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Tagged articles : Winemaker

Harvesting the cabernet franc vines in the Loire Valley


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

  Wine gift Harvest Day in the Loire Valley France

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

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

Grapes Harvest Day gift box in Chinon France

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

Oenology gift box Chinon France

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

Harvest course day at the winery in Chinon France

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

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

Harvest day lunch and tasting at the winery in France

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

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

Fermentation and harvest day at the winery in Chinon France

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

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Harvesting the grapes in the Rhone Valley


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

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

harvest wine box in the rhone valley france

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

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

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

meet the winemaker at a harvest experience day in france

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

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

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

oenology course in the rhone valley vineyard france

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

harvest experience wine box gift in france

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

winery tasting and vineyard visit in france

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

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

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

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

wine-making and grapes picking course in france

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

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

wine-making experience in a biodynamic vineyard in france

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

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The perfect wine gift for Fatherís Day


If you’re looking for a Father’s Day gift that goes further than a bottle of wine or a wine-tasting course, we have a great gift idea for you.  Original, completely personalised, and fun, the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience is the ideal Father’s Day gift. Adopt some vines for your wine-loving Dad, and turn him into a wine-maker!

For a wine-making year, by adopting some vines for your Dad, he’ll follow the making of his own organic wine from the vine to the bottle at one of our partner wineries in France.

Personalised bottles of wine for the Fathers'Day


Through our Wine Experience gift box, he’ll keep up to date with the progress of his wine via the newsletters and photos. At the end of the wine-making year, he’ll receive a bottle of wine for each adopted vine. He can even choose the name of his wine and we’ll personalise his wine labels!

Oenology course in a French Vineyard for the Fathers' Day

And to make the experience even more memorable, include one or more wine experience days at the winery to meet his adopted vines, and to work alongside the wine-maker in the vineyard, harvest the grapes or discover what goes on in the cellar.

Vineyard tour and wine tasting as a wine gift box
Each day with the wine-maker lasts from 09:30 to 16:00 and includes lunch and wine tasting. The day is valid for two people, so is also a gift that can be shared with another wine lover!

All of our partner wineries have been chosen for the enthusiasm and passion of the wine-makers. They are all organically or biodynamically certified and produce excellent wines that are often acclaimed in the major wine competitions and in the wine press.
Wine gift box for the Fathers'Day

And to have a gift box to give on Father’s Day, the Wine Experience welcome gift pack includes a wine cooler bag, a re-usable glass wine stopper, a DropStop and a vine adoption certificate. Standard delivery is two working days for mainland France, and between 3 and 6 days for the rest of Europe. And for last minute Father’s Day gifts, we can send the certificate by email, and send the welcome pack by express delivery.

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


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

  Vine-Adoption and winery visit in Chinon, France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vineyard tour and winery visit in the Loire Valley, France

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

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

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From Vine to Wine. An unforgettable Motherís Day gift.


Mother’s Day is nearly here again, and so the search begins to find a creative way to say thanks Mum. Replace the bouquet of flowers with some vines if your Mum loves her wine, and give her an original Mother’s Day wine gift by adopting some organic vines in France for her. She’ll follow their progress in the vineyard, learn how the grapes are transformed into wine, and she’ll end up with her own personalised bottles of organic wine.

This unique Mother’s Day present is much more than a wine course or wine tasting gift.  With the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, your mum will follow all of the key stages in making wine through newsletters and photos from the winemaker.

Wine Gift Box for the Mothers' Day

You can also add one or more wine experience days at the winery for your mum to visit her vines, meet the winemaker and get involved in working in the vineyard or cellar.  It’s a good excuse to get away for a weekend break in France, and a fun way to learn about the secrets behind organic winemaking whilst exploring some of France’s great wine growing regions.

Vineyard and winery tour in France as a wine box

Each day is a full programme from 9:30 to 16:00 spent learning from the winemaker and their teams, tasting wines from the winery and enjoying a lunch of regional delicacies.  The day is valid for two people, so you might to get to go along too!

Wine-Making experience in a French Winery

At the end of the Wine Experience, your Mum will choose the name of her wine and will end up with one personalised bottle of her own organic wine for each adopted vine.  As she opens them over the coming years, she’ll be sure to remember this unusual Mother’s Day gift!

Read some of the feedback from our clients

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Vinification and blending of wines in the Languedoc


The sun was awaiting the participants at Domaine Allegria for the Vinification Experience Day, the last of the wine experience days for the adoptive vine parents of the 2016 vintage.  The aim of the day was to discover what happens in the cellar after the grapes have been picked at harvest time up until the wine is ready for being bottled.

  Wine gift box to adopt vines in a Languedoc vineyard, France

We started the day with a quick visit to the vineyard to see our adopted vines, where we took a few souvenir photos.  We also learnt about what has been happening in the vineyard at the moment, what work has been done since last year’s harvest, and how the vines have come back to life in the spring.

Vineyard tour at Domaine Allegria Languedoc France

We learnt how the vines had been pruned, a long task that had finished three weeks earlier. The cut branches had then been pulled from the vines and left between the rows to be crushed.

Vine-adoption as a wine gift box in France

When we returned from the vineyard, we visited the cellar from top to bottom.  The questions flowed.  What is a wine without sulphites, why do you use selected yeasts, and many more such topics.  We talked in detail about the different processes between making red and white wine.

We then tested our sense of smell with the help of 12 bottles containing different aromas.  This exercise would help us find some of the words to describe the wines that we were to taste later. 

Lunch was served in the sun on the terrace.  The winery’s rosé Dolce Vita 2016 wine was served in a jeroboam for the aperitif.  We tasted different wines, paired with local charcuterie and a lentil salad; the Cinsault Abuelo 2015, a Carignan Gourmand 2015, and the Cousu Main 2013 in a magnum.  With the goat’s cheese from the nearby Mas Roland, we tasted the Tribu d’A white 2015, which goes perfectly with cheese.  We finished the meal with the Grande Cuvée La Belle Histoire 2015, a great vintage for Languedoc wines.  With the delicious almond cake and profiteroles, we enjoyed a coffee.

Wine-tasting at the winery, Pézenas, Languedoc, France

After lunch, we returned to the cellar to taste three of the wines from the 2016 vintage that are still in the ageing process.  Each of the wines was of a different grape varietal, enabling us to learn the different characteristics of Cinsalut, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  The wines are still young, and full of carbon dioxide following the fermentation.  But they were also very soft considering the stage that they are at, and already enjoyable to drink.

Having tasted these different wines, the next exercise was to have a go at blending them together.  We learnt that blending the different grape varietals together gives a deeper and more complex final wine.
By the end of the day, we had learnt many new things about wine, and will have a few stories to recount when we open the next bottle!

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Getting involved in the work in the vineyard


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

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

Winery touring wine gift in the Loire Valley, France

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

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

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

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

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

Work in the vineyard course with the winemaker in France

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

Oenology course at the winery in France as a wine gift

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

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

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

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

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

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Learning to prune the vines in Burgundy


The Spring sun was out to welcome us for a Discovery Experience Day on the 12th March at Domaine Chapelle, in the Burgundy village of Santenay. This hands-on wine course at the winery was dedicated to the work in the vineyard, and at this time of year, the principal task is pruning the vines.

    Learn about the Burgundy vineyards in Stanenay, France

After a welcome coffee, Jean-François introduced us to the winery and winemaking in Santenay. He took us out into the garden to explain the local geology and its role in defining the classification of the surrounding vineyards.

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

We then headed to the Clos des Cornières vineyard, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located. It gave us the chance to meet our vines and to take a few pictures for the “My Vine” photo competition!

Learn how to prune the vine in a winery in Burgundy, France

Yannick, the technical director, then started to explain the work in the vineyard to get the vines ready for harvest. It’s the end of the pruning season at the moment, so he showed us which branches to cut, and which to keep. He also explained how the number of buds that are left on each vine will help determine the quantity of fruit produced. The questions flowed, and we also had a long discussion on organic winemaking and the philosophy in implementing it at the winery.

Oenology course at Domaine Chapelle, a winery in Santenay, France

But enough talking - it was then time to put the theory into practice!  We quickly learnt that when it was our turn to prune, it wasn’t as easy as the explanations. The vines all grow slightly differently and there seemed to be an exception to every rule!  But it was a fun time, and everyone obtained their pruning diploma!

Wine and course tasting in a French winery, Santenay, Burgundy

Back at the winery, we enjoyed a typical Bourguignon aperitif in the sun. To accompany the Santenay Saint Jean white wine, we enjoyed some gougères, which are a local specialty. And we continued the wine tasting over lunch of beef bourguignon with three of the winery’s excellent red wines.

Learn how to tend a vineyard in Santenay, Burgundy

After lunch, we took a stroll in the vineyard to visit the Beuarepaire premier cru plot of vines. On the way, Yannick explained the different terroir that we could see.  We learnt about the work involved to replant a vineyard, the costs involved and its impact on the production.

The grapes are green harvested for the first two years which means picking them, but not using them. This helps the vines to develop their root system. The grapes will be picked and used from the 3rd year, but the wine that will be made will be classed a level down until the vines are about 10 year’s old and the grapes start to express the quality of the terroir.

We then returned to the winery for a quick tour of the cellar before finishing this informative and interesting day. The vineyard is where the hard work begins, and we look forward to coming back to learn more from Jean-François and Yannick during the Harvest and Vinification Experience days.

Many thanks to our hosts who once again welcomed us warmly! 

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Wine-making in the Côtes du Rhône region at Domaine la Cabotte


Today is a festival for our taste buds! We're going to taste and re-taste all of the wines at Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône Massif d'Uchaux region during a Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Day.

The 2016 vintage wines are still slowly finishing the vinification process in the vats. The weather is a little unstable, and the arrival of the rain sees the participants put on our boots. The vines are delighted and all of the young buds get ready to soak up this lovely spring rain.

Adopt-a-vine gift box in a French vineyard

Marie-Pierre and Eric, the owners take us to meet our adopted Grenache vines that are used in making the Garance wine. The cameras come out and click away to immortalise the moment.

As the first drops of rain start to fall, we head for cover in the chai. Here, Marie-Pierre had prepared a long table with wine glasses, bottles and spittoons. We each take a seat as Eric explains how the grapes are transformed into wine.

Oenology course in the Rhone Valley France

The questions flow and we cover lots of topics. We learn about the fundamental role of yeast, which is naturally present on the grape skins, and turns the sugar into alcohol. Each vat of wine ferments at its own pace, one of the wonderful mysteries of wine-making. We taste different wines that are still ageing to appreciate for ourselves how they are each developing.

Wine tasting and visit of the winery in Mondragon, France

We then head to the caveau to put our noses to the test. We try and identify the floral and fruity aromas that can be found in wine: blackcurrant, lime tree, blackberry chocolate truffle, raspberry, lemon, honey etc...

Aroma workshop as a wine gift in a French winery

There are two or three "noses" in the group who are very good at naming the different aromas, but for the majority of us, it's more difficult to put a name to them. That is until we're told what the smell is, and we hear a chorus of "of course it is!"

Winemaker lunch with wine pairing Domaien la Cabotte France

It is now lunch time, and we sit down to enjoy a pork confit, local goat's cheese and dessert. Each dish is accompanied by different wines, and we enjoy our glasses of Clairette, Colline, Gabriel, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Organic vineyard visit in the Rhone Valley France

In the afternoon the sky clears, and Eric takes us on a walk around the vineyard to better understand the Massif d'Uchaux terroir and its influence on the wine's style. The ground is very rocky and the vines share the plateau with trees and scrubland, giving the wine both complexity and freshness.

The day draws to a close, and we look back on the variety of tastes and smells that we have enjoyed and discovered. We also load the car boots up with a few bottles of our favourite wines to take a little piece of Domaine la Cabotte home with us!

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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.


Related articles

End of the winter holidays... for the vines
Bud burst of the vines in Spring
What is biodynamic wine?

 

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Spring 2017 calendar of wine fairs attended by our partner wineries


Our partner wineries will be giving tastings of their wines at a number of different wine fairs that are being held over the coming weeks and months.  Book some time in your diary to come and meet them, and to taste their great organic wines!

 

2017 Wine fairs Domaine Chapelle Burgundy
 

Domaine Chapelle – Côte de Beaune, Burgundy

  • 11 - 12 February 2017: Salon du vin et de la gastronomie wine and gastronomy fair in the town hall at Neuville de Poitou (near Poitiers).
  • 17 - 20 March 2017 : Salon Vivre Autrement Bio organic fair at the Parc Floral de Vincennes, Paris. Ask for a free entrance pass
  • 18 - 19 March 2017 : Salon des vins wine fair at Paray le Monial (near Moulins).
  • 25 - 28 May 2017 : Les 28èmes Journées Gourmandes du Grand Morvan gastonomy fair in the exhibition hall at Saulieu.
  • 3 - 5 June 2017 : Foire gastronomique in Mailly (near Roanne).
2017 Wine fairs Chateau Beau Rivage Bordeaux

Château Beau Rivage - Bordeaux

  • 17 - 20 February 2017 : Salon des Vignerons Indépendants winemakers fair in Strasbourg, Wacken - Place de la Foire Exposition, Stand C77
  • 17 - 19 March 2017 : Salon des Vignerons Indépendants winemakers fair in  Bordeaux Parc des Exposition de Bordeaux Lac, Stand E 15
2017 Wine fairs Domaine Stentz-Buecher Burgundy

Domaine Stentz-Buecher - Alsace

  • 3 March 2017 : Dîner Insolite unusual dinner in Wissembourg with Le Cheval Blanc  restaurant which has two Michelin stars. Reservations here
  • 29 April – 1 May : Fête des vins wine fair in Bomal, Belgium
  • 10 - 11 June 2017 : Open Day at the winery in Wettolsheim, Alsace
2017 Wine fairs Domaine la Cabotte Cote du Rhone

Domaine la Cabotte – Côtes du Rhône

  • 8 - 9 April 2017 : Printemps des Vins spring wine fair in Châteauneuf du Pape, Rhône Valley

Don’t hesitate to come and meet the winemakers and their teams at one of these events.  They’ll be delighted to welcome you and share a glass with you!

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Congratualtions to the winners of the 2016 My Vine photo competition


Many thanks to all of the participants in the 2016 “My Vine” photo competition, and also thanks to all of those who liked, commented or shared the photos taken during the Gourmet Odyssey Experience Days at our partner vineyards.
Voting closed at 17:00 yesterday and we have two winners.  The first winner was chosen by the Gourmet Odyssey jury, and the second winner was for the photo that received the most likes on our Facebook page.

The choice for the jury prize was long debated, and it proved very difficult to single out just one photo from all of the finalists!

Congratulations go to Maxime Baudry, who has been awarded the Gourmet Odyssey jury prize, and to Benoit Gaultier, the winner of the public vote on our Facebook page:

Adopt-vine experience in Burgundy, France

Wine gift box for Christmas, Birthday


Each winner will receive a magnum of wine from the winery where their adopted vines are located!

See you next year as the 2017 competition gets under way in February with the first Vinification and Discovery Experience Days!

 

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Party wines Ė Champagne and other types of sparkling wines


The ends of year festivities are the perfect time to open a nice bottle of bubbly.  Champagne, cremant, cava, prosecco, sparkling wine... countries and regions throughout the world produce a range of different types of bubbly.  The characteristic that they all have in common?  Bubbles!  But do you know how the bubbles form, what the different types of sparkling wines are, and how to understand the different labels?  To reign in the scope of this article a little, we’ll just concentrate on the different forms found in France.

 

Adopt-a-vine gift in the French vineyards

 

What is a sparkling wine?

A sparkling wine is the opposite from a still wine.  You can see little bubbles that rise to the surface.  These bubbles are caused by carbon dioxide which is released when the bottle is opened.

The styles of the different sparkling wines can vary, but since 2008 they have been regulated at a European level.  There are:
- “Vins perlants” are the least bubbly.  The wine is said to be “perlant” when it has more than 1 gramme of CO² per litre of wine.  The bubbles are sometimes almost invisible.  Examples are a Gaillac wine or some Savoie wines.
- “Vins pétillants” contain between 2 and 4 grammes of CO² per litre.  For example a Cerdon or Vouvray.
- “Vins Mousseux” have more than 4.5 grammes of CO² per litre.  Champagnes and Crémants fall into this category.

The amount of fizz is therefore what counts in this classification system.  For the mousseux sparkling wines, there is then a sub-classification level, defining the wines as “Brut nature”, “Brut”, “Extra Brut”, “Extra Sec”, “Sec”, “Demi-Sec” or “Doux”, which describes the amount of sugar added by the “liqueur d’expédition”.   The liqueur is a mix of wine and sugar which is added when using certain vinification methods to replace the wine lost during the “dégorgement” or disgorging, as we’ll explain a little later on.

 

Wine tasting course as a Christmas gift

 

But where do the bubbles come from?

When we open a bottle, we can see bubbles for two reasons.

Physics first.  Before opening the bottle, the CO² gas is dissolved in the wine, and we can’t see the bubbles.  When we open the bottle the pressure inside dramatically falls to equal the ambient atmospheric pressure.  That is why the cork can also fly out.  And when the pressure falls, the volume of the gas increases, the molecules reform into gas and rise to the surface of the wine.

And secondly, we can see the bubble of gas form and rise because of the tiny bumps present on the inside of the bottle and in our glasses.  If we opened the same bottle in laboratory conditions with zero impurities in the containers, the gas would escape into the air without forming any bubbles.

 

Sparkling Wine and oenology lessons in France

 

How do you make different types of sparkling wines?

There has to be some gas initially in the bottle to get some fizz.  And in order to attain this, there are different vinification methods used.

The most famous is the “méthode champenoise”, also known as the “méthode traditionnelle” or traditional method, when not used for making champagne.  Since 1994, the term “méthode champenoise” is regulated and can only be used for wines from the Champagne region.  The vinification process is the same as for a still wine, and the wine is then bottled as usual.  Part of the wine is kept to one side to be used later to make the liqueur d’expédition.  Some of this wine is then added along with some sugar and yeast into each bottle.  The wine then starts to ferment again, this time directly in the bottle, and the gas that is produced during fermentation is trapped inside.  Once all of the sugar has been used by the yeast, the fermentation stops.  Lees are also produced in the process, so the wine is laid down on racks for a while to let them settle.  Then the bottles are placed with the neck pointing downwards and each day they are turned 1/8 to a ¼ of a turn, a process known as riddling, to try and collect all of the lees in the neck of the bottle.  The lees are then removed during the disgorging whereby the neck of the bottle is frozen before opening and taking out the ice that has the lees trapped inside.  The bottle is then topped up again with the liqueur d’expédition, before being sealed again with the final cork.

In the “méthode par transfert” or the transfer method, the process is the same for the fermentation period, but there isn’t any disgorging.  Instead the wine is completely removed from the bottle, the lees filtered out in a vat, and the liqueur d’expédition added before being returned to the cleaned bottles.

The “méthode ancestrale” (or rurale or artisanale) is when the first fermentation takes place in the bottle.  The wine is put into the bottles very quickly after the harvest so that the alcoholic fermentation occurs inside.

The “méthode de la cuve close” or Charmat method works on the same principle, but in the vat instead of inside the bottle for the fermentaion.  When the wine is transferred to the bottles, a little gas is lost, but which can be replaced by adding some CO².

And then there is also the “gazéification” or soda method which doesn’t use the gas released during the fermentation period, but simply adds CO² from a carbonator to a still wine before bottling.

Whichever style of bubbly you choose, enjoy the fizz, and have fun during the end of year celebrations!

Other related articles

What wines will you drink during the end of year festivities?

How to go about pairing food and wine?

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Winemaker profiles. Adrien David Beaulieu at Château Coutet


In our series of our partner winemaker profiles, we met up with Adrien David Beaulieu, who runs Château Coutet with his uncle, Alain.  The winery has been in the same family for 14 generations, and so has a long a passionate history!

 

Adopt-a-vine Experience at Château Coutet, Saint-Emilion, France

 

How long have you been a winemaker?

I have been a winemaker for seven years now, the last four of which have been full time.

 

What is your best memory in the vineyard or cellar?

The day when we learnt that our old bottle of wine that had been corked using a glass stopper, and that is still full, dated from 1750 (give or take 25 years). It is one of the oldest bottles of wine in the world!

 

For the 2015 vintage, that is still in the ageing process, what is at present your favourite wine and why?

We only have one wine, characterising the identity of our vineyard that is made up of four grape varietals and three distinct terroirs. It's therefore our favourite wine! And its name? Château Coutet!

 

For 2017, what are your upcoming projects or challenges?

Finishing the renovation of my house whose walls date from the end of the Middle Ages. It is located in the middle of the estate and is nestled next to our vineyards.

 

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

He tries to get a little rest... !

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