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Alsace

The art of wine-making in Alsace


The varied terroir of Alsace and the different grape varietals that are grown in the region ensure that the winemaker is kept busy.  When the work in the vineyard finishes the winemaker turns his attention to the work in the cellar.  And as each grape varietal from each vineyard plot is vinified separately, there is lots to do as we were to discover during the Vinification Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.

Original wine gift for wine enthusiasts. Adopt a vine and follow the making of your own organic white wine

To remind us that wine is first and foremost the product of the work carried out in the vineyard, we started the day with a quick visit to the Rosenberg vineyard to see our adopted vines.  No matter how good the winemaker is, if the grapes aren’t of a good quality, it’s very difficult to make a good wine.  Having taken a few pictures of our vines to mark the occasion, we then headed back to the winery for the main purpose of the day, to find out what happens to the wine, and the decisions that the winemaker must take between harvesting the grapes, and the wine being ready for bottling.

Rent-a-vine gift in a French organic vineyard

We taste many wines during the day, and to help us better prepare for the wine tasting to come, we put our sense of smell to the test with a fun, yet testing exercise to identify different aromas that can be found in wine.

Wine tasting workshop to develop wine tasting skills

In the cellar, Stéphane took us on the journey that the wine takes.  First stop was the press room, where the grapes are pressed and the juice separated from the solid particles during the “débourbage”.  We saw how the winery had designed the layout to use gravity as much as possible, and limit the use of pumps, which can adversely affect the wine.

Winery tour gift with the winemaker in Alsace, France

The red wines are aged in oak barrels, and Stéphane explained the role of the oak and shared his passion for pinot noir, one of his fetish grape varietals.

Fermenting and ageing pinot noir red wine in oak barrels

We then moved through to the cellar room where the white wines ferment.  Accompanied by the gentle gurgling of the wines that had yet to terminate the fermentation process, Stéphane explained how the wines ferment, and how he monitors their progress as the sugar in the wine is transformed into alcohol.  But the best way to understand the different stages is to taste the wines, and so we tasted some of the wines directly from the vat to better appreciate their evolution.

Make your own wine gift experience in Alsace, France

The sun was shining, so we then headed outside to make the most of it, and to taste some of the winery’s different finished wines, starting with a Pinot Blanc.  During the aperitif and lunch we tasted wines from different grape varietals and terroir including Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer.

Wine tasting with the winemaker in Alsace

In the afternoon we returned to the cellar to learn about how the wine is prepared for bottling, and saw the machines used to bottle and label the wines.  Stéphane also showed us how the Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wines are worked.

Learning how sparkling wine is made

Throughout the day, the questions flowed, and we covered many different topics including the material used to close the bottles, when and whether sugar is allowed to be used, the amount of sulphites added to wine…  Much to learn and to take in, but hopefully some of it will stick, and that the next bottle of wine that is opened will be looked at in a slightly different light.

And so the day drew to a close and we left our Pinot Gris Rosenberg 2016 in the cellar to continues its ageing process.  We can’t wait to taste the finished product at the end of the year!

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Pruning and folding the vines in Alsace


The sun was shining for the first of the 2017 Discovery Experience Days in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  The aim of this day is to learn about all of the work in the vineyard to obtain the best possible grapes at harvest time, and so naturally the day started in the vineyard, not just any vineyard, but the prestigious Hengst grand cru vineyard, where the winery has a plot of Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer vines.

Original birthday gift idea for wine lovers.  Rent-a-vine in an an organic French vineyard

We were accompanied by Jean-Jacques and Céline, who explained to us how the vines are pruned to control their growth and limit the quantity of grapes that they produce.  When pruning you have to think not only of the year’s harvest, but also leave a spur that will produce the branches used to bear the following year’s fruit.  We soon got stuck in, and quickly warmed up with the effort of pulling away the cut branches.

Wine gift experience to learn the work of a winemaker

We put the cut branches in the middle of the rows, where they will later be crushed to return some of the nutrients to the soil.

Vineyard tour gift that gets you involved in the winemaker's work

Once the vines have been pruned, the remaining branches are then folded in an arc, and attached to the lowest training wires. This helps to slow the flow of sap, and better space the future growth of the plant, helping the grapes to ripen and the vines to dry after any rain, which in turn helps reduce the risk or rot.

Vineyard experience gift in Alsace, France

We then made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard, where our adopted vines are located.  The plot is planted with Pinot Gris vines, and we admired the view of the surrounding vineyards and castles that dot the hills behind.

Organic rent-a-vine gift in Alsace, France

Jean-Jacques then talked more about other aspects of working in the vineyard, and showed us a plot that they had replanted last year.
By this time, our appetite and taste buds had opened up, and we were rewarded upon our return to the winery with a nice glass of wine.  We tasted a range of the estate’s wines including the Pinot Gris Rosenberg, chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, and Riesling, Muscat, Sylvaner, and Pinot Noir wines, as well as a glass of Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine.

Organic wine tasting gift experience in Alsace, France

After lunch, Stéphane explained the work that remains to be done in the vineyard between now and the harvest, and how the winemaker chooses when the grapes are ready to be harvested.  We also learnt what is involved in being an organic winemaker.

Winery tour and wine cellar visit in Alsace, France

The day finished with a visit to the cellar to see where the wine will be made once the grapes have been picked, something that will be covered in much greater detail during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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Harvest Experience Day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


The final weekend of the Harvest Experience Days for the 2016 vintage saw us head to Alsace with some of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients to participate in the harvest at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  And it turned out to be a bumper harvest!

Originial wine enthusiast gift. Participate in the harvest at a French organic vineyard

After the brief introductions at the winery, we put our boots on, and made our way straight out into the vineyard.  Our first stop was the Rosenberg vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  We took a couple of minutes to pose for a few photos in front of the vines that had produced the grapes that will be used to make our personalised bottles of wine, and took in the lovely view of the sloping Alsace vineyards around us.

Adopt-a-vine gift in an organic Alsace vineyard

Céline then got us organised and equipped with a pair of secateurs and bucket each, before Jean-Jacques gave us our instructions on how to harvest.  The instructions were very simple because the vineyard we were to harvest had produced excellent grapes and hardly any rot or mould and developed.

Harvest experience gift to participate in grape harvest in France

We spaced out between the rows and then started to snip away, cutting the whole bunches at the top of the stems and using our other free hand to hold them from the bottom.  The Gewürztraminer vines we were harvesting had produced lovely, compact, juicy, sweet grapes, and our buckets filled up in no-time.

Grape picking gift in Alsace, France

Once full, we passed the buckets under the rows of vines to be emptied into the trailer, and a few brave volunteers also had a go at being a porter.  They collected the harvested grapes in a basket worn on their backs, and once full, emptied the grapes into the trailer.  And so the trailers filled up with their precious load under the watchful eye of Jean-Jacques who exclaimed that he had never known the plot to produce such good quality grapes in such abundance!  It was surely due to the skill of our harvesters!

Harvest gift box. Adopt-a-vine and get involved in the harvest of your grapes in France

We then followed the tractor back to the winery and helped empty our harvest into the wine press.  Whilst the press whirred and spun away, we headed into the courtyard to enjoy a well earned lunch and tasting of the wines, staring with a refreshing Pinot blanc and working our way through a selection of the different wines up to the Grand Cru.  It had been a very full and busy morning!

Harvest and wine making experience gift in Alsace, France

After lunch, Stéphane took us down into the cellar to explain the work that keeps him busy during the harvest season.  There’s much more to do than just picking grapes.  The grapes need to be pressed, and then the juice settled and cleared, before being put into the different vats to start the fermentation process.

Learning about pressing grapes and making wine

Stéphane also explained the difference between making white and red wine, and we had a go at breaking the cap of the pinot noir grapes that had been picked the day before and were at the beginning of the maceration phase.

Learning how to make red wine

We had a look at the barrel room before ending the day in the cellar where the white wines will spend the coming months slowly fermenting and ageing.  We finished with a tasting of some wine that had started to ferment.

Wines fermenting in the cellar

Many thanks to all who participated in this great day, and to Domaine Stentz-Buecher for making us most welcome.  See you again next year for the Vinification Experience Days!

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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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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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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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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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What makes Ice Wine so different?


As winter sets in, the vines generally take a well earned rest after producing the grapes for the harvest in autumn. That is except for the vines that are used to produce ice wine, an exclusive style of wine that is only ever produced in small quantities and not necessarily every year.
Pick up grapes, Ice wine

Ice wine is made from frozen grapes that are still on the vine, and to be in accordance with the International Organisation of Vine and Wine’s regulations, the temperature has to have reached at least -7°C. What an idea to make wine from frozen grapes! It’s apparently in Austria that the first wine was made in this way, and as with many great discoveries, it was completely by accident. At the end of the 18th century in a year when the first winter frosts came very early, the harvesters picked some grapes that had already frozen, but the resulting wine was excellent, contrary to all expectations!

The slight problem is that in order to have frozen grapes, you need the cold! And as it doesn’t necessarily come every year, it’s quite a bet for the winemaker to take, deciding to leave the grapes on the vines in the hope that the temperature will drop sufficiently to make ice wine, eiswein or vin de glace, as it is also known in some regions.

Harvesting to make ice wine in Quebec

Why do the grapes have to be left on the vine for such a long time? As for the vendanges tardives or late harvest wines, the grapes are left longer to give them the chance to obtain a much higher sugar level (the grapes used for the vendanges tardives also have the noble rot to help increase the concentration of sugar). The sugar levels are increased by the effects of the frost, and the grapes are picked and transported to the chai when they are still frozen. The grapes are then pressed whilst frozen, so some of the grape juice remains as ice crystals with the stalks, pips, and grape skins after pressing. This further increases the sugar levels of the extracted juice.

Freezing also gives the wine greater acidity, which counterbalances the sugar, giving sweet wines which are very aromatic and fresh on the palate.

Ice wine tasting

But be warned. Not everyone or everywhere can produce ice wine. We’ve already mentioned that you need a minimum temperature, and across the Atlantic in the US and Canada, regulations for making ice wine stipulate at least -12°C. The freezing temperatures can in no way be produced artificially, and it is also against the charter to add sugar to the must. These conditions mean that the production of ice wine remains very restricted compared to classic wines.

The main ice wine producing regions are Austria, Germany and Alsace in Europe, and Canada and the United States in North America. The main grape varietals used to make ice wine are riesling, grüner vetliner and gewurztraminer for the white ice wines, and merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon for red ice wines.

So how is ice wine best served? Unsurprisingly, cold! Between 4 and 8°C, it can be enjoyed as an aperitif or as a dessert wine, but is best tasted on its own to fully appreciate the harmony between the sugar and acidity. It pairs well with blue cheese or foie gras, and if you have the patience, is a wine that can be kept in the cellar for a few years!

 

Other articles

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A brief history of grape harvesting

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A unique Saint Valentine gift for a wine lover


Here’s an original gift idea for St Valentine’s – Adopt some vines with your loved one and make your own personalised bottles of wine together. From the vine to the bottle, get behind the scenes in an organic French winery and follow the work of the winemaker as he shares with you the keys steps in making your own wine.

Personalised wine gift, France

It’ an imaginative gift for Valentine’s Day for any wine affecionado. You can choose to adopt some vines in one of our 7 organic partner wineries, and for a wine-making year, you’ll follow their evolution via newsletters, blog articles and photos. At the end of the experience you’ll get to personalise the wine labels and you’ll have a great time whilst you taste your own wine!

If your better half loves wine, then this personalised gift pack is sure to please. The welcome pack includes a sommelier’s apron, a Drop Stop, personalised certificate and further details of the chosen wine experience.

Wine experience gift, France

And to make the gift even more hands-on, you can add a wine experience day at the winery. You can choose a Discovery Experience Day to learn about the work in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes, or you could go for a Harvest Experience Day and get involved in picking the grapes and following their journey into the fermentation tanks. And then there is also the Vinification Experience Day to learn about the work in the cellar to transform the grape juice into wine. Each lasts a full day from 9:30 to 16:00, and gives you the unique opportunity to follow and help the winemaker in his work, to share a meal, and to taste the wines from the winery.

Vineyard experience, France

All of our partner winemakers are organically certified, and are passionate about their work. They’ll welcome you with open arms, and you’ll get to share a unique and authentic moment in a French vineyard. It’s also the perfect excuse to get away for a romantic break in France!

More information on the Wine Experience.

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Christmas and end of year celebrations. What are you serving this year?


With just a week left until Christmas, and the start of the end of year celebrations, it’s high time that we started thinking about what we’re going to put on our plates and fill our glasses with! Last year, we gave a few tips on pairing food and wine. This year, each of us in the Gourmet Odyssey office team has different plans for Christmas, so we thought we would share our menus with you!

Marie – the mountain menu

For those of you who, like me, will be spending Christmas in the mountains, it would be a shame not to include the local cheese specialties that are always so mouth watering! The problem is that the cheeses each have their own flavours and textures, so are best accompanied by a different wine. Here are a few of the pairings that I’m going to try this year.

The Swiss or Savoyarde fondue – always delicious

First of all, the famous cheese fondue. I choose the Swiss “half and half” method. I’m leaning towards a white wine, something round but strong enough to support the fat of the vacherin fribourgeois and gruyere cheeses that make up this dish. The traditional wines to go with it would be a Rousette from Savoie, a Riesling from Alsace, or a Côtes du Jura. I’m going to go all out Swiss, and serve a Fendant du Valais 2012 from Domaine Berthod Vogel, a really nice fruity wine.

A raclette, perfect for winter evenings

 

 

The Colline red wine from Domaine la Cabotte

And what to serve with a good old Savoyarde raclette? A fruity red with good acidity to compensate for the richness if the raclette, such as the local and very good Mondeuse, a Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône. Those who prefer white wine could opt for a Roussette or Riesling. I’m going to try a red Côtes du Rhône Colline 2013 from Domaine la Cabotte, a wine that I know well and have often tasted during the Gourmet Odyssey Experience Days.

The Sassenage cheese can be used in many hot dishes

I’m going to finish with the Sassenage, a blue cheese from the Vercors region near Grenoble. My first instinct is to go for a sweet wine such as a Banyuls, Barsac or a Port. I’ve also got a Macvin du Jura in the cellar which would be perfect. But I think I’ll serve this cheese with the aperitif of an organic Vercors ale that is slightly bitter and fruity, and produced locally.

Vercors beer

I haven’t really done a menu because it’s all cheese related, but it’s all local to where I’ll be and it’s all so good, and over the course of a week, I should be able to test all of the variations!

Ines – the semi-gastronomic menu

In my family, the Christmas meal is the occasion to spoil ourselves and to enjoy food that we don’t normally prepare. Here is what I’ll be serving this year.

St Jacques scallops on a bed of leak purée

 

 

La Boissoneuse from Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard

For the starter, I’m going to gently fry some St Jacques scallops and serve them on a bed of puréed leaks. The perfect match is a dry white wine to bring out the best in the St Jacques, so I’m thinking a Chablis, and have chosen the Boissonneuse from our partner, Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.

Veal and cep mushrooms

Having treated our taste buds with the starter, I’ve chosen a delicious veal steak with creamy cep sauce (my mouth is watering already!). I’m hesitating between two wines to go with it, and my mind keeps changing between a wine from the Loire or a Gigondas? A light and fruity Ludovic 2013 St Nicolas de Bourgeuil from Domaine de la Chopinière du Roy that will enhance the veal, or a more full bodied Cuvée Suprème Gigondas from Domaine des Florets that will perfectly match my little creamy ceps. At least I still have a few days left to decide, but Christmas is fast approaching!

Baked Mont d’Or

After the delicious starter and the rich flavour of the main course, we’ll have to leave some room for the cheese! This year, I’ve opted for a vacherin de Mont d’Or and a roquefort. Mmmm - there’s nothing better than a runny vacherin that’s been baked in the oven! I’ll open a bottle of Jurançon, a nice sweet wine that will withstand the strong taste of the roquefort.

The millefeuille

And to end on a sweet note, we’re going for a classic. A millefeuille served with a glass of champagne! The bubbles will bring some freshness and acidity to go with the sweetness of the desert, and a light note after a good meal!

Mark – The entente-cordiale menu

My family is half French and half English, so my Christmas meal draws inspiration from both cultures.

Oysters, deliciously simple as a starter

It’s a long and festive meal for both sides of the family, so I prefer to start the meal with something light and fresh, and for that, I’ve adopted the French tradition of serving oysters. I’m going to go for some fines de claires, and I’ll try to be more careful when opening them this year, because last year I ate my Christmas lunch with my hand in a bandage, but that’s another story! And to go with the oysters, I like a nice fresh Sauvignon Blanc, and will go for a great biodynamic Menetou Salon from Domaine Philippe Gilbert. And you don’t need anything else for the starter except some good bread with a thick layer of salted butter.

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the crackers

Then it’s time for an English tradition between the starter and main course. The Christmas crackers! They go bang and inside is a little gift, a paper hat that no-one likes to wear, and a cheesy joke, but it’s fun! You can buy them, or else the best are hand-made by my sister.

For the main course, I’m fairly traditional. Normally I go for a turkey or goose, but this year I’m going to do a couple of roast guinea fowl with tarragon. I’ll serve some roast potatoes, my granny’s famous stuffing, and a basket of winter vegetables, brussel sprouts, parsnips and carrots. To go with it, I’m going to serve a Santenay Beaurepaire 2005 Premier Cru from our partner, Domaine Chapelle.

Santenay Beaurepaire Premier Cru from Domaine ChapelleSantenay Beaurepaire Premier Cru from Domaine Chapelle

I prefer my cheese the French way, before the dessert. I’m going to go for a Stilton with a late bottled vintage port, and for those that don’t like blue cheese, I’ll also have a choice of goats cheese, morbier and a mature comté.

Stilton, potted or by the wedge

Dessert poses more problems. Personally, I love Christmas pudding, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea! So I’ll have a second choice too. A lemon meringue tart with pistachios and a drizzle of olive oil. And at the end of the meal I like to let everyone go free-style with the wine, and go with the flow of the moment. Perhaps a Chinon Chapelle from Château de la Bonnelière or a Pinot Gris Hengst Grand Cru from Domaine Stentz-Buecher.

The stress of lighting the Christmas pudding

So that’s what the office team has in store this Christmas. We haven’t covered every base of the French and English cuisine, and everyone will have their own twist and favourite pairings, but we hope it gives a few ideas of matching food and wine. The secret is to know the wine that you are serving beforehand to avoid any unwanted surprises. It’s time we got back to the stove!

Other wine and food pairing related posts

How to go about pairing food and wine?

The fundamentals of wine tasting

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Find the perfect Christmas gift for a wine lover

Wine gifts for Christmas – the Gourmet Odyssey selection

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Last minute Christmas Gifts for wine lovers


With just over two weeks left for your Christmas present shopping, if you're looking for a great Christmas gift idea for a wine enthusiast, the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gift packs are able to be sent up until the 21st December for European countries outside France, and up until the 22nd December in France. And for those that are leaving it really to the last minute, an email version can be sent for all orders received before 12:30 on the 24th December, and the welcome pack will be delivered after Christmas.

Unique wine gifts, France

The perfect Christmas gift for wine lovers, you can adopt some vines in one of our 7 organic partner wineries. For a wine-making year, your recipient will follow the making of their wine in the vineyard and cellar, and will personalise their bottles of wine at the end of the experience.

Rent a vine in France

And you can also add a day at the winery, valid for two people. The Discovery Experience Day will get you involved and teach you all about the work in the vineyard necessary to bring the grapes to optimum maturity. The Harvest Experience Day will see you pick the grapes and follow their journey into the fermentation vats, and the Vinification Experience Day covers the work in the cellar to ferment, blend and age the wine. Each lasts a full day from 9:30 to 16:00, and enables you to work alongside the winemaker, share a meal, and taste the different wines from the estate.

Personnalised bottles of wine, France

All of our partner wineries are organically certified, and the winemakers are chosen for their passion of their profession. They’ll open up the fascinating world of winemaking to you and will welcome you with open arms.

Vineyard experience, France

With this unique and authentic approach to wine, your recipients are sure to appreciate their personalised Christmas gift. To have something to open from under the Christmas tree, the welcome pack includes a sommelier’s apron, a DropStop, personalised certificate and details of the chosen Wine Experience.

More information on delivery times for Christmas 2015.

More information about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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Meet our partner winemakers at the end of year wine fairs and wine tastings.


Now that the 2015 harvest is over, it's time for our partner winemakers to hit the road and present their latest wines at the wine events in the lead up to Christmas. Come and meet the winemakers and taste their organic wines at one of the following wine events.

Domaine Stentz-Buecher - Alsace

- 26 -30 November - Salon des Vignerons Indépendants - Paris, Porte de Versailles, Stand M9. Click here for a free invitation.

- 3-18 December, Alsace Christmas Market (marché de Noël Alsacien), Paris - in front of the Gare de l'Est train station from 9:00-20:00 except Sunday (10:00 - 19:00). Free entrance

Wine lover gift

Domaine la Cabotte - Côtes du Rhône

- 14 November - Salon de Bollène - Salle Georges Brassens, Entrance E 4.

- 5-6 December, Wine Tasting at Domaine la Cabotte of their « family wines » : champagne from Domaine Jean-Marie Massonnot, Burgundy wines from Domaine d'Ardhuy and Côtes-du-Rhône wines from Domaine la Cabotte - Domaine la Cabotte, lieu-dit Derboux, Mondragon. Free entry.

Vineyard experience, France

Domaine Chapelle - Burgundy

- 6-8 November, Salon des Vins et Produits du Terroir - Sévrier, Complexe d'Animation, Route d'Albertville.

- 18-20 November (17:00 - 22 :00), Private Tasting at the Hotel Napoléon - Paris, 40 Avenue de Friedland. To receive an invitation, please contact us.

- 28-30 November, Natura Bio - Salon des Vins Bio organic wine fair - Lille, Grand Palais Click here for a free invitation.

- 5 December, Salon du vin de Loire-sur-Rhône wine fair. Free entry.

Wine gift pack

Château Beau Rivage - Bordeaux 

- 20-23 November- Salon des Vignerons Indépendants wine fair - Lille, Grand Palais, Stand B 6.

- 26-30 November - Salon des Vignerons Indépendants wine fair - Paris, Porte de Versailles, Stand E 90.

Wedding present wine

Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard - Burgundy 

- 24-25 October, Fêtes des Vins wine festival - Chablis.

- 20-23 November, Marché des Plaisirs Gourmands gourmet market - Mâcon, Parc des Expositions.

- 4-5 December - Grand Tasting wine fair - Paris, Carrousel du Louvre.

Unique wine gift

Château de la Bonnelière - Loire

- 4-5 December - Grand Tasting wine fair - Paris, Carrousel du Louvre.

Other articles relating to organic wine

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Gourmet autumn holiday breaks in France


Going away for an autumn break gives us the opportunity to catch up with some of our favourite winemakers rather than stock up at our local wine merchants. As nice as they are, they're surely fed up with seeing us continually popping in looking for new wines! So where are we off to this time? Here are a few ideas of things to do during a gourmet or wine break in the wine growing regions of France over the coming weeks.

In Alsace

Wine making experience in France

Let's start by whetting our appetite in Eguisheim for the marché du goût on the 18th October where you can meet the local producers and taste their local specialties such as tarte flambées, gingerbread, sweets from the Vosges, spices, and cheeses. If that doesn't suffice, visit the Mushroom festival on the 24-25th October. On the programme are exhibitions, animations, a market, and of course lots of menus featuring mushrooms in the local restaurants. And what to serve with your mushroom fricassee? A fresh Sylvaner should go well, and our partner, the Domaine Stentz-Buecher is just a short hop away in Wettolsheim. Give them a visit and taste their range of organic Alsace wines.

In the Bordeaux region

Vineyard experience in France

For the lovers of cruises, rendez-vous in Pauillac, where you can embark on a commented tour around the islands in the estuary, such as Patiras where you get a great panoramic view of the estuary. Try the lunch menu, and if that gives you some good ideas of pairing food and wine, when you get back you're just a stone's throw from Macau-en-Médoc, where Château Beau Rivage will be able to welcome you and introduce you to the art of barrel making.

In the Loire

Wine tasting gift, France

If you're more of the museum type, still in the gourmet theme, don't miss the exhibition dedicated to the Eat-Art movement of Daniel Spoerri and his renowned "snare pictures" in Chinon. And to make the visit even more interactive, you can follow the visit up with a cocktail dinner. If your children are accompanying you, take them to Lémeré for some pumpkin sculpting to get into the Halloween spirit, and visit the castle where the children can dress up as princesses and knights. And whilst you're in the area, don't miss out on a visit to the cellars of Caves Plouzeau, located in the cave directly underneath the Chinon Fortress, where you can taste the great Loire wines of our partner, Château de la Bonnelière!

In Burgundy

Wine lover gift, France

For the more sporty, a good bike ride is a great way to discover the vineyards and valleys of Chablis. You can hire bikes in Chablis as part of the Vélibourgogne programme at the Tourist Office. Pedal as far as Préhy, and find yourself in the middle of the vines at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, where you can taste their range of biodynamic wines.

These suggestions should keep you busy for a few days. If there isn't enough time to visit the wineries this autumn, then come and join us for a Vinification Experience Day this winter at one of our partner vineyards to discover the secrets in the cellar to blend and age the wines. Have a good holiday!

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Meet our partner winemakers at the end of year wine fairs and wine tastings.

Find the perfect Christmas gift for a wine lover

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The 2015 harvest nears the end in Alsace


The penultimate weekend of Harvest Experience Days saw us travel to Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace. With the very hot summer that the region endured, the harvest has been uncharacteristically early this year, and is almost over. The winery had kept back a plot of pinot noir vines for us to pick that will be used to make the winery's "Ambre" white wine, something that they only do every couple of years when the quality of the grapes allows them to do so.

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

The day started with us heading out into the vineyard. We followed the tractor and the materiel we needed for the harvest until we reached the plot of pinot noir vines that we were to pick. Céline and Jean-Jacques gave us our instructions and equipped us with a bucket and a pair of secateurs each. We then set about harvesting the grapes, being careful to only pick the ripe bunches!

Adop a vine, Alsace, France

We emptied the buckets into the trailer, and some of us also had a go at being porter, collecting the harvested grapes in a big basket worn on the back.

Wine lover git, Alsace, France

Once the basket was full, the porter then had to climb a ladder and tip the grapes over the shoulder into the trailer.

Wine experience, Alsace, France

After we had finished harvesting the plot, we proceeded to the Rosenberg vineyard, where our adopted vines are located. We took a few minutes to visit our vines and to take some pictures for the "My Vine" photo competition.

Rent a vine in France, Alsace

We then followed the grapes back to the winery and met up with Stéphane, who had been busy working in the cellar during the morning. We emptied the grapes into the press by tipping the trailer up, and helping the grapes slide down using a fork.

Unique wine gifts, France, Alsace 

Down below in the cellar, Stéphane explained how the press works to extract the juice from the grapes, and how it is then transferred to the vats.

Wine making experience in Alsace, France

Céline then gave us a wine tasting session of a range of the organic wines produced by the winery. We started with an unusual wine for Alsace, a 2012 blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling, called "Who Am I?". We the tasted a Riesling Ortel 2012, before tasting three different Grand Cru wines; a Riesling Steingrubler 2008 Grand Cru, a Pinot Gris Hengst 2006 Grand Cru, and a Gewurztraminer Hengst 2008 Grand Cru.

We then continued the tasting over lunch with a Pinot Blanc 2014, a Pinot Noir 2011, and Sylvaner Vielles Vignes 2011.

Wine gift packs in Alsace, France

After lunch, we headed back down into the cellar, where Stéphane explained how the work at harvest time isn't finished once the grapes are picked. We had a go at "pigeage", a job that involves punching down the cap of grape skins and pips into the juice, using a big plunger. This helps extract the tannins and colour from the grape skins during the maceration period.

Original wine gift, Alsace, France

In the fermentation hall, we learnt all about the process to turn the grape juice into wine as we listened to the gurgling of the vats that had already started to ferment.

Personalised wine gifts, France, Alsace

We finished the day with a final tasting of a couple of grape musts, at different stages of fermentation. We'll pick up from here next year during the Vinification Experience Days where we'll learn about the decisions that the winemaker takes during the rest of the fermentation and ageing periods.

Wine tasting gift, Alsace, France

A final stop in the room where the older wines are stored, and then it was time to say our farewells. Many thanks to all of the family at Domaine Stentz-Buecher for welcoming us, and letting us in behind the scenes during harvest time!

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The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries

The 2015 harvest. What happens next in the cellar?

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The harvest in a few words


Every year, around this time, we read or watch a number of reports that talk about the customs, quality and trends regarding the grape harvest. Sometimes the terms used can be a bit obscure, so here are a few definitions to help you decipher what actually goes on during this key moment in wine making.

The harvest banns or "ban des vendanges"

Traditionally, this was the document that gave permission to start the harvest, and also to get the harvest celebrations under way. Today, some regions in France still fix the earliest possible date to start the harvest. From the set date, the winemakers can begin to harvest the grapes, but they are also free to start harvesting later if they feel that their grapes would benefit from maturing more before being picked. In other regions, the winemakers themselves have complete autonomy over when to harvest their grapes.

Harvest period

So it's no longer just the official decree that marks the start of the harvest, but it's also the choice of the winemaker. For each grape varietal and vineyard plot, the right equilibrium has to be found between the grapes being sufficiently mature and waiting too long if there are any climatic risks such as rain, storms, or drought. The winemaker has to be able to deal with the stress of uncertainty!

Vineyard experience in France

The state of the grapes

The winemakers decisions are therefore based on the state of the grapes in each individual vine plot. As the grapes mature, the sugar level rises and the acidity decreases. If the winemaker waits too long, the sugar level will be too high and the grapes will be overripe. The water in the berries will start to evaporate and the grapes will start to dry out. For some types of wine, such as vendanges tardives, this is the stage that the winemaker will wait for before picking the grapes.

Late harvest or "vendanges tardives"

Outside of the usual harvest period, some grape varietals and wine appellations have been granted specific authorisation to enable a late harvest. In these cases, we're looking for a high concentration of sugar and so choose to harvest later. The mention of  "vendanges tardives" on a label is regulated, and in France it is allowed in Alsace, and in the Gaillac and Jurançon appellations, each having their own specific charters.

Green harvest

So you can harvest later, but you can also pick your grapes earlier with a green harvest. But note that a green harvest is never intended to pick grapes for making wine. It's simply to remove excess grapes from the vines during the ripening or véraison" period. By decreasing the yield, the winemaker can increase the quality of the remaining grapes.

Original wine gift in France

Harvesting machine

Once the grapes have ripened, it's time to pick them. To do so the winemaker can use a harvesting machine or lots of pairs of secateurs! The harvesting machine has the advantage of being quick and of being able to be used more flexibly in terms of time. The proponents of manual harvesting argue that the quality of the harvest is better by hand, as a first sort can be done of the grapes before they are transported to the chai.

Sorting table

Talking of sorting the grapes, this can be done at two stages, at the moment the grapes are picked, or on a sorting table at the chai, where the unwanted grapes and foliage are removed, and often the stems are removed at the same time for red wine grapes. The winemaker chooses one or the other method, or sometimes both for the very best quality harvest. For some appellations, you have to sort when picking the grapes, or to harvest in phases by making multiple passes, as is the case for some of the sweet wines.

Unique wine gift in France

Destemming

Once the grapes have been sorted, the winemaker might decide to separate the berries from the stems, particularly for red wines, before the grapes are pressed or left to macerate in the fermentation tanks. Removing the stalk avoids too much contact with the grape must that can give a bitter vegetal taste. If the stalk is mature enough, the winemaker might decide to leave some of the stalk to add some tannin to the wine, and make a wine that will keep longer.

Wine press

To make white wine or some rosé wines, the grapes are pressed. Pressing can be done in a number of different types of wine press; vertically, horizontally, pneumatic or hydraulic. Each has their own advantages, but the pneumatic presses are most often used nowadays because you can regulate the pressure applied to the grapes to obtain a better quality juice. For the red wines, there is no pressing done before the fermentation, but afterwards to separate the solid marc of stems, skin and pips from the wine.

Adopt a vine in France

Crushing the grapes

For many wines, the grapes aren't crushed before being pressed or macerated. They are either left to break down naturally, or can be crushed mechanically or by foot. The days of crushing grapes by foot are very rare now as it takes a lot of time and energy! So these are some of the principal steps that will keep the winemaker busy up to and during the harvest. But it doesn't stop there! Once the grapes and juice are safely in the vats, the vinification process starts. We then hear talk of fermentation, racking, chaptilisation, yeast, sulphites... but we'll talk more about that after the harvest!

Other articles relating to the harvest

- A brief history of grape harvesting

- The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries

- A review of the work in the vineyard for the 2015 vintage

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The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries


Whilst the first Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience days of 2015 got underway last weekend, all of our partner winemakers have either started the harvest or are busy with the final preparations. A quick round robin of our wineries as the first clip of secateurs get under way...

2015 is a year of early harvests

As usual, the harvest season got underway at the Allegria and Domaine la Cabotte wineries, as they are situated in the south of France, in the Languedoc and Côtes du Rhône regions respectively, where the high temperatures and long hours of sunlight have enabled the grapes to reach a good level of maturity, as explained in our review of the work in the vineyard post. Domaine Allegria started the harvest on the 20th August, 2 days earlier than 2014 and 20 days earlier than 2013!

Rent a vine in France, Languedoc

The early start to the harvest is the case for all our partner winemakers in France, such as at Domaine Chapelle where the staff returned from the summer holidays on the 24th August to be ready in time. The winemakers are quietly confident that the quality will be very good this year, but there are a few worries that the quantity will be less due to the lack of water in some regions that limited the growth of the grapes.

Vineyard experience for wine lover in France, Burgundy

In Chablis, the date of the harvest has been brought forward at the last minute. On the 31st August, a hail storm damaged some of the vineyards in Chablis, and so the grapes have to be picked as quickly as possible, as the risk of the grapes being affected by mould dramatically increases. The harvest has started one week earlier than initially planned.

Lots of work in the cellar to welcome the 2015 harvest

In the cellar, the 2014 and some of the 2013 vintages are still being pampered. However, space needs to made for the arrival of the new vintage. In some wineries, such as Château de la Bonnelière, some of the wines have therefore been bottled to free up some of the vats and barrels. The winery has also had to adapt the organisation of the chai to be able to receive the harvest of the 10 additional hectares that they have acquired this year.

Wine making experience in France

At Château Beau Rivage, the 2015 harvest will be worked in a newly renovated chai, and everywhere, such as at Domaine Allegria, all of the equipment has been cleaned and organised to best receive the grapes. At Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, all of the materiel is tested, the conveyor belts, presses, sorting table etc, before being called into action for real.

Wine gift packs in France

And the other big task is to get ready to welcome the teams of harvesters who will arrive at the wineries to pick the grapes from anywhere between 10 days and a month depending on the winery. So the pressure is mounting as the harvests get under way, but our winemakers are keeping their smiles as they think of the great wines that will hopefully result!

Like to know more or to participate in the harvest? It's not too late to join us for one of the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Days. Don't hesitate to get in touch to know more.

 

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A review of the work in the vineyard for the 2015 vintage

 

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Wine Experience Day in Alsace


We spent a great day in the vineyard last Saturday at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace. We were there for a Discovery Experience Day to learn about the work carried out in the vineyard, so after the introductions we headed straight out into the middle of the vines.

Adopt a vine in France, Alsace

We stopped at the Rosenberg vineyard to meet our adopted vines. The grapes from our vines will be used to make the wine chosen for us by Gourmet Odyssey, and we immortalised the moment with a few photos!

Rent a vine in France, Alsace

It was then time to get down to some more serious business! Jean-Jacques Stentz explained to us the work that has already been conducted in the vineyard during the winter months, such as how the earth was heaped around the vines to protect them from the frosts, the long task to prune the vines to control the future yield, and how the soil is tilled to keep the grass and weeds in check.

Wine experience in Alsace, France

The vines grow very quickly at this time of year, and you have to be vigilant in ensuring that the plant focuses its efforts in the production of grapes. De-budding is essential to remove the unwanted branches which sprout from the vines. If left, they will drain energy from the vines and decrease the quality of the future harvest.

Jean-Jacques showed us how to de-bud, and then we spread out between the rows to have a go at de-budding ourselves.

Vineyard experience in Alsace, France

We then visited another vineyard to see a plot of vines that had recently been replanted. Jean-Jacques explained how this is done, and the patience that is then needed before grapes of a good enough quality for making wine can be harvested.

Adopt a vine in Alsace, France

Back at the winery, we had earned our aperitif. The first wine to taste was the Who am I 2012, the only blended wine produced at the winery. We then tasted the Riesling Ortel 2012, Gewurztraminer Steingrübler Grand Cru 2008 and the Pinot Noir 2011. We continued the tasting over lunch of some local smoked ham and traditional roïgebrageldi, cheese, and blueberry tart.

wine experience gift in Alsace, France

After lunch, we returned to the vineyard to learn more about the work that will be done between now and the harvest, and how the winemaker chooses when to pick the grapes. Stéphane Stentz, also told us his reasons for working organically.

Original wine gift in Alsace, France

At the end of the day, we went down into the cellar for a brief introduction to the vinification side of things, following the journey that the grapes will take from the press to the vats, and to see where the wine will ferment next autumn.

Wine tasting gift in Alsace, France

Many thanks to Stéphane, Céline, Jean-Jacques and Simone for their hospitality, and to all of the participants for a most enjoyable day.

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Wine course in Alsace to learn about making and ageing wines


Once the harvest has finished, the winemaker's job is not over. Before the wine is ready to be bottled, there is still much that needs to be done, and the winemaker needs to closely monitor the wine throughout the fermentation and ageing process. Last Sunday, we were at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace for a Vinification Experience Day to learn more about the work of the winemaker in the cellar.

It should never be forgotten that winemaking begins in the vineyard, and indeed, without good grapes, it's not possible to make a quality wine. Our day therefore started with a quick visit to the vineyard, which also allowed us to see our adopted vines!

Rent a vine in Alsace, France

The Vinification Experience Day is the day where we taste the most wines. To help us find the words to describe our impressions when tasting wines, we participated in a workshop on the aromas found in wine. With the help of some small bottles of essence, we tried to identify the fruity and floral aromas that are typical of the white wines from Alsace. An exercise that isn't as simple as you might think!

wine tasting experience in France

With our noses now finely tuned, we went down into the cellar to see the oak casks and stainless steel vats that are used to hold the wine during the fermentation and ageing periods. Each plot of vines and grape varietal is vinified separately, and Stéphane explained how the wines change during the alcoholic and malo-lactic fermentations, and the work needed to prepare the wines before being bottled.

White wine experience gift in France

We tasted a couple of wines that are still in the process of ageing. The first was the Pinot Gris Rosenberg 2014, which has yet to finish its malo-lactic fermentation. We could see that the wine was still cloudy and fizzed a little, both of which are entirely at this stage.

Wine maki,ng experience in Alsace, France

The second wine was a Riesling Ortel which was still in its alcoholic fermentation phase, showing that we can't always control everything, and the profession of being a winemaker calls for lots of patience.

We then tasted some of the finished wines to appreciate the range and complexity of the wines made at Domaine Stentz-Buecher. We started with a very floral Pinot Blanc 2013, followed by the Pinot Gris Rosenberg 2013. We then tasted a Riesling Steingrübler Grand Cru 2008, a Gewurztraminer Pfersigberg Grand Cru 2008 and a Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru 2008. We continued to taste other wines with one of the local specialties, choucroute.

Vineyard experience in Alsace, France

After lunch, we returned to the cellar to see the machines used for bottling and labelling the wine bottles. We also had a long discussion on the choice of corks versus screw tops.

Personalised your own bottles of wine in Alsace, France

The winery also produces Crémant d'Alsace sparkling white wine. Stéphane showed us how the bottles are turned to collect the sediment in the neck of the bottle, and we learnt about the specific work needed to make sparkling wine.

Unique wine gifts in alsace, France

Then a last little tour of the cellar to see the red wines that are resting in oak barrels, before finishing in the wine library, where a selection of the winery's wines dating back to 1995 are stored.

Other articles relating to wine tasting

The fundamentals of wine tasting

Wine defects. How to identify faults when tasting wines

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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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