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Tagged articles : Winery

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 Mother’s 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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Attaching the vines to the training wires


We spent last Saturday at Domaine Chapelle in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay. We were there to learn about the winegrower’s work in the vineyard and to help attach the vines to the training wires.

The day started in the warmth of the winery where we listened to Simon, the son of the owner and who will one day succeed Jean-François, talk about the history of the family and introduce us to the classification system of Burgundy wines.

In the vineyard there has already been lots of work done to prune all of the vines, and with the arrival of spring, there is no let-up in the winegrower’s workload!  It’s time to get back out into the vineyard.

Adopt-a-vine experience in Burgundy, France

We make a quick stop to meet our adopted vines, and take a few photographs. We start to talk about organic winemaking, Domaine Chapelle having now been organically certified for several years. Simon explained the philosophy and principals applied in the vineyard. We also learnt of his desire to work biodynamically, and 5 hectares of the estate are already worked biodynamically to test the different method of working.

Vineyard tending stage in Buegudy as a gift

Simon brought us up to speed on the work carried out in the vineyard so far for the 2017 vintage, notably the different pruning methods used. For the most part, 5 to 7 eyes are left on each of the branches and 2 eyes on the short spur. The longer branch will produce the fruit for the coming year, and the shorter spur will prepare the vine for next year’s pruning.

Oenology course at an organic winery in France

Now that the pruning has finished, the next stage is to bend the branches and attach them to the training wires. This helps to better spread out the foliage and in the coming months will also mean that the grapes are better spaced, limiting the risk of mould developing.
We each had a go at this delicate operation. It’s quite stressful because the vines make a cracking sound when the branches are bent.

A perfect wine lovers gift with a vine adoption and tending box

The April showers started to fall a little harder, so we then headed back to the shelter of the cellar for a nice Burgundy aperitif!

We tasted the Santenay Saint Jean white wine, accompanied by the famous Gougères, a delicious Burgundy speciality. We then tasted three different red wines during the meal which included an excellent beef bourguignon.

Vineyard and winery visit in Santenay, Burgundy

The sun was out again after lunch, so we headed back out into the vineyard to visit the Beaurepaire Premier Cru vineyard which had been replanted two years ago.  It enabled us to better understand how vines are selected and nurtured, and the work and time that it takes before the first full harvest can be reaped.  From our vantage pot, we admired the view of the surrounding vineyards and the village below.

We finished the day with a quick tour of the cellar where the wines are aged and stored. Our wine isn’t yet there, but we’ll be back in a year’s time to see how it is getting on during one of the Vinification Experience Days. But before then, we also have the Harvest Experience Days to pick the grapes!

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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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Wine-making gift experience in the Loire Valley


Last weekend, we participated in the first Vinification Experience Days of the year at Château de la Bonnelière.  The programme for the day was to learn about the work involved to vinify and age the wine after the harvest and up until the wine is ready for bottling.  As we were to discover, there is much to do, and there are many decisions to be taken by Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker!

The day started with a welcome coffee or cup of tea, whilst Marc recounted the history of the winery and brought us up to speed on the work in the vineyard since the last harvest.

Visiting our adopted vines

We ventured out into the vineyard to pay a visit to our adopted vines.  They had been pruned at the start of the winter, but the cut branches hadn’t yet been pulled clear of the training wires, giving some the occasion to have a go at this fairly physical activity!

We then divided into two groups, one going with Marc to the chai, and the other heading to a workshop to train our senses to help us better taste wines.

Marc explains the vinification process in the chai

In the chai, Marc gave us an insight into the world of vinification and his chosen way for making wine.  He uses gravity to put the grapes into the vats to best avoid any damage to the grapes.  He then closely monitors the wines to control the fermentation process, and then chooses how to age the wines, either in vats or in different types of oak barrels.

Putting our noses to the test in the aroma workshop

In the caveau, we put our noses to work!  Wine gives off lots of different aromas that we can put into three categories.  The primary aromas are linked to the grape varietal, the secondary aromas to the way in which the wine is vinified, and the tertiary aromas from the way that the wine is aged.  We tried to identify different aromas to help us prepare for the wine tasting to follow.

Lunch prepared by Mme Plouzeau

After this full morning, it was the time for lunch.  A lovely meal, prepared by Mme Plouzeau, was accompanied by wines from the winery, including an avant-première tasting of Marc’s latest wine, “Silice”, a Chinon white which paired perfectly with the starter.

We continued the day with a visit to the cellar underneath the Chinon fortress where the wines are aged.

This magical place is a large cave, forming one of many underground galleries beneath the streets of Chinon.  It was from here that the stone was extracted to build the castle above.  The cellar has been in the family for 3 generations and Marc uses it to age his wines in oak barrels.

In the cellar beneath the Chinon fortress to taste the wines that are still ageing

We had the good fortune to taste a number of different wines that are still in the ageing process.  This is an unconventional way to taste wines as they have yet to reach their maturity and so you have to try and imagine what they might become in a few months or even years time!  As we were to find out, some of the wines still have many months to go before their tannic structure softens.

And so the day drew to a close after this wine tasting full of potential and promise.  We now have to wait patiently until the Clos de la Bonnelière will be ready for bottling!

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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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A unique wine gift to charm your Valentine


For an original St Valentine’s gift that’s sure to surprise, adopt some vines for your valentine and make your own organic wine together, complete with personalised wine labels.  You’ll get behind the scenes and learn the secrets of being a winemaker as you follow the making of your special vintage.

 

Adopt-a-vine experience to follow the making of your organic wine

Adopt-a-vine in one of our 8 organic partner wineries and give the perfect Saint Valentine’s present for a wine lover.  You’ll get to follow the evolution of your adopted vines by newsletters and photos, or by visiting the winery to get involved in the different stages of wine making.  At the end of the experience, you’ll end up with your own personalised bottles of organic wine to enjoy together!

Oenology course in a French winery for making your personnalised wine
You can also spend one or more days at the winery together to share a special day with the winemaker.  There are three different types of wine experience day. The Discovery Experience Day teaches you about and gets you involved in the work in the vineyard to learn about nurturing the vines to produce the best grapes come harvest time. The Harvest Experience Day sees you roll up your sleeves and participate in the harvest and follow your grapes to the fermentation tanks. And the Vinification Experience Day lets you in on all that happens in the cellar from fermentation, through the ageing and blending process, right up until the time when your wine is bottled.

Each of these hands-on wine courses are an immersion with the winemaker and their teams from 9:30 to 16:00, giving you the time to learn about and help them with their work, to share a winemakers lunch, and of course taste their wines!
Wine gift box to meet the winemaker and visit the winery in France
All of our partner winemakers are carefully selected for the quality of their wine and their desire to share the passion they have for their job.  They are all organically certified and will welcome you with open arms for a very enjoyable day spent learning about wine.  This Valentine’s present gives you the perfect excuse to get away for a romantic weekend wine break!

If your other half enjoys wine, then this personalised wine gift experience is a great St Valentine’s gift idea.  The welcome gift pack includes a wine cooler bag, a re-usable glass wine stopper, DropStop, personalised vine adoption certificate, and all of the details needed regarding the Wine Experience.

More information about the Wine Experience.

 

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Tasting wine…


From the 10th to 16th October, France celebrates the "Taste Week", or "La Semaine du Gout". The idea behind it is to better know the products from the terroir, to know how to recognise them, cook them, taste them and how best to appreciate them. Wine is an integral part of the French terroir and the country's culture, and has to be one of the most passionate and complex products to understand. So what exactly does wine taste like?

A short history on wine tasting

A long time ago, when someone "tasted" a wine, they did so primarily to look for faults. For example in "Le Sommelier" guides of the 1920's you can find mentions of "a rotten taste" conveyed from insects and disease, "slightly bitter and nauseous taste" due to the use of insecticides, or "earthy tastes" caused by harvesting in wet and muddy conditions.

Until the 1950's, it's the talk and language of the wine merchants that dominates the descriptions. Whilst the winemakers would prefer us to like their wines as they are, the wine merchants wish to offer wines that "please". The narratives don't really talk about the actual taste of the wine and whether it conveys the characteristics of the type of wine. Indeed at this stage, there is no real talk about appellations.

Wine tasting at the winery during a oenology stage in France 

The notion of taste, and more generally of objectively tasting wines, was born in the 1950's with the beginnings of trying to taste in an organised manner in order to compare and appreciate the different wines as objectively as possible. In France, Jules Guyot wrote in his Sur la Viticulture book that "it will be impossible to develop tasting as long as science hasn't given us the signs to use... the science of tasting still has to be completely developed."

How do you develop technical tasting?

So has science made any progress in helping define the taste of a wine? As those who have participated in one of the Vinification Experience Days at one of our partner wineries have discovered, when it comes to describing the taste of a wine, the perceptions can be very varied...

We taste for many different reasons. Just for the pleasure, or for wine professionals to compare styles of wine, their qualities, their faults, its value, or its provenance. The tasting gets even more analytical when it comes to determining a certain quality of wine, or to define and develop a new wine. Taste is a matter of perception, that much is very simple to understand. And yet the science around sensorial evaluation which studies the human responses to physio-chemical properties in food and drink is a highly complex subject. In between the sensation left by a wine and the perception formed by our different senses, there is a whole chain of signals and receptors, each of which can be influenced by the environment within which we are tasting, the weather, and many other external factors.

Wine tasting course and adopt-a-vine experience in France 

To try and keep it simple, our brain creates a global impression of a wine using the different receptors in the skin, mucosal lining, muscles and tendons that are present in our eyes, nose and mouth. When talking just about taste, there are three different types of taste buds spread all over our tongue to allow us to detect different tastes and temperatures.

And that is where we are not all equal when it comes to tasting. The levels to which our senses can detect the different tastes aren't the same for all of us, meaning that for some, a certain taste needs to be stronger before it is detected, whilst others will notice it at a much weaker level. We each have more or less receptors in our taste buds, and produce different amounts of saliva that affect our taste.

Appreciating wine

But no need to worry! We are all capable of tasting something, and the more regularly we taste, we are able to distinguish different tastes more easily.

Adopt-a-vine wine gift box including wine tasting 

So yes, we can say whatever we like when we taste a wine! Why not say your very first thoughts that come to mind when tasting a wine? And the more we try, the easier it becomes, and it helps make sharing a good bottle even more enjoyable.

Let's end with the wise words of one of our adoptive vine owners who recently joined us for the harvest, "Good wine with nice people. I think that that is the definition of happiness!"

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Wine defects. How to identify faults when tasting wines

 

 

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A great harvest at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy


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

 

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

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

Wine-making experience at Domaine Chapelle, Burgundy, France

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

Wine gift box for makking your wine in Burgundy France

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

Harvest Experience at the winery in Burgundy France

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

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

Oenology course at the winery learn how to harvest grapes

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

Oenology course and vine adoption in Burgundy, France

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

Winery tour and wine tasting in Burgundy

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

Wine tasting at the winery and meeting with the winemaker

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

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

Chai and winery tour in Burgundy France

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

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

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Helping with the summer work in the vineyard at Domaine Chapelle


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

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

Adopt-a-vine experience in Burgundy at Domaine Chapelle

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

Wine-making courses in the vineyard with the winemaker

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

Vineyard work during a oenology course in Burgundy, France

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

Wine tasting at the winery in Burgundy, France

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

Wine-making experience with the winemaker at Domaine Chapelle Burgundy

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

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

Vineyard tours with the winemaker in Santenay, Burgundy, France

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

Cellar tour and wine tasting at the winery

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

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Winemaker profiles, Jean-François Chapelle at Domaine Chapelle


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

 

Jean-Francois Chapelle

 

How long have you been a winemaker?

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

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

 

What is your best memory in the vineyard or cellar?

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

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

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

 

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

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

For 2015 I'll also go with La Comme.

 

What are your projects or challenges for 2016?

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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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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The role of vats, barrels and other types of container in making wine


With all of the different Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Days taking place at the moment in our different partner wineries, we’ve been struck by the multitude of different methods and techniques used in the cellar to make and age wine depending on the different regions and partners. In this article we wanted to take a closer look at just one of these differences, that difference being the type of container used to produce wines. Here’s a quick overview of some of the different containers used to make wines.

After the harvest, the winemakers have to make a whole raft of crucial decisions in the cellar that will directly impact the quality, taste, and characteristics of their wines. Among them is the choice of container to age the wine once the fermentation has finished. Generally speaking, once the second fermentation has finished the wines are racked, and they are transferred from their fermentation tank to another container to continue their ageing process. There are lots of different types of container, but the most popular by far are either vats or barrels.

Vats

Vats come in all shapes and sizes, and can be made from different materials. The largest capacity vats can hold up to 1 000 200 litres, which is the colossal amount that the world’s largest oak vat holds at the Caves Byrhh. Vats of this size are far from the norm as there are very few wineries that would have the space to house them!

Unique wine gift, Alsace, France

The most common materials used to make vats are stainless steel, concrete and wood. Each has its own advantages. Wood and concrete vats are more porous and allow a micro-oxygenation of the wine which can be something favourable that the winemaker is looking for to make the wines softer and rounder. Wooden vats can also bring some extra tertiary aromas to the wine, particularly when they are new, to add to those present from the fruit and terroir. Stainless steel vats don’t allow these aromas to develop, but they can have the advantage of concentrating the aromas on the primary and secondary ones found in the must. All depends on what type of wine the winemaker wants to develop!

Wine making experience, Burgundy, France

When it comes to the shape, we often imagine that they are all more or less cylindrical, and that is indeed the case in the majority of wineries, but there are also less common forms such as cubic, ovoid, pyramidal, or rectangular. Each shape has its advantages. For example, an ovoid vat allows the wine to perpetually move, keeping the lees in suspension, without having to stir the lees at all. This results in fuller, more concentrated wines.

Original wine gift, Chablis, Burgundy, France

Barrels

When you think of wine ageing at the winery, more often than not you will think of it doing so in an oak barrel. The volume that a barrel holds varies from region to region, and in French, there are also different names for them depending on the region and the size of the barrel. For example, in Bordeaux, the typical Bordelaise barrel, a “barrique,” can hold 225 litres (300 standard sized bottles of wine). A Bordelaise “tonneau” is four times bigger, containing 900 litres, and it is this size of barrel that is used for pricing the wines. In Burgundy, the standard measure for a barrel of wine is called the “pièce” and has a capacity of 228 litres (304 standard sized bottles of wine). For much larger quantities there also the “foudres”.

Wine experience gifts, Loire Valley, France

There are two main reasons why the winemaker might choose to use oak barrels. The first is the micro-oxygenation that takes place as we mentioned in the section before on vats. The second is the impact that the interaction between the wine and the oak has on the aroma and taste of the wine. The majority of tertiary aromas found in wine are developed thanks to prolonged contact with the oak. Vanilla, cinnamon, hazelnut, toast, leather, etc – different aromas depending on the type of wood, its origin, and the way in which it was toasted during the manufacture of the barrels. Choosing the right barrel that will enhance the characteristics of a wine without overpowering it can be a difficult decision for the winemaker.

Vineyard experience, Bordeaux, France

Choosing the right container

Each type of container has its qualities and its supporters, the choice resting with the winemaker to help produce the desired wine. At our partner winemakers, we often taste the same wine that has been aged in different types of container. For example at Domaine la Cabotte, they have started to test using clay amphorae like the Romans used. They are trying to benefit from the porosity of the clay jar for the micro-oxygenation that is similar to a barrel, but without the exchange of tannins and development of tertiary aromas.

Wine lover gift, Rhone Valley, France

Whatever the choice of the container to be used, its impact will diminish as the volume increases, as the surface area becomes smaller relative to the volume of wine contained. The larger the container, the slower the ageing process will be. Controlling the temperature is also important, not just during the fermentation process, but during ageing as well to regulate the ability of the oxygen to dissolve into the liquid. Yet more choices for the winemaker!

 

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Vinification and ageing of wine

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