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Château de la Bonnelière

Removing the unwanted vines branches in the Loire Valley vineyard


Following the few days of heatwave conditions, we were glad to have slightly cooler weather to host our new adoptive vine parents for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Discovery Experience Days at Château de la Bonnelière.  We had perfect conditions to work in the vineyard, the main activity for the weekend being de-budding to remove the unwanted shoots that have started to grow.

Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner of Château de la Bonnelière introduced us to the winery over a coffee, outlining how the 2017 is shaping up so far, and then we headed straight out into the vineyard to get to the heart of the matter!

Wine box day at the winery in the Loire Valley

The recent good weather, interspersed with a few showers had meant that the vines had rapidly grown during the past couple of weeks. They are currently so far ahead that they are already at the stage where they would normally be in mid-July, some 3 weeks ahead of usual, and as a result the work in the vineyard is a bit behind schedule.

Marc was therefore even more excited than usual to welcome the participants to have a few extra hands to help out! But before getting down to work, we started with an introduction to the adopted vines and a few photos for the “My Vine” photo competition. Judging by some of the ideas for posing in front of the wines, Château de la Bonnelière will perhaps see one of the winners at the end of the year!

Vine adoption wine gift in the Loire Valley France

After this fun moment, it was time to get involved with the de-budding. The aim of this job is to remove the shoots and branches that have grown from the trunks of the vines. These branches won’t produce any fruit and will just sap the energy from the vine.

The Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard is particularly susceptible to the growth of these shoots, and each year the plot needs many hours of attention from Marc’s team.

Vineyard tending gift box in France

Our participants, some also armed with spades and hoes, spread out among the rows and got stuck in. The work was interspersed with conversations on how Marc organises the work, the decisions taken in the vineyard, the work carried out so far, and even what goes on in the cellar. The work progressed well, and Marc was very appreciative of our help.

Wine Experience Day in the Loire Valley France

After the effort, the reward!  Lunch was awaiting us, prepared by Mme Plouzeau, accompanied by a good range of the wines from the chateau!

Winemakers' lunch in a French castle in the Loire Valley

The programme for the afternoon was a little less sporty thankfully as the idea of having a siesta in the shade of the vines was a very appealing idea! We walked a little in the vineyard to see a young plot of vines, recently planted with Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc.

Wine box gift vineyard visit in France

We also saw the oldest plot of vines in Chinon that was planted in 1929, the grapes from which are used in the Vindoux wine.

The day drew to a close and we each headed our separate ways, a few bottles in the car to remember the day by, and to share with friends at a later date!

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Working in the vineyard during a Wine Experience Day in the Loire Valley


We had a sunny weekend in the Loire Valley last weekend to welcome the participants of the Discovery Experience week-end at Château de la Bonnelière.

  Vine-Adoption and winery visit in Chinon, France

It was the first visit to the winery for this new season of apprentice wine-makers, and so Marc Plouzeau, the owner and wine-maker at Château de la Bonnelière told us about the history of the winery, and introduced us to the characteristics of the Chinon wine appellation, particularly the Left Bank wines, where all of the 30 hectares of Marc’s vineyards are located.

One of the principal aims of the Discovery Experience Day is to participate in the life at the winery and to help work in the vineyard. The plan was to help out with the de-budding during the week-end to remove some of the unwanted shoots, which in turn will help control the amount of fruit produced. In Chinon, the appellation charter stipulates that there should be no more than 14 grape bunches per vine.

Oenology and wine-making course at the winery, Loire, France

Unfortunately Mother Nature hadn’t been very kind to the Loire Valley wine-makers for the second consecutive year.  The château’s vineyards had been hit by two frosts in April.

The first was a “black frost” where the temperatures fell to as low as -7°C during the night in some areas of the Chinon appellation. In Marc’s vineyards, the temperatures didn’t fall as low as in other parts, but a second frost hit the following week, this time being a “white frost”. Here the cold temperatures see frost form around the vines, creating a magnifying glass effect for the early morning sunrays that then scorch the moist buds and leaves.

Wine lover perfect gift vine-adoption in the Loire Valley, France

Despite trying to protect the vines by lighting paraffin candles in the vineyards to raise the temperature by a few degrees, the frost still impacted some of Marc’s plots of vines.  But fortunately the vines are fairly hardy plants, and there were some good surprises, notably in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard where the vines resisted well.

As the number of shoots had already been reduced from the impact of the frost, we decided to get involved in another activity, less glamorous, but essential nonetheless; hoeing! It’s a physical activity and gave us a good work out as we removed the weeds and grass growing around the vines that the plough had difficulty in reaching.

Get involved in the making of your own wine in Loire, France

Marc answered our many questions regarding the different aspects of working in the vineyard, and took us on a tour of the chai.

Wien-tasting at Château de la Bonnelière, Chinon, France

By this time, we had earned our aperitif and lunch, which was accompanied by a tasting of the different wines from the winery, including the two new Chinon white wines.

Vineyard tour and winery visit in the Loire Valley, France

In the afternoon, we took a walk in the vineyard, and visited the chenin blanc vines which are used in the Chinon white wine and which are pruned using a different technique. We also visited a plot of cabernet franc vines dating back to 1929, which are used in the “Vindoux” red wine, a name which hides the strength if this cuvée!

The day finished with the sun still shining brightly. We look forward to returning to see the ripe grapes at harvest time

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Getting involved in the work in the vineyard


The 26th March saw the new season’s adoptive parents arrive at the winery to start work on the 2017 vintage of the Clos de la Bonnelière. And despite the change of clocks, everyone arrived on time, eager to start the day!

Over coffee, Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner, explained the history of the winery which was brought back to life by his father in 1980.  In 1989, a great vintage for the Loire Valley, the first Château de la Bonnelière wine for over 60 years was born.

Winery touring wine gift in the Loire Valley, France

Marc took over the running of the winery in 2000, and has gradually grown the winery over the years and as the opportunities arose.  Today the winery has 30 hectares of vines, all of which are situated on the left back of the Vienne river.

It was then time to get to the heart of the day’s matter, and find out what happens in the vineyard to nurture the vines. The pruning season has just finished, and it is now time to get ready for the vines future growth and to work the soil, which has been resting since the last harvest.

We had a double mission for the day.  First of all to pull away the cut branches that had been left behind after pruning, and then to attach the remaining branches to the training wires.

Adopt-a-vine gift box for wine lover in France

We worked in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, where our adopted vines are located.  So before getting stuck in, we took a few minutes to meet our vines and take a few pictures for the My Vine photo competition, some of which were very acrobatic!

Work in the vineyard course with the winemaker in France

But enough larking around, it was high time to do some work!  Pulling away the cut branches is a fairly physical task as the tendrils from last year grip tightly to the training wires, but one which we soon got to grips with, leaving the dead wood in the middle of the rows to be crushed, allowing some of the nutrients to return to the soil.

Oenology course at the winery in France as a wine gift

The next task to fold the branches and attach them to the training wires was a little more difficult.  The fruit-bearing branch which will carry this year’s grapes needs to be supported by the wire, and the branches folded without breaking them.  You need to be careful, and the sound that they make when being bent causes you to worry at first.  But you soon get the hang of it, and we made a good job of it!

By this time, we had built up a good appetite, and we enjoyed lunch, accompanied by some of Marc’s different red and white wines.

Wine tasting during a discovery day at the winery, Chinon, France

We resisted the urge for a siesta in the afternoon sun, and listened intently as Marc explained the work involved in being an organic winegrower, and how the work differs in some of his other vine plots.

The day then drew to a close, and we each headed off in our separate directions having learned more about the work that goes on behind the scenes in making quality wine.  We look forward to learning more when we come back for the Harvest and Vinification Experience days.

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Wine-making in Chablis


Last weekend we were in Chablis to learn all about how the grapes that we harvested last autumn have been transformed into wine.  This wine-making experience day spent at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard enabled us to get behind the scenes to visit the fermentation halls and follow the process right up to bottling.

Oragnic wine-making gift experience in Chablis, France

We started the day by following the journey that the harvested grapes take, and saw where they are weighed before being emptied into the wine presses.  Raphaël explained how the presses work to separate the juice from the skins and pips.

Follow the making of your own organic Chablis wine

The juice is then held in a vat to allow the sediment to fall to the bottom, before the clearer juice is then drawn off and put into another vat.  Here the sugar in the wine will be transformed into alcohol during the fermentation process.  We learnt that the fermentation is closely monitored, and that the temperature is regulated to ensure that the fermentation gets started but doesn’t happen too quickly.  We covered a whole host of topics from yeast, to chaptalisation, and the adding of sulphites.

Guided tour of the fermentation hall at the winery

After the alcoholic fermentation, comes the malo-lactic fermentation, which decreases the acidity of the wine and makes it smoother.  The malo-lactic fermentation has happened earlier than usual this year, and all of the vats had already finished, including the Chablis Sainte-Claire that the 2016 vintage clients will have at the end of the experience.  We had brought some glasses with us, and Raphaël gave us a taste of the wine, directly from the vat.  It was slightly cloudy, as it has not yet been filtered and although it shows promise, we all agreed that it needs time to age further before being ready for bottling!

Tasting the different stages of fermentation

We then moved onto the area where the wine is bottled and the corks or screw tops are applied depending on the country that the wine will be consumed.  Raphaël also showed us the machine that is used for labelling the bottles and where the bottles are boxed up before be sent to the four corners of the world.

The machine that will label the personalised bottles of wine

Back at the winery, we started to put our senses to the test to prepare us for the series of wine tasting to come.  First of all we made our noses work by trying to name different aromas that can be found in white wine.  We then had to identify different sweet, saline, acidic and bitter solutions, an exercise that also taught us that we have different captors in our mouths depending on the taste.

Wine tasting lesson at the winery to develop the senses

But enough of the theory.  To better understand the differences between wines, there’s no better way than tasting them!  We blind tasted three series of wines, which helped us to better appreciate the characteristics of different grape varietals, appellations, terroir and the way in which the wine is aged.  We continued the wine tasting over lunch, which had been prepared by a local caterer.

In the afternoon, we started by descending into the cellar to see the geological dissection of the kimmeridgian soil.  This enabled us to better understand the soil that gives the Chablis wines their distinctive minerality.

The vineyard terroir

We then visited the hall where some of the premier cru and grand cru wines are aged in oak casks.  Jean-Louis explained the role that the wood plays in developing the structure of the wine.  We had one last tasting in store, that of the Montmains premier cru, directly from the oak cask.

Ageing the wine in oak casks

A few brave clients then headed out into the wind to visit their adopted vines, and take a few souvenir photos!  A great way to end the day.

Adopt-a-vine gift and make your own personalised bottles of wine

Many thanks to all you participated and made it such a fun day.  We’ll keep you posted how your wine progresses over the coming months!

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Wine-making gift experience in the Loire Valley


Last weekend, we participated in the first Vinification Experience Days of the year at Château de la Bonnelière.  The programme for the day was to learn about the work involved to vinify and age the wine after the harvest and up until the wine is ready for bottling.  As we were to discover, there is much to do, and there are many decisions to be taken by Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker!

The day started with a welcome coffee or cup of tea, whilst Marc recounted the history of the winery and brought us up to speed on the work in the vineyard since the last harvest.

Visiting our adopted vines

We ventured out into the vineyard to pay a visit to our adopted vines.  They had been pruned at the start of the winter, but the cut branches hadn’t yet been pulled clear of the training wires, giving some the occasion to have a go at this fairly physical activity!

We then divided into two groups, one going with Marc to the chai, and the other heading to a workshop to train our senses to help us better taste wines.

Marc explains the vinification process in the chai

In the chai, Marc gave us an insight into the world of vinification and his chosen way for making wine.  He uses gravity to put the grapes into the vats to best avoid any damage to the grapes.  He then closely monitors the wines to control the fermentation process, and then chooses how to age the wines, either in vats or in different types of oak barrels.

Putting our noses to the test in the aroma workshop

In the caveau, we put our noses to work!  Wine gives off lots of different aromas that we can put into three categories.  The primary aromas are linked to the grape varietal, the secondary aromas to the way in which the wine is vinified, and the tertiary aromas from the way that the wine is aged.  We tried to identify different aromas to help us prepare for the wine tasting to follow.

Lunch prepared by Mme Plouzeau

After this full morning, it was the time for lunch.  A lovely meal, prepared by Mme Plouzeau, was accompanied by wines from the winery, including an avant-première tasting of Marc’s latest wine, “Silice”, a Chinon white which paired perfectly with the starter.

We continued the day with a visit to the cellar underneath the Chinon fortress where the wines are aged.

This magical place is a large cave, forming one of many underground galleries beneath the streets of Chinon.  It was from here that the stone was extracted to build the castle above.  The cellar has been in the family for 3 generations and Marc uses it to age his wines in oak barrels.

In the cellar beneath the Chinon fortress to taste the wines that are still ageing

We had the good fortune to taste a number of different wines that are still in the ageing process.  This is an unconventional way to taste wines as they have yet to reach their maturity and so you have to try and imagine what they might become in a few months or even years time!  As we were to find out, some of the wines still have many months to go before their tannic structure softens.

And so the day drew to a close after this wine tasting full of potential and promise.  We now have to wait patiently until the Clos de la Bonnelière will be ready for bottling!

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Harvest Experience in the Loire Valley at Château de la Bonnelière


The sun was shining for the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Days at Château de la Bonnelière near Chinon last weekend. We were joined at the winery by some of the apprentice winemakers who had come to participate in the harvest and to help the winemaker, Marc Plouzeau, create two of the winery’s most prestigious wines, the Vindoux I’Intégrale 1929, and the Clos de Maulévrier Antéphylloxéra.

 

Vine adoption and grapes harvest experience in France

A couple of busy days were in store, so as soon as Marc had welcomed us and given an introduction to the history of his winery, it was time to head out into the vineyard.

Despite the frost in April and a rainy spring, the two vineyard plots had resisted well, and had managed to produce some excellent quality grapes.  After a briefing on how to harvest the grapes and equipped with secateurs and buckets, we got stuck in to harvesting.

inemaker experience in the Loire Valley France

Sunday’s group had the honour to harvest the only plot of Cabernet Franc vines in the whole of the Loire Valley that date from before the phylloxera period!  This vineyard has existed since the 15th century and so shares its history with one of Chinon’s most famous people, Rabelais!  The vines were spared the phylloxera disease thanks to the sandy soil and high walls that surround the walled vineyard.  One of the vines in this plot is over 200 years old and has 9 heads – a real sight to behold!

The vines that stop producing grapes in this vineyard are replaced using grafting from healthy plants or by using the marcotting technique, whereby a vine branch is buried in the ground whilst still attached to the original plant.  The underground part of the branch will then start to develop its own roots, and once this has been done, it is then separated.

Harvest Day Experience as wine gift box

The crates quickly filled up with the harvested grapes, and we returned to the chateau for the lunch which Marc’s mum had prepared.  During lunch we tasted different wines and vintages from the winery and the plots that we had harvested in the morning.

Wine tasting and winery tour in the Loire Valley France

To help lunch digest, we headed back out into the vineyard to find our adopted vines.  A good excuse to take a few souvenir pictures and some surprising ones for the “My Vine” photo competition!

Harvester meal and experience in France as wine gift

We then made our way to the chai, to follow our grapes progress.  We first emptied the crates into the de-stemming machine to separate the Cabernet Franc grape berries from the stalks.

Oenology course at the wineray in the Loire Valley France

The grapes were then put directly into the vats where they will ferment for the next 4 weeks or so.  The marc will then be pressed, and the wine will then be transferred to barrels for the ageing process.

Our day finished with a final tasting, not of wine, but of the grape juice from the vineyard plots that we had just picked!  A nice way to thank everyone for their hard work and to give a pre-taste of how the wine will have evolved once the Vinification Experience days get under way next year.

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De-budding the vines in the Loire Valley


Last weekend, Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker at Château de la Bonnelière, welcomed some of the 2016 vintage Gourmet Odyssey adopt-a-vine owners to the winery in the Loire Valley for a Discovery Experience day.
Discovery Experience Day to learn about winemaking at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley

Over a coffee and some croissants, Marc gave us a quick overview of the Loire Valley and Chinon winemaking regions, and he introduced us to his family history and their involvement with the winery up to when he took over the running of it in 1999. It was then time to head out into the vineyard.

Before getting to meet the adopted vines, we discussed the frost that hit the Loire valley hard at the end of April. The Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard got off lightly, thanks to the protection that Marc and his team had put in place using anti-frost candles.

Marc explains how he tried to protect his vines from the recent frosts

The anti-frost candles are 5 litre cans of paraffin that are placed 400 per hectare throughout the vineyard, and then lit when needed. They help raise the temperature of the air by a few crucial degrees and by doing so, help reduce the risk of the frost developing. The lighting of these candles enabled Marc to save the harvest of the vines in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard.

After the traditional photo shoot of the adopted vines for the "My Vine" photo competition, the main programme for the morning was de-budding.

The adopt-a-vine owners get to meet their vines.

The vines are flourishing at the moment, and the shoots and leaves are rapidly growing. Some of these shoots will not produce any grapes, and will just serve to take energy away from the vines if they are not removed. So our mission was to help Marc get rid of the excess growth.

Wine Experience gift to help the winemaker work in the vineyard

Despite some hesitation and at first being worried about removing the wrong shoots, we got stuck in and followed Marc's guidelines. We had a very motivated group, and we de-budded a couple of rows which will help the team at the winery finish the task more quickly!

Gift experience to learn how to de-bud vines

Having finished the work, it was time to sit down, and continue the discussion over lunch whilst tasting various wines from Château de la Bonnelière. We were lucky enough to taste the latest of Marc's creations, the Vindoux wine which is a Chinon red from the 2014 vintage. It's the first integral vinification wine from the winery that had been fermented and aged completely in new oak barrels. The wine was much appreciated!

Wine tasting and vineyard experience gift in the Loire Valley at Château de la Bonnelière

The afternoon continued with a visit to the tool shed to learn about the array of tools that are used to work the vines and soil in the vineyard. We also visited the chai to get a taster for what the Vinification Experience Day holds in store.

It was another rich day, full of interesting discussions between the participants and the winemaker. Many thanks to Marc and to all you came!

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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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Start your retirement by learning to be a winemaker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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A few questions we recently asked Marc Plouzeau


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

How long have you been a winemaker ?

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

 

What is your best memory in the vineyard or cellar ?

It has to be 2003. My first proper vintage!

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

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

Gold medal in Chinon

Gold medal in Angers

Silver medal in Paris

Gold medal in Macon!

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

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

 

What are your projects for 2016?

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

- Chinon Vindoux l'Intégrale

- Chinon Clos des Roches St Paul

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

- Le Croquant

- Le Bouquet

- La Fine'S'

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

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Learning to prune vines in the Loire Valley


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

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

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

Rent a vine, Loire Valley, France

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

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

Vineyard experience, Chinon, France

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

Adopt a vine france, Loire Valley

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

Wine experience gifts, Chinon, France

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

Unique wine gifts, Loire Valley, France

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

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The art of vinifiying, ageing and tasting wine


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

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

Vineyard experience, Loire Valley France

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

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

Wine making experience, Loire Valley, France

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

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

Wine gift pack, France, Loire Valley

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

Wine tasting gift, Loire Valley, France

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

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

Wine lover gift, Loire Valley, France

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

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Taste the wines from our partners in the 2016 wine fairs


Now that last year’s harvest is now over and the first of stages of the vinification are completed, it’s time for our partner winemakers to present their latest wines during the 2016 wine fairs. Come and meet our winemakers and taste their organic wines at one of the following events.

Château Beau Rivage - Bordeaux

 

Salon Vinidome

Salon Vinidome - Grande Halle d'Auvergne in Clermont-Ferrand
5–7 February 2016

Salon des Vignerons Indépendants in Strasbourg

Salon des Vignerons Indépendants in Strasbourg – Stand A 15
19-22 February 2016

Salon des Vins de France

Salon des Vins de France – Nantes La Trocadière – Rezé – Stand 15
18-20 March 2016

 

Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard – Burgundy

Salon des Vins de Mâcon – Spot, Parc des Expositions
17-19 April 2016

 

Domaine Allegria

Salons des Vignerons de Liège

Salons des Vignerons de Liège, Belgium - Caserne Fonck, Outremeuse
2-3 April 2016

Salons des Vignerons Indépendants « Nature et Vin

Salons des Vignerons Indépendants « Nature et Vin » in Paris – Espace Champerret
27-29 May 2016

 

Domaine Chapelle - Burgundy

Salon du Vin et de la Gastronomie in Neuville de Poitou - Salle des Fêtes
Saturday 13 February, 10:00-19:00 and Sunday 14 February, 10:00-18:00

Salon Vivre Autrement Bio in Paris - Parc Floral (12e)
11-14 March 2016

Salon des vins et produits régionaux de Paray-le-Monial - Centre Associatif Parodien, rue Pierre Lathuilière
Saturday 19 March, 10:00-19:30 and Sunday 20 March, 10:00-19:00

Journées Gourmandes du Grand Morvan à Saulieu - Hall des Expositions

Foire gastronomique de Mailly Champagne
13 au 15 May 2016

 

You can also meet the winemakers during one of the upcoming Gourmet Odyssey Discovery or Vinification Experience Days.

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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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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.

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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

Being an organic winemaker in 2015

What is biodynamic 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.

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A great 2015 harvest in the Loire


We returned for the first time since the summer to Château de la Bonnelière for a very important weekend - the harvest! The summer months have been perfect for the vines, allowing us to hope for an exceptional vintage this year.

Under a sunny sky on Saturday, and some mist on Sunday, the participants for the Harvest Experience Days were welcomed by Marc, the owner and winemaker. Time for a quick coffee to gain our strength for the work to come!

Rent a vine, Loire Valley, France

The day started with a quick visit of our adopted vines in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard and the chance to take a few pictures, before we headed off along the bumpy vineyard tracks (motorways according to Marc!) to the Roche Saint-Paul vineyard, which was the plot set aside for us to harvest.

The Cabernet Franc vines were starting to be tinted with the first of the autumnal colours, but most importantly, they were loaded with lovely ripe grapes.

Adopt a vin france, Loire Valley

We were accompanied by Noémie and Stéphane, who both work with Marc, who helped guide us in choosing the right bunches to pick. Once the buckets and secateurs had been distributed, we spread out in pairs amongst the rows, and started to pick the fruit of this year's work!

Unique wne gifts, Loire Valley, France

Marc's new secateurs caused a couple of minor cuts, but nothing to lessen the enthusiasm and concentration of our harvesters! Once we had reached our objective, 70 ares on Saturday and 10 (long) rows on the Sunday, we returned to the winery for a well earned lunch and a tasting of some of the wines produced by Château de la Bonnelière.

Wine experience gift, Loire Valley, France

In the afternoon, we still had some work to do. We headed to the chai to put our harvested grapes into the vat. The first stage was to unload the crates of grapes from the van and to empty them into the hopper, which then carried the grapes up the conveyor belt and into the de-stemming machine that separates the grapes from the stalks.

Vineyard experience, Loire Valley, France

Once the awaiting trolleys were full of grapes, Marc showed us his unique way of transporting them to the vats using a fork-lift truck. As no pumps are used, his method ensures that the grapes are handled in the gentlest manner possible.

Wine experience gifts,Loire Valley, France

To check that we had done a good job, we had a few tests to do. We used a mustimetre to measure the sugar density in the juice, and we recorded the level of acidity to check that the grapes were ripe enough.

Wine gift packs, Loire Valley, France

The results were very good, so we'll now have to wait very patiently before the bottles will eventually be ready at Château de la Bonnelière! We'll be back early next year for the first tasting of the wine during the Vinificiation Expeirence Days!

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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.

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


As the first snip of secateurs sounds the start of this year's harvest at some of our partners such as Domaine Allegria or Domaine la Cabotte, we thought we'd take a look back to the work carried out in the vineyard to prepare the vines for this promising new vintage.

All of our partner winemakers are agreed. Mother nature has been kind to the vines this year, or at least so far... Of course nothing is ever certain, and we must hope that the good weather continues, until the grapes are safely in the fermentation tanks, but for the moment, 2015 looks set for being a good year.

A cold but dry winter

Dry and cold winter in the Languedoc vineyard France

Most of the wine-growing regions benefited from a relatively cold winter from January onwards, but without excessive rainfall. Domaine Chapelle recorded half of the rain usually received in January. The cold is a good thing for the vines as long as the buds have yet to appear. It kills off many of the unwanted parasites without affecting the plant, and it makes it easier for the winemaker to drive the tractor between the rows without getting bogged down, thanks to the hard ground.

Vine growing in the Alsace vineyard France

The cold winter, combined with a milder spring enabled the winemakers to limit the number of treatments applied to the vines. This is good news for our partners, all of whom are organically or biodynamically certified, as with Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard. Organic treatments are contact treatments which don't penetrate inside the plant, so after each rainfall, they have to be treated again as the rain washes away the protective matter. Too much rainfall however, makes it impossible to use the tractor to treat the vines as the earth becomes too cloggy, whilst the wet weather favours the development of disease.

An ideal Spring for flowering

Vine flowers in the French vineyard

The flowering season happened at our partners between the beginning and mid June, the 5th June at Domaine Stentz-Buecher, and a couple of weeks later at Château de la Bonnelière. Everyone agreed that the weather was optimal for the flowering. Mild temperatures between 20 and 25 °C for the most part, and without wind. Perfect conditions for the good fecundation of the flower and a good quantity of grapes.

As a rule of thumb, we normally count 100 days between the flowering and the harvest. This year, the weather will make a mockery of this saying, as the harvest will be early throughout France.

A lovely summer and early harvest

The months of June and July were very hot and dry, but the vine is a plant that needs little water, and withstands heat very well. At some of our partner wineries such as at the biodynamic Domaine la Cabotte, the winemakers were able to help the plant a little by spraying a tisane, made from stinging nettles and yarrow, in the morning, to refresh the vines and help them better withstand the heat.

Biodynamic treatment in the Chablis vineyard France

Even in the most southerly regions, where we often hear about the lack of water, nature was relatively kind this year, Domaine Allegria reporting 100mm of rain between mid March and mid April, making the summer a little less stressful.

At all of our partner wineries, the heat helped the development of the vines, first with the leaves, then through the veraison when the grapes begin to change colour, and then whilst they ripen. The lack of water over the past few weeks has preoccupied the winemakers. Even though dry weather is always better for harvesting, the grapes find it difficult to grow, and even if they reach maturity, the quantity of juice, and therefore of wine, runs the risk of being less than initially forecast during the flowering period.

Veraison of the grapes in the Rhone Valley France

The harvest gets under way

The majority of our partner winemakers have now returned from their summer holidays, a little earlier than other years, and the harvest has already got under way at some vineyards, such as Domaine Allegria. Elsewhere, the preparations are under way to clean and get the cellars ready, as with Château Beau Rivage, where the 2015 harvest will be received in the newly renovated chai.

Grapes maturity in the French Rhone Valley vineyard

The Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Days get under way next week, and run between the 5th September and the 4th October. We'll have to wait a little longer to get a first idea of what the vintage promises, once the grapes are in the vats and the fermentation process has begun. We'll then get the chance to taste the wines during the Vinification Experience Days next winter!

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