had lots of feedback from wedding couples who have been thrilled with their wine experience and their personalised vintage. Julie & Richard recently left us a comment on our website that we wanted to share here:

Richard and I are both wine lovers. Ever since we got together, we've covered quite a few of the wine routes, seeking out good wines directly from the producers. But until we received the Gourmet Odyssey wine gift box, we'd never had the opportunity to dig deeper and discover the vast and varied work of a winemaker. It really is a fascinating profession.

When we got married, a group of friends clubbed together to buy us a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience for our wedding present. For the year of our wedding, we were to become the adoptive parents of 6 vines in France's Rhone Valley at Domaine la Cabotte.

We found it to be a great idea for a wedding gift. We registered our gift pack on Gourmet Odyssey's web site, and we started to follow the making of our wine. The winemakers sent us news about the vines progress, as the grapes for our future wine grew and matured.

When the winemakers starting talking about the harvest, we thought that it would be fun to get involved, so we signed up for a Harvest Experience Day at the winery. What a great day we had! We spent the morning harvesting the grapes, and in the afternoon we helped sort the grapes and put them into the vats. We spent the whole day with the winemakers, Eric & Marie -Pierre, and had the chance to ask them lots of questions, particularly during lunch and the wine-tasting session.

We continue to receive updates about how the wine is evolving in the cellar. We decided to add a few extra bottles of personalised wine to surprise our friends and open them with them for our wedding anniversary. We can't wait to taste the wine from the year of our wedding!

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Helping with the summer work in the vineyard at Domaine Chapelle


On the 25th June, we were welcomed at Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay for a Discovery Experience day to learn all about the work carried out in the vineyard. We were accompanied by the owners and winemakers, Jean-François and Yvette.

Jean-François got the day started with an introduction to the winery, its history, how it is organised and the philosophy they have in the way they make their wine, covering notably their decision to convert the winery to being organic.

Adopt-a-vine experience in Burgundy at Domaine Chapelle

We then got booted up, and headed into the vineyard to immerse ourselves in how the vines are nurtured to produce the best possible grapes. But first of all, we stopped to say a quick hello to our adopted vines, and to pose and take a few photographs!

Wine-making courses in the vineyard with the winemaker

We split into two groups, led by Jean-François and Yvette, and we then had a go at helping to train the vines to ensure that the weight of the foliage and fruit will be supported by the training wires, and that the branches are spaced out to help the air better circulate around the vines, critical in helping to reduce the risk of rot.

Vineyard work during a oenology course in Burgundy, France

There is lots to learn about all of the different tasks that a winemaker must undertake in the vineyard, and the practical exercise, helped each person to show off their winemaker skills!

Wine tasting at the winery in Burgundy, France

We then headed back to the garden in front of the château for a well-earned tasting of one of the Santenay white wines produced at the winery, accompanied by some gougères, a local Burgundy delicacy.

Wine-making experience with the winemaker at Domaine Chapelle Burgundy

Lunch was served in the harvesters' refectory. A perch and vegetable terrine, beef bourguignon and gratin potatoes, local cheese and a chocolate blackcurrant desert were paired with three different red wines from Domaine Chapelle, including the famous Clos des Cornières wine of course!

After lunch, we went for a nice walk to visit the Beaurepaire Premier Cru vineyard that has been recently replanted. During this sunny stroll, we were able to admire the view of the village of Santenay and its bell tower, and to appreciate the different terroirs. Jean-François showed us the difference in the soil structures, their impact on the wine, and how they affect the Burgundy wine classification system.

Vineyard tours with the winemaker in Santenay, Burgundy, France

Once we had arrived at the Beaurepaire vineyard, Jean-François explained the different stages involved in replanting a plot of vines. We learnt that it takes at least 3 years before you can start to make wine from the vines, but it won't be until at least 7 or 8 years that the grapes will begin to show the character of the Premier Cru plot. It's an important investment decision to take, and is one that is taken for the benefit of the next generation.

Cellar tour and wine tasting at the winery

Back at the winery, we had time for Jean-François to give us a quick tour of the cellar and fermentation hall before bringing the day to a close. Hopefully we each left with a little better understanding of the many facets and skills that are needed to be a winemaker.

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Training the vines in the Rhone Valley


What a great day we had last Saturday.  A clear sky and the last wisps of the Mistral to bring a little freshness to help us in our work in the vineyard.

The adoptive vine parents at Domaine la Cabotte arrived punctually, coming from near and far.  From the Var, the other end of the Vaucluse, Paris, Geneva and Brsitol.  And yes, after the Brexit vote, four brave British clients reported present to show their support for good French wine!

After a quick coffee and croissant to give us strength, we climbed to the top of the estate to help with the work in the vineyard at this time of year.  The vines are currently growing rapidly, and need help to support the weight of the grapes and leaves by means of a trellis.  Our job was to raise the training wires and ensure that the vines pointed up towards the sky by clipping them between the wires.

Biodylanic wine experience gift in the Rhone Valley, south of France

Eric Plumet, the winemaker explained how to do it, and then we spread out between the rows, pockets full of coloured clips.

In biodynamic wine-making, we don’t trim the tops of the vines.  The extremity of each branch is left alone because it is the apex that allows all of the force of the aerial environment to penetrate the sap and enter the grapes.  The leaves will stop growing on their own accord when the time is right for the vine to concentrate its energy exclusively on the fruit.

Once we had finished our mission, we went and had a look at the part of the vineyard where our adopted Grenache vines are to be found.

Rent-a-vine gift experience to learn about the art of winemaking

Here the vines are completely different, as the Grenache are pruned using the “gobelet” technique and so do not need the support of a training wire.  We each went on the hunt for our adopted vines, and with the height of the vines, we were soon out of sight of each other as we disappeared into the forest of vines.

We then headed to a plot of Syrah vines to observe the differences between the grape varietals, the leaves, how the grapes form, and the orientation of the plot.  And from here, we had a great all round view of the estate, surrounded by the woods of the Massif d’Uchaux.
By now, it was already lunchtime.  Marie-Pierre awaited our return in the shade with some welcome cold refreshment!

Wine tasting gift experience with the Cotes du Rhone winemakers

The Colline rosé, a delightfully fresh and tasty wine opened our taste buds for the lunch and tasting prepared by Marie-Pierre and Jacqueline.

Two poultry and dried fruit terrines prepared by the winemaker and some Greek “Cabotte” stuffed vine leaves prepared by Jacqueline, were accompanied by the Garance and Gabriel red wines.

We finished the meal with a nice glass of Châteauneuf du Pape which we enjoyed with some goats cheese made at a neighbouring farm, and a homemade red fruit clafoutis.

The warmth of the southern summer threatened our energy levels, so the winemakers quickly ushered us into the coolness of the chai.  We talked some more about the vines and the wine, and noticed that in June the majority of the vats are empty, but the bottles are now full!

In front of us were cases full of freshly picked horsetail, yarrow and oak bark.  Eric explained how they are used in the different biodynamic preparations, and we also discovered the cow horns and how they are used to transform cow dung into rich natural fertiliser.

The questions flew, and Eric tried to clearly explain the answers.  The time passed all too quickly, but hopefully we all learnt a little more about the passionate but complex world of wine-making and biodynamics.  And so it was time to say our goodbyes, a bottle or two under the arm to take away as a souvenir of the day.

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

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