Adopt a Vine and Make Your Own Wine

with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

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Domaine Stentz-Buecher

De-budding the vines in Alsace


We had a full and very enjoyable weekend at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace.  On Saturday we welcomed some of the 2017 vintage clients for a Discovery Experience Day to learn about the work in the vineyard to ensure the best possible grapes are produced for this year’s harvest.

Original white wine gift.  Make your own organic wine in Alsace.

After the introductions, the day started in the Rosenberg vineyard, where our adopted Pinot Gris vines are located. We took a few minutes to visit our adopted vines and pose for some photos before getting down to the more serious business of the day!

Rent-a-vine gift in Alsace, France and participate in making your own personalised bottles of wine

The rest of the morning of the Discovery Experience Day was spent learning about the work that has been carried out in the vineyard during the winter.  Stéphane explained how the vines have been pruned using the guyot double method, and the remaining branches attached to the training wires.

The first leaves have already appeared on the vines, enabling us to see the differences between the different grape varietals.  The initial bud burst was almost a month earlier than last year, but the cooler weather of the past couple of weeks had slowed the growth down again.  Some unwanted shoots are beginning to form on some of the vines, and the next job will be to remove these and any double shoots, so as to concentrate the plants energy on the fruit bearing branches.

Vineyard experience gift in Alsace.

Stéphane then showed us a plot of vines that had recently been replanted.  We learnt about how the vines are grafted onto a phylloxera resistant root stock, and the special way in which the vines are cared for during the first couple of years when they are very fragile.

Adopt-a-vine gift and meet the winemaker in Alsace

As with much of France this year, the region had been hit by frost during the cold spell a few weeks ago. Stéphane took us to one of their vineyard plots lower down on the plain that had been affected.  We could see the buds and leaves that had been burnt by the frost.

Learning about the work in the vineyard

The flower buds have now formed and will open during the flowering season next month.  This is the next tricky period to negotiate as if it is too wet, the flowers won’t be able to self-pollinate as effectively, which can reduce the potential yield.

Original wine-lover gift to learn about the art of wine-making

Back at the winery, Céline took us through a tasting session of a cross section of the winery’s wines, including their 2015 Muscat, 2015 Pinot Gris Rosenberg, 2012 Steingrubler Riesling Grand Cru, and 2015 Hengst Gewürztraminer Grand Cru, explaining the differences between each wine as we went.  We continued the tasting with the 2015 Pinot Blanc, 2014 Pinot Noir, and 2015 Gewürztraminer Rosenberg wines over a typical Alsacian lunch.

Organic wine tasting gift box in Alsace

In the afternoon, Stéphane talked to us about the work in the vineyard that is still to be done this summer, and how he will decide when the grapes are ready for harvesting.  With so many different grape varietals and plots of vines that all ripen at different speeds, it’s quite a difficult thing to do to coordinate and plan for the harvest.

We also took some time to talk more about what is involved in being an organic winemaker, and the differences between conventional methods.

Make your own wine gift

We finished the day with a brief tour of the cellar to see where the grapes will be pressed at harvest time and where the wines ferment and age. We look forward to learning more about each of these steps during the Harvest Experience and Vinification Experience Days.

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The art of wine-making in Alsace


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

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

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

Rent-a-vine gift in a French organic vineyard

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

Wine tasting workshop to develop wine tasting skills

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

Winery tour gift with the winemaker in Alsace, France

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

Fermenting and ageing pinot noir red wine in oak barrels

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

Make your own wine gift experience in Alsace, France

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

Wine tasting with the winemaker in Alsace

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

Learning how sparkling wine is made

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

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

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Pruning and folding the vines in Alsace


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

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

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

Wine gift experience to learn the work of a winemaker

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

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

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

Vineyard experience gift in Alsace, France

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

Organic rent-a-vine gift in Alsace, France

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

Organic wine tasting gift experience in Alsace, France

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

Winery tour and wine cellar visit in Alsace, France

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

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Spring 2017 calendar of wine fairs attended by our partner wineries


Our partner wineries will be giving tastings of their wines at a number of different wine fairs that are being held over the coming weeks and months.  Book some time in your diary to come and meet them, and to taste their great organic wines!

 

2017 Wine fairs Domaine Chapelle Burgundy
 

Domaine Chapelle – Côte de Beaune, Burgundy

  • 11 - 12 February 2017: Salon du vin et de la gastronomie wine and gastronomy fair in the town hall at Neuville de Poitou (near Poitiers).
  • 17 - 20 March 2017 : Salon Vivre Autrement Bio organic fair at the Parc Floral de Vincennes, Paris. Ask for a free entrance pass
  • 18 - 19 March 2017 : Salon des vins wine fair at Paray le Monial (near Moulins).
  • 25 - 28 May 2017 : Les 28èmes Journées Gourmandes du Grand Morvan gastonomy fair in the exhibition hall at Saulieu.
  • 3 - 5 June 2017 : Foire gastronomique in Mailly (near Roanne).
2017 Wine fairs Chateau Beau Rivage Bordeaux

Château Beau Rivage - Bordeaux

  • 17 - 20 February 2017 : Salon des Vignerons Indépendants winemakers fair in Strasbourg, Wacken - Place de la Foire Exposition, Stand C77
  • 17 - 19 March 2017 : Salon des Vignerons Indépendants winemakers fair in  Bordeaux Parc des Exposition de Bordeaux Lac, Stand E 15
2017 Wine fairs Domaine Stentz-Buecher Burgundy

Domaine Stentz-Buecher - Alsace

  • 3 March 2017 : Dîner Insolite unusual dinner in Wissembourg with Le Cheval Blanc  restaurant which has two Michelin stars. Reservations here
  • 29 April – 1 May : Fête des vins wine fair in Bomal, Belgium
  • 10 - 11 June 2017 : Open Day at the winery in Wettolsheim, Alsace
2017 Wine fairs Domaine la Cabotte Cote du Rhone

Domaine la Cabotte – Côtes du Rhône

  • 8 - 9 April 2017 : Printemps des Vins spring wine fair in Châteauneuf du Pape, Rhône Valley

Don’t hesitate to come and meet the winemakers and their teams at one of these events.  They’ll be delighted to welcome you and share a glass with you!

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Harvest Experience Day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


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

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

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

Adopt-a-vine gift in an organic Alsace vineyard

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

Harvest experience gift to participate in grape harvest in France

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

Grape picking gift in Alsace, France

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

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

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

Harvest and wine making experience gift in Alsace, France

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

Learning about pressing grapes and making wine

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

Learning how to make red wine

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

Wines fermenting in the cellar

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

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Organic, biodynamic and natural wines


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

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

Learning how to make an organic wine

 

The main differences

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

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

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

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

The Tyflo label for integrated winemaking

 

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

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

The EU's label for organic winemaking

 

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

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

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

Demeter's label for biodynamic winemaking

 

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

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

 

How to recognise the labels?

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

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

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

 

Related articles

What makes French Organic Wine, Organic ?

What is biodynamic wine?

No to European Organic Wine?

 

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Learning about the work in the vineyard in Alsace


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

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

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

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

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

Organic wine gift.  Work in the vineyard alongside the winemaker

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

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

Wine tasting gift in Alsace at an organic winery

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

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

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

Winery tour gift in Alsace, France

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

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


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

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

Rent-a-vine-giftin Alsace, France

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

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

Oenology gift for wine lovers.

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

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

Organic wine tasting gift experience in an organic Alsace winery

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

Wine-making gift experience with the winemaker

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

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

Wine tasting course in Alsace with the winemaker

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

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

Winery tour and visit in Alsace, France

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

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Learning how to prune and attach the vines at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace


Our first Discovery Experience Day of the 2016 vintage got under way last Sunday at Domaine Stentz-Buecher. The aim was to learn all about the work necessary in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes come harvest time.

After a welcome coffee, the day started with a visit to the Rosenberg vineyard where our adopted pinot gris vines are to be found. Rosenberg means pink hill, perhaps due to the rose bushes planted in front of the vine rows which used to serve as a warning of the risk of disease affecting the vines, roses being more sensitive than vines.

Adopt a vine france, Alsace

Having said hello to our vines and taken a few shots for the annual My Vine photo competition, we made our way to a second plot of vines, the Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyard. Here Jean-Jacques started to talk about the different steps taken to care for the vines, and showed us how to prune them using the Guyot method, leaving two branches and a spur that will be used to produce next year’s growth. Then, secateurs in hand, we had a go for ourselves. It’s not as easy as it seems to decide which branches to cut, and which to leave behind!

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

Thanks to Jean-Jacques’ guidance, the result wasn’t too bad! Once the unwanted branches had been cut, we then had to pull them away from the vines to leave the two chosen branches unhindered. The cut branches were then placed in the middle of the rows to be crushed, enabling some of the nutrients to be returned to the soil.

Original wine gift, Alsace, France

We then had a go at bending the remaining branches and attaching them to the lower training wire. Naturally they point straight upwards, but bending the branches helps to reduce the yield and increase the aromatic concentration in the grapes. To attach the bent branches to the training wire, we used a funny little tool that ties and cuts the string in one motion. For beginners, a knot that is too tight or too loose will cause the branch to flex like a spring, so watch out for your nose!

Rent a vine, Alsace, France

It was then time to return to the winery to taste some of the wines, accompanied by some savoury Kougloff. We continued the wine tasting over lunch of traditional Roïgebrageldi, cheese and blueberry tart.

Wine tasting gift, Alsace, France

In the afternoon, we descended into the cellar for a quick tour of the press, barrel room and fermentation hall. We’ll spend more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days. Many thanks to the Stentz-Buecher family for welcoming us to the winery, and to all the participants for their good cheer and stream of questions!

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The art of vinifying white wines in Alsace


We were talking about all things vinification and what goes on in the cellar last Saturday at Domaine Stentz-Buecher as we met up with some of the adoptive parents of the 2015 vintage to see how their wine is coming along during fermentation and ageing process.

Céline, who runs the winery with her brother Stéphane, kicked the day off with an introduction into the family history and the production of Alsace wines. And then we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are to be found. On the way we talked about the surrounding terroir and the different soil, vegetation and methods used from one plot to another, notably the differences between organic and conventional farming.

Adopt a vine, Alsace, France

Jean-Jacques, Céline and Stéphane’s father, briefly explained what had happened since the last harvest to prepare the vines for this year’s campaign. Then, back at the winery we picked up where we had left off at harvest time. We saw where the harvested grapes had been put into the press, and where the first fermentation had taken place. Stéphane told us about the work during the fermentation process and the decisions that the winemaker must take. We had a pre-tasting of the 2015 vintage of our Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine, which is still in the ageing process. We compared this to a wine that has yet to finish fermenting to better understand the changes that the wine goes through as it slowly matures.

Wine experience, Alsace, France

In parallel, we put our noses to the test during a workshop to help us develop our wine tasting skills. We had to identify different aromas found in wine that result from the grape varietals or the way that the wine has been worked. A few of them sparked some lively debate about what they evoked!

Unique wine gift, Alsace, France

We then descended into the cellar to visit the “oénothèque”, where the oldest wines at the winery are stored. Here, we tasted a series of different wines, accompanied by a traditional savoury Kouglof. The first wine to be tasted was the Who Am I blended wine, followed by the Riesling Tradition, the Pinot Gris Flavien 2010, the Pinot Gris Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2004, and the Pinot Noir Old Oak 2011 red wine.

Wine lover gift, Alsace, France

Lunch was a very local affair of choucroute, local cheeses and blackforest gateau, accompanied by some more of the domaine’s wines, finishing with a Crémant d’Alsace. There was some very animated discussion as to whether the base of traditional Alsace tartes flambées is made of bread or not, and what topping to put on it!

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

In the afternoon, we finished the cycle of work in the cellar, learning how the wine is bottled, and the choice of the winemaker in the different quality grades of cork used. The 2015 vintage will continue ageing until at least August in the cellar, so we need to patiently wait a little longer until it is ready!

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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The 2015 harvest nears the end in Alsace


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

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

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

Adop a vine, Alsace, France

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

Wine lover git, Alsace, France

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

Wine experience, Alsace, France

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

Rent a vine in France, Alsace

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

Unique wine gifts, France, Alsace 

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

Wine making experience in Alsace, France

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

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

Wine gift packs in Alsace, France

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

Original wine gift, Alsace, France

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

Personalised wine gifts, France, Alsace

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

Wine tasting gift, Alsace, France

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

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The harvest in a few words


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

The harvest banns or "ban des vendanges"

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

Harvest period

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

Vineyard experience in France

The state of the grapes

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

Late harvest or "vendanges tardives"

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

Green harvest

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

Original wine gift in France

Harvesting machine

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

Sorting table

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

Unique wine gift in France

Destemming

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

Wine press

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

Adopt a vine in France

Crushing the grapes

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

Other articles relating to the harvest

- A brief history of grape harvesting

- The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries

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

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The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries


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

2015 is a year of early harvests

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

Rent a vine in France, Languedoc

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

Vineyard experience for wine lover in France, Burgundy

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

Lots of work in the cellar to welcome the 2015 harvest

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

Wine making experience in France

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

Wine gift packs in France

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

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

 

Other articles linked to the harvest

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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Wine Experience Day in Alsace


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

Adopt a vine in France, Alsace

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

Rent a vine in France, Alsace

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

Wine experience in Alsace, France

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

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

Vineyard experience in Alsace, France

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

Adopt a vine in Alsace, France

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

wine experience gift in Alsace, France

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

Original wine gift in Alsace, France

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

Wine tasting gift in Alsace, France

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

Other articles relating to the work in the vineyard

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

The 2015 harvest nears the end in Alsace

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Wine course in Alsace to learn about making and ageing wines


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

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

Rent a vine in Alsace, France

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

wine tasting experience in France

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

White wine experience gift in France

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

Wine maki,ng experience in Alsace, France

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

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

Vineyard experience in Alsace, France

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

Personalised your own bottles of wine in Alsace, France

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

Unique wine gifts in alsace, France

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

Other articles relating to wine tasting

The fundamentals of wine tasting

Wine defects. How to identify faults when tasting wines

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Being an organic winemaker in 2015


At the start of a new year, all is still imaginable and possible for 2015. The biggest organic wine fair in the world, Millésime Bio, shortly takes place from the 26th to 28th January, and all of our partner winemakers will be there. We took the opportunity to ask them what their vision and expectations were for organic winemaking in 2015. Here is a synopsis of their responses:
Wishes from Domaine la Cabotte Mondragon France

Why did you convert to being organic?

For Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, organically converted since 1999, and also biodynamically certified in some of their vineyards, it's a work philosophy before anything else. "To simply best express the quality of an exceptional terroir by respecting our working and natural environment."

Jean-François Chapelle, owner of Domaine Chapelle, converted the entire estate of his vineyards in 2009, and explained that "for the vines to convey the secrets of the soil through their grapes, the winemaker must respect life; the life of the soil and the life of the vine by excluding chemical weed-killers and fertilisers, and the human lives to stop the development of professional illnesses linked to farming such as cancers, asthma, and skin diseases." Converting to organic farming methods happened naturally at the winery in the continuity of "the Chapelle family history of producing terroir wines."

At Domaine Stentz-Buecher, the arrival of Stéphane, son of the owners, to the winery in 1995 brought a different vision of balancing work and nature.  They officially started the certification process in 2007 and received organic status in 2010.

But watch out, ironises Ghislain d'Aboville, owner of Domaine Allegria, who started the journey to be organically certified in 2008. "Not all winemakers are born into a vineyard and not all of their parents reared goats in the Larzac after 1968!" In his case, there is of course a philosophical reason, "the book by Marie-Monique Robin, and the film Le Monde Selon Monsato were the catalyst." But there were also family considerations. "We're happy that our children can gorge themselves on grapes during the harvest without worrying about chemical treatments which we don't use."

Wishes from Domaine Allegria Pézenas France

What has changed for you since converting to organic winemaking ?

For some, such as Eric Plumet, who together with his wife, Marie-Pierre, own Domaine la Cabotte. They converted organically in 2002 and biodynamically in 2006, and for them the answer is "the sense of no longer working against nature but with nature. To respect the living and to put everything in place to enrich this life in our soils, our vines and our wines. We've developed our powers of observation and our ability to work naturally."

The effects are also visible in the vineyards for Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard and "the vines have regained strength, know how to better defend themselves against disease, and produce more constant yields."

At Domaine Allegria, they have gone further than just the vineyard, and introduced an organic vegetable patch in 2014 and will add an organic chicken run in 2015.

For Domaine Stentz-Buecher : "Above and beyond respecting the official organic charter, we are also seeking the best quality. We voluntarily reduce the yields, are extremely selective when sorting the grapes and vinify our wines naturally."

Wishes from Domaine Brocard Chablis France

What are the things you are looking forward to this year ?

Our partners are awash with new projects for 2015:

  • The acquisition of a new plot of vines of Santenay Premier Cru Beaurepaire for Domaine Chapelle.
  • Training the teams and developing the buildings at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard to welcome and share their vision of winemaking with more visitors.
  • The start of a social responsibility certification and a new rosé wine that will be fuller and even more seductive at Domaine Allegria
  • The arrival of Etienne, the son of Marie-Pierre and Eric at Domaine la Cabotte, who will start working with them, and a new very old plot of Grenache vines in Châteuneuf du Pape, which are cultivated organically and are undergoing biodynamic conversion.

What are your wishes for your winery and team in 2015?

The wishes of our partners are fairly unanimous concerning 2015, "to go even further organically to respect the environment" at Domaine Chapelle and to "help increase awareness of organic wine in France and internationally" at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.

Domaine la Cabotte reminds us that we should indeed wish for, "generous conditions to give us the best possible wines because one should never forget that we can only work with that which nature provides us weather wise."

And not forgetting the importance to our winemakers of sharing great moments with their clients. We wish you an excellent millésime, lots of Allegria, and to share this joy with those around you.

More information on our partner winemakers

 

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