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Tagged articles : Oenology

Wine-making in Chablis


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

Oragnic wine-making gift experience in Chablis, France

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

Follow the making of your own organic Chablis wine

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

Guided tour of the fermentation hall at the winery

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

Tasting the different stages of fermentation

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

The machine that will label the personalised bottles of wine

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

Wine tasting lesson at the winery to develop the senses

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

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

The vineyard terroir

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

Ageing the wine in oak casks

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

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

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

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Winemaker profiles, Jean-François Chapelle at Domaine Chapelle


We continue our profile series of our partner winemakers. They are still as passionate as ever about their profession, and love to share their knowledge. And we love to listen to them talk about their work. Here are a couple of questions that we asked Jean-François Chapelle, the owner and winemaker at Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay.

 

Jean-Francois Chapelle

 

How long have you been a winemaker?

I have been a winemaker for only a relatively short time, the 2015 vintage being my 28th harvest at the family winery.

At the start of our career in wine, Yvette and I travelled professionally in other winemaking regions of France, before returning to work with my parents, Roger & Colette, in 1987.

 

What is your best memory in the vineyard or cellar?

The memory that I have long time kept in mind is not really a good one, but a very strong one. The sudden death of my father in March 1991 left me terribly alone.

I remember the week after his death being stood there in the cellar in front of my vats, crying like a child as I conducted the technical analysis of the last harvest, something that we had always done together since 1987.

And then life continues, and a new way of doing things evolves.

 

For the 2015 vintage, what is at present your favourite wine and why?

For a long time, I've had a preference for the Santenay La Comme Premier Cru. I like its structure, its depth, its tannic side which sets in before being able to appreciate all of its complexity.

For 2015 I'll also go with La Comme.

 

What are your projects or challenges for 2016?

The big news at the winery for 2016 and particularly in 2017 is that our youngest son Simon, born in 1986, has decided to study to be a winemaker, to continue in partnership with his brother, sister and cousins, the great adventure at Domaine Chapelle!

 

A question that our clients often ask. What does a winemaker do when he has a little time to himself?

Our work is a profession that we do out of passion, so we don't have the same idea of "free time" as many!

But to relax, Yvette and I like to travel and walk. At the end of August 2015, we managed to get away for a little to wander in the Vosges mountains.

 

 

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De-budding the vines in the Côtes du Rhône


We had a marvellous Discovery Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte in the southern Côtes du Rhône region. After a few days of the mistral wind blowing, the good weather set in and we enjoyed a wonderful sunny day, perfect for spending the morning in the vineyard.
Vine adoption in the Rhone Valley

Over a welcome coffee, Eric and Marie-Pierre introduced us to the day. On the agenda was some work in a nice plot of Mourvèdre vines, where we would have a go at de-budding.

Vine life cycle and de-budding course at the winery

Our hosts explained how to de-bud, and then in pairs, we got stuck in. The demonstration that Eric gave us looked fairly simple. All we had to do was to remove some of the unwanted shoots to help control the yield that each vine will produce.

Wine gift vine de-budding course at the winery

But when you have to do it yourself, it's not quite as easy as it appears. No two vines are the same, and you end up asking yourself lots of questions. Is this shoot the one that needs to be removed? We didn't yet have Eric's expert eye. We de-budded a couple of rows each, which took us a little more time than it would have done Eric!

Vineyard tour wine gift in the Rhone Valley

Eric then took us on a walk through the vineyard, explaining on the way a whole host of things such as why some vines were pruned using the "gobelet" method and others using the "cordon de royat" technique.

Biodynamic wine making in the Cotes du Rhone

We took a little detour so that Eric could show us the biodynamic preparations that they use on the vineyards, notably the biodynamic cow manure compost, which nature transforms from a foul smelling matter into rich compost that encourages the microbial life in the soil. After a couple of weeks this compost is put into cow horns and then buried for a few months before being diluted and dynamised with rain water before being sprayed throughout the vineyard. Then the magic does its work!

Wine tasting at the winery in the Cotes du Rhone

Back at the winery, a nice cool aperitif awaited us in the shade of the trees. We tasted a 2015 Côtes du Rhône rosé and a Côtes du Rhône red wine from the same year. Marie-Pierre presented the wines, explaining their blends and how they had been worked in the chai.

Winemaker meal at the Domaine la Cabotte Rhone Valley

Marie-Pierre than invited us to sit down for an al fresco lunch that she had freshly prepared: a lentil salad, tomatoes and pumpkin seed salad, duck and nut terrine, local goats cheese and a delicious cake. During the meal we tasted the range of wines that are produced at the winery, the "Garance" and "Gabriel" Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d'Uchaux wines and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 red.

Vine adoption gift box France Rhone Valley

After lunch, we went to meet our Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines, giving us the chance to immortalise the moment by taking a few photos. Eric then told us about the specificity of the Uchaux terroir and how it differs from other areas in the Rhône valley.

Biodynamic winemaking course at Domaine la Cabotte

We then headed to the chai, where Eric briefly explained how the wine is vinified and the differences between the biodynamic methods they use from conventional. He showed us some of the plants that are used to make the treatments such as horse tail and fennel. He told us how the dynamiser works and the impact of the different biodynamic treatments on the vineyard.

The 2016 harvest is still a long way off, but the day enabled us to better appreciate the importance of the preparative work that is done beforehand throughout the year by Eric, Marie-Pierre and their son Etienne to ensure the best possible grapes.

The path is still long before we can taste the "Garance" 2016 wine, and we'll have to be patient, whilst hoping that Mother Nature is as kind as it was in 2015. Warm thanks to Marie-Pierre and Eric for their generous welcome and to all of the participants for a great day!

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Best wishes for 2016


So 2015 is over, and what a year!

The Gourmet Odyssey team grew and perhaps you have already had the good fortune to meet Stéphanne, Simon, Mégane or Louise who joined us to accompany our clients during the Experience Days at our partner wineries.

In the vineyard, 2015 was a great year. Mother nature was kind, providing a cold and dry winter, a mild spring, and a summer which held back a few surprises to keep our winemakers on their toes. The 2015 vintage is looking to be a very promising year, and we're already beginning to wonder how the next year will shape up.

Once again, we shared some great moments with you in the wineries, and we're looking forward to making new acquaintances and renewing old ones in 2016! There's still much to learn and share in the world of winemaking.

We wish you all an excellent 2016, and hope that the year is full of great times shared, passion, and discovery.

Mark, Marie, Ines, Stéphanne, Louise, Mégane and Simon

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Wine tasting workshop in Chinon


A nice sunny day welcomed the participants of the Vinification Experience Day at Château de la Bonnelière on Sunday 7th June.

Over a coffee and croissant, Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker, told us about the family history at the winery. The estate has around 40 hectares of vines, stretching along the left bank of the Vienne river, producing organic red and white wines of the Chinon appellation.

A busy day awaited us to learn about the technical methods used to vinify the wines, an aroma workshop, a visit of the underground cellar, and a tour of the bottling and labelling station.

We started the day by dividing into two groups. The first went to the chai with Marc, and the second worked on our sense of smell, before we swapped activities.

To better recognise the subtle differences of the wines from the estate, we put our noses to the test to try and identify some of the aromas found in the wine. We learnt that some of the aromas are due to the grape varietal, others to the way the wine is made, and others are linked to the ageing process.

Wine making experience in France, Chinon

We were then better placed to understand the explanations that Marc gave us in the chai. He told us about the work carried out on the wine during the fermentation period. All of the wines are made and aged separately according to the vineyard that the grapes come from, and Marc also explained the different choices to age the wine in oak barrels or vats.

We then headed to the cellar, which is located underneath the Chinon castle. This cellar is the perfect place to store the wines as they age at a constant temperature and level of humidity.

Wine experience gifts in Loire Valley, Chinon

There, we had the privilege of tasting some of the 2014 wines that are still in the process of ageing. One of the vines is being aged in a vat, another in an old oak barrel, another in new oak, and the final wine was a press wine.

Wine tasting gift at Château de la Bonnelière, France

Back at the winery, we sat down to eat lunch outside. To accompany our meal we tasted a Touraine Sauvignon Blanc white wine, and five Chinon red wines from Château de la Bonnelière and Marc's new winery, the Croix Marie.

We resisted the temptation of a siesta in the sun to pay our adopted vines a visit, and take a few pictures for the "My Vine" photo competition.

Adop a vines in Loire Valley, France

We finished the day in the cool of the chai to see the machinery that is used to bottle and label the wines. We also talked about the different corks that are used and their pros and cons compared with other materials used to close the bottles.

Many thanks to Marc for sharing his knowledge and good humour with us!

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Wine course in Alsace to learn about making and ageing wines


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

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

Rent a vine in Alsace, France

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

wine tasting experience in France

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

White wine experience gift in France

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

Wine maki,ng experience in Alsace, France

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

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

Vineyard experience in Alsace, France

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

Personalised your own bottles of wine in Alsace, France

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

Unique wine gifts in alsace, France

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

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The fundamentals of wine tasting

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Wine vinification in Chablis


Last weekend, we were in Chablis for a couple of Vinification Experience Days at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.  It's the third and last in the series of visits for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, with the aim to learn about the work of the winemaker from harvest time right up to bottling and labelling.

In the morning we visited the cuverie to follow the path that the grapes, juice and wine take.  First we saw the area that the grapes are received during the harvest and put into the presses.  Pierre, from Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, explained how the presses work and how the juice is then put into the vats.

 

Wine gift in France. Visit an organic winery in Chablis

 

Pierre told us about the alcoholic and malo-lactic fermentation processes.  The 2013 wines have all finished their first fermentation, and are now starting the malo-lactic fermentation which will soften the wines.   We stopped in front of the vat containing this year's Boissonneuse wine for a first taste of the wine that the clients of the 2013 vintage will receive next year, once the ageing has finished.  At this stage, the wine is still a little cloudy, which is completely normal.  The wine is far from being finished, but we could taste a nice concentration and equilibrium.

 

Wine-making gift in Chablis.

 

Once the ageing has finished, the bottling takes place in the next door building.  Pierre showed us the line of machines that are used to clean the bottles, bottle the wine and insert the corks.  The bottles then move to the labelling machine before being boxed, ready for transit.  It's a very impressive set-up to see!

 

Wine Gift for a wine enthusiast. Visit of the wine bottling machines.

 

We also organised several workshops around wine tasting.  To hone our skills, we started with a workshop to help identify the aromas that can be found in white wines.  This can be quite frustrating when you know you know a smell, but can't put a name to it!  We then tasted some sweet, salty, acidic and bitter flavoured water to feel how these different tastes act on the tongue.

 

Wine tasting gift for wine lovers.

 

We were now better prepared to taste the wine.  We blind tasted three series of wines to try and identify the differences.  The wine tasting continued over lunch with different vintages of the Boissonneuse, the Chablis chosen for the Wine Experience.

 

Wine Tasting Gift of Chablis wines

 

After all of the wines tasted, it was good to get some fresh air!  We walked to the Boissonneuse vineyard to see the adopted vines and to take a few pictures.

 

Rent-a-vine gift in Chablis, France

 

Back at the winery, we went down into the cellar to see the exposed cut of the ground to better understand the kimmeridgian soil that gives Chablis wines their specificity. We finished the day with a tasting of the 2012 Boissonneuse wine.  This wine is almost at the end of its ageing process and will soon be bottled.

 

The cut of rock

 

Many thanks to all you participated in the day.

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Harvest Experience Days at Domaine Chapelle


We spent three excellent days last weekend at Domaine Chapelle for the Harvest Experience days.

All week, the Gourmet Odyssey team anxiously monitored the weather forecast as Jean-Franois, the winemaker at Domaine Chapelle, was predicting rain for the weekend. In the end, the wet conditions didn't dampen the spirits, and we had a great group who were fully motivated to participate in the harvest. Those lucky enough to have chosen the Monday even saw some sunshine!

Wine Experience Gift in Burgundy, France 

Each morning we welcomed the adoptive owners of vines in the "Clos des Cornires" vineyard. After a coffee and a short introduction to the winery, we set off to the vineyard. With a few explanations from Jean-Franois and plenty of good humour, we set about harvesting the grapes.

Harvest Experience Gift in Burgundy, France 

We then followed the grapes to the reception hall to sort the grapes and track their journey into the vats.

Original wine gift for wine lovers. Get involved in the harvest in Burgundy 

Whilst some got stuck in around the sorting table, secateurs in hand, under the instruction of Yannick, the Technical Director, others watched the grapes climb the conveyor belt and fall into the vat. Jean-Franois talked us through the first stages of fermentation and how the grape juice will gradually transform into wine.

Wine course gift at the winery in Burgundy. Learn about the fermentation process 

After a busy morning, it was time to taste some of the estate's wines, accompanied by one of the local specialties, gougres, before sitting down to lunch in the harvesters' refectory. The conversation, food and wine flowed, and it was difficult to get going again afterwards!

Wine tasting gift in Burgundy. 

The days finished with a visit of the cellar, an impressive labyrinth of barrels and bottles.

Wine tour of the cellar in Burgundy. Original wine gift for wine enthusiasts 

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First Harvest Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte


Last Saturday was the first time that we ran a Harvest Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte, and here is a small resum of how it went:

09:30 For this first Harvest Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte, the day was forecast to be cloudy, but thankfully there shouldn't be any rain before tomorrow. Ideal conditions for harvesting without getting too hot. Everybody looked motivated, we'd find out once we're in the vineyard !

  Domaine La Cabotte

Marie-Pierre, the owner of the winery along with her husband Eric, introduced us to the region and the history of Domaine la Cabotte, and explained why the harvest this year is 2-3 weeks later than in a normal year.

10:00 We started the day in the plot where the adopted vines are located to see and take a few pictures of our vines. Eric explained that the grapes are not as abundant as usual, and that they are not quite mature enough to be picked, so we headed off to another plot of white Grenache grapes lower down in the vineyard.

2013 Harvest La Cabotte 

10:30 The buckets and secateurs were awaiting us, and after Eric explained how to harvest the bunches, we spread out amongst the rows in pairs to get down to work! In the middle of the first row, the sun came out and it started to heat up. Would we get to the end?! Marie-Pierre kept our spirits up by making us think of the wine tasting and meal to come! After the first row and a quick refreshment stop, we set off to harvest a second row each - uphill this time! We must have started to get the hang of it, because we were getting much quicker, or was it in anticipation of the wine tasting?!

2013 Harvest La Cabotte
 

13:00 Mission accomplished in filling the two trailers with grapes. We followed them back to the chai where we emptied our harvest into the press and set it going for 2 hours of pressing. Eric reckoned that it would give about 1000 litres of juice. Whilst waiting for the press to do its thing, we quenched our thirst by tasting some of the estate's wines. We started with the Colline Ctes du Rhne white wine, made from the same plot that we had just harvested, but last year in 2012. We then tasted the Colline red and the Gabriel 2011.

Wine Tasting La Cabotte 

13:30 Under the shade of the trees, we continued the tasting with the Garance 2011, accompanied by the delicious home-made meal prepared by Marie-Pierre. We ended the meal with cheese and desert accompanied by the Sauvageonne 2012 white wine.
15h00 After the coffee and the meal, it was difficult to get going again, but the hard work was now behind us. As the press finished the last part of its cycle, Eric explained the differences between working with the harvest for white and red wines, and talked us through the first stages of fermentation. We then finished the day by tasting the juice from the grapes that we had harvested and that from another lot which had been picked a few days earlier. Having finished being pressed, the juice from our harvest was then put into a refrigerated vat. The discarded stems, skin and pips will then be taken to the distillery. Finally we had harvested enough to produce some 1500 litres of juice! 

Juice Tasting La Cabotte
 
Many thanks to Eric and Marie-Pierre and to all of our guests for a thoroughly enjoyable day!

 

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Wine Experience Days in Burgundy


During the first weekend of March, Domaine Chapelle in Santenay welcomed two groups of apprentice winemakers for two different wine experience days.  For one group it was the last in the 2012 series, and for the other the first of the 2013 vintage.  In the warmth of the reception hall, Jean François and Yvette introduced us to the distinctiveness of the Burgundy terroir and working organically.

 

Wine Course Gift in Burgundy at Domaine Chapelle

Saturday 2nd March : Vinification Experience Day

On Saturday we concentrated on the ageing and blending of the wine. With Yannick and Yvette we learnt some wine tasting techniques with a series of workshops to develop the sense of smell and taste, and found out how the wine interacts and evolves in the oak barrels.

Gift for wine lovers. Wine tasting lesson in Burgundy, France

Far from just be contained in the barrels, the wine is very active, exchanging with the wood and the air, and the winemaker must remain attentive at all times.  With the large part of the work having been done in the vineyard, the room to manoeuver is limited.
A first series of tasting enabled us to discover the different influences that new and old oak can have on the same wine.

Tasting wine in the cellar

We headed out into the vineyard after lunch to visit the adopted vines, and gave us the opportunity to see the work that had been carried out since our last visit.  The pruning has now been done, and the contrast with the luxurious green from September is striking. 

Adopt-a-vine gift in France. Organic vineyard visit in Burgundy.

Back at the winery, we tasted a few glasses of the 2012 vintage.  It's still in the process of ageing, and will soften considerably by the time it is bottled later in the year.  We concluded the day by comparing wines from the different areas of the Clos des Cornières vineyard, which are from three different ages of vines.

Wine tasting of Burgundy wines in the Cotes de Beaune, France

Sunday 3 March: Discovery Experience Day

On Sunday morning, our new winemakers launched the new cycle of the Wine Experience for the 2013 vintage.  Delighted to reveal the secrets of his profession (or at least some of them!), Jean-François welcomed us to Domaine Chapelle, happily noting that at the start of the 4th year working with Gourmet Odyssey, he still had as much to say and to teach his guests.

Jean-François recounted the history of the winery, from the beginnings with the great great uncle, the local history of the Côte de Beaune region and the influence of the Cîteaux monks, the relationship between the commercial and agricultural sides of the business, the choice of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Burgundy, and the introduction of the appellation Contrôlée in 1935...  This overview enabled us to become acquainted with the region, and to learn that winemakers don't necessarily work in the same way from Bordeaux, Mondragon or Santenay!

We started to discuss the issues and choices that a winemaker is faced with.  The decision to work organically, the fruit of a personal decision concerning the wine and its impact on the surrounding environment, has consequences that you can immediately see in the vineyard.

The rest of the morning was spent in the vineyard.  We visited several plots of vines to see the difference in pruning methods.   Which branches to cut and leave?  We don't necessarily prune the same way in all the vineyards or for Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.

Wine Experience day in the Vineyard

We then headed to meet our adopted vines.  Once again out came the cameras!

Rent a vine in France and visit the organic vineyard.

Then back to the winery to taste the wines from Domaine Chapelle and for lunch.

In the afternoon, we visited the fermentation hall and the cellars.  It was an introduction to the winemaking side of things, quiet now, but frenetic at harvest time!  Reception of the grapes, following of the fermentation, blending before bottling...  Despite appearances, this room is rarely truly quiet.

Visit the cellar and adopt your own vines in France

We then descended into the labyrinth of cellars under the winery buildings to discover the hidden treasures.  A nice way to end the day before returning for the harvest!

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Original St Valentine Gift Idea for Wine Lovers


Short of gift ideas for an original St Valentine's present?  Give an unexpected gift to the special man or woman in your life that lets them discover the fascinating world of organic wine making.

St Valentine's organic gift. Rent-a-vine in France Wine Experience.

Short of gift ideas for an original St Valentine's present?  Give an unexpected gift to the special man or woman in your life that lets them discover the fascinating world of organic wine making.

Much more than the usual wine tasting gift or oenology course, Gourmet Odyssey offers you a much more authentic idea - adopt your own organic vines in an award-winning French vineyard!

The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience enables you to rent your own micro-plot of vines in a leading winery, located in one of France's main wine producing regions (Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Languedoc, the Loire and Rhone Valleys).  By following each of the key steps in making your organic wine, you will become an apprentice wine maker for the wine making year.

The Wine Experience days are a great excuse to plan a romantic weekend break in France.  These hands-on and practical wine courses create a bond with the winemakers, let you discover their great wines, share their knowledge and passion for their profession, and enable you to explore the local area and cuisine.

You will receive the welcome pack to give as a gift on St Valentine's day.  Your loved one will follow the evolution of his vines and the making of his wine by newsletter.  At the end of the Wine Experience, he can choose the name of his wine, and will receive a personalise bottle of wine for each adopted vine.

The Wine Experience is the ideal gift for St Valentine's day for any wine lover, and is a present that is sure to be remembered for many years to come.
Follow this link for more information and to order your St Valentine's Wine Experience Gift.

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Wine blending during the Vinification Experience Day at Château Beau Rivage


We spent last weekend in Bordeaux at Château Beau Rivage for a couple of Vinification Experience Days.  The aim of this hands-on wine course is to learn more about the vinification and ageing stages in winemaking.  Considering the amount of rain that had fallen during the preceding days, luckily it was planned to spend most of the time inside!

Original Wine Lover Gift Experience. Blend your own wines in Bordeaux

The day started in the fermentation hall.  Here, Christine, the winemaker and owner at Château Beau Rivage, explained to us how the grapes are received during the harvest, how the grape juice is transformed into wine during the first fermentation, and why the second malo-lactic fermentation is important to soften the taste of the wine.

Wine Making Experience Gift. Visit the winery and blend your own wine.

We then moved into the barrel room.  Christine's family have been coopers for several generations, and so Christine talked passionately about the influence that the barrels plays on the wine, and the large choice that the winemakers have in the choice of their barrels.

Visit the wine barrels in the cellar. Behind the scenes winery tour in Bordeaux

But the Wine Experience Days aren't just for listening and discussing.  We had organised several practical workshops to help us learn more about wine and winemaking.

Lots of wine tasting happens during the Vinification Experience Day, so to help us find the words to describe what it is we are tasting, the first workshop concentrated on the nose.  With the help of little glass flasks, we had to try and name the aromas found in wine that are brought by the fruit and the barrel.  It's often harder than you would think to correctly put a name to a smell!

Wine Gift for wine enthusiasts. Identifying the aromas found in wine.

For the first series of tasting, we tasted three wines that are still ageing.  Each wine was the same grape variety, picked on the same day, the only difference being the type of barrel it has been ageing in.  The difference is unbelievable - you would think that they were three completely different wines.  This exercise clearly shows the impact of oak on the wine.  The first barrel was made using Eastern Eurpoean oak, the second with American oak, and the third with French oak.

Wine Tasting Experience Gift in Bordeaux, France.

During lunch we savoured some South West French specialities, accompanied with different wines and vintages produced at the winery, including the "Château Beau Rivage" Bordeaux Supérieur, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey clients, and the winery's "Clos la Bohème" Haut-Médoc wine.

south west France delicacies during the winemakers meal

The afternoon was taken up with blending.  To start, we first tasted four grape varieties separately to better understand what each brings to the wine.  The fruitiness of the Merlot, more spice from the Malbec, the length of the Cabernet Sauvignon, and the acidity of the Petit Verdot.

Make your own wine gift. Blend your own wine.

In small groups, we each then mixed our own blends to see firsthand how the taste of the wine differs depending on the grape varieties and percentages used.

To finish the day, Christine gave us a taste of a blend that she had put together, which showed us that 20 years of experience in blending wines does indeed count for something!

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Wine course in Chablis


Last weekend we finished the series of Wine Experience Days for the 2011 vintage at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis.   The weekend was dedicated to the Vinification Experience Day, where we learn about wine making by following the wine's progress since the harvest back in September.

Wine Experience Gift and wine course in Chablis at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard

The day started in the fermentation hall, where Pierre explained how the grape juice is transformed into wine.  We saw the two vats that are currently ageing our vintage of the Boissonneuse!

Fermentation vats in the fermetation hall
We then headed into the hall where the wine is bottled, labelled and put into the crates.  As you would imagine with a winery the size of Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, all is exceptionally well organised and laid out to work as efficiently as possible.
Wine bottling machine

Back in the main building, we participated in a couple of workshops to hone our tasting skills.  One of the most difficult things when tasting wines is often to find the words to describe them.  Why do we like or not like them?

The first workshop was dedicated to the nose.  With the help of some small jars, we had to find the aromas most often found in white wines.  Not so easy, especially to correctly identify aromas from the same family of smells apart.  We learnt how to differentiate aromas that come from the fruit from those that are a result of the way in which the wine has been aged.

Identifying the main aromas found in white wine

The next exercise had us working our mouths with a blind tasting of 4 different solutions; bitter, sweet, salty and acidic.  Each taste plays on a different area of the tongue, which helped us to identify each solution.

Tasting sugar, acid, bitter and salt solutions

But enough of the exercises, the time had come to talk about real wines!  We tasted a number of different series of wines to differentiate between grape varietals, terroir, vintages and the methods used to make each wine.

Tasting the Chablis Wines

After the meal, we headed out amongst the vines to get some fresh air and to enjoy the warm sunshine.  We stopped in the vineyard where the adopted vines are located so that we could each take a photo in front of our vines!

Photo call in front of the adopted vines!

A final tasting session awaited us at the end of the day, that of our special vintage of Chablis 2011.

Tasting the unfinished 2011 vintage

We tasted the two vats of the Boissonneuse separately, and then we made a blend to give us a better idea of how the 2011 will eventually reveal itself.  It still needs more time to round out, but we could already see that it has good potential!

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Vinification Experience Day in Chinon


Last Saturday we were at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley to learn more about the vinification, ageing and blending aspects of winemaking during one of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Days. 

Vinification Experience Day in Chinon Château de la Bonnelière

 

With Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker at the estate, by our sides we started the day in the chai. Here Marc showed us how the grapes are put into the vats at harvest time, and he then explained the fermentation process that has been happening since the last time we were here in late September.

Fermentation Hall
 

We then headed into the depths of the winery's cellars which are located underneath the Château de Chinon in the galleries left behind when the stone was extracted to build the fortress. It's in these ideal and calm conditions where the temperature stays a constant 12°C all year long that the wine barrels are laid down to age, and the wine that has been bottled is stocked.

 

The cellar

Back at Château de la Bonnelière, it was time to put our tasting skills to the test. The first challenge was to use our noses to identify the different smells to be found in wine. We had split the test into two parts to identify the aromas that come from the fruit and the terroir, and the second series to detect those that are caused by oak barrels. 

 

Different aromas in the wine


Now that our noses and taste buds were warmed up, we got down to the serious business of tasting the 2011 wines that are still in the process of ageing. We followed the same process as Marc conducts with his oenologist to follow the evolution of his different wines. For those that had also participated in the Harvest Experience Day, it was an eagerly awaited moment to see what had become of the fruit of their labour!

We started by comparing wines from three different vineyard plots situated on sandy and gravelly soils. These are the wines that Marc blends to create his Chinon "Rive Gauche" red wine, and so we set about making our own blend using the measuring cylinders.

 

Blend to create our wine


Next up were three wines from the chalk limestone vineyards closer to the winery. The first had been ageing in a stainless steel tank, the second in an old oak barrel, and the third in a new oak barrel, which enabled us to compare the different impact of the terroir and wood on the wine.

Over a hearty stew shared around the kitchen table, we continued the tasting with some wines from 2010, 2009 and 2008.

After lunch we took in some fresh air in the vineyard so that we could see how our adopted vines were faring. Marc also showed us how to prune the vines, which is the task that is currently being undertaken in the vineyard.

 

Adopted Vines Château de la Bonnelière

We finished the day back at the chai to see the hall where the wine is bottled and the labels are applied. We have a few more months to wait though until our vintage will be ready for bottling, but we already have a much better idea of what it will be like, and that's worth the wait!

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Tasting the 2010 and 2011 wines during the Vinfication Experience Day


The life of a winemaker can be tough at times, especially in winter when the weather is as freezing as it is at the moment!  And sometimes, even for the Gourmet Odyssey clients, you need to brave the elements, as we did last weekend in Bordeaux in sub zero temperatures and with 8cm of snow covering the vineyard on Sunday!  Fortunately, during the Vinification Experience Days, we spend most of the time inside, so we made ourselves at home around the roaring fire in the kitchen!

Snow covered Bordeaux vineyard

Wrapped up from head to toe, we started the day in the vineyard so that everyone could (re)visit their adopted vines.

At this time of the year, the principal activity in the vineyard is pruning.  Christine and David from Château Beau Rivage explained why pruning is so important and showed us how to do so.  When you see the number of vines to prune, and realise that each is pruned manually, you have a much better understanding of the huge and manually intensive task that it is for the winery.

Christine explains pruning the vines in Bordeaux during the Wine Experience day in Bordeaux
 

Next stop, the fermentation hall and barrel room where the wine is fermented and aged, to learn more about the vinification and wine making stages.

Learning about the fermentation process in the barrel room
 

We then headed to the warmth of the kitchen to delve into the heart of the day's topic with a wine tasting lesson and some exercises to put our sense of smell to work.  We passed around some small jars containing the main aromas to be found in red Bordeaux wines, and we had to identify which aroma each flask contained.  It's not as easy as it at first appears!

Training the nose to identify the aromas forund in wine
 

Our tasting senses awakened, it was then time to start the wine tasting.  First up, three different wines were chosen to better understand the effect that wood has on the wine.  Each wine was 100% merlot from 2010, but each had been aged separately in a different type of barrel.  The first had matured in an old French oak barrel, the second in new French oak, and the third in new American oak.  The result, three wines with completely different aromas, structure and taste.  The marked difference between the three is really quite astonishing!

We then continued the wine tasting during the meal with some of the winery's finished wines to compare different vintages and blends.
In the afternoon, we concentrated on the different grape varietals grown in the vineyard to better understand what characteristics each brings to a blended wine.  Chrsitine had prepared samples of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot from the 2011 harvest.  We tasted each one by one, and discussed their differences.

 

Wine tasting by grape varietal, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot
In small groups, we then mixed our own blends to learn how the different grape varietals and their percentages change the wine.
Blending our own wine
 

We finished the day by tasting the blend that Château Beau Rivage had presented at the Millésime Bio organic wine fair the week before.

It's impossible to learn everything in a day, and as Christine remarked, she studied oenology for 4 years, but we each left with a better appreciation of the choices that the winemaker faces to create very different wines depending on the grape varietals, percentages and barrels used.

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Vinification Experience Day in Chablis


We've just enjoyed our first Vinification Experience day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard. This day is the third and last in the series of wine courses organised for the clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience. The aim is to pick up from where we left off at the Harvest Experience day and learn about what happens to the wine between fermentation and bottling.

The vineyard

For some clients, it was their first visit to the winery, and for others the second or third time. To ensure that everyone had the same foundation of knowledge, we started with a brief overview of the Burgundy region, its terroir, wines and a more in depth introduction to the wines and terroir of Chablis.

We then headed off to the fermentation hall to learn about what's been happening in the winemaking process since the grapes were pressed during the harvest, from the settling of the solids in the wine, to the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation of the wines.

Fermentation Hall

We had a look at the fermentation tanks where our 2011 vintage is currently ageing.

Fermentation tanks

In the preparation hall, we followed the production line to see the machines that clean the bottles, bottle the wine, and then add the cork or screw top to the bottles. At the end of the line, we saw the machine that adds the labels to the bottles. It's impressive to see the technology and organization that the winery has put in place to work as efficiently as possible.

Wine labelling

Back at the winery, we delved into the heart of the matter with a wine tasting and oenology course. Without giving too much away for the next clients, we had prepared several tests to develop the senses used when tasting wines, mainly using the nose and mouth. The goal of the tests was to learn more about the differences in terroir, grape varietals, vinification methods and ageing of wines.

Practical wine course

After the meal of regional specialties, we took in some fresh air and visited the vineyard where the adopted vines are located. 

Meet the adopted vines

The last part of the day was reserved for tasting the two vats of the "La Boissonneuse" Chablis 2011, which is the wine chosen for our clients. The last time we had the chance to taste it was the day of the harvest when it was just grape juice. The wine from the two vats comes from two distinct parts of the Boissonneuse vineyard, and we were able to taste a difference in the terroir and also in the stage of the malolactic fermentation.

Wine tasting Chablis

Using measuring cylinders, we blended the two lots of wine to the same proportions that will be used just before bottling, and then we tried some other ratios to see the effect that it has on the blended wine.

Blending wine

So to sum up, a day with lots of information, but we hope with enough practical participation to make the world of wine more accessible and understandable. Many thanks to Céline and Pierre from Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard to have been by our sides on Saturday and Sunday, and to our clients for their humour and enthusiasm!

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