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Côtes du Rhône

Supporting the vines in the Rhone Valley


We welcomed some of the 2017 vintage adopt-a-vine parents of the 2017 vintage last Saturday at Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhone Valley.  There was a little wind and a few clouds, which we were all pleased to see following the heatwave that the region had endured in the preceding days with the temperature in the high 30s.

Great gift for a wine lover.  Rent some vines in France in the Rhone Valley

Eric Plumet, the winemaker, led us down through the vineyard to a plot that we were to work in.  The vines have been growing lots recently and our task was to raise the training wires and clip them together ensuring that the vine branches were held between them.
On the way, Eric showed us the different grape varietals grown in the vineyard.  We passed plots of syrah and clairette, and in a plot of Grenache, branch in hand, he showed us some shot berry which was the result of the late frost in spring.  Some of the flowers had been harmed, and so the number of grapes produced will be less.

Wine-making experience gift in a biodynamic vineyard

After a few technical explanations, we got down to work to place the vine branches between the training wires.  Eric explained the important role of the very tip of the vine branches which forms a Y shape, and absorbs the nutritive elements from the air to feed the plant.

Organic gift idea.  Adopt a vine in France, and participate in making your own wine

As the winery is worked biodynamically, Eric only starts to trim the tops of the vines when the apex dries.  The vine then stops growing to concentrate on ripening the grapes.

Marie-Pierre arrived to quench our thirst.  Water at first, but she had also brought a rosé wine produced at the winery, a fresh and very aromatic wine that gave us a glimpse of the tasting to come.

We returned to the winery at lunchtime and sat down at the wooden tables under the shade of the trees.  With the light breeze, it was the perfect place to relax.

Organic wine-tasting experience gift

We compared a clairette aged in oak barrels with a clairette aged in an amphora.  Same grape varietal but very different wines!  We each had our own preference for one or the other.

Over lunch, we tasted the Côtes du Rhône, Massif d’Uchaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines which paired perfectly with the tourte, pâtés, quail and fruit tart, all home-made by Marie-Pierre.  Our palates revelled in the different tastes and we in the good company!

After coffee, we went on a hunt to find our adopted vines, to say hello to them, and take a few photos.  With all that we had learnt during the day, we were more appreciative of all the effort that our bottles of wine will contain once our grapes have reached maturity!

Rent-a-Vine gift and personalised bottles of wine

The day finished in the chai to see the vats and take in the smells of the wines that are finishing ageing.  We’ll be back again in September to participate in the Harvest Experience Days.

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Wine-making in the Côtes du Rhône region at Domaine la Cabotte


Today is a festival for our taste buds! We're going to taste and re-taste all of the wines at Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône Massif d'Uchaux region during a Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Day.

The 2016 vintage wines are still slowly finishing the vinification process in the vats. The weather is a little unstable, and the arrival of the rain sees the participants put on our boots. The vines are delighted and all of the young buds get ready to soak up this lovely spring rain.

Adopt-a-vine gift box in a French vineyard

Marie-Pierre and Eric, the owners take us to meet our adopted Grenache vines that are used in making the Garance wine. The cameras come out and click away to immortalise the moment.

As the first drops of rain start to fall, we head for cover in the chai. Here, Marie-Pierre had prepared a long table with wine glasses, bottles and spittoons. We each take a seat as Eric explains how the grapes are transformed into wine.

Oenology course in the Rhone Valley France

The questions flow and we cover lots of topics. We learn about the fundamental role of yeast, which is naturally present on the grape skins, and turns the sugar into alcohol. Each vat of wine ferments at its own pace, one of the wonderful mysteries of wine-making. We taste different wines that are still ageing to appreciate for ourselves how they are each developing.

Wine tasting and visit of the winery in Mondragon, France

We then head to the caveau to put our noses to the test. We try and identify the floral and fruity aromas that can be found in wine: blackcurrant, lime tree, blackberry chocolate truffle, raspberry, lemon, honey etc...

Aroma workshop as a wine gift in a French winery

There are two or three "noses" in the group who are very good at naming the different aromas, but for the majority of us, it's more difficult to put a name to them. That is until we're told what the smell is, and we hear a chorus of "of course it is!"

Winemaker lunch with wine pairing Domaien la Cabotte France

It is now lunch time, and we sit down to enjoy a pork confit, local goat's cheese and dessert. Each dish is accompanied by different wines, and we enjoy our glasses of Clairette, Colline, Gabriel, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Organic vineyard visit in the Rhone Valley France

In the afternoon the sky clears, and Eric takes us on a walk around the vineyard to better understand the Massif d'Uchaux terroir and its influence on the wine's style. The ground is very rocky and the vines share the plateau with trees and scrubland, giving the wine both complexity and freshness.

The day draws to a close, and we look back on the variety of tastes and smells that we have enjoyed and discovered. We also load the car boots up with a few bottles of our favourite wines to take a little piece of Domaine la Cabotte home with us!

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Pruning the vines in the Rhone Valley


The first Discovery Experience Days for the 2017 vintage got underway recently at Domaine la Cabotte.  Marie-Pierre and Eric, the winemakers, were waiting for us with a nice warm coffee, and we admired the view over the vines and Massif d’Uchaux terroir as we waited for everyone to arrive.

We were at the winery to learn about the work of the winemaker in the vineyard to grow and nurture the best possible grapes come harvest time.  And as we were to learn, there’s a lot of work involved between now and the harvest!

Eric explains how to prune the vines

Eric and Marie-Pierre explained their philosophy of working the soil and the wines.  Why do you need to prune?  Why at this time of year?  Having been shown how to prune, we each had a go for ourselves under the guidance of Eric & Marie-Pierre.

The participants have a go at pruning under the guidance of Marie-Pierre

At the end of the morning, we visited the plot of Grenache where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located, and took some photos of the plants that will hopefully give us the fruit to make an excellent wine this year.

We then enjoyed a home-made lunch prepared by Marie-Pierre of endive salad, provençal stew, and raspberry tiramisu, paired with the Garance, Gabriel and Colline Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.

Enjoying lunch in the caveau overlooking the vineyard

After lunch we returned to the vineyard to finish the pruning and to perfect our cutting.  It’s not always easy to choose which branches to keep and which to cut!

Pruning is not as easy as it looks

In the chai, we talked about how biodynamics impacts the work and the environment at the winery.   We learnt about how it helps to improve the biodiversity in the vineyard, and how prevalent it is in the Massif d’Uchaux appellation, respecting the soil and nature’s rhythm.

And so the day drew to a close, a day full of information and the clip clip of the secateurs.  We’ll soon be able to see if our pruning bears any fruit as Eric and Marie-Pierre update us on how the buds develop.  Many thanks to our hosts for welcoming us and for being as authentic as ever.

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Wine-making and blending experience day in the Rhone Valley


Last Saturday, we were welcomed by Marie-Pierre and Eric Plumet at Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhone Valley to learn more about the vinification process of the 2016 vintage.  For some of the participants it was their third wine experience day at the winery, having already participated in pruning the vines and harvesting the grapes last year.

Wine-making experience gift at the winery in France beside the wine-maker

The programme of the day was to talk about how the wine progresses through the fermentation and ageing stages once the harvested grapes arrive in the chai, and for this, we were in the expert hands of Eric.

Original wine enthusiast gift to learn about wine-making

At Domaine la Cabotte, whenever possible they blend the different grape varietals together to make each of their different wines.  Marie-Pierre and Eric prefer that the juice from the grenache, mourvèdre, carignan and cinsault mix and ferment together.  It’s not something that is easy to do, and sometimes they opt to vinify the grape varietals separately.  It’s all a question of the vintage.

They regularly taste the wines to determine the best moment to rack them and separate the wine from the solid matter of skin, pips, and stems that is deposited at the bottom of the vats.  The fermented juice becomes “vin de goutte”, and continues to be closely monitored to check that nothing untoward is happening.

Tasting the wines that are still ageing

Four to ten months after the harvest for the most part, the wine is then racked again, bottled, labelled and then enjoyed by wine lovers all over the world, including the adoptive parents, who have followed the birth of the vintage from first bud to the bottle.

We then returned to the caveau for a workshop that put our noses to the test.  We had to try to name a series of different aromas that can be found in wine.  Honey, lemon, pear… for the whites.  Raspberry, blackcurrant, liquorice… for the reds.

A couple of the participants were very good at this game, but all were agreed to step out into the sunshine to smell some real aromas from some real wine!

We tasted the Garance and Gabriel red wines and the Clairette white wine that had been aged in Italian amphorae.  A real treat.
To accompany the wines over lunch, we enjoyed a home-made salad, lamb tagine, and fruit cake.  And Jacqueline, the sommelier, recited ‘L’Ame du vin”, Beaudelaire’s tribute to the divine nectar.

Rent-a-vine gift in the rhone valley in a biodynamic vineyard

We spent the afternoon in the vineyard, amongst the plot of grenache vines that have been adopted by the Gourmet Odyssey clients.  Here, Eric recounted the geological history of the Massif d’Uchaux terroir, and explained the influence it has on the aroma and structure of the wine.

We finished the day in front of the chai, where we learnt a little more about the biodynamic philosophy, and the importance of respecting nature’s rhythm which help to create the balance in the wines at Domaine la Cabotte.

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A fun Harvest Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


Some of the adoptive Gourmet Odyssey vine owners at Domaine la Cabotte recently came to the winery to participate in the 2016 harvest. We were accompanied by Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne who run this excellent Côtes du Rhône winery together, and this year we had the pleasure of welcoming some very young harvesters, a little girl and a couple of babies to lend a helping hand!

 

harvest experience in the Rhone Valley France

The weather was on our side. After the rain of the preceding days, the sky was getting ready for the Mistral wind, which was welcome to help dry the ground between the vine rows and make it easier to harvest.

We began the day by heading to the Grenache vineyard where our adopted vines are located. These vines are used in the making of the winery's Garance red wine, which is the biodynamic wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey.

wine gift course in RHone Valley France

Eric and his son, Etienne, handed out the buckets and secateurs, and everyone got stuck in, having learnt how to pick the bunches of grapes, and more importantly how to avoid cutting any fingers!

It's hard, but fun and rewarding work. With a glass of rosé at the break to help keep the smiles on the faces, we managed to harvest 7 rows, filling 4 containers.

Picking grapes experience at the wiery in France

We then followed the tractor, laden with our harvest, back to the chai, and gathered around the de-stemming machine to better understand how the grapes are handled before being put into the vats.

The harvested bunches pass through the de-stemming machine to separate the berries from the stalks.

Whilst we were waiting for the machines to be put in place, Jacqueline, the oenologist, showed us some of the tools and materials used in making the biodynamic preparations, and explained how they are used to bring the soil more alive.

Marie-Pierre, then announced that lunch was ready, and we sat down under the shade of the trees to some fresh salads, terrine, vegetable quiche, local cheeses and cherry clafoutis, all of which had been home-made.

winemaker's meal and wine tasting at the winery

To accompany our delicious lunch, we tasted the range of red and rosé Côtes du Rhône wines produced on the estate. We started with the "Colline" red and rosé before tasting the Massif d'Uchaux Côtes du Rhône Village appellation wines that are more structured and keep for longer. We also tasted the new "Clairette" white wine, an amazing wine which is made in Italian clay amphorae.

wine ageing and vinification in Rhone Valley France

After our late lunch, we ended the day next to the vats to taste the first juice from the harvest, and to understand how it will be nurtured to make the next wines from Domaine la Cabotte.

A few bottles were ordered to take home to enjoy later, and the little girl left with a lovely vine branch that had already taken on the hues of autumn. She was taking it back to her school as a souvenir of the harvest!

Many thanks to Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne for welcoming us, and we look forward to returning soon to learn more about the vinification and blending!

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Winemaker profiles - Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne Plumet-d’Ardhuy at Domaine la Cabotte


Once again, for our profile series of our partner winemakers, we asked a few question to Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne Plumet-d'Ardhuy from Domaine la Cabotte. We learnt that what really makes them tick is their passion for their job, and in learning and sharing with others.

Meet the Côtes du Rhône winemakers in Mondragon 

How long have you been a winemakers?

For us (Eric & Marie-Pierre), since 1981: It's both a profession and passion that we share as a family, that our respective parents did before us, and that our son, Etienne will carry on since his arrival at the winery this year.

What is your best memory in the vineyard or cellar?

So many memories over the past 35 years, but the ones that stand out the most are the first times. We created the winery, and all of the first times we did something new will be forever etched in our memories; the first planting of the vines, first vinification, first tasting of our wines, first bottling, and first bottle labelled with the name of our winery.

Everything is not always perfect the first time, but it's always the beginning of a new journey, a new challenge, and forces you to question yourselves.

Adopt some organic vines in the Rhone Valley at Domaine la Cabotte 

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

We never have a favourite wine. Ask a parent which is their favourite child? It's impossible to answer. We love all of our wines for their qualities and their imperfections.

They are all touched by the same vintage, whether they are rich, full, smooth, fruity, fresh, or velvety, they are all the product of our passion and so deserve the same attention.

What are your projects or challenges for 2016?

The arrival of our son, Etienne, to the winery, then uprooting and replanting 12ha of vines that our son is leasing.

A question that our clients often ask. What do winemakers do when they have a little time to themselves?

A bit like everyone. We go to the cinema, to the theatre, we visit exhibitions and museums, and we spend time with our children and grandchildren.

Sometimes we get the chance to go on holiday, and if there is a winery or wine merchant nearby, we stop by to learn and exchange knowledge on wine-making!

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Training the vines in the Rhone Valley


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine tasting gift experience with the Cotes du Rhone winemakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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De-budding the vines in the Côtes du Rhône


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

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

Vine life cycle and de-budding course at the winery

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

Wine gift vine de-budding course at the winery

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

Vineyard tour wine gift in the Rhone Valley

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

Biodynamic wine making in the Cotes du Rhone

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

Wine tasting at the winery in the Cotes du Rhone

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

Winemaker meal at the Domaine la Cabotte Rhone Valley

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

Vine adoption gift box France Rhone Valley

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

Biodynamic winemaking course at Domaine la Cabotte

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

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

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

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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

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Winemaking in the Rhone Valley


For this second Vinification Experience Day of the year at Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône wine making region of France, we were blessed with magnificent sunny weather all day long.
Wine making experience, Rhone Valley; France

After the initial introductions, Eric started to tell us about his work as a winemaker. He told us about the important choices that have to be taken in the vineyard, how to choose when to harvest, and about the steps taken to transform the grapes into quality wine.

The winery is both organically and biodynamically certified, and Eric explained the impact that this has had on the estate’s wines over the years. There is a big difference not just in the working techniques used, but also in the quality of the wine that is produced.

Wine lover gift, Rhone Valley, France

We then gathered outside for a workshop to awaken our senses. We had to try and identify the aromas that can be found in wine through the fruit or the way that it has been made.

Wine tasting gift, Rhone Valley, France

Eric then told us all about how to blend wine, and we tasted different wine blends from the 2015 vintage that are still in the ageing process to see for ourselves.

Unique wine gift, Rhone Valley, Mondragon

We then enjoyed an aperitif before sitting down to a meal prepared by Marie-Pierre. An endive, lentil end turmeric salad, beef stew, local goat’s cheese, and some almond cake to finish. During the lunch, we tasted several of the estate’s wines starting with the Colline rosé 2015, then proceeding with the Garance 2014 Massif d’Uchaux red wine, the Gabriel 2014 Massif d’Uchaux red, and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 red.

In the afternoon, we took a short stroll to visit our adopted vines and take some photos. Eric talked some more about the specificity of the different soil structures found in the Uchaux area, and the impact of biodynamics.

Adopt a vine france, Mondragon , Rhone Valley

We now have to wait patiently until the 2015 vintage of our Garance wine has finished ageing. Many thanks to Eric and Marie-Pierre for their warm welcome, and to all of the participants for making it such a good day.

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Pruning vines in the Rhone Valley


When we arrived at 8:00 on Saturday to get everything ready, there was a little worrying drizzle in the air. We were getting ready to prune during the Discovery Experience day, and it’s a little difficult to do whilst holding an umbrella!
Vineyard experience, Rhone Valley, France

But at 9:00, the clouds rolled away, and the Mont Ventoux showed off its flanks in the sunshine. Phew! Everyone arrived, and got to know each other over a cup of coffee or tea. From Lyon, the Ardèche, and even from London, we had lots of ground to cover!

Jacqueline from Gourmet Odyssey presented the programme for the day, and our winemakers, Marie-Pierre and Eric, introduced us to the winery, its history and the different grape varietals that they cultivate.

We then put on our boots and equipped ourselves with a pair of croppers, before heading to the plot of vines that had been set aside for us to prune. We’re in March, and as the old saying goes, “prune early or prune late, the best pruning is that of March”.

And so we found ourselves amongst the vines, which also happened to be the vines that we had adopted.

Adopt a vine france, Rhone Valley

Eric explained the essentials of pruning and how it helps control the quantity and quality of fruit that the vines will produce. Our Grenache vines are pruned using the goblet method. We have to leave a maximum of 5 branches, each with two eyes. We then place the cut branches in between the rows of vines. In this windy environment, we’re best to choose the branches that will be strong enough to withstand the force of the mistral. And the final advice that Eric gave, follow your instinct!

Rent a vine, France, Rhone Valley

We had 4 rows, each of about 150 vines, and so it took us until noon to get the job done, thanks to our team of ace apprentice winemakers. And noon signals the time for the aperitif!

The nice weather meant that we could enjoy the sun in front of the caveau. The sun’s rays played with the white and rosé wines in our glasses.

During the wine tasting, we learnt about the differences between conventional, organic, and biodynamic wine making.

Wine lover gift, France, Rhone Valley

Lunch had been prepared by Marie-Pierre, and was accompanied by the red wines of Domaine la Cabotte.

The Colline wine is a lovely blend of the great southern grape varietals, Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Carignan. The Garance wine, chosen for our Gourmet Odyssey wine, is a blend in equal measures of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, whilst the Gabriel wine is made up of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah. The final wine is the estate’s Châteauneuf du Pape which blends 8 of the 13 different authorised grape varietals.

After lunch, we took a walk in the vineyard to see where the biodynamic preparations are buried. Here Eric and Jacqueline explained how different substances such as cow manure are dynamised and spread amongst the vines in Autumn and Spring. These treatments help to enrich the soil and invigorate the vines.

Eric showed us the specificity of the porous rocks that make up the local terroir, and their ability to keep the soil damp in periods of high temperatures.

Unique wine gift, France, Rhone Valley

The day finished with a quick visit of the chai as the end of the day was already fast approaching. Eric & Marie-Pierre will continue the work in the vineyard over the coming months before some of us will come back to help them with the harvest. And then there still remains the work in the chai to vinify the wines, but that is the subject of another wine experience day!

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Wine-making Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


It was a full house for the first 2015 Vinification Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte. Eric and Marie-Pierre, the winemakers, were there as usual and this time were accompanied by their son Etienne, who joined the winery at harvest time last year. On the Gourmet Odyssey side, we also had the pleasure to welcome Jacqueline and Bertrand, both sommeliers, who will be running the next experience days.

At 9:30, once everyone had arrived and had finished their coffee and croissant, we introduced the day and Marie-Pierre presented the history of the winery, how it is named after the little “Cabotte”, a stone shelter for the workers in the vineyard, and how she and Eric became winemakers.

Vineyard experience, Rhône Valley

We then went to visit our adopted vines, and talked about the different grape varietals grown on the estate. The plot of vines where our adopted vines are located is planted with Grenache, and the Garance wine that we will end up with at the end of the experience, also contains Mourvèdre and Syrah.

Rent a vine in Rhône Valley, France

We then went to the chai to see what happens after the harvest. The grapes from the different vineyard plots are put into individual vats and go through two fermentation phases before being racked to separate the wine from the marc of solid matter such as the skin and pips. Eric explained how this part of the vinification process differs slightly for the white wines.

Throughout the vinfication period, there are many controls and decisions that the winemaker must make, but as Eric reminded us, much of the work is done in the vineyard before the harvest, especially for wineries like Domaine la Cabotte who work biodynamically.

After having answered lots of questions on organic and biodynamic wine making, and the work that they entail for the winemaker, we returned to the reception to put into practice our wine tasting skills. We started with a challenge to test our noses by identifying the primary and secondary aromas found in wine. It’s not such an easy thing to do!

And it’s a task that is even more difficult for the winemaker who must identify the aromas that are all intermingled following the blend of several wines and where tertiary aromas are also added depending on the choice of ageing the wine in oak barrels.

Wine tasting gift, Rhône Valley, France

Eric took us back to the chai to taste some of the 2015 wines that have been blended and are still in the process of ageing. Of the three wines, the first two had exactly the same age and the same proportion of different grape varietals, the only difference being that the second wine had been ageing in new oak barrels for a couple of months. We could already taste a big difference. The third wine had not completely finished its malo-lactic fermentation, and was measuring 10g of sugar per litre instead of the authorised maximum of 3g. More time is needed for this wine to finish fermenting.

Wine experience gift, Rhône Valleu, France

Once we had tasted these wines, it was time for lunch, which had been prepared by Marie-Pierre. We tasted some of the finished wines too, starting with the rosé with the starter. We then tasted the Garance and Gabriel 2014 red wines with the main course and cheese. We finished with a Château-neuf-du-Pape from a recently acquired vineyard which is worked entirely by hand and by horse.

We started the afternoon with a short walk around the vineyards whilst Eric explained the geology that makes the Massif d’Uchaux such a unique place, and gives the wine its special qualities.

Unique wine gift, Rhône Valley, France

We finished the day by learning what happens to the wine at the end of the maturing period and how it is bottled, labelled and packaged. Being biodynamic, this too is done in harmony with the lunar calendar that takes into account the position of the moon and the tidal coefficients. There are still a few months to wait until our 2015 vintage of the Garance wine will be ready, but as Eric said, you need time to become mature and wise!

Many thanks to all of the participants for your curiosity

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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

Other Christmas related articles

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

Being an organic winemaker in 2015

What is biodynamic wine?

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Another great Harvest Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


We returned to Domaine la Cabotte on Saturday for the 2nd of the Harvest Experience Days. The harvest, which started at the end of August at the winery, is now reaching the end, with just a couple of plots left to go, including their Châteauneuf du Pape vineyard which should be picked this week.
Harvest Experience Day as a wine gift in France

As soon as we had finished the introductions, we walked through the vineyard to the plot of Carignan vines that are located on the other side of the road. Eric & Marie-Pierre handed out the material we needed to pick the grapes and gave us our instructions.

Armed with our secateurs and buckets, we spread out among the vines and started picking. The Carignan vines are pruned using the goblet method, and so grow as free-standing plants. With no training wires to worry about, you can rotate around the plant to more easily access the bunches of grapes.

Picking experience in the vinyeard of Cotes du Rhone

As we worked our way down the rows, Eric advanced the tractor little by little, so that we had less distance to empty our buckets. With the large bunches of delicious grapes that we were picking, the buckets quickly filled up, and so too did the trailer!

The weather was perfect for harvesting, with bright blue skies and a slight breeze to keep us from getting too hot. It's a magical place to spend a morning, with just the sound of birds, and the snip of the secateurs to accompany us.

Harvest wine box gift at Domaine la Cabotte

Once we had finished cutting the rows that Eric & Marie-Pierre had left us, we made our way back up to the winery and followed the route that the harvested grapes take.

We made our way behind the winery building to see where the grapes are received. First they are emptied into a de-stemming machine to separate the berries from the stalks. The harvest was of a very good quality, and so there was no need for a sorting table.

De-stemming experience in the Rhone Valley, France

The grape berries are then transported up a conveyor belt and then fall directly into the vat below where they will start the process of being turned into wine.

Conveyor belt during French harvest experience at Domaine la Cabotte

After all the morning's effort, we were ready for the aperitif! We tasted a couple of the winery's white wines and the Côte du Rhône Colline red wine, before sitting down to lunch where we continued the wine tasting.

Wine tasting at the winery in the Rhone Valley France

In the afternoon, we first of all took a few minutes to visit our adopted vines and take a few pictures.

Vines adoption gift in the Rhone Valley France

We then headed back to the chai, where Eric talked about how the grape juice ferments, and the important work done to extract the tannins and colour during the maceration process. Eric also talked about the differences in making white wines.

Fermentation process during the harvest in France

We tasted a couple of grape musts that are already in the process of fermentation to see how the sugar level decreases as the alcoholic content increases.

Wine tasting at Domaine la Cabotte rhone Valley

Eric then answered lots of questions about wine-making, notably about the use of sulphites to preserve the wine, before the day drew to a close. We will get the opportunity to discuss the many choices of the winemaker during the vinification, blending and ageing phases in much more detail during the Vinification Experience Days.

Once again, many thanks to Eric & Marie-Pierre for welcoming us and for letting us get a taste of what it takes to be a winemaker.

Other articles relating to the 2015 harvest

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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A good 2015 harvest for the Cotes du Rhone


The forecast was for a great day, with mild temperatures and lots of sun! And so the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers arrived on time for a Harvest Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte!

After some fresh croissant and a coffee, Stéphanne, Eric and Marie-Pierre announced the plan for the day. Today we were to follow the journey of the grapes from the moment they are picked, right through to when they are put into the vat.

Vineyard experience in the Rhône Valley

Without any further ado, we set off out into the vineyard, where we would spend most of the morning. Eric taught us how to pick the grapes using the secateurs. The grapes are big and magnificent, and the ones that are ripe for picking are to be found on the lower part of the vines. We each had a bucket to put the grapes in, and two to a row, we started to pick the vines treasure.

Original wine gift in Rhône Valley, France

Many of us were amazed by the large size of the grapes, and their density. We also tasted the grapes, and Eric told us how to tell if the grape has reached optimal maturity.

Adopt a vine france, Rhône Valley

The time flew by and it was already 12:30! The team of Gourmet Odyssey harvesters had done some good work. The buckets didn't cease to be filled, and a regular rhythm was maintained throughout the morning.

Wine experience gifts, Rhône Valley

It was then time to follow the grapes to the de-stemming machine, where the grapes are separated from the stems, and the berries are slightly crushed to help liberate their juice. This stage is done mechanically, and we watched with interest as Eric, Marie-Pierre and their son, Etienne, operated the machinery.

Wine gift packs in France, Rhône Valley

We had earned our wine tasting! Eric and Marie-Pierre served us their two white wines, the Colline and the Sauvageonne, both from the 2014 vintage. They are very fresh and were accompanied by some aperitif biscuits. Before sitting down to lunch, we watched the grapes being emptied into the vat by gravity.

Personalised wine gift in France, Domaine la Cabotte

As usual, Marie-Pierre had prepared us a great meal, simple, but so delicious! We continued the tasting with some of the winery's red wines, the Colline and Garance 2014, and the Châteauneuf du Pape 2013; which is produced from a plot of old vines which are more than 70 years old. After lunch, we headed back out into the vineyard to discover our adopted vines. This more relaxing moment tested the photographic skills of those who were interested in the My Vine photo competition.

Rent a vine in France, Rhône Valley

We finished the afternoon in the chai to learn more about the differences between working the grapes used for white and red wine. Eric explained the first stages of fermentation, whilst Etienne put the lid on the vat with aplomb, using a forklift truck.

Wine tasting gift in France, Rhône Valley

And by then it was already just gone 4pm. Marie-Pierre had prepared the cases of wine to be collected, and we said our goodbyes. See you again soon for a new Experience Day. The next type of day will be the Vinification Experience Day, where we will learn more about the vinification and blending processes.

Other articles relating to the 2015 harvest

The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries

The 2015 harvest. What happens next in the cellar?

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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 !

From € 159

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