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Raising the training wires in Burgundy


Last weekend we welcomed the participants of the Discovery Experience Days to Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy for a couple of hands on wine courses focused on learning more about the work in the vineyard.

Perfect gift for wine enthusiasts.  Adopt-a-vine in a French organic vineyard

After a welcome coffee and a brief introduction to the day, Jean-François, the owner and winemaker, recounted his family history and that of the Burgundy wine-growing region: how it was formed, the geology, and the birth of the different appellations.  From the garden in front of the chateau we could see the different terroir and how they determine the hierarchy of wines in Burgundy.

Winery tour gift expereince in the Cotes de Beaune, Burgundy, France

We then headed to the vineyard where our adopted vines are to be found.  They were in fine fettle and we took a few minutes to pamper them and take a few photos!

Adopt-a-Vine gift in France with personalised bottles of your own organic wine

Simon, the son of Jean-François who will one day take over from him, then started to explain the different stages of work that happen in the vineyard.

We also learnt about what it means and takes to be organic before getting involved ourselves in some of the work.  We raised the training wires and ensured that all of the branches were supported between them, at the same time separating the branches and trying to space them out as best as possible to improve the airflow around them.  This is an important task to help the grapes mature and to keep them healthy.  If it rains, it’s vital that the air can circulate around the grape bunches to quickly dry them, reducing the risk of rot.

Wine experience gift to participate in working in the vineyard

Back at the winery our hard work was rewarded with a glass of Santenay white wine, accompanied by some gougères, a famous Burgundy hors d’oeuvre.

Wine tasting experience gift in an organic Burgundy vineyard

We enjoyed lunch in the harvester’s refectory.  A sandre terrine, beef bourguignon, local cheeses, and a pear, chocolate and blackcurrant desert, each course served with a different wine from Domaine Chapelle.

Make your own wine gift in an organic French winery

In the afternoon, we visited the fermentation hall and cellar with Jean-François to see where the wines are made and age.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days in September and the beginning of next year.  We look forward to seeing you again soon.

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Wine Experience day in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet


We spent a fantastic week-end learning what it’s like to be a winemaker in Saint-Emilion during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Days at Château Coutet.  The vines are growing at a frantic pace at the moment, and as we were to find out, there is much to be done in the vineyard to try and produce the best possible grapes for the harvest.

Original goft for wine lovers in organic Saint-Emilion vineyard

On Saturday, we were accompanied by Alain and Juliette, and by Adrien on Sunday.  All three of them are incredibly passionate about their work and the winery, and the days started with a brief introduction to the winery’s 400 year history, during which time the winery has always been organic.

We then headed into the vineyard to be brought up to speed on the work carried out in the vineyard since last year’s harvest to prune, de-bud and attach the vines to the training wires, as well as the way the soil is worked.

Vineyard experience gift in France

As we made our way up towards the Saint-Emilion plateau, we saw the change in the soil, and the identified the different grape varietals by the different shaped leaves.  We passed a plot that had been planted with sunflowers and has now been left fallow to regenerate the nutrients in the soil before it will be planted with vines.  As with everything, the winery looks to nature to maintain the equilibrium of the biodiversity.

We stopped at a terrace of cabernet franc vines just below the plateau.  The grapes have now formed on the vines and will reach their full size in the next couple of weeks.  The flowering went particularly well this year, so the vines are well laden with fruit.  The grapes will mature over the next couple of months as the sugar levels increase.  One of the risks that the vines face is rot, especially so if the conditions are hot and humid.  To help protect the vines, some of the leaves are removed from around the grapes to improve the air flow around them, making it quicker for the air to dry them after any rainfall.

Wine experience gift in an organic French vineyard

To get a better idea of just what is involved in removing the leaves, after receiving our instructions, we had a go ourselves.  The vines we were working on were planted North to South.  We removed the leaves just from the East facing side of the rows, keeping the leaves on the West facing side in place to protect the grapes from being burnt by the stronger afternoon sun.

On the plateau we passed the plot of vines that are worked by horse and used in the making of the winery’s famous Emeri and Les Desmoiselles wines, before arriving at the Peycocut vineyard where our adopted vines are to be found.

As we admired the wonderful views across to Saint-Emilion and the neighbouring Grand Cru Classé vineyards, we took a few minutes to visit our adopted vines and immortalise the moment with a few photos!

Rent-a-vine gift in Saint-Emilion

After this full morning, we returned to the garden in front of the château for a well-earned aperitif.  A nicely chilled clairet rosé wine was awaiting us before we sat down to a lunch that was prepared in the château by a local caterer.  During the different courses, we tasted 4 different vintages of the winery’s Saint Emilion Grand Cru wine, learning about the four different years, and seeing how the wine changes over time.

Wine tasting gift experience of organic Saint-Emilion wines

We started the afternoon with a look at the Vitirover robot that has been developed at the winery.  This solar powered buggy linked to GPS and equipped with cutters roams in a pre-defined area of vines, cutting the difficult to reach grass and weeds that grow around the vine trunks!

Vineyard robot

The harvest is fast approaching, and so we learnt about what is left to do in the vineyard and how the winemakers will choose the moment of the harvest.

We then entered the fermentation hall where the grapes will be received at harvest time, and where they will then macerate and ferment in the vats.

Winery tour gift experience in Saint-Emilion

We marvelled at the cellar containing the old vintage bottles, everyone trying to see if there were any bottles left from their birth year or other notable vintages.

Wine experience gift with personalised bottles of Saint-Emilion GRand Cru wine

The day then finished in the barrel room where the wines are aged for around 18 months before being ready for bottling.  We’ll be spending more time in here during the Vinification Experience Days at the start of next year.  Before then we’ll be back in September to participate in the harvest and see how our grapes have matured over the summer!

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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.

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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.

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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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Raising the training wires in Chablis


The vines have also been enjoying the glorious weather that we have been having for the past few weeks and have been growing rapidly.  There’s much work to be done to keep on top as we were to discover during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis last Saturday.

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After the introductions we set out into the vineyard.  Here we learnt about all of the work that has been carried out in the vineyard since the last harvest.  Arnaud showed us how the vines had been pruned and de-budded, and also explained how the soil has been worked.  The winery is the largest organic and biodynamic winery in Chablis, so we also spent quite a lot of time discussing the differences between organic, biodynamic and conventional wine-growing.

Learning about winemaking and the work in the vineyard

With the recent growth spurt of the vines, there are currently two main tasks to do.  One is to trim the branches on the sides and tops of the vines.  This is done using a special cutter that is attached to the front of the tractor .  We watched a tractor in action on the adjacent vine plot, and the driver then stopped to give us a demonstration of the versatility of this tractor, which can be fitted with different tools to plough, treat the vines, or even harvest the grapes.

Vineyard Experience gift to participate in making your own personalised organic wine

The other task of the moment is more manual, and involves raising the training wires to support the weight of the foliage and future grapes, and to better space out the vines.  Arnaud had left us a plot to work on, and after receiving our instructions, we rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in!  In twos, one either side of the vine row, we unclipped the two top training wires, raised them up to the final level, and then re-clipped them together.

Rent-a-vine gift in an organic vineyard

On our way back, we made sure that each of the branches were in between the training wires.  This will prevent them from being damaged by the passing tractors and becoming entangled with the opposite vines.

We then returned to the winery for a well-earned wine tasting.  Anne-Laure served us a Petit Chablis 2015, Chablis Sainte-Claire 2015, and a Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 2014.  Over lunch, prepared on-site by Julie, a great local caterer, we enjoyed a Chablis Vielles Vignes 2015 and a Chablis Saint-Anne 2004 from a magnum to see how the Sainte Claire wine that is chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience can age over time.

In the afternoon we visited the Sainte-Claire vineyard to meet our adopted vines, and take a few pictures with them!  They too were in fine fettle, and looking great.  They have just finished flowering, and are said to be at the peppercorn stage  where the grapes are starting to take shape, and we can see the bunches forming.  The grapes will increase in size over the next few weeks, before the vines will concentrate their energy on ripening them and producing the sugar needed to ferment and create the wine.

Adopt-a-vine in France in an organic vineyard and make your personalised bottles of wine

The day ended with a visit of the fermentation hall where the wines from last year are ageing.  They have finished their fermentation and are now resting on their fine lees, until they will be ready for bottling.

Original personalised organic wine gift

And so we leave the vines to bring the grapes to maturity over the coming weeks.  We’ll next be back for the harvest, which although still too early to say when, looks like to be slightly earlier than usual.  But that depends on the weather to come.  We hope for dry, sunny weather, interspersed with a few rain showers that are followed by sun and wind.  That would be perfect! 

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De-budding the vines in Saint-Emilion


After much excited anticipation, the first Discovery Experience Days got underway last week-end at Château Coutet, our new partner wine-maker in Saint-Emilion.  The warm welcome and passion of the winemakers lived up to expectation and we had a fantastic time learning about the work in the vineyard and the fascinating history of the winery.

Original wine-making gift in Saint Emilion.

The day started in the vineyard, where we learnt about how the vines had been pruned during the winter months to control their growth and ensure that they produce less grapes, but of a higher quality come harvest time.

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We slowly made our way up the hill as we learnt about the different grape varietals and the geology of the Saint-Emilion region.  Château Coutet is one of the few wineries that has vines planted in each of the three different types of soil to be found in Saint-Emilion.

Just before we reached the plateau, we stopped in front of a plot of vines that had been left for us to work on.  With the rain that had fallen in the past few days, and the rising temperatures, the vines are growing rapidly at the moment.  Our first task was to de-bud the vines by removing any branches that had sprouted from the trunk of the vines, and any double shoots growing from the same node.

Rent-a-vine-gift-experience-saint-emilion-france

Simple enough you would think, but a little more complicated when you have to decide for yourself which shoots to remove.  This is especially so for the shoots around the head of the vine, that might be useful to leave to help rejuvenate the vine next year or the following year.

The next job was to raise the training wires to help support the weight of the growth, and to ensure that the branches grow upwards, and don’t fall into the middle of the rows, where they could get damaged by the tractor or transport unwanted fungi up from the ground.   In pairs, we walked down the rows, first to detach the training wires, and then back a second time raising the wires and clipping them together at each stake.

Original vineyard visit to participate in working on the vines

We then continued our journey up onto the plateau where the most renowned Saint-Emilion vineyards are located, including our adopted vines!   Here we had a wonderful view of the surrounding Grand Cru Classé vineyards and the church spire of Saint-Emilion.
Château Coutet have their oldest vines on the plateau, the oldest being between 80 and 95 years old.  The vines from this plot are cultivated organically as with the rest of the estate’s vineyards, but here horses are used to work the soil, no electrical tools are used, so pruning is done by traditional secatuers, and the organic treatments are administered by hand.  The grapes that are produced are used for the wineries prestigious Emeri and Les Demoiselles wines.

The neighbouring plot of vines are home to our adopted vines.  We took a few minutes to meet them and take a few photos to immortalise the moment!

Rent-a-vine gift experience in an organic Saint Emilion vineyard

We returned to the winery via the old Roman path that linked Libourne to Saint-Emilion, passing a plot of vines that had been replanted a couple of years ago.  The vines have taken root nicely and work had begun to put in place the training wire structure.

Back at the winery, we enjoyed an aperitif of Chateau Coutet’s clairet, a deep pink rosé wine that is traditional to the Bordeaux region.   We then tasted the Saint Emilion 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages over lunch, learning about the different characteristics of each of these years, enabling us to see how the wine develops over time.

Tasting the estate's wines in front of the château

In the afternoon, we returned to the vineyard next to the winery buildings to learn about the work that remains in the vineyard between now and the harvest.  Removing some of the leaves, raising the training wires, trimming the branches, treating the vines against mildew and black rot as necessary.  There is still much to do before the grapes will be fully ripe and ready to be harvested.

Guided tour of the vineyards to learn the different work

We then had a quick tour of the fermentation hall and visited the cellar where the old vintages are stored. A real treasure trove!

Cellar tour in Saint-Emilion to see the old bottles of wine

The day finished with a visit of the barrel room to see where the wines slowly age before being ready to be bottled.  We’ll learn more about this stage of wine-making during the Vinification Experience Days next year.

Visiting the oak wine barrels

So much to learn about wine-making and the fascinating history of the winery.  Our first week-end at the winery was all that we could have hoped for, and we can’t wait to return, as there is so much more to discover! Many thanks to our fantastic hosts, and to all of our participants for making it so memorable!

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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.

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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.

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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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Pruning the Chardonnay vines in Chablis


Much of a wine’s quality is directly linked to the effort and care taken in the vineyard to produce the best quality grapes.  For without good grapes, it is very difficult to make good wine.  We ventured to Chablis last weekend to learn about the important work in the vineyard during a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.

Adopt-a-vine gift for wine lovers in Chablis, France

We spent the morning in the vineyard under the expert of guidance of Arnaud, one of the most experienced members of the vineyard team.  Arnaud brought us up to speed on what they have been busy doing in the vineyard during the winter.

Most of the time since November has been taken up with pruning, which is probably the most important task of all in the vineyard, as it not only helps determine the potential yield for the coming year’s harvest, but also lays the foundation for the following year.  Arnaud had kept back a small plot of vines for us to have a go at pruning ourselves.  He explained and showed us how to select the branch that will bear this year’s grapes, and how to choose the two spurs that will be used in the future.

Vineyard experience gift in organic Chablis vineyard

Listening to Arnaud, it all sounded very easy, so secateurs in hand, we set about having a go ourselves.  But wait a minute, the vine in front of us resembled nothing like the ones that Arnaud had used to demonstrate on!  We were to soon learn that each vine seems to be an exception to the rule!  Arnaud flitted between us to help us or to confirm our thinking, and little by little, we became more confident in our choices.  It’s much more complicated than you would imagine. Having a go yourself is the only way to really understand, and also to appreciate the mammouth task that the winemakers face when you look around the surrounding vineyards that spread as far as the eye can see.

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Arnaud then showed us how the branches are attached to the training wires to ensure that the growth will be spread evenly.  He answered our many questions, and we also spent quite a lot of time talking about the differences between conventional, organic and biodynamic methods.  The domaine is one of the largest organic and biodynamic wineries in Burgundy, and the plot of vines that we were working in is cultivated biodynamically.

On the way back to the winery, Arnaud showed us a some vines that had been pruned using the guyot double method, which leaves two branches instead of one in the guyot simple method that we had used.

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We had earned our aperitif, and back at the winery Jean-Louis, had prepared a tasting of Petit Chablis, Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru to whet our appetite.  We continued the tasting over lunch of other organic wines from the winery, including Les Preuses Chablis Grand Cru.

Wine tasting experience gift at the winery in Chablis

After lunch we headed back into the vineyard to visit our adopted vines and to get in some training for Easter as we each hunted for our micro-plot of vines!

Adopt-a-vine in a French organic vineyard

We then learnt about the work that remains in the vineyard between now and the harvest.  There is still lots to do, and as we enter this crucial period now that the buds are starting to burst we hope that the frosts stay away.  The vines will grow rapidly now over the next couple of months.

The day finished with a quick tour of the upper fermentation hall to see where the wines are aged in oak casks.  We’ll learn more about what happens here during the Vinification Experience Days.

Wine-making experience present in Chablis, France

And so the day came to a close, and we left our vines in the care of the winery to be nurtured and managed as they grow and bear their fruit.  We look forward to coming back for the Harvest Experience Day!

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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.

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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.

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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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Wine-making in Chablis


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

Oragnic wine-making gift experience in Chablis, France

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

Follow the making of your own organic Chablis wine

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

Guided tour of the fermentation hall at the winery

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

Tasting the different stages of fermentation

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

The machine that will label the personalised bottles of wine

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

Wine tasting lesson at the winery to develop the senses

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

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

The vineyard terroir

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

Ageing the wine in oak casks

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

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

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

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Learning how to blend wine in Bordeaux


Blending wine is a fine art as we were to learn during the Vinification Experience Days at Château Beau Rivage last weekend.  The winemaker chooses not only which grape varietals to use and in what percentages, but also chooses between different lots of the same wine, and notably at Château Beau Rivage, between the same wine aged in different types of oak barrel.  The possibilities are endless!

Adopt a vine gift.  Learn all about making and blending wines with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

After the introductions, we headed into the cuvier, or fermentation hall, to see where the grapes end their journey at harvest time.  Here we learnt all about the fermentation process to transform the sugar contained in the grapes into alcohol, and the work carried out to extract the tannins from the marc of grape skins and pips during maceration.  The first weeks after the harvest is a very busy time for the winemaker as the wines need to be constantly monitored to track the temperature, sugar content, and evolution of the wines.

Learning how wine ferments

Once the fermentation has finished, the wines are racked to separate the wine from the larger lee particles that are formed by the skin, pips, stems and other solid matter.  If it was left in contact with the wine, this would make the wine unstable and give undesirable aromas.  The wine that is drawn off is known as the “vin de goutte”.  The marc that remains in the bottom of the vat is then pressed to obtain the “vin de presse”, which is then aged separately to have another possibility during blending.  The vin de presse is much more tannic and concentrated than the vin de goutte.

At Château Beau Rivage, the wines remain in the vats until the malo-lactic fermentation has finished, a process which reduces the acidity and results in a softening of the wines.  The wines are then moved into the barrel room.

Learning about the interaction between wine and oak barrels

The barrel room at Château Beau Rivage is very impressive.  Chrsitine, the owner and winemaker comes from a family of coopers, and the family cooperage is just the other side of the village.  Here we were introduced to the influence that oak barrels play in ageing wine, and learnt about the different effects they have on the wine depending on the provenance of the oak and the way in which the barrels are made.  Barrel making is an art form in itself!

For the most part the wines are left alone in the barrel to age.  This takes time as the wines at Château Beau Rivage are made for lasting.  Each barrel is regularly tasted to check on its progression, and any wine that has evaporated is replaced to keep the barrels full, protecting the wine from the oxygen in the air.  After tasting, the winemaker will decide whether the finer lees that are present in the barrels need stirring in a process known as “battonage”.

It was then time to put our senses to the test.  At the cooperage, a series of workshops had been set up, the first of which was to identify some of the aromas that can be found in wine due to the grape varietal or from the ageing process in oak barrels.  A fun exercise that’s not as easy as you would imagine!

Workshop to develop the wine tasting senses

Now that we had the vocabulary in place, we started the first wine tasting session of the day.  We were served two different wines, and had to try and guess the singular difference between them.  Were they from different grape varietals, different years, or had they been aged in different types of container?  The difference aromatically and on the palate was striking, and tasting in this manner is the best way to understand the variables that a winemaker has at his or her disposal.

Tasting wines that are still in the process of ageing

Lunchtime was approaching and so we tasted some of the winery’s wines during lunch at the restaurant of the cooperage.  After the rosé wine, we tasted the Phare 2002 red wine with the foie gras and fig chutney starter.  We then tasted the Benjamin Bordeaux Supérieur 2010 red wine with the main course, and the Clos la Bohème Haut-Médoc 2010 with cheese, followed by the Château Beau Rivage 2007 with the chocolate mousse. This last wine is the cuvée chosen at the winery for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gift pack.

After lunch, we had lots more wine tasting in store during the blending workshop.  At our disposal were samples of four different grape varietals from the 2016 vintage that are currently still in the ageing process.  To understand the different qualities of each, we started by tasting them individually.  We noted that the merlot was full of fruit but not so long on the palate, the malbec brought a touch of spice, the cabernet sauvignon had a long finish, and the petit verdot had more acidity than the others.

Wine lover gift to learn how to blend wines, Bordeaux, France

Then it was time to have a go at blending the wines together.  We tried several different blends to see how the wine changes with the different grape varietals and percentages used.   Even small differences can considerably change a wine, and some of the blends were more pleasing than others!  One thing that we were unanimous about was that it takes real skill to choose the blend, and to be able to project into the future about how the wine will be.

Many thanks to all who participated in this very enjoyable weekend and to Château Beau Rivage for giving us a great insight into the art of winemaking.  We now have to wait patiently as the 2016 vintage slowly matures and is ready in the winter of 2018/19.  The 2015 vintage will be ready at the end of this year, or beginning of next depending on its evolution over the next few months, and the timing of this year’s harvest.

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Learning about the winemaker’s work in the cellar


The 2017 Wine Experience Days got underway last weekend in Burgundy at Domaine Chapelle with a couple of great Vinification Experience Days with the clients of the 2016 vintage.  The aim of this wine course spent at the winery is to learn all about the work in the cellar and the choices that the winemaker takes to make the wine between the harvest and the time that it is ready for bottling.  As we were to learn, the winemaker’s job is far from finished once the grapes have been harvested.

Organic wine-making experience gift in Burgundy France

The days were split into different workshops.  After the introductions, one group followed Jean-François Chapelle into the fermentation hall.  Here he explained how the grapes are received during the harvest and then put into the vats.  We learnt about the fermentation process and how the winemakers closely monitor and control it to ensure that it takes place in the optimal conditions.  Jean-François explained the difference between the “vin de goutte” and the “vin de presse”, and the differences in making white and red wine.

Original wine gift for a birthday, retirement or wedding.  Follow the making of your own organic French wine

After the first fermentation has finished and the wine has been racked, the majority of the red wines at Domaine Chapelle, including the Clos des Cornières red wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, are moved to the underground cellar to continue their ageing in the oak barrels.

Winery and cellar tour gift in Burgundy, France

Amongst the barrels, Jean-François explained how the wine loses some of its acidity during the malo-lactic fermentation and let us in on the choices that he makes regarding the different types of barrel used.  To better understand the role that the barrels play in making wine, we tasted some wines directly from the barrel to compare the difference between new and old barrels. The same wine had been put into the barrels, so the only difference was the barrel.  It’s amazing to see how the aromas and taste vary.  The questions abounded, and we covered many topics from chaptalisation, the levels of sulphites added, and the different methods used to close the bottles.

Wine-tasting experience gift in a French organic winery

Upstairs, another workshop run by Yvette Chapelle prepared us to better taste wine by putting or senses to the test.  Using small bottles containing different aromas found in red wine, we had a go at trying to identify the individual smells.  Not as easy as you would at first think!

Oenology gift for wine lovers.  Learn how to taste wines from the winemakers themselves

We then tasted four different cups containing a saline, sweet, acidic and bitter solution to appreciate how they feel differently in the mouth.

After the morning’s full programme, we made the most of the glorious sunshine and enjoyed a glass of Santenay St Jean 2015 white wine in the courtyard whilst Jean-François answered more of our questions.

Wine enthusiast gift

Over lunch, we continued the wine tasting with some of the red Burgundy wines, starting with the Santenay Clos des Cornières 2012, followed by the Santenay La Comme premier cru 2014, and finishing with the Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot premier cru red wine.
We started the afternoon in the Clos des Cornières vineyard to visit our adopted vines.  They were revelling in the sunshine and were only too happy to have their photo taken with their adoptive owners!

Rent-a-vine gift in an organic French vineyard

Jean-François then explained the different geology of the surrounding vineyards and how that determines the AOC classification system of Burgundy and Santenay wines.  He pointed out the three distinct areas of our Clos des Cornières vineyard, knowledge we needed for the final wine tasting of the day.

Back in the courtyard, we tasted the three different wines from the Clos de Cornières vineyard that are vinified separately and are only blended together shortly before bottling.  This enabled us to see the difference that the age of a vine plays, and to get a sneak preview of the potential of the 2016 vintage.  The wines were at different stages of the malo-lactic fermentation process, so also enabled us to see how they change.

Wine-making experience present in Burgundy, France

And so the day drew to a close.  Many thanks to Jean-François and Yvette for sharing their passion for winemaking with us, and to all of the participants for making it such a great weekend!

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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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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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New medals awarded at the Challenge Millésime Bio 2017 organic wine competition



The Challenge Millésime Bio organic wine competition took place last week.  It is the competition that is run by the Millésime Bio organic wine fair.
The Challenge Millesime Bio wine competition brings together professionals from the organic wine world

More than 1200 samples are entered each year into the Challenge Millésime Bio competition.  This year it was presided over by Joris Snelten, the CEO of Delta Wines, one of the most prominent Dutch wine importers.

The wine professionals taste over 1400 wine samples

On the 17th January 2017 the jury tasted 1413 wines, and awarded 413 medals:
  • 125 gold medals
  • 201 silver medals
  • 87 bronze medals

Two of our partner wineries won medals:

The Garance wine from Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône region
  • Domaine la Cabotte saw its Garance (Côtes du Rhône Village Massif d’Uchaux) 2015 red wine awarded a silver medal.  This is the wine that is selected by Gourmet Odyssey for its Wine Experience!
  • Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy won a gold medal for its Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru 2014 red wine.

Congratulations to all those involved at these two wineries!

 

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Award Winners 2016

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Adopt-a-Vine fun – finalists of the photo competition


The Gourmet Odyssey Experience Days for 2016 have now ended, and once again we've shared lots of great moments with all of the adoptive vine parents that have come to our partner wineries and have met their vines face to face! Many thanks to all of the great photos that we have received throughout the year.

We have selected 20 pictures for the final of the 2016 My Vine competition. There will be two winners. The public vote prize for the picture that receives the most "likes" on the Gourmet Odyssey Facebook page, and the jury prize for the photo selected by the Gourmet Odyssey team.

Discover the finalist photos and vote for your favourite on Facebook between now and 5pm on the 12th December. Take care to "like" the individual photo and not the entire album!

The two winners will receive a magnum of wine from the partner winery where they have their Wine Experience. See you back here on the 12th December for the results!

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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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A perfect Indian summer for the Harvest Experience Days at Château Beau Rivage


It was under a sunny blue sky that we gathered last weekend to participate in the Harvest Experience Days at Château Beau Rivage, near Bordeaux.

Adopt a vine in Bordeaux and get involved in the harvest of your grapes

After a nice hot coffee, Christine, the owner of the winery, accompanied by her team of Pauline, François and Guillaume, started by presenting the winery, vineyard and her path to becoming a winemaker.

We then headed out into the vineyard.  Saturday’s group started by discovering the plot of Merlot where our adopted vines are to be found.  Some of us were very creative in taking pictures for the “My Vine” photo competition.  A little bit of fun before getting down to the serious business of harvesting!

Rent-a-vine gift. Wine-making experience and harvest near Bordeaux

Having received our instructions on how to harvest and equipped with a pair of secateurs, we started to harvest the grapes.  The young Malbec and Petit Verdot vines, just 4 years old, gave us nice and sweet tasting grapes with plenty of colour.  Then, very motivated, we went to pick some Cabernet Franc grapes!

Harvest organic grapes gift for wine lovers

On Sunday, we took the road to Ludon-Médoc, a few minutes away from the winery.  Here some lovely rows of Cabernet Franc awaited us under the October sun.  These grapes will be used to make rosé wine, and are grown organically.

Grape picking experience gift in Bordeaux

We then headed back to the winery to meet our adopted vines, and once again the cameras clicked away!

Around 13 :00, we started to taste the wines.  First up, the Joly Rivage rosé wine from 2014.  We enjoyed this as we watched the harvest fall into Christine’s new wine press!  Once pressed, the juice will be left alone throughout the night to allow all of the sediment to fall to the bottom of the tank.  François’s team will then closely monitor the juice as it goes through the fermentation process to transform the sugar into alcohol.

Pressing the harvested grapes

We enjoyed lunch under the shade of the oak trees, and continued the tasting of the winery’s wines.

Wine tasting and lunch at the winery

As much as a siesta would have been welcome in the afternoon, we summoned our strength, and headed to the fermentation hall.  Christine explained what would become of our pressed juice, and how the wines are worked during the maceration period, and then in the barrel room during the long ageing process.

Both days finished around 16:30, and we hope that everyone enjoyed the days as much as we did!  We look forward to getting a first taste of the wines during the Vinification Experience Days!

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Harvesting the Chardonnay grapes in Chablis


Gourmet Odyssey’s 2016 harvest season continued last weekend in Chablis at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.  It’s been a challenging year for Chablis winemakers, and so they are happy to finally pick the grapes and get what is left of this year’s harvest safely into the cellar.  The Gourmet Odssey Wine Experience clients put their boots on, dodged the rain clouds, and brought their good cheer to lend a helping hand on Friday and Saturday!

Harvest Experience gift in Chablis, Burgundy, France

Once everyone had arrived at the winery, we’d filled up on coffee and croissants, and the introductions had been done, we headed out into the vineyard to join the winery’s team of harvesters who were already hard at work.

We were met by Micheline, who manages the harvesting teams.  She issued us each with a bucket and pair of harvesting secateurs, and equipped a few brave volunteers with large plastic baskets to carry on their backs.  She then explained which grapes to pick, how to pick them, and which grapes to leave on the vine.

Adopt a vine gift and harvest your grapes in the vineyard

Then we dispersed in pairs among the vines to start our harvest.  Taking care not to cut our fingers, we cut the bunches of grapes and put them into the bucket.  Once full, we then called one of the porters over and emptied our bucket into the basket they were carrying on their backs.

Harvest your own grapes gift

The porters moved between the harvesters, and once the basket was full, they then headed to the trailer, climbed a ladder and tipped the grapes over their heads.  It’s not as easy as it looks the first time, but you soon find the technique that works for you!

Harvest experience gift in an organic French vineyard

During the two days, we harvested grapes in two Premier Cru vineyards, Vaulorent and Mont de Milieu, as well as picking some grapes from a young plot of Chardonnay vines.

Organic wine and harvest experience gift

As the morning ended, we returned to the winery to see where the harvest is received and put into the wine presses to separate the juice from the skin, pips and stems.  We learnt about how the presses work, the work in the cellar during the harvest and how the grape juice is turned unto wine during the fermentation process.

Wine press in action

It was then time to taste some of the wines from the winery, and we started by tasting the range of biodynamic Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru wines produced by the winery under the Julien Brocard label.  It was a great opportunity to appreciate the differences in taste and complexity of the different appellations.

Rent-a-Vine, wine tasting and harvest experience gift

We continued the wine tasting over lunch as we sat down to eat the harvesters’ meal, freshly prepared onsite by the caterers. It’s important to keep the harvesters well fed and happy!

After lunch we took some fresh air and went back into the vineyard to see our adopted vines.  As always, a good excuse to get the cameras out, and adopt all manner of poses in front of the vines!

Adopt-a-vine gift experience and harvest

We then talked a little more about the differences between manual and machine harvesting and other topics that hadn’t yet been covered before the day drew to a close.

Thank you to all at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard for making us so welcome, and to all of our apprentice harvesters for your hard work and a fun day spent together.  See you soon for one of the Vinification Experience Days!

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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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