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Tagged articles : Grapes

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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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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A great harvest at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy


We were welcomed to Domaine Chapelle in the charming Burgundy village of Santenay at the end of September for the adoptive parents of the 2016 vintage to participate in harvesting the grapes in the Clos de Cornières vineyard. The weather was exceptional, making the harvest even more enjoyable under the big blue sky and in the lovely warm weather!

 

Adopt-a-vine in Burgundy, France and meet the winemaker

Following a quick introduction to the agenda for the day and the idea behind Gourmet Odyssey's adopt-a-vine concept, the owner of the winery, Jean-François Chapelle, presented the history of the winery and his family, and where they fit in with the surrounding Burgundy wine-making landscape.

Wine-making experience at Domaine Chapelle, Burgundy, France

Then, secateurs in hand, we made our way to the Clos des Cornières vineyard. We took a few fun minutes to meet our adopted vines and take a few pictures before receiving our harvesting instructions from Jean-François. He showed us which grapes to pick and which to leave. An important part of sorting the grapes and thus ensuring the quality, takes place at the moment of picking the grapes by the harvesters directly.

Wine gift box for makking your wine in Burgundy France

After about an hour and a half of picking and a couple of minor cuts (we said to cut the grapes, not the fingers!), we admired our harvest neatly lined up in cases. As we advanced along the vine rows, we gradually filled the plastic crates that we dragged along with us. Once full, we brought them back to the beginning of the row to be then taken back to the winery, and took a new crate.

Harvest Experience at the winery in Burgundy France

The 2016 vintage will be a small one in terms of quantity, but the quality is looking very promising.

As we harvested, Jean-François answered our questions, notably concerning organic winemaking and the difficulties of being organic during the complicated spring that the region endured.

Oenology course at the winery learn how to harvest grapes

We then followed the journey of our grapes to the sorting table to understand how the grapes are received and put into the fermentation vats. We joined Yannick and his team, and participated in sorting the grapes by removing any unripe or dried berries as they moved along the conveyor belt.

Oenology course and vine adoption in Burgundy, France

At the end of the sorting table, the grapes are separated from the stems in the de-stemming machine, and then the grapes fall by gravity into a trolley below. Once the trolley is full, it is then wheeled in front of the vat, and the grapes are put into it using another conveyor belt. No pumps are used throughout this process to prevent the grapes being damaged.

Winery tour and wine tasting in Burgundy

By this time we had earned our rest. So we headed to the beautiful setting of the Chapelle's family garden to taste one of the winery's Santenay white wines, accompanied by the famous Burgundy gougères!

Wine tasting at the winery and meeting with the winemaker

We then sat down to eat in the harvesters refectory for a delicious lunch served with three of the winery's red wines. The Clos des Cornières 2013, Santenay Premier Cru Gravières 2013 and the Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru 2011 !

Well-fed and rested, we then visited the cellar and barrel rooms. Yannick introduced us to the work during the vinification and ageing periods, and talked to us about analysing the wines, topping up the barrels and how they taste the wines.

Chai and winery tour in Burgundy France

There's still much to be done before the beautiful 2016 grapes become wine, but we'll talk more about that during the Vinification Experience Days!

Many thanks to all of the participants for a couple of great days at Domaine Chapelle!

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How the weather is impacting the 2016 harvest


As the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Days finish, our adoptive parents now turn their attention to the harvest. When will they take place and what will be involved? It has to be said that choosing the dates for the harvest is never an easy task for the winemakers, especially as the climatic conditions of the past few years haven't really helped. How can the weather influence a year's harvest?

"2013 had too much rain, 2014 was too cold, 2015... ah, 2015 had great weather, but too early to know all of its impact on the wine!" If you listen to the winemakers, it would appear that there's never a year fully free from climatic troubles. And they can put at risk a complete year's work. For all the skill of a winemaker, not everything can be controlled, particularly the good or bad fortune that the weather can bring.

What weather factors influence the harvest?

Of course some climatic factors are well known and can be almost controlled depending on the region. For example in the northern vineyards the winemakers can remove some of the leaves from the vines during the summer to allow more sun to reach the grapes and so help them to mature more quickly. In the south, regulated irrigation can be authorised if there is drought, or the grapes may be harvested earlier if there are sustained high temperatures.

Removing some of the vine leaves to help the grapes mature

But, often the weather can be unpredictable, striking violently and quickly. A large hail storm can completely strip a vine bear of its leaves, buds or grapes depending on the time of year. The frost can kill the first buds. Heavy rain can change the quality of the grapes, or rain during the flowering period can severely reduce the potential yield volumes.

Lighting candles in the vineyards to help protect the vines from frost.

The winemaker has to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws up. Even if there aren't any extreme conditions, a relatively wet year or a relatively dry year can change when the harvest will take place, can impact the quality of the harvest, or can even change the organisation of how the grapes are picked.

The main pre-occupation in the minds of the winemakers over the coming weeks will be in fixing the date for the harvest. It's important to do so as early as possible from a logistical point of view to recruit the teams of harvesters, to order the necessary equipment, and to get the tools, machinery, and cellars ready for the new harvest.

Veraison when the grapes start to change colour and mature

Choosing when to harvest is a balancing act between waiting for the perfect level of maturity and mitigating the climatic risks of rain or hail storms that don't do much good to ripe grapes. Rain can bloat the grapes, diluting the sugar and aromatic concentration levels to the detriment to the wine's quality, and hail can simply destroy the grapes altogether.

At the end of summer the winemaker is constantly inspecting the vines, observing the maturity of the grapes, and looking to the sky or scouring the weather reports to try and avoid any trouble.

Harvesting in the rain

The weather can be fickle right up until the end, and even during the harvest. Harvesting during the rain can dilute a wine's structure, and make the grapes more difficult to sort. It can also allow rot to set in if the grapes don't dry quickly, which in turn can reduce the quantity.

Picking grapes in the rain also means that the harvesters work more slowly, and if the weather is very changeable, it makes planning and organising the teams that much more difficult and time consuming to ensure that they are picking the grapes in the right vineyard depending on the maturity levels and risk of rot. And when it's really hot, sometimes the teams have to start earlier, or harvest during the night to pick fresher grapes.

These are just some of the headaches that the winemakers face during harvest period! Fortunately, for most of the time, the harvest remains one of the highlights of the year, where the wineries are bursting with energy and conviviality. If you would like to find out for yourself what harvesting is like, join us for a Harvest Experience Day and adopt some vines in one of our partner wineries!

 

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Helping with the summer work in the vineyard at Domaine Chapelle


On the 25th June, we were welcomed at Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay for a Discovery Experience day to learn all about the work carried out in the vineyard. We were accompanied by the owners and winemakers, Jean-François and Yvette.

Jean-François got the day started with an introduction to the winery, its history, how it is organised and the philosophy they have in the way they make their wine, covering notably their decision to convert the winery to being organic.

Adopt-a-vine experience in Burgundy at Domaine Chapelle

We then got booted up, and headed into the vineyard to immerse ourselves in how the vines are nurtured to produce the best possible grapes. But first of all, we stopped to say a quick hello to our adopted vines, and to pose and take a few photographs!

Wine-making courses in the vineyard with the winemaker

We split into two groups, led by Jean-François and Yvette, and we then had a go at helping to train the vines to ensure that the weight of the foliage and fruit will be supported by the training wires, and that the branches are spaced out to help the air better circulate around the vines, critical in helping to reduce the risk of rot.

Vineyard work during a oenology course in Burgundy, France

There is lots to learn about all of the different tasks that a winemaker must undertake in the vineyard, and the practical exercise, helped each person to show off their winemaker skills!

Wine tasting at the winery in Burgundy, France

We then headed back to the garden in front of the château for a well-earned tasting of one of the Santenay white wines produced at the winery, accompanied by some gougères, a local Burgundy delicacy.

Wine-making experience with the winemaker at Domaine Chapelle Burgundy

Lunch was served in the harvesters' refectory. A perch and vegetable terrine, beef bourguignon and gratin potatoes, local cheese and a chocolate blackcurrant desert were paired with three different red wines from Domaine Chapelle, including the famous Clos des Cornières wine of course!

After lunch, we went for a nice walk to visit the Beaurepaire Premier Cru vineyard that has been recently replanted. During this sunny stroll, we were able to admire the view of the village of Santenay and its bell tower, and to appreciate the different terroirs. Jean-François showed us the difference in the soil structures, their impact on the wine, and how they affect the Burgundy wine classification system.

Vineyard tours with the winemaker in Santenay, Burgundy, France

Once we had arrived at the Beaurepaire vineyard, Jean-François explained the different stages involved in replanting a plot of vines. We learnt that it takes at least 3 years before you can start to make wine from the vines, but it won't be until at least 7 or 8 years that the grapes will begin to show the character of the Premier Cru plot. It's an important investment decision to take, and is one that is taken for the benefit of the next generation.

Cellar tour and wine tasting at the winery

Back at the winery, we had time for Jean-François to give us a quick tour of the cellar and fermentation hall before bringing the day to a close. Hopefully we each left with a little better understanding of the many facets and skills that are needed to be a winemaker.

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A lesson in pruning vines at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis


Pruning is probably the most complicated and hardest of all the work that is carried out in the vineyard. It is probably the most important too, as it helps determine not just the yield of this year’s harvest, but also lays the foundation for the following year. It might sound simple in theory, but as the participants in last Sunday’s Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard were to find out, it’s not quite as simple!
Vineyard experience, Chablis

The aim of this hands on wine course is to learn about all of the work that the winemaker has to do in the vineyard to ensure the best possible grapes at harvest time, so after the brief introductions, overview of the Chablis region and the history of the winery, we headed out into the vineyard.

We made our way to the Boissonneuse vineyard, which is where our adopted vines are located, and which was also the first of the winery’s vineyards to be organically and biodynamically certified. Here you have a great view of the rolling Chablis hills, planted with vines as far as the eye can see, and so we took a few minutes to take some photos of our vines in this wonderful setting.

Adopt a vine, Chablis, France

It was then time to get down to some serious business! We were accompanied by Fred, one of the key members of the vineyard team. He told us about what had been keeping him busy since the last harvest, most of the time which had been spent so far pruning the vines. The pruning at the winery has finished, but Fred had kept a few vines back so that we could have a go for ourselves. He showed us how to choose which branches to cut, and which to select to produce this year’s harvest. Easy!

Wine experience, Chablis, France

Secateurs in hand, we then had a go for ourselves. Hang on a minute. What did Fred say? Is this the right branch to keep? This vine doesn’t look anything like the ones he used for the demonstration... The first thing we learnt is that the theory is all well and good, but each vine has its own exceptions! However, after the first couple of vines, it starts to get a little easier, but we have a much better understanding of the complexity of what appears to be a simple task. And when you look at the hundreds of thousands of vines growing on the surrounding hills, you realise what a mammoth task pruning is.

Wine lover gift, Chablis,France

Fred then showed us how the branches are bent and attached to the training wire using a fantastic tool that ties and cuts some string at the press of a button, considerably speeding up the job.

Unique wine gifts, Chablis, France

We also had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics as varied as working the soil, grafting and planting new vines, as well as the differences between conventional, organic and biodynamic farming.

We then made our way back to the winery for a well earned tasting of some of the Chablis wines produced on the estate. We tasted a Petit Chablis 2014 and Chablis Sainte Claire 2015, produced from the vineyard immediately around us. We then tried a Chablis Premier Cru “Butteaux” 2011, followed by a Chablis Grand Cru “Valmur” 2011. Over lunch we continued the tasting with a Chablis Boissonneuse 2013 and one of the few red wines produced at the winery, the Irancy “Les Mazelots” 2014.

Original wine gift, Chablis, France

After lunch and all those wines, it was good to get some fresh air! We headed out into the Sainte Claire vineyard, where we could see the notable difference in terroir from the Boissonneuse vineyard. Here we talked about the different tasks that lay ahead in the vineyard between now and the harvest, and how the winemakers will choose when the time is right to pick the grapes.

Adopt a vine france, Chablis

The day ended with a quick visit to the fermentation hall that is home to all of the wooden casks at the winery. It’s an impressive room, and is where part of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey cuvée is aged.

Personalised wine gifts, France, Chablis

We’ll go into more detail about the winemaking side of things during one of the Vinification Experience Days. For now the attention swings back to the vineyard, as the next couple of weeks will be crucial as we hope that the last of the frosts are behind us, and that the buds continue to flourish unhindered.

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


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

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

Adopt a vine france, Alsace

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

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

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

Original wine gift, Alsace, France

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

Rent a vine, Alsace, France

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

Wine tasting gift, Alsace, France

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

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What makes Ice Wine so different?


As winter sets in, the vines generally take a well earned rest after producing the grapes for the harvest in autumn. That is except for the vines that are used to produce ice wine, an exclusive style of wine that is only ever produced in small quantities and not necessarily every year.
Pick up grapes, Ice wine

Ice wine is made from frozen grapes that are still on the vine, and to be in accordance with the International Organisation of Vine and Wine’s regulations, the temperature has to have reached at least -7°C. What an idea to make wine from frozen grapes! It’s apparently in Austria that the first wine was made in this way, and as with many great discoveries, it was completely by accident. At the end of the 18th century in a year when the first winter frosts came very early, the harvesters picked some grapes that had already frozen, but the resulting wine was excellent, contrary to all expectations!

The slight problem is that in order to have frozen grapes, you need the cold! And as it doesn’t necessarily come every year, it’s quite a bet for the winemaker to take, deciding to leave the grapes on the vines in the hope that the temperature will drop sufficiently to make ice wine, eiswein or vin de glace, as it is also known in some regions.

Harvesting to make ice wine in Quebec

Why do the grapes have to be left on the vine for such a long time? As for the vendanges tardives or late harvest wines, the grapes are left longer to give them the chance to obtain a much higher sugar level (the grapes used for the vendanges tardives also have the noble rot to help increase the concentration of sugar). The sugar levels are increased by the effects of the frost, and the grapes are picked and transported to the chai when they are still frozen. The grapes are then pressed whilst frozen, so some of the grape juice remains as ice crystals with the stalks, pips, and grape skins after pressing. This further increases the sugar levels of the extracted juice.

Freezing also gives the wine greater acidity, which counterbalances the sugar, giving sweet wines which are very aromatic and fresh on the palate.

Ice wine tasting

But be warned. Not everyone or everywhere can produce ice wine. We’ve already mentioned that you need a minimum temperature, and across the Atlantic in the US and Canada, regulations for making ice wine stipulate at least -12°C. The freezing temperatures can in no way be produced artificially, and it is also against the charter to add sugar to the must. These conditions mean that the production of ice wine remains very restricted compared to classic wines.

The main ice wine producing regions are Austria, Germany and Alsace in Europe, and Canada and the United States in North America. The main grape varietals used to make ice wine are riesling, grüner vetliner and gewurztraminer for the white ice wines, and merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon for red ice wines.

So how is ice wine best served? Unsurprisingly, cold! Between 4 and 8°C, it can be enjoyed as an aperitif or as a dessert wine, but is best tasted on its own to fully appreciate the harmony between the sugar and acidity. It pairs well with blue cheese or foie gras, and if you have the patience, is a wine that can be kept in the cellar for a few years!

 

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A great 2015 harvest in the Loire


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

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

Rent a vine, Loire Valley, France

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

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

Adopt a vin france, Loire Valley

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

Unique wne gifts, Loire Valley, France

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

Wine experience gift, Loire Valley, France

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

Vineyard experience, Loire Valley, France

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

Wine experience gifts,Loire Valley, France

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

Wine gift packs, Loire Valley, France

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

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The 2015 harvest nears the end in Alsace


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

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

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

Adop a vine, Alsace, France

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

Wine lover git, Alsace, France

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

Wine experience, Alsace, France

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

Rent a vine in France, Alsace

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

Unique wine gifts, France, Alsace 

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

Wine making experience in Alsace, France

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

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

Wine gift packs in Alsace, France

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

Original wine gift, Alsace, France

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

Personalised wine gifts, France, Alsace

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

Wine tasting gift, Alsace, France

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

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A sunny harvest in Bordeaux


Last weekend, we were welcomed for the harvest by all of the team at Château Beau Rivage. Christine, the winemaker and owner of the winery, David the vineyard manager, Sandrine the cellar manager, Guillaume the sales manager, and two new recruits to the winery, JR and Thomas. They were all there to help guide us as we picked the grapes and followed their journey during the Harvest Experience Days.

The two days started under the Bordeaux sun, and after a short introduction from Gourmet Odyssey and an overview of the day's agenda, Christine presented her team and the winery. All booted up, we then headed out into the vineyard. First stop, a quick meeting with our adopted vines to take some pictures for the "My Vine" photo competition.

Adopt a vine, Bordeaux, France

A few minutes later, armed with a pair of secateurs, we got down to the serious business of harvesting. The group on Saturday picked the grapes in one of the Merlot plots, whilst Sunday's group picked the young Malbec vines that were planted 3 years ago. Guided by David and Christine, we cut, carried, cut, carried... tasted and re-tasted the grapes!

Vineyard experience, Bordeaux, France

 

Wine experience gift, Bordeaux, France

Once we had finished harvesting, we headed back to the winery. With the sun being at its strongest, we de-stemmed the grapes and put them directly into the vat before they got too hot. We all got involved with the task at hand. We formed a human chain to transport the grapes to the vat, where the merlot grapes will be used to make red wine. On Sunday, we crushed the grapes by foot in an old traditional wine press. As the Malbec grapes that we had harvested were very young, they will be used to make rosé wine.

Adopt a vine in france, Bordeaux

 

Original wine gift, Bordeaux, France

Around 1pm, we stopped for a well earned rest. Guillaume uncorked a few bottles and started the wine tasting! We continued to taste different wines from the winery during the course of lunch.

Personalised bottles of wine, Bordeaux, France

After lunch, Christine led us back into the fermentation hall and the barrel room. She explained how the grapes that we had harvested will slowly transform into wine. Sandrine, the cellar manager, told us how the tannins and colour are extracted from the must as the wine is pumped over and filters through the cap of marc that rises to the top of the vat. We then had a quick tour of the barrel room to see where the wine will be moved to next. The rest of the process will be covered in more detail during the Vinification Experience Days!

Unique wine gifts, Bordeaux, France

Many thanks to Christine and her team for their warm welcome as always! And many thanks to those who picked, listened, and tasted!

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Another great Harvest Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


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

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

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

Picking experience in the vinyeard of Cotes du Rhone

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

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

Harvest wine box gift at Domaine la Cabotte

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

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

De-stemming experience in the Rhone Valley, France

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

Conveyor belt during French harvest experience at Domaine la Cabotte

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

Wine tasting at the winery in the Rhone Valley France

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

Vines adoption gift in the Rhone Valley France

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

Fermentation process during the harvest in France

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

Wine tasting at Domaine la Cabotte rhone Valley

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

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

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The harvest in a few words


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

The harvest banns or "ban des vendanges"

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

Harvest period

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

Vineyard experience in France

The state of the grapes

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

Late harvest or "vendanges tardives"

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

Green harvest

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

Original wine gift in France

Harvesting machine

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

Sorting table

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

Unique wine gift in France

Destemming

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

Wine press

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

Adopt a vine in France

Crushing the grapes

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

Other articles relating to the harvest

- A brief history of grape harvesting

- The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries

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

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A good 2015 harvest for the Cotes du Rhone


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

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

Vineyard experience in the Rhône Valley

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

Original wine gift in Rhône Valley, France

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

Adopt a vine france, Rhône Valley

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

Wine experience gifts, Rhône Valley

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

Wine gift packs in France, Rhône Valley

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

Personalised wine gift in France, Domaine la Cabotte

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

Rent a vine in France, Rhône Valley

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

Wine tasting gift in France, Rhône Valley

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

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A good harvest in Chablis


Last Saturday was a busy day for Gourmet Odyssey, as we were hosting Harvest Experience Days in the Rhône Valley, the Languedoc, and also in Chablis at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard. One would normally expect to harvest a few weeks later in Burgundy than the south of France, but the exceptionally hot summer, combined with the hail storm that hit some of the vineyards in Chablis on the 31st August, meant that the harvest had been brought forward.

As soon as we had finished the introductions we headed outside to receive our equipment for the day, a pair of secateurs and a bucket each, and a couple of baskets for the porters. We met up with Emilie, from the vine management team at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, in the Sainte Claire vineyard, and listened intently as she gave us our instructions on how to harvest, and which grapes to pick and which to leave behind.

Wine experience gift in France, Burgundy

We paired off, two to a row, and set about harvesting. First we removed the leaves from the vines from around the fruit. This helped us to more easily access the grape bunches, and also made it safer in warding off any unwanted finger cuts!

Vineyard experience in Burgundy, Chablis, France

The grapes are of a very good quality this year, and we could taste the plentiful natural sugar present, thanks to the dry and sunny summer. Unfortunately for us, some rain had decided to join us too for the morning, but that didn't dampen our spirits any, and the buckets soon filled up!

A few brave volunteers took it in turns to act as porter. Their role was to walk up and down the rows, collecting the grapes from the pickers and putting them in the basket that they wore on their backs.

Adopt a vine in France, wine lovers, Chablis

Once the baskets were filled, the porters then carried their load to the waiting trailer, climbed a ladder, and emptied the load over their shoulder, trying not to fall in with it!

Wine experience gifts in France, Burgundy

At the end of the morning we headed over to the Boissonneuse vineyard to have a look at our adopted vines, giving us the opportunity to take a few more photos!

Rent a vine in France, Gourmet Odyssey recipient

On the way back to the winery, we stopped to have a look at where the grapes are then emptied into the presses, before cleaning the buckets, and cleaning ourselves up.

Wine tasting gift for wine lovers in France, Chablis

Anne-Laure, from the Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard team had prepared some wines for us to taste, which were most welcome after our mornings effort! We started with a Petit Chablis "Les Plantes" 2012 and a Chablis "Sainte Claire" 2014. We then tasted the 2012 vintage of the Chablis wine chosen for our Wine Experience, La Boisssonneuse, and then finished with a Chablis "Côte de Lechet" Premier Cru 2012, before heading upstairs for lunch, where we also tasted an Irancy red wine produced by the winery.

Unique wine gift, organic wine in France

In the afternoon, we caught up with Julien Brocard, who has taken over the running of the winery from his father. Julien showed us how the grapes are pressed, and told us about how the wine will evolve during the fermentation process and how it will be worked. It was also the opportunity to talk a little about his reasoning for working much of the winery biodynamically.

Original wine gift in Burgundy

We then visited the large fermentation hall, where the winery's top wines are worked and aged in oak casks and some in concrete eggs.

Personalised wine gift in France,Chablis

The day ended with a final tasting session. We first tasted the grape juice that had been freshly pressed from our harvest. We then compared it to some juice that had already started the fermentation process and fizzed a little. This juice is now known as bourru.

Personalised bottles of wine, unique gift in France

Many thanks to all of our apprentice harvesters for their hard work, and to the team at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard for welcoming us. We look forward to seeing how the 2015 vintage has evolved during the Vinification Experience Days next year.

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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