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Tagged articles : Grapes

Harvesting the cabernet franc vines in the Loire Valley


The Harvest Experience Days at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley took place last weekend under a wonderful blue sky. The cabernet franc grapes had been soaking up the sun and increasing their sugar levels whilst waiting impatiently for our apprentice harvesters.

  Wine gift Harvest Day in the Loire Valley France

Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner of the family winery, welcomed the adoptive vine owners with a coffee to make sure everyone was on top form to start this full harvest day.

After a quick history of the winery and an update on the 2017 vintage, which looks as though it will be a very good year, we headed out to the plot of vines that we were to harvest, accompanied by Noémie, who heads up the vineyard team. The vineyard we stopped at is on the left bank of the Vienne river, as are all of Marc’s different vineyards.

Grapes Harvest Day gift box in Chinon France

The objective of the morning was to harvest a plot of vines that Marc had set aside for us, by hand and with no cuts if possible! And of course to only pick the ripe and healthy grapes. Once we had received our instructions, each pair took a row of vines, and a few courageous volunteers took the hopper baskets to wear on their backs and collect the full buckets of grapes from the other harvesters.

Oenology gift box Chinon France

The atmosphere was great and the challenge overcome by our teams. The trailer quickly filled with our precious harvest, and once we had achieved the first part of our mission, we headed back to the winery to discover what happens to next to separate the grapes from the stems and to put them into the vats.

Harvest course day at the winery in Chinon France

The bunches of grapes enter a de-stemming machine to remove the woody stems and then the whole berries are put directly into the vats using a forklift truck. The grapes aren’t pressed, a process that is different from making white wine. Marc handles the grapes as gently as possible, using gravity as much as possible to avoid using a pump which would cause the grapes to burst and release their juice before being safely in the vat.

The method allows him to delay the start of the fermentation for the red wines and gives the harvest the time to develop some of the aromatic qualities that better express their terroir.

Harvest day lunch and tasting at the winery in France

By this time, we were ready for some lunch, and we sat down to enjoy a meal that had been prepared by Mme Plouzeau, accompanied of course with some of Marc’s wines. It was difficult not to give into the siesta’s call by the end of the meal!

Fortunately we had a date with our adopted vines. Having taken some pictures for the “My Vine” photo competition, we returned to the chai to learn from Marc what else goes on during harvest time during the maceration and fermentation process.

Fermentation and harvest day at the winery in Chinon France

We ended the day by tasting some of the sweet grape juice from the grapes that we had picked. A great way to end this day that had been full of learning, action and discovery. We’ll be back next year for the Vinification Experience Days to see how the wine is evolving!

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Harvest Experience Days in Saint-Emilion


The 2017 grape harvest took us to Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion last weekend as we joined up with some of the 2017 vintage Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients.  The purpose of the Harvest Experience Days was to get involved in the harvest and to learn about what happens to the grapes once they have been picked and they get back to the winery.  As we were to learn, there is much more to harvesting than just picking grapes!

Rent-a-vine gift experience in an organic vineyard in Bordeaux

After the brief introductions, we were each equipped with a basket and pair of secateurs and we walked through the vineyards up onto the plateau to enjoy the fantastic view over rolling vineyards to Saint-Emilion and the surrounding world renowned Grand Cru Classé vineyards.

It is here that the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located, and we took a few minutes to visit our vines and take some photos.

Adopt-a-vine gift experience in Saint-Emilion

It was then time to get down to the serious business of the day, and so we headed to one of the neighbouring vine plots where the vines are around 90 years old.  Here we received our instructions as to what grapes to pick and which to leave behind.  Then in twos, we spread out among the rows and started picking the grapes.

Grape picking experience gift in an organic vineyard in France

The grapes are very healthy this year, and of a good quality, so there was very little to leave behind and the baskets filled up quickly.  A few of us had a go at being porter too, carrying the crates of grapes between the harvesters and the trailer.

Harvest my own grapes and participate in making my own personalised bottles of organic wine

As we picked, the questions and discussions were varied, covering topics such as what it means to be organic, what wildlife can be found in the vineyard, the work that had already been carried out to nurture the vines, and the classification system of the Saint-Emilion wines.

When we had finished picking, we admired our harvest and then followed the tractor back to the winery.

Rent-a-vine in Saint Emilion and get involved in the harvest

On the way, we said hello to the horses that work in the vineyard where we had picked the grapes.

Adopt an organic vine and learn about making organic wine

Back at the winery, we enjoyed a nicely chilled Claret rosé wine, before sitting down to the harvesters lunch where we continued the tasting with the winery’s Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2013, 2015 and 2014 vintages, and a tasting of their second wine.

Winery tour and wine tasting at an organic winery in Saint-Emilion

After lunch, it was time to sort the grapes, and we were to do it the traditional way, by hand!  Any dried grapes or ones that had some mould on them, were picked off and put into a waste bin, and we then removed the rest of the berries by hand into a big white bucket, and discarded the stem into the waste bin.  It was a slow job, but little by little, the buckets started to fill with the perfect grapes.

Wine-making experience gift and harvest in Saint-Emilion

We then went into the chai to see where the grapes are put into the vats.  Here they will stay during the fermentation period.  We learnt how the grape juice ferments and tasted two different juices directly from the vats to compare one that had just started to ferment and one that had been fermenting for a week.  There was a marked difference in the two.

Organic wine-making gift in Bordeaux

We learnt all about pumping over the wines to extract the colour and tannins from the skins that are pushed to the top of the vats by the carbon dioxide that is released during the fermentation process, and how the wine will then be racked to draw off the clearer wine, and the remaining marc pressed to give the press wine that will be blended in with the final wine.

Winery tour and cellar visit in Saint-Emilion

We finished the day with a quick tour of the cellar where the old vintage bottles are stored, and to see the barrel room where the wines will slowly age before being ready for bottling.  We’ll be spending more time here next year during the Vinification Experience Days to learn all about the choices that the winemakers take and the work involved as the wines age, are blended and made ready for bottling.

It was a great weekend.  We learnt more about what it’s really like to be a winemaker and had fun in the process.  Many thanks to all who participated!

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The 2017 harvest in Chablis


Last weekend saw us travel to Chablis to participate in the Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.  We weren’t there just to pick grapes, but to also learn about all of the work in the cellar at harvest time to press the grapes, put them into the vats, and to follow their progress through the first stages of fermentation.

Original wine lover gift. Adopt vines in Chablis and make your own personalised bottles of wine

After a welcome coffee and brief introduction, we made our way through the rolling vineyards to the Butteaux vineyard, a Premier Cru plot where the winery’s team of harvesters were already hard at work.  Emilie and Cécile distributed the secateurs and buckets, and we had a few volunteers to be porters.

Emilie and Cécile explained which grapes to cut and which to leave behind.  To make the job easier, the first task is to remove the leaves from in front of the grape bunches so that you can see them and get to the stalk more easily with the secateurs.   In twos we spread out among the rows and started to harvest the grapes.

Participate in the harvest and learn about the art of winemaking

Once the buckets were full we called out to the porters to come.  We then emptied the buckets into the hops carried on their backs.  Their role was to then carry the grapes to the truck, climb a ladder and then tip the grapes out.  It’s not as easy as you would think to throw the grapes over your shoulder whilst at the top of a ladder, but after the first couple of attempts, the porters soon found their individual styles!  We rotated roles, so that all of those who wanted to have a go being porter could see what it was like to carry a load of grapes on their back.

Biodynamic wine gift in France to get involved in the grape harvest

Time flies when you’re concentrated on harvesting, and before we knew it, we met up with the team of professional harvesters.  Emilie and Cécile walked through the rows to see how we had got on, and announced that we had done a great job, leaving behind very few of the precious grapes.

We then followed the grapes journey through the delightful scenery back to the winery.  Here the grapes were weighed, and then wait for a press to become free.  When we arrived, Julien Brocard was busy emptying the marc of skins, pips and stalks that had been left behind from the previous load.  He explained what he was doing and how he had been battling with a blown fuse that had slowed progress down during the morning.

Wine-making experience gift in Chablis

Our harvest was then emptied into the press and we watched as it started working to extract the juice from the grapes.  We learnt about how the juice is held in a vat until the solid particles that manage to get through the press filters have settled in the bottom of the vat, a process known as débourbage.  The clear juice is then drawn off and put into another vat or wooden cask to begin the fermentation process, transforming the sugar into alcohol.

Adopt a vine and get involved in making your own personalised bottles of biodynamic wine

It had been a busy morning, and our aperitif well deserved!  On the terrace overlooking the Sainte Claire vineyard, we tasted a Petit Chablis, Chablis Sainte Claire and Chablis Premier Cru, all from the 2015 vintage to see how the wine differs between the three appellations.  We then sat down to lunch and continued the wine tasting with some older vintages.

Wine tasting gift at the winery in Chablis

In the afternoon, we walked out into the Sainte Claire vineyard to find our adopted vines.  Having taken a few souvenir photos, we learnt more about the challenges of planning for the harvest and the differences between harvesting grapes manually and by machine.

Rent-a-vine in a French biodynamic vineyard

We then made our way back to the winery for a final tasting of the day.  We first tasted the grape juice from our harvest.  It was very sweet, a good sign of the maturity of the grapes.  We then tasted some juice from grapes that had been harvested five days previously.  The fermentation had already begun, and we could taste that it was less sweet and could feel the fizz in our mouths of the carbon dioxide that is released during the fermentation process.

Original wine gift for wine lovers

We look forward to coming back early next year for the Vinification Experience Days to see how our wine has developed and to learn about the work that remains between now and the wine being ready to be bottled.  Many thanks to all who participated for a great day!

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Harvesting the grapes in the Rhone Valley


As we were setting up on Saturday for the Harvest Experience Day with Marie-Pierre and Eric, the winemakers at Domaine la Cabotte, we looked out at the surrounding vineyards and noted how dry the soil was and how warm it was despite the early hour. The team of harvesters were already at work. With the heat of the summer, the harvest started earlier than usual, and the winery is trying to get the grapes in more quickly to try and keep as much juice as possible for this harvest that will be small in quantity. The Gourmet Odyssey apprentice harvesters were therefore very welcome to lend a helping hand!

Over a coffee and croissant, we listened to Eric quickly introduce us to the winery. We then headed into the vineyard just below the winery building to harvest the clairette grapes before the rain arrived, which was forecast for the end of the morning.

harvest wine box in the rhone valley france

As Eric explained, normally that white grapes such as the viognier and clairette are picked first, then the red grapes such as the syrah, moruvèdre or grenache. This year, the high temperatures in July and August meant that the harvest started on the 25th August, some 2 weeks earlier than a typical year, and with the red grapes.

The night time temperatures have also not been cooling as much as they would normally in September, meaning that the maturity is progressing very quickly. The harvest usually spans over almost a month, but all will be finished by Monday the 11th September, meaning that the whole harvest will have taken just two and a half weeks. If we wait any longer, the heat will have dried the grapes out, meaning less juice, and therefore less wine.

All of the red grapes have now been harvested and there is just the clairette left, which has been allotted to us. The clairette that we picked is not used for the usual white wine, but for a wine that will be made and aged in a large clay amphora, something that the winery has been experimenting with for a couple of years now. For making wine this way, we’re looking for a more ripe grape that has less acidity than for a classic white wine where you need more freshness. That’s why these grapes had been left to the end.

meet the winemaker at a harvest experience day in france

It was therefore up to us to pick a good harvest for Marie-Pierre and Eric, both of whom are particularly passionate about this wine. The secateurs were distributed, and then we split up among the vine rows.

harvest experience day at the winery in the cotes du rhone france

The grapes were of a very good quality, making our work that much easier. We didn’t need to sort the grapes whilst picking, as all the grape bunches were in good condition. However we had to take our time as the colour of the grapes were camouflaged with the leaves.  We therefore first stripped away the leaves to make it easier to see the grapes and cut the stems.

oenology course in the rhone valley vineyard france

The buckets quickly filled up, and as Eric and a few courageous volunteers emptied them into the trailer, the conversations abounded regarding the grape varietals, weather and the early harvest. Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the row, and just in time, as the rain started to fall. Along with the team of harvesters next to us, we had enough grapes to fill the press.

harvest experience wine box gift in france

We followed the tractor and trailer full of the precious harvest back to the shelter of the chai. Here we saw how the grapes were emptied into the press. Eric then gently rotated the press to ensure that the grapes were evenly spread in the press and to make place for the rest of the grapes. Once it was full, Eric set a gentle programme during an hour and a half to extract the juice as gently as possible which helps preserve the aromas.

winery tasting and vineyard visit in france

We had earned our aperitif and enjoyed it with the hum of the press in the background. Marie-Pierre brought out some homemade savoury cake to accompany the Colline, a very lively white wine. We also tasted a previous vintage of the white wine that is made in the amphora to see how the grapes that we had harvested in the morning might end up.

harvester meal and wine tasting for the harvest in a french vineyard

We tasted the red wines from the winery over lunch, prepared by a local restaurant, Au Temps de Vivre in Uchaux. We talked with Eric, Marie-Pierre and Jacqueline about the 2017 vintage which will be small, but should be of a good quality. We’ll be able to see for ourselves during the Vinification Experience Days early next year!

By the time we had finished our meal, the press had finished, and so we saw how the pressed juice is pumped into the vat. It will stay there for a couple of days to allow the solid particles to settle in the bottom of the vats, before the clarified wine is pumped into another vat where it will start the two week fermentation process. The skin, pips and stalks that remained in the press were removed and will be sent to the distillery to make liqueur.

wine-making and grapes picking course in france

While the press was being cleaned, we made the most of a dry patch, and went to the vineyard where our adopted vines are located to see how they had fared since the last Discovery Experience Day. After taking a few photos, we returned to see if the vat had been filled with the juice from our harvest.

Eric explained what happens during the first days of fermentation and how the grape juice transforms into wine. We then finished the day answering many questions about biodynamics, a way of making wine that Marie-Pierre and Eric are expert in and passionate about.

wine-making experience in a biodynamic vineyard in france

We could stay listening to Eric talk about his terroir and vines for hours, but all good things must come to an end.  At least a few bottles, taken home in the boot of the car, will allow the pleasure to last a little longer!

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The 2017 harvest gets underway in Burgundy


Last weekend saw the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients give the first snips of the secateurs to get the 2017 harvest underway at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy.  We were there to participate in the harvest, and to follow the grapes journey into the fermentation tanks.  As were to learn, there is much more to the harvest than just picking grapes!

Wine lover gift experience in Burgundy.  Rent-a-Vine and get involved in the harvest of your grapes

After the introductions in the garden of the château and some coffee and croissants to give us strength, secateurs in hand, we made our way to the Clos des Cornières vineyard.  This is where our adopted vines are located, and so before getting down to the serious business of harvesting, we took a few minutes to locate our vines and take a few pictures of them laden with grapes.  For those that had already joined us for a Discovery Experience Day, we could see the fruit of our labour in helping the vines produce the best possible grapes!

Adopt-a-Vine gift in an organic vineyard in France

Jean-François explained how to harvest the grapes, which ones to cut and which to leave behind.  In pairs, we were assigned a row and given a crate to put the picked grapes in.  To make it easier to see the grapes (and to lower the risk of cutting our fingers!), we started by removing the leaves in front of the grapes, and then snip snip, we started picking!

Weekend break in France to get involved in the grape harvest

This year there are many more grapes than the very meagre 2016, and the grapes were in very good condition, so the crates soon filled up with our harvest. Once we had filled a crate, we brought it back to the beginning of the row, and took a new one.

Great wine gift idea. Harvest your own vines in a French organic vineyard

We then followed the grapes back to the winery to see how they are received.  First we emptied the grapes onto the sorting table to remove any unripe ones or leaves that might have made their way into the crates.

Wine-making experience weekend in Burgundy, France

The sorted grapes then slide down a shoot into the cuverie below.  The grapes that we had picked were not separated from their stems, and so the whole bunches were put into the vats.  The stems contain tannins and help add structure to the wine.  Over the past couple of years, part of the harvest is left with the stems and part of it goes through the destemming machine so that just the berries go into the vats.  This is yet another decision that the winemaker takes depending on the year and the wine that he or she is trying to make.

Rent-a-Vine and make your own personalised organic French wine

Down below, the grapes fall into a trolley, which is then wheeled to the vat and emptied onto a conveyor belt that carries the grapes up and into the vat.  The aim is to get as many whole grapes as possible into the vat to help preserve the fruitiness and aromatic qualities of the wine.

Learning about the work in the cellar at harvest time.  A unique wine lover gift.

By this time, we had earned our aperitif!  In the garden overlooking the vines, we enjoyed a glass of Santenay Saint Jean 2015 white wine and a few gougères, the local delicacy!

Wine tasting gift experience with the winemaker in Burgundy

We then sat down to lunch in the harvesters’ refectory, prepared by the excellent local caterer, Olivier Huez in Meursault.  During the meal we tasted some of the winery’s red wines; the Santenay Clos des Cornières 2013, the Santenay “Les Gravières” Premier Cru 2012 and the Santenay “Comme” Premier Cru 2006.

After lunch, we returned to the cuverie, where Jean-François explained how the grapes will ferment over the coming couple of weeks, and the work that will be necessary before the wine is ready to be racked and put into barrels to start the long process of malo-lactic fermentation and ageing.  He also told us about the different process used to make white wine.

Original wine gift to learn about all about wine-making

At the end of the day, hopefully we had all learned a little more about all of the effort, care and dedication that goes into making wine.  We look forward to coming back next year to see how our harvest is developing during the Vinification Experience Days, and to learn more about the remaining work until the wine is 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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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 gets under way for our partner wineries

The 2015 harvest. What happens next in the cellar?

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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!

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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