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Tagged articles : Vine

How can you protect vines from frost?


Vines are very hardy plants and can withstand much adversity; drought, wind, storms, and cold for the most part. But with the latest cold spell and frosts that recently touched most of France’s wine-growing regions, we are once again reminded that the winemaker remains at nature’s mercy. Why does frost harm the vines and what can a winemaker do to protect their vines from it?

Conditions for frost to damage the vines

The most sensitive part of the vine is the bud which, when newly exposed, can’t survive at temperatures less than -2/-3°C. The bud is also the most important part of the vine as it from where the fruit and harvest for the new year will grow. That’s why the frosts that cause the most damage are the late spring ones, because it is at this stage that the buds have started to flourish and are more vulnerable.

The vineyards most at risk from frost are those situated at the bottom of the hillsides, in hollows, or on the valley plains, because that is where the cold air gathers. Plots that have grass between the rows are also more at risk because the vegetation holds humidity and cold. And if the vine varietal or the year is early in exposing the buds, the risk of damage from spring frosts is greater.

Oenology course on vine tending in a French vineyard

It’s worth noting that an early autumn frost before the leaves have fallen, or a prolonged winter freeze below -15°C can also harm the vines.

How does the vine freeze in spring?

As the temperature rises in spring, the sap starts to rise in the vine, and we can see the “vine tears” form from the wood exposed during pruning. The buds appear, burst and then the first leaves unfurl. The buds and the first leaves are rich in water.

When it freezes, this water cools so much that it destroys or burns the cells in the bud or the leaves. There are two types of frost. The white frost burns the moist vegetative matter through the sun rays, and the black frost which occurs when the temperature drops below -7°C in dry and windy conditions.

What is the impact from frost?

Damage caused by spring frosts is more frequent but less serious for the longevity of the vines compared to the autumn and winter frosts. Even if there is a direct result on the year’s harvest, they don’t cause the vine to completely die.

Frost damage at a winemaker experience day in the Loire Valley, France

If the primary buds are burnt, there is always the hope that the secondary buds will appear after the frost has passed. These buds burst later, but are also fruit-bearing. Months of working and caring for the vines can be ruined in just a few hours due to frost.

Protecting the vines from frost?

The most common solution is to light candles or torches to protect the vines using smoke. The winegrowers place them every few metres in the vineyard, which is enough to rise the temperature by 2-3°C, and often avoid frost from forming. In the past they also burned wood or fuel in old oil drums, but that gave off lots of carbon dioxide, so now large blocks of paraffin are preferred. The smoke that they emit stops the early morning sun rays burning the buds that have been thinly covered in frost.

Wine-making Experience Vineyard tour in Chinon France

Another solution, but more costly, is to spray the vines with water. An ice cocoon forms around the buds which stops the water inside the buds from freezing. The vines are sprayed frequently until the temperature rises above freezing to avoid the ice from melting too fast, thus protecting the buds from the sun rays. This method is generally reserved for vine plots that are most at risk because the installation of the water pipes and sprinklers is very expensive.

Wine course in Burgundy, France as a gift box

More and more often now, you can also find wind turbines being used nowadays in the vineyards. These small turbines cause the air to circulate and the warm air to come back down and warm up the vines. A few degrees gained can often be enough to avoid the buds from freezing.

Heated wires which run along the training wires have also started to appear in the past few years. Of course, this can only be used in vineyards where the vines are trellised. Apparently this system has proved to be very effective in the plots that it has been tested in, and can be set to automatically activate below a set temperature. Running costs are fairly reasonable, but the purchase and installation costs are high given the kilometres of vine rows that have to be equipped, so explaining the small take-up for the moment.

Some winemakers even call in helicopters to fly low level over the vines and circulate the air as the turbines do. It’s fairly dangerous as the pilot must fly very low, most of the time at dawn when the light is not necessarily the best, and the pilot perhaps not the most awake!  It’s fairly expensive, but is worth the cost for some of the better quality vineyard plots.

Vine protection course in a French Vineyard in Chablis, Burgundy

And then sometimes, as our partner winemakers at Château Coutet reminded us, it’s simply nature that offers protection. Having dense vegetation or trees around the vineyards can help stop the temperature form dropping too far and can protect the vines from wind and the morning sun rays which can be so fatal for the frost covered buds.

Vine tending course in Saint-Emilion, France
The winegrowers are becoming better equipped at protecting the vines from frost, and the weather forecasts are becoming more refined, but over the past couple of years the frost attacks and other sources of weather damage are seeming to become more and more frequent, reminding us that winegrowing is still at the mercy of nature’s whim!

  

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Pruning the vines in the Rhone Valley


The first Discovery Experience Days for the 2017 vintage got underway recently at Domaine la Cabotte.  Marie-Pierre and Eric, the winemakers, were waiting for us with a nice warm coffee, and we admired the view over the vines and Massif d’Uchaux terroir as we waited for everyone to arrive.

We were at the winery to learn about the work of the winemaker in the vineyard to grow and nurture the best possible grapes come harvest time.  And as we were to learn, there’s a lot of work involved between now and the harvest!

Eric explains how to prune the vines

Eric and Marie-Pierre explained their philosophy of working the soil and the wines.  Why do you need to prune?  Why at this time of year?  Having been shown how to prune, we each had a go for ourselves under the guidance of Eric & Marie-Pierre.

The participants have a go at pruning under the guidance of Marie-Pierre

At the end of the morning, we visited the plot of Grenache where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located, and took some photos of the plants that will hopefully give us the fruit to make an excellent wine this year.

We then enjoyed a home-made lunch prepared by Marie-Pierre of endive salad, provençal stew, and raspberry tiramisu, paired with the Garance, Gabriel and Colline Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.

Enjoying lunch in the caveau overlooking the vineyard

After lunch we returned to the vineyard to finish the pruning and to perfect our cutting.  It’s not always easy to choose which branches to keep and which to cut!

Pruning is not as easy as it looks

In the chai, we talked about how biodynamics impacts the work and the environment at the winery.   We learnt about how it helps to improve the biodiversity in the vineyard, and how prevalent it is in the Massif d’Uchaux appellation, respecting the soil and nature’s rhythm.

And so the day drew to a close, a day full of information and the clip clip of the secateurs.  We’ll soon be able to see if our pruning bears any fruit as Eric and Marie-Pierre update us on how the buds develop.  Many thanks to our hosts for welcoming us and for being as authentic as ever.

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The role the vine roots play


At the beginning of this year, and with particular reference to the cold spell that we have had over the past few weeks, the winemakers have been talking to us lots about the importance and the benefits of the vines resting during winter. During the cold winter months, the sap descends into the roots to help protect the vines. This article looks at the role of the vine roots, and their importance on the vegetative life cycle.

First of all, what are the roots?

A vine is made up of two parts.  The top part that is above ground is a graft of the vitis vinifera, and the part below ground that is a rootstock, often a hybrid between American and vitis vinifera species that are resistant to phylloxera, a disease that ravaged the European vineyards in the 1860s.

Since the phylloxera crisis, it is very rare that vines are planted “franc de pied”, that is without being grafted to a rootstock that is resistant to phylloxera.  The roots are the part of the rootstock that are under ground and bring the necessary nutrients to the plant.

What role do the roots play?

The vine roots have multiple functions.  Firstly, they serve to anchor the plant to the soil.  They also absorb water and the minerals necessary for the vines development.  And lastly, they also have a role to support the vegetative growth in spring.  After the harvest, photosynthesis continues, and carbohydrate reserves are produced and stored in the vine trunks and roots for winter and spring.  

Learnto protect the vine in a oenology course at the winery

  

How deep do the roots go?

A vine has three levels of roots that reach down 2 – 5 metres on average, and they can descend much further if needed.  The principal roots are those which already exist when the vine was planted.  Then the secondary roots form and from these the rootlets or very fine roots grow.  These rootlets are produced each year, and the rootlets which age then become secondary roots.

The depth to which the roots grow depends on many factors such as the type of rootstock used, the soil type which can be more or less compact and deep, the density of vines planted, and how the soil is worked by the winemaker.  And also the older a vine is, the deeper the roots generally penetrate.

Are the roots impacted by the weather?

We often hear that vines are robust plants, which generally speaking is true.  The winemaker must however help to protect them, particularly when they are young and their root system hasn’t yet developed deep enough to protect themselves.

To protect against the cold in the vineyards that are the most exposed, once the leaves have fallen from the vines, the winemaker will heap soil around the base of the vines to help the shallowest roots be better protected against the frost.  A short period of sustained cold temperatures during winter is one of the best protections against disease for the vines as many of the bacteria that reside in the soil are killed off.

Learn how to protect the vine from the cold with the winemaker

  

Vines don’t like too much humidity.  Some rain is beneficial during the growth of the vine and when the grapes are maturing, but it is best that they avoid being stood in water.  Too much stagnant water causes disease to form and spread through the soil.

Drought is less of a problem for vines, particularly if the roots are well developed and are deep enough to find water and the necessary nutrients.  Having said that, in certain southern vineyards, if it doesn’t rain enough in spring to replenish the underground water table, the winemakers can be obliged to irrigate.

And if drought strikes, it’s not the roots that suffer first, but the fruit, because the plant will always favour its overall survival over producing fruit.  Nature is well done, even if it sometimes disappoints the winemakers!

How do you protect the roots in organic or bio-dynamic wine-making?

As previously mentioned, vines are pretty resistant to the climate, but what they do fear is disease, particularly those that are spread throughout the soil.  Two of the most common are root rot, a parasitic disease, and phylloxera, a sap sucking insect that can cut off the flow of nutrients and water to the vine. These illnesses can cause the vine to die, and the symptoms only appear late, once the contamination has set in.

You therefore have to act preventively, particularly in organic or biodynamic winegrowing where you cannot easily treat the vines once the illness has struck.  To have as healthy a soil as possible, the surface is tilled regularly to aerate the soil and thus encourage the microbial life.

Learn how to grow and harvest a vine in a course at the winery

In biodynamics, the health of the plant is thought to pass directly from the soil, so in biodynamic winegrowing the general aim is to restore and enhance the organic life in the surrounding environment of the vines.  By improving the natural exchange between the soil and the roots, you can help to enhance the vitality and resistance of the plants.

The majority of winemakers who have changed to organic or biodynamic methods have noted the development of a better root structure, and better qualitative and quantitative results over time.

Winter is a time of rest for the vines.  Nothing happens in the part above ground where the sap no longer circulates.  The sap descends into the foot and roots to prepare for spring and to develop the reserves necessary for the future grapes.


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A fun Harvest Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


Some of the adoptive Gourmet Odyssey vine owners at Domaine la Cabotte recently came to the winery to participate in the 2016 harvest. We were accompanied by Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne who run this excellent Côtes du Rhône winery together, and this year we had the pleasure of welcoming some very young harvesters, a little girl and a couple of babies to lend a helping hand!

 

harvest experience in the Rhone Valley France

The weather was on our side. After the rain of the preceding days, the sky was getting ready for the Mistral wind, which was welcome to help dry the ground between the vine rows and make it easier to harvest.

We began the day by heading to the Grenache vineyard where our adopted vines are located. These vines are used in the making of the winery's Garance red wine, which is the biodynamic wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey.

wine gift course in RHone Valley France

Eric and his son, Etienne, handed out the buckets and secateurs, and everyone got stuck in, having learnt how to pick the bunches of grapes, and more importantly how to avoid cutting any fingers!

It's hard, but fun and rewarding work. With a glass of rosé at the break to help keep the smiles on the faces, we managed to harvest 7 rows, filling 4 containers.

Picking grapes experience at the wiery in France

We then followed the tractor, laden with our harvest, back to the chai, and gathered around the de-stemming machine to better understand how the grapes are handled before being put into the vats.

The harvested bunches pass through the de-stemming machine to separate the berries from the stalks.

Whilst we were waiting for the machines to be put in place, Jacqueline, the oenologist, showed us some of the tools and materials used in making the biodynamic preparations, and explained how they are used to bring the soil more alive.

Marie-Pierre, then announced that lunch was ready, and we sat down under the shade of the trees to some fresh salads, terrine, vegetable quiche, local cheeses and cherry clafoutis, all of which had been home-made.

winemaker's meal and wine tasting at the winery

To accompany our delicious lunch, we tasted the range of red and rosé Côtes du Rhône wines produced on the estate. We started with the "Colline" red and rosé before tasting the Massif d'Uchaux Côtes du Rhône Village appellation wines that are more structured and keep for longer. We also tasted the new "Clairette" white wine, an amazing wine which is made in Italian clay amphorae.

wine ageing and vinification in Rhone Valley France

After our late lunch, we ended the day next to the vats to taste the first juice from the harvest, and to understand how it will be nurtured to make the next wines from Domaine la Cabotte.

A few bottles were ordered to take home to enjoy later, and the little girl left with a lovely vine branch that had already taken on the hues of autumn. She was taking it back to her school as a souvenir of the harvest!

Many thanks to Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne for welcoming us, and we look forward to returning soon to learn more about the vinification and blending!

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A personalised wine for the wedding couple


The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience makes for an original wedding gift because the newlyweds get to follow the making of their wine from the year of their mariage. We've had lots of feedback from wedding couples who have been thrilled with their wine experience and their personalised vintage. Julie & Richard recently left us a comment on our website that we wanted to share here:

Richard and I are both wine lovers. Ever since we got together, we've covered quite a few of the wine routes, seeking out good wines directly from the producers. But until we received the Gourmet Odyssey wine gift box, we'd never had the opportunity to dig deeper and discover the vast and varied work of a winemaker. It really is a fascinating profession.

When we got married, a group of friends clubbed together to buy us a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience for our wedding present. For the year of our wedding, we were to become the adoptive parents of 6 vines in France's Rhone Valley at Domaine la Cabotte.

We found it to be a great idea for a wedding gift. We registered our gift pack on Gourmet Odyssey's web site, and we started to follow the making of our wine. The winemakers sent us news about the vines progress, as the grapes for our future wine grew and matured.

When the winemakers starting talking about the harvest, we thought that it would be fun to get involved, so we signed up for a Harvest Experience Day at the winery. What a great day we had! We spent the morning harvesting the grapes, and in the afternoon we helped sort the grapes and put them into the vats. We spent the whole day with the winemakers, Eric & Marie -Pierre, and had the chance to ask them lots of questions, particularly during lunch and the wine-tasting session.

We continue to receive updates about how the wine is evolving in the cellar. We decided to add a few extra bottles of personalised wine to surprise our friends and open them with them for our wedding anniversary. We can't wait to taste the wine from the year of our wedding!

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Conference – Threat to wine. The challenges of climatic change.


During the 12th Prix Régional du Livre Environnement, I listened a few weeks ago to a presentation in Lyon about the book "Menace sur le vin : les défis du changement climatique" (Threat to wine. The Challenges of climatic change), given by the authors Valéry Laramée de Tannenberg and Yves Leers. At this very moment in time, the wine growing regions of France are feeling the impact of climatic change, and its shaking the whole wine industry. The book attempts to shed some light on the socio-economic issues, and here is some of what I took away from their presentation.
Threat to wine.  The challenges of climatic change.

Never has the wine been so good and the situation so dire. The tone is set. For the two authors, both specialists in the fields of climate and the environment, the question is not whether climate change will happen, but how the French and global wine industry will deal with it.

The change is already happening, and the statistics and proof of climatic change abound. Since the temperatures in the vineyards have been recorded, the five years with the highest average temperature in the vineyards are 2000, 2005, 2010, 2014 and 2015. Worryingly recent. That supports the view that the climatic phenomena are accelerating, and the exceptional frosts a few weeks ago in the Loire and Burgundy will not stop the trend. The rainfall levels are completely disrupted and the temperature changes even more violent.

As Valéry Laramée de Tannenberg explained, the wine growing regions have encountered numerous climatic change events over the centuries, and that is notably why the culture of winemaking, born in Persia, has climbed further and further north to escape the mounting temperatures in the south. This was also enabled by the advancing Roman legions, known to be great wine lovers, as they expanded northwards. What is different today is the speed of the climatic change. During the COP 21, we talked about trying to stay below 2°C of temperature rise between now and 2100. If we continue as we are at the moment, we are already approaching a rise of 1.5°C.

And the impact for winemaking is already being felt. In the south of France, we're seeing wines touching 16°C in terms of alcoholic volume because of over ripeness. The heat is such that the grapes contain a sugar level that is too high. That is also posing problems for managing the harvest, which is starting earlier and earlier, and which sometimes calls for harvesting during the night to pick cooler grapes. It also has an impact on the vines themselves. In the Bordeaux region, researchers have shown that the merlot grape varietal has reached its optimum. Within the current conditions, it does very well, but a further increase in temperature will see yields decrease. The vines are also seeing new attacks from parasites and fungi which the heat encourages. The wine regions are continuing their advance north, and we are seeing a growth in the number of vineyards in England for example.

The wine growing regions are suffering and it's all of the industry that needs to adapt. Even if some of the changes haven't always been anticipated, there are currently a few paths to explore. The first attempts have been made to try and reduce the alcoholic volume in wine. Tests have been carried out to prune the vines differently and to leave more leaves on the vines to protect the grapes from the sun. Other tests have seen the orientation in which the vines are planted rotate or by planting vines at a higher altitude. In some of the wine growing regions outside of France, where it's authorised, the wine can be diluted with water or filtered when pressed to remove some of the sugar.

But the most impactful research for the long term will be that which is undertaken on the selection and diversity of the grape varietals. In the Bordeaux region for example, they are testing 50 or so new grape varietals which are not currently authorised in the Bordeaux AOC range of wines. Another promising avenue is the regeneration of the soil to develop the micro-bacterial activity as is already the practice with biodynamic winemaking. And another area of research is looking at genetics to create hybrid plants that mature later and are more resistant so as not to need phytosanitary treatments.

To conclude, not is all yet lost if we accelerate the change in cultural practices by using the advances in agro-ecology, organic and biodynamic farming techniques. To learn more about these proposed solutions, you can read more in the book « Menace sur le vin : les défis du changement climatique » (French language only for the moment).

The question that lingers as I leave the conference is the following. The winemakers will encounter some big challenges in the years ahead, but what can we, as consumers and lovers of wine, do? One solution that quickly comes to mind is to be more interested to better understand and better choose our bottles, favouring wines that are produced in an environmentally responsible way. And to talk with those close to us about our choices, so they talk to those close to them, and so that a tiny ripple becomes a wave big enough to force change upon the rest of the wine industry!

Marie Koch

 

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De-budding the vines in the Loire Valley


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine Experience gift to help the winemaker work in the vineyard

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

Gift experience to learn how to de-bud vines

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

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

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

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

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Organic, biodynamic and natural wines


With all of Gourmet Odyssey's partner winemakers being organically certified, and some being also biodynamic, we're used to talking about what this entails during the wine experience days, and how the practices in the vineyard and cellar differ. But with the multitude of labels, and the plethora of information available, it's sometimes easy to get lost!

Wine lovers are becoming more and more demanding when it comes to the environmental impact of making wine on the vineyards and surrounding land, and in knowing what has been added to the wine before it reaches their glass. And so a number of labels and charters have been developed and applied to the world of wine, the most common of which are organic, biodynamic and natural wines.

Learning how to make an organic wine

 

The main differences

In this article we're going to set out the main characteristics of each practice, whether in the vineyard or cellar, but we it would make for far too long an article to be completely exhaustive. To dig a bit deeper, please take a look at some of our other articles on organic winemaking or biodynamic winemaking.

Conventional winemaking practices are currently being questioned because there is no longer the same importance put on forever increasing yields and the development of chemical products to enable it to happen. The use of synthetic substances to protect the vines from disease and produce more grapes per vine has seen opposition in the form of sustainable or integrated winemaking.

Whilst not organic, sustainable winemaking attempts to limit the deterioration of the soil and to better respect the environment by restricting the chemical treatments to the bare minimum, as the label for sustainable winemaking, Terra Vitis hopes to promote.

Integrated winemaking is a blend of sustainable and organic practices that also try to keep the use of chemical products to a bare minimum. The Tyflo label is used to signal this approach.

The Tyflo label for integrated winemaking

 

Organic winemaking is founded upon the suppression of chemical products that penetrate the vines, protecting them from within. As such, all chemical pesticides, fungicides, fertilisers and weed killers are banned. To receive the organic label, within the EU it's the green leaf logo made up of small stars, it takes three years to convert and receive the certification. In France, certification is controlled by independent organisations such as Ecocert or Qualité France. (See a complete list of organic certification bodies).

In organic winemaking, the winemaker uses natural products such as plants, copper or sulphur. These are all contact products and protect the vine from the outside. This is all well and good during dry weather, but has the disadvantage of being washed away when it rains, meaning that the vines need to be treated more often in wetter climates. Organic farming techniques have the advantage though of improving the quality and microbial life of the soil, and promoting a more natural environment in which insects and plants co-exist and compete.

The EU's label for organic winemaking

 

But it's not just in the vineyard that the difference can be found. Since 2012 making wine organically also means regulating what happens in the cellar, such as reducing the level of sulphites, using indigenous or organic yeast cells, and using organic sugar if chaptalising wines. That is why for vintages prior to 2012, a phrase such as "wine produced using organically certified vines" could be found on the wine lables, and it is only since 2012 in France that the words "Organic Wine" could be printed on the labels, once the whole of the production chain was controlled and certified.

Biodynamic winemaking is all about looking at the vines and wine in the context of their surrounding environment. In the vineyard, an equilibrium is sought between the plant and the soil based on the lunar calendar. It is sometimes compared to homeopathy and the treatments are created using plants, silex and animal matter.

It should also be noted that the levels of copper and sulphur used are considerably lower than with organic winemaking. To become biodynamically certified, the winery needs to first certify the vineyards concerned and wine-making process used as being organic, and then it needs to conform to the charter of a biodynamic organisation such as Demeter or Biodyvin.

Demeter's label for biodynamic winemaking

 

Natural wines have gained momentum over the past few years, and this term is used to describe wines that have been made from grapes having had the least intervention possible and where the juice has had nothing added to it. The idea is to let nature do virtually all the work and for the winemaker to act just as a facilitator. For example the grapes are harvested by hand, no yeast cells are added to start the fermentation, and no products are added to the wine to help stabilise and preserve it.

There isn't currently any official label or certification process for natural wines. Some organisations and associations who promote natural wines, recommend organic certification, but it's not an obligation, and none of their charters is bound by law.

 

How to recognise the labels?

So with the exception of natural wines, different labels exist to help the consumers of French wine to know whether a wine is certified as being organic, biodynamic, or sustainable.

But when looking for labels, you have to bear in mind that they only identify those winemakers that have taken the route to be certified. Many winemakers use organic, integrated or sustainable approaches without necessarily going through the certification process due to a lack of time, for financial reasons, or to be free from added bureaucracy and controls. Official certification however remains the best proof though that the winemaker has indeed respected the charter.

The important thing is to understand the approach used by the winemakers and to discuss this with them if possible when you taste their wines. Your beliefs and convictions will also be important when choosing a bottle, but of course the principal criteria when choosing which particular wine should always remain its taste. As with conventional wines, there will be wines that you like and don't like. Any label, whether it be organic, biodynamic or sustainable, isn't a guarantee of its perceived quality. The final step is to put faith in your senses to make the best pick!

 

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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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Start your retirement by learning to be a winemaker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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The art of vinifying and ageing wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon


Last Saturday, a beautiful Spring day awaited the participants of the Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Day at Domaine Allegria.
Vineyard experience, Languedoc, France

To get the day started, we headed off into the vineyard with the winemaker, Ghislain to find our adopted vines. It gave us the opportunity to take a few photos of our vines and to learn a little about the vines growth cycle and the work that is carried out in the vineyard. It is after all the work here that has a big impact on the quality of the wine at the other end of the cycle!

Rent a vin, Languedoc, France

Upon our return from the vineyard, we visited the chai from top to bottom, and covered a whole host of questions regarding the fermentation and vinification of wines. We also talked about the differences in making red and white wine.

Next on the programme was an aromatic workshop. We had to try and identify 12 of the most commonly found aromas in red wine. It puts both your nose and memory to the test as you try and put a name to the smell contained in the small glass bottle. Not as easy as it would seem!

Wine gift packs, Languedoc, France

We ate lunch outside on the terrace to enjoy the spring sunshine. For the aperitif, we tasted a magnum of the Dolce Vita 2015 rosé wine that had been bottled just a few weeks previously. During the meal, we tasted several of the estate’s wines, the 2014 Cinsault Abuelo, the Carignan Gourmand from the 2013 vintage, and a Cousu Main 2011 in magnum. To accompany the goat’s cheese from the neighbouring Mas Roland, we tasted the 2014 Tribu d’A white wine which pairs perfectly. We finished the meal with La Belle Histoire 2013, a great vintage for Languedoc wines.

Wine tasting gift, Languedoc, France

After lunch, we returned to the chai to taste three different wines from the 2015 vintage that are still in the process of ageing. A great opportunity to get a sneak preview of this promising year and to talk about the different characteristics of each grape varietal. We tasted a Cinsault, a Syrah and a Mourvèdre. The wines are still very young, and fizzy from the caron dioxide released during the fermentation period, but they are also astonishingly soft and enjoyable to drink at this early stage in their evolution!

At the end of the day, we hope that everyone had learnt a little more about the art of making wine, and will have a few more wine stories to recount. Many thanks to all of the participants for sharing this day.

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The vines come back to life in Spring


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

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

Waking up

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

Adopt a vine, Alsace, France

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

Vineyard experience, Burgundy, France

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

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

Adopt a vine france, Bordeaux

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

The growth of the vines

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

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

Original wine gift, Loire Valley

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

Spring work in the vineyard

Ren a vine, Rhone Valley, France

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

 

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Bud burst of the vines in Spring

In the vineyard. De-budding and training the vines

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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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The art of vinifying white wines in Alsace


We were talking about all things vinification and what goes on in the cellar last Saturday at Domaine Stentz-Buecher as we met up with some of the adoptive parents of the 2015 vintage to see how their wine is coming along during fermentation and ageing process.

Céline, who runs the winery with her brother Stéphane, kicked the day off with an introduction into the family history and the production of Alsace wines. And then we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are to be found. On the way we talked about the surrounding terroir and the different soil, vegetation and methods used from one plot to another, notably the differences between organic and conventional farming.

Adopt a vine, Alsace, France

Jean-Jacques, Céline and Stéphane’s father, briefly explained what had happened since the last harvest to prepare the vines for this year’s campaign. Then, back at the winery we picked up where we had left off at harvest time. We saw where the harvested grapes had been put into the press, and where the first fermentation had taken place. Stéphane told us about the work during the fermentation process and the decisions that the winemaker must take. We had a pre-tasting of the 2015 vintage of our Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine, which is still in the ageing process. We compared this to a wine that has yet to finish fermenting to better understand the changes that the wine goes through as it slowly matures.

Wine experience, Alsace, France

In parallel, we put our noses to the test during a workshop to help us develop our wine tasting skills. We had to identify different aromas found in wine that result from the grape varietals or the way that the wine has been worked. A few of them sparked some lively debate about what they evoked!

Unique wine gift, Alsace, France

We then descended into the cellar to visit the “oénothèque”, where the oldest wines at the winery are stored. Here, we tasted a series of different wines, accompanied by a traditional savoury Kouglof. The first wine to be tasted was the Who Am I blended wine, followed by the Riesling Tradition, the Pinot Gris Flavien 2010, the Pinot Gris Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2004, and the Pinot Noir Old Oak 2011 red wine.

Wine lover gift, Alsace, France

Lunch was a very local affair of choucroute, local cheeses and blackforest gateau, accompanied by some more of the domaine’s wines, finishing with a Crémant d’Alsace. There was some very animated discussion as to whether the base of traditional Alsace tartes flambées is made of bread or not, and what topping to put on it!

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

In the afternoon, we finished the cycle of work in the cellar, learning how the wine is bottled, and the choice of the winemaker in the different quality grades of cork used. The 2015 vintage will continue ageing until at least August in the cellar, so we need to patiently wait a little longer until it is ready!

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Learning to prune vines in the Loire Valley


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

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

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

Rent a vine, Loire Valley, France

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

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

Vineyard experience, Chinon, France

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

Adopt a vine france, Loire Valley

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

Wine experience gifts, Chinon, France

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

Unique wine gifts, Loire Valley, France

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

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Pruning the vines in a Burgundy vineyard


Last Sunday, we welcomed some Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers to Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay for a Discovery Experience Day, dedicated to learning more about the work in the vineyard.
Vineyard experience, France, Burgundy

Following the introductions to the day, Jean-François, the owner and winemaker at Domaine Chapelle, took the lead, presenting the winery and its place amongst the Burgundy vineyards. We then all got booted up to immerse ourselves in the vineyard! We formed two groups, the first under the guidance of Simon, Jean-François’ son, started by learning how to prune the vines using the cordon de royat method.

Adopt a vine, Burgundy, France

The second group started with Jean-François, learning how to fold the branch left from pruning using the guyot method, and attach it to the training wire. Jean-François also started to talk about the intricacies of working organically in the vineyard.

Original wine gift, France, Burgundy

We had a great moment in the vineyard. Everyone got stuck in and we all succeeded in becoming certified pruners!

The warmth of the winery beckoned, as did the time for a typical Burgundy aperitif. Jean-François served a Santenay white wine that went down very well, accompanied by some gougères, the traditional cheese shoe pastry appetiser. During the course of the meal, including a hearty beef bourguignon, we tasted three different wines, a Burgundy red, a Santenay “Clos des Cornières”, and a Santenay “Beaurepaire” Premier Cru.

At 14:30, we returned to the vineyard to introduce ourselves to our adopted vines. After a few quick photos, we climbed the track to the Beaurepaire vineyard, which was to be our next centre of attention.

Rent a vine, Burgundy, France

After a nice little stroll, punctuated by Jean-François’ commentary on the different soils and ways of working to till and weed them, we arrived in front of this little vine.

Wine lover gift, France, Burgundy

We learnt all about the work necessary to get the vine to this stage, and of the consequences replanting a vineyard has on the production. The vines are green harvested for the first two years, so that the plant focuses on its structure and root development. The first harvest is not until the 3rd year, but the wine it produces will be demoted to a lower class appellation. It’s only after about 10 years that this young vine will start to express the potential of the terroir. It’s a reminder that a winemaker has to have vision to lay down the groundwork for the future generation and so maintain the quality of the estate.

Personalised wine gift, Burgundy, France

Back at the winery, Jean-François took us on a quick tour of the cellar and fermentation hall. We could see the different marks that each generation had made in the fermentation hall. Wooden casks introduced by the grandfather, concrete vats during Jean-François’ father’s time, and a host of new stainless steel vats designed to work with gravity that Jean-François had introduced in a quest to further improve the quality of his wines.

At the end of this great day, we had learnt much about the work of the winemaker and the care that must be taken in the vineyard to nurture the vines. Many thanks to all who participated

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What to get the person that has everything ?

Adopt a Vine in France and Let Them Follow the Making of Their Own Wine !

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