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Loire Valley

Removing the unwanted vines branches in the Loire Valley vineyard


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

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

Wine box day at the winery in the Loire Valley

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

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

Vine adoption wine gift in the Loire Valley France

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

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

Vineyard tending gift box in France

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

Wine Experience Day in the Loire Valley France

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

Winemakers' lunch in a French castle in the Loire Valley

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

Wine box gift vineyard visit in France

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

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

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


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

  Vine-Adoption and winery visit in Chinon, France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vineyard tour and winery visit in the Loire Valley, France

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

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

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Getting involved in the work in the vineyard


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

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

Winery touring wine gift in the Loire Valley, France

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

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

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

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

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

Work in the vineyard course with the winemaker in France

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

Oenology course at the winery in France as a wine gift

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

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

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

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

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

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Wine-making in Chablis


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

Oragnic wine-making gift experience in Chablis, France

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

Follow the making of your own organic Chablis wine

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

Guided tour of the fermentation hall at the winery

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

Tasting the different stages of fermentation

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

The machine that will label the personalised bottles of wine

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

Wine tasting lesson at the winery to develop the senses

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

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

The vineyard terroir

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

Ageing the wine in oak casks

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

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

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

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Wine-making gift experience in the Loire Valley


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

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

Visiting our adopted vines

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

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

Marc explains the vinification process in the chai

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

Putting our noses to the test in the aroma workshop

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

Lunch prepared by Mme Plouzeau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harvest Experience in the Loire Valley at Château de la Bonnelière


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

 

Vine adoption and grapes harvest experience in France

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

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

inemaker experience in the Loire Valley France

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

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

Harvest Day Experience as wine gift box

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

Wine tasting and winery tour in the Loire Valley France

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

Harvester meal and experience in France as wine gift

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

Oenology course at the wineray in the Loire Valley France

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

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

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De-budding the vines in the Loire Valley


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine Experience gift to help the winemaker work in the vineyard

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

Gift experience to learn how to de-bud vines

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

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

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

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

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Start your retirement by learning to be a winemaker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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The role of vats, barrels and other types of container in making wine


With all of the different Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Days taking place at the moment in our different partner wineries, we’ve been struck by the multitude of different methods and techniques used in the cellar to make and age wine depending on the different regions and partners. In this article we wanted to take a closer look at just one of these differences, that difference being the type of container used to produce wines. Here’s a quick overview of some of the different containers used to make wines.

After the harvest, the winemakers have to make a whole raft of crucial decisions in the cellar that will directly impact the quality, taste, and characteristics of their wines. Among them is the choice of container to age the wine once the fermentation has finished. Generally speaking, once the second fermentation has finished the wines are racked, and they are transferred from their fermentation tank to another container to continue their ageing process. There are lots of different types of container, but the most popular by far are either vats or barrels.

Vats

Vats come in all shapes and sizes, and can be made from different materials. The largest capacity vats can hold up to 1 000 200 litres, which is the colossal amount that the world’s largest oak vat holds at the Caves Byrhh. Vats of this size are far from the norm as there are very few wineries that would have the space to house them!

Unique wine gift, Alsace, France

The most common materials used to make vats are stainless steel, concrete and wood. Each has its own advantages. Wood and concrete vats are more porous and allow a micro-oxygenation of the wine which can be something favourable that the winemaker is looking for to make the wines softer and rounder. Wooden vats can also bring some extra tertiary aromas to the wine, particularly when they are new, to add to those present from the fruit and terroir. Stainless steel vats don’t allow these aromas to develop, but they can have the advantage of concentrating the aromas on the primary and secondary ones found in the must. All depends on what type of wine the winemaker wants to develop!

Wine making experience, Burgundy, France

When it comes to the shape, we often imagine that they are all more or less cylindrical, and that is indeed the case in the majority of wineries, but there are also less common forms such as cubic, ovoid, pyramidal, or rectangular. Each shape has its advantages. For example, an ovoid vat allows the wine to perpetually move, keeping the lees in suspension, without having to stir the lees at all. This results in fuller, more concentrated wines.

Original wine gift, Chablis, Burgundy, France

Barrels

When you think of wine ageing at the winery, more often than not you will think of it doing so in an oak barrel. The volume that a barrel holds varies from region to region, and in French, there are also different names for them depending on the region and the size of the barrel. For example, in Bordeaux, the typical Bordelaise barrel, a “barrique,” can hold 225 litres (300 standard sized bottles of wine). A Bordelaise “tonneau” is four times bigger, containing 900 litres, and it is this size of barrel that is used for pricing the wines. In Burgundy, the standard measure for a barrel of wine is called the “pièce” and has a capacity of 228 litres (304 standard sized bottles of wine). For much larger quantities there also the “foudres”.

Wine experience gifts, Loire Valley, France

There are two main reasons why the winemaker might choose to use oak barrels. The first is the micro-oxygenation that takes place as we mentioned in the section before on vats. The second is the impact that the interaction between the wine and the oak has on the aroma and taste of the wine. The majority of tertiary aromas found in wine are developed thanks to prolonged contact with the oak. Vanilla, cinnamon, hazelnut, toast, leather, etc – different aromas depending on the type of wood, its origin, and the way in which it was toasted during the manufacture of the barrels. Choosing the right barrel that will enhance the characteristics of a wine without overpowering it can be a difficult decision for the winemaker.

Vineyard experience, Bordeaux, France

Choosing the right container

Each type of container has its qualities and its supporters, the choice resting with the winemaker to help produce the desired wine. At our partner winemakers, we often taste the same wine that has been aged in different types of container. For example at Domaine la Cabotte, they have started to test using clay amphorae like the Romans used. They are trying to benefit from the porosity of the clay jar for the micro-oxygenation that is similar to a barrel, but without the exchange of tannins and development of tertiary aromas.

Wine lover gift, Rhone Valley, France

Whatever the choice of the container to be used, its impact will diminish as the volume increases, as the surface area becomes smaller relative to the volume of wine contained. The larger the container, the slower the ageing process will be. Controlling the temperature is also important, not just during the fermentation process, but during ageing as well to regulate the ability of the oxygen to dissolve into the liquid. Yet more choices for the winemaker!

 

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The vines come back to life in Spring


As our adopted parents for the 2016 vintage will have noticed during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Days that are currently under way, the vines are slowly waking up from their winter rest. The winemakers have been busy finishing the last pruning, bending and tying the remaining vine branches to the training wires before the first buds peek through, so it’s now time to take a look at what happens during spring in the vineyard.

Once the harvest has finished and the first cold winter weather sets in, the sap descends into the roots and foot of the vine stock. The vines are further protected from the frosts by heaping earth around the trunks, and last year’s branches are cut away so that the plant can concentrate its energy on producing the growth necessary for the coming year’s harvest. Even if this winter was uncharacteristically mild, the vines still passed through this hibernation mode, the length of which varied depending on the region of France.

Waking up

With the warming of the weather towards the end of March, the sap starts to climb back up the plant into the branches. Sometimes you can even see tears of sap form and drop from the where the branches have been cut.

Adopt a vine, Alsace, France

The tears herald the arrival of the first buds breaking through on the vines. This is a much awaited moment in the vineyard, but one that causes lots of worry for the winemakers. At this stage the vines are very vulnerable, and next year’s harvest is at the peril of frosts or wild animals that love to feast on the fresh, succulent buds. It’s time to watch and protect the vines as best as possible.

Vineyard experience, Burgundy, France

When it comes to buds, there are various different types. There are those that we leave on the main branches at the time of pruning, which are also sometimes referred to as eyes, and from these buds will grow the first shoots.

On these shoots, another type of bud, terminal buds, will form at the end of the new branch. These buds are responsible for the growth of the branch, and so once the vine has sufficiently grown and the winemaker wants the plant to turn its attention to ripening the grapes, the ends of the branches are cut off, and the growth is then stopped.

Adopt a vine france, Bordeaux

Then there are auxiliary buds, found under the leaf axils. These are latent, and won’t develop this year, but will burst next year. Vines have a two year vegetative cycle, and it is these buds that we leave when we prune for the following year’s campaign.

The growth of the vines

Once the bud burst period has finished, the vines enter a growth phase for the rest of spring and summer until the temperatures start to fall again in September or October.

Leaves also develop on the branches and they have a double role. They enable photosynthesis to take place, and they help the vine to regulate its temperature through releasing water. The leaves from each vine varietal haven their own distinct morphology, making it much easier to name a particular type of vine in springtime than in the depths of winter!

Original wine gift, Loire Valley

At the same time as the growth of the leaves, tendrils also develop to help the vine support itself. The green and supple tendrils reach out and wrap themselves around whatever they can find, the training wires being ideal. As time goes by, the green tendrils turn brown and into wood, which is why it’s so much harder to pull the branches away at pruning time.

Spring work in the vineyard

Ren a vine, Rhone Valley, France

From Spring onwards, a large part of the winemakers work in the vineyard is to control and manage the growth of the vines in such a way as to help the grapes reach optimal maturity at harvest time. De-budding and removing any unwanted shoots, and training the vines are the first tasks to be undertaken as the growth gets under way. Read our post on the spring work in the vineyard for more information.

 

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Wine-making Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


The Vinification Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte got started as always with one eye turned towards the weather. We’d had lots of wind from the mistral for the previous few days in the Rhone Valley, but everything had calmed down by Saturday. The sun was shining and the vibrant green of the first vine leaves were gleaming. Everything was in place to share a great day.

Our guests arrived from as far afield as Belgium and the Reunion Island, as well as from closer to home such as Marseille, Avignon and Courthezon.

Rent a vine, Rhone Valley, France

After the introductions and a welcome croissant, we set off to greet our adopted vines. For some it was their first meeting, for others a warm reunion and the pleasure of taking a photo with the first buds peeking through.

Under the spring sunshine, Eric, the winemaker, took us to the highest vineyard plot behind the chai to start talking about the vinification process. It was a good way to remind us that everything starts in the vineyard and results from the earth under our feet. We briefly touch on topics as varied as pruning, biodynamics and the influence of the terroir on the taste of the wines.

Vineyard experience, Rhone Valley, France

The questions flow and the time flies by. We return to the wine boutique to start getting down to some practical work.

Marie-Pierre had prepared some pens and paper, and some small bottles containing the aromas to be found in red and white wines. It was a workshop designed to try and help us identify different aromas. It can be a very frustrating experience as you know you know the aroma, but you just can’t put a name to it... “I know that smell. What is it? Lemon. No, wait, grapefruit?... Ah that one I know for sure. Lime tree! I’ve got one in my garden.”

Wine making experience, Rhone Valley, France

One of our participants managed to correctly name all of the aromas!

We then hurried to the chai to put our new found nasal skills to the test, this time with real wines!

Eric spoke passionately and expertly about what happens in the vat, how the work of the yeast is measured daily, how the temperatures rise and fall as the fermentation starts and then slows down. A good wine doesn’t just happen by itself, and we had the honour of tasting some of the wines that are still in the ageing process in the chai.

Wine lover gift,Rhone Valley, France

À table ! Marie-Pierre had put a bench out in the sun for the aperitif of the delicious Colline rosé wine. Over lunch, freshly prepared by Marie-Pierre, we continued the tasting with the Colline white and red wines, and then the Massif d’Uchaux red wines.

Wine experience, Rhone Valley, France

To honour the Chateauneuf-du-Pape made at Domaine la Cabotte, Jacqueline, the sommelier, enchanted us with a little poem that had been written by a friend of Pétrarque who was familiar with the Vaucluse region:

 

« Je veux vous chanter mes amis
ce vieux Châteauneuf que j'ai mis
pour vous seuls en bouteille 
il va faire merveille... 
Il est fils des côteaux pierreux
Que Phoebus brûle de ses feux
C'est un divin dictame 
qui enchantent nos âmes ».

 

The day ended back in the chai where there still remained much to talk about. Blending wines, the different types of container to store the wines – stainless steel, wood, or amphorae. We also talked about how the chai itself had been designed to work using natural gravity as much as possible, about bottling, and the different demands of clients in different countries.

Unique wine gift, Rhone Valley, France

Having stocked up with a few bottles to take home, it was time to end the day, hoping that the wine will continue to tell its story when it is poured into a glass.

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Learning to prune vines in the Loire Valley


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

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

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

Rent a vine, Loire Valley, France

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

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

Vineyard experience, Chinon, France

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

Adopt a vine france, Loire Valley

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

Wine experience gifts, Chinon, France

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

Unique wine gifts, Loire Valley, France

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

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The art of vinifiying, ageing and tasting wine


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

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

Vineyard experience, Loire Valley France

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

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

Wine making experience, Loire Valley, France

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

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

Wine gift pack, France, Loire Valley

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

Wine tasting gift, Loire Valley, France

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

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

Wine lover gift, Loire Valley, France

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

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Taste the wines from our partners in the 2016 wine fairs


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

Château Beau Rivage - Bordeaux

 

Salon Vinidome

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

Salon des Vignerons Indépendants in Strasbourg

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

Salon des Vins de France

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

 

Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard – Burgundy

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

 

Domaine Allegria

Salons des Vignerons de Liège

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

Salons des Vignerons Indépendants « Nature et Vin

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

 

Domaine Chapelle - Burgundy

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

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

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

Journées Gourmandes du Grand Morvan à Saulieu - Hall des Expositions

Foire gastronomique de Mailly Champagne
13 au 15 May 2016

 

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

More information

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A unique Saint Valentine gift for a wine lover


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

Personalised wine gift, France

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

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

Wine experience gift, France

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

Vineyard experience, France

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

More information on the Wine Experience.

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


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

Marie – the mountain menu

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

The Swiss or Savoyarde fondue – always delicious

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

A raclette, perfect for winter evenings

 

 

The Colline red wine from Domaine la Cabotte

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

The Sassenage cheese can be used in many hot dishes

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

Vercors beer

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

Ines – the semi-gastronomic menu

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

St Jacques scallops on a bed of leak purée

 

 

La Boissoneuse from Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard

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

Veal and cep mushrooms

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

Baked Mont d’Or

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

The millefeuille

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

Mark – The entente-cordiale menu

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

Oysters, deliciously simple as a starter

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

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the crackers

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

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

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

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

Stilton, potted or by the wedge

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

The stress of lighting the Christmas pudding

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

Other wine and food pairing related posts

How to go about pairing food and wine?

The fundamentals of wine tasting

Other Christmas related articles

Find the perfect Christmas gift for a wine lover

Wine gifts for Christmas – the Gourmet Odyssey selection

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Last minute Christmas Gifts for wine lovers


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

Unique wine gifts, France

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

Rent a vine in France

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

Personnalised bottles of wine, France

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

Vineyard experience, France

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

More information on delivery times for Christmas 2015.

More information about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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


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

Domaine Stentz-Buecher - Alsace

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

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

Wine lover gift

Domaine la Cabotte - Côtes du Rhône

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

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

Vineyard experience, France

Domaine Chapelle - Burgundy

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

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

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

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

Wine gift pack

Château Beau Rivage - Bordeaux 

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

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

Wedding present wine

Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard - Burgundy 

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

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

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

Unique wine gift

Château de la Bonnelière - Loire

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

Other articles relating to organic wine

Being an organic winemaker in 2015

What is biodynamic wine?

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Gourmet autumn holiday breaks in France


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

In Alsace

Wine making experience in France

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

In the Bordeaux region

Vineyard experience in France

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

In the Loire

Wine tasting gift, France

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

In Burgundy

Wine lover gift, France

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

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

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

Find the perfect Christmas gift for a wine lover

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A great 2015 harvest in the Loire


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

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

Rent a vine, Loire Valley, France

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

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

Adopt a vin france, Loire Valley

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

Unique wne gifts, Loire Valley, France

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

Wine experience gift, Loire Valley, France

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

Vineyard experience, Loire Valley, France

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

Wine experience gifts,Loire Valley, France

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

Wine gift packs, Loire Valley, France

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

Other articles relating to the 2015 harvest

The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries

The 2015 harvest. What happens next in the cellar?

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