Adopt a Vine and Make Your Own Wine

with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

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Find the perfect wine gift for Fatherís Day. Adopt some organic vines in France!


For father’s day you might have already given your wine-loving Dad some nice bottles of wine, a wine tasting course, or a guided visit to a winery. This year, take it a whole leap further by adopting some organic vines in France and giving him a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Father’s Day gift. This enlightening and original present is also great for eco-friendly and gourmet Dads. 

By adopting some vines, your Dad will follow the progress of his vines and the making of his own French organic wine for a wine-making year at one of our acclaimed organic wineries in France. Through our newsletters and photos, your Dad will learn about all of the key stages in making a great organic wine, from the work in the vineyard to the choices the winemaker takes in the cellar to ferment, age and prepare the wine before it is ready to be bottled.

Original wine gift for Fathers Day
At the end of the wine-making year, your Dad can choose the name of his wine, and will receive one personalised bottle of wine for each adopted vine.
Wine gift vine adoption and vineyard visit

To make the experience even more interactive, you can add one or more Wine Experience Days at the winery so your father can visit his adopted vines, meet the winemaker and get involved in working alongside him in the vineyard to nurture the vines or pick the grapes, or to learn about the work in the cellar.

Vineyard tour and wine tasting at a French winery

Each Wine Experience Day lasts a full day from 9:30 to 16:00 and includes a wine tasting and full lunch at the winery. These fun days are valid for two people, and are an eye-opening immersion into the real life of a wine-maker!

Wine making experience as a gift for Fathers Day

All of our partner wineries are organically or biodynamically certified and produce wines that are often awarded medals or selected by the main wine guides. They take pride and pleasure in sharing the ins and outs of their profession with you.

Our Wine Experience Father’s Day gift begins with the reception of a welcome gift box containing a wine cooler bag, a re-usable glass wine-stopper, a Drop Stop and a personalised adoption certificate. Your Dad then starts his Wine Experience as soon as he activates his customer portal using the code contained in his welcome pack!

Delivery of the welcome pack takes two working days in France, and between 3 and 6 days for the rest of Europe. For any last minute Father’s Day gifts, we can send you the certificate by email.

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The role barrels play in ageing wine


We have recently finished the en primeur season in Bordeaux when the 2017 vintage wines are tasted from the barrel and sample blends rated. The wines have only recently been put into the barrels and will spend the coming months, and in some cases, next couple of years ageing in barrels.  It’s the same too in lots of the other French wine-growing regions. So it’s a good time to ask what role the barrels play in ageing wines in the cellar.

Why age wine?


Once the grapes arrive in the chai and are put into the vats, the fermentation process begins naturally thanks to the yeast cells that are present in the grapes.  This stage finishes when all of the sugar has been transformed into alcohol.  If you taste the wine at this time, unless you are a trained professional, you will be disappointed because the wine is still very hard and closed, and therefore difficult to enjoy.

Burgundy barrels
The next stage in the wine-making cycle is to allow the wine to soften, improve its structure and develop its tertiary aromas, those that appear during the ageing process.  The aim is to obtain a wine that is mature enough to be bottled and stored, the time varies depending on the type of wine being produced.  To age a wine there are various different containers available to the winemaker.  One of which is the barrel.

 

What role do the barrels play?


A barrel is a wooden recipient, made out of staves which are bowed and held in place by metal rings.  They have been used for over 2000 years, at first to simply store and transport wine, but they are now used primarily for the ageing of wine, and other alcoholic products.  Wine is no longer stored indefinitely in barrels, as once the ageing process has finished, it is bottled for storing.

Bordelais barrels

How does a barrel bring structure to a wine? The wood from which it is made is a natural product, and allows a tiny amount of air to pass through the barrel, allowing it to breathe!  That brings oxygen to the wine and makes the wine fuller and more rounded.

And what about the aromas and tannins?  As the wine is in constant contact with the wood of the barrel, a tiny amount of particles from the wood dissolve into the wine, and transfer some aromas to the wine that vary according to the type of wood and the way in which the barrel was heated, or toasted, when being made.  Tannins are also present in wood as within wine, and when put into contact with one another, they combine to give a more delicate structure.

How are barrels made?


The foundation for a good barrel is the wood, and in most cases is made of oak.  Their trunks are first of all split and dried for several years.  Then they are split again to create the staves.  These are placed in a circle in a first metal ring, and heated so as to make the curve.  The heating can be done by burning them, by using hot water, or steam.

Heating the staves at the Nadalié cooperage

Then the staves have another belt applied and another circle is fixed at the other end. One of the staves has a hole put in it and the water and air tightness is tested.  The barrel is also heated a last time to change its chemical composition and bring the desired aromas that are wanted for the wine.

The aromas and the structure brought to the wine by ageing it in barrels can have a marked difference on the wine, as the clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience days can attest to!  Why not join us for your own Wine Experience?


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Working in the vineyard in the Cotes du Rhone


Last weekend we were at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley for the very first wine experience day at Gourmet Odyssey’s new partner winery.  The topic for the day was to learn about all of the work that happens in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes at harvest time.  As we were to learn there is much more to do than you might think, and with the winery being both organically and biodynamically certified, particular attention is paid to the well-being of the estate as a whole.

Rent some biodynamic vines in the Rhone valley and participate in making your own biodynamic wine

After the introductions to the day by Mark, the founder of Gourmet Odyssey and to the winery by Arnaud, the winemaker at Domaine de la Guicharde, we set off out into the vineyard.  On the way we passed the olive grove which Arnaud nurtures to produce biodynamic olive oil.  Arnaud had started working at 5:30 to prepare and dynamise a biodynamic silica treatment used to strengthen and invigorate the leaves.  The vines had already been treated and as we walked by, we watched the olive trees being sprayed with the same dynamised water.

Vineyard and Olive grove tour Rhone Valley

Arnaud explained the geological history of the Massif d’Uchaux wine-growing region, and how the surrounding area was covered in water during the Miocène era.  He showed us the remnants of the ancient beach where shell fish can still be seen in the soil.  Difficult to believe when you are looking out over the vines and garrigue towards the pre-Alps and the Mont Ventoux.

We then arrived in the vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  The grapes picked in this plot are used to make the Terroir du Miocène red that is the wine chosen for the personalised wine bottles included in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  A name plate had been put in front of each micro-plot of vines and we took a few minutes to find our vines, take a few photos and encourage them to produce a good harvest this year!

Adopt a vine wine experience in the Rhone Valley vineyard

Arnaud then explained the work that had been carried out in the vineyard during the winter to work the soil, prune the vines using the cordon de royat method, and repair the trellis system used to train the vines.

With the hot weather of the past couple of weeks, the buds on the vines had burst into life, and were starting their growth phase when the branches can grow several centimetres per day.  Sometimes the vines get a little over excited with all this growth, and stems grow from lower down on the vine stock, two branches grow from the same bud, or there are simply too many branches appearing on the vine.  To limit the number of grapes that the vine will produce and improve the quality, it is necessary to remove the unwanted branches.  This is known as de-budding, and Arnaud explained how to select which branches to remove.

Working in the vineyard

We then spread out in the vineyard, two to a row, and had a go at de-budding ourselves.  As with pruning, it is very easy to understand in practice, but more difficult when you have to make the decision yourself!  Each vine is unique, and sometimes you need to leave a branch that in theory you would remove, but that might be useful in the future to reshape the vine or bring the fruit-bearing branches back close to the vine stock.

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

Arnaud then took us on a short walk through the vineyard to show the different grape varietals and how to identify them just by looking at their leaves.  The Grenache vines that we had been working on were a lot greener and had a shiny coat, compared to the adjacent plot of Syrah that was slightly yellower, and had a soft velvet duvet on the underside.

Recognising different grape varietals

It wasn’t just the vines that were enjoying the good weather.  The grass and wild flowers were also flourishing in the vineyard, and we admired the beauty of the poppies dancing in the breeze.

 

Biodynmaic vineyard tour in the Rhone Valley, France

After the morning’s activities, we made our way back to the winery, and convened in the shade of the courtyard for an aperitif and lunch, which had been prepared by the excellent local restaurant, Le Temps de Vivre.  The first wine that we tasted was the Cotes du Rhone white, Au tour de la Chapelle 2017.  During the starter, main course, cheese and desert courses,  we then tasted Le 17 rosé 2017 wine, the Cotes du Rhone Pur Rouge 2017 red, followed by two Cotes du Rhone Villages Massif d’Uchaux red wines, the Genest 2016 and the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the Terroir du Miocène 2015.

Wine tasting experience and lunch at a biodynamic Cotes du Rhone winery

In the afternoon, we ventured back into the vineyard.  Arnaud explained the work to come between now and the harvest to raise the training wires, treat the vines, control the growth of the grass and wild flowers, potentially remove some of the leaves from the vines depending on the weather, and how to choose the date for the harvest.

Sponsor some vines and learn about biodynamic wine making

We then spent a while talking about what is involved in organic and biodynamic wine-making.  Arnaud is a passionate advocate of biodynamics and explained how he converted the winery and his reasons for doing so.  He told us about the different preparations that are used to treat the vines and how the work in the vineyard is managed in coordination with the lunar calendar.  We stopped to have a look at the dynamiser used to prepare the biodynamic tisanes.

Winery tour Rhone Valley

We ended the day with a quick visit of the chai to see where the wine is made once the grapes have been picked.  We’ll spend more time here during the Harvest Experience Day in September and the Vinification Experience Days next year.

Many thanks to Arnaud and all of the participants for making this such a great first wine experience day at Domaine de la Guicharde!

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Discovering the southern Cotes du Rhone wines


As you venture south of Lyon, the steep hillsides overlook the Rhone Valley and you see vines in places that make you wonder how on earth the winemakers will be able to harvest the grapes. You’re now entering the Rhone Valley. Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, then Saint Jospeh, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas… But you’d be wrong to limit the Cotes du Rhone wines to these famous crus from the north of this vast and varied wine growing region.  There is so much to discover further south once you have passed Montelimar.  Rasteau, Cairanne, Vinsobres, Gigondas, Chateaunuef-du-Pape, then Lirac, Tavel, Costieres de Nimes, Coteaux du Ventoux, and other wines from the Luberon. Let’s take a closer look at the southern Cotes du Rhone wine growing region.

The terroir and grape varietals of the Rhone Valley

The Rhone Valley landscape is very old, being formed some 300 million years ago as a result of the volcanic activity of the Massif Central, then when the Alpes were born 40 million years ago, some of the land subsided, separating the two massifs by the valley created between the two. At first the sea covered the land, but little by little the water level decreased and the river bed dug deeper leaving behind layered terraces on the banks of the valley. Today, four different types of rock and soil type can be found. Granite, sandy silica, limestone and clay. This varied terroir helps explain why the region is home to so many different grape varietals.

Some 27 grape varietals can be found in the Rhone Valley, 21 of which can be used in the Cotes du Rhone wine appellations. The main varietals found are grenache noir, syrah and mourvèdre for the red wines, and marsanne and viognier for the white wines. Grape varietals with a high tannic structure such as syrah favour silica soils for example, whilst the Grenache do well in limestone.

The history of the Cotes du Rhone wine-growing region

Wine-making in the Rhone Valley goes back a very long way, and we can find traces near Marseille that date to 400 BC, and as you go further north, to the first century AD. At this time, the large wine growing towns emerged on the banks of the river, as well as the workshops that produced the amphorae, used to transport the wine. These archaeological discoveries make the Rhone wine growing region one of the oldest in France.

The reputation of the wine from the region expanded in the 14th century during the time that the Popes settled in Avignon rather than Rome. The wine growing region developed lots during this time, and in 1650, there was even regimentation in place to guarantee the origin and quality of the “Coste du Rhône” wines. The appellation AOC Cotes du Rhone was launched in 1937.

The appellations

 

A map of the Rhone Valley wine appellations

 

The Cotes du Rhone AOC territory stretches some 250 km from north to south and covers 171 communes. A wine that carries the Cotes du Rhone AOC can be made from grapes grown anywhere within this geographical area. Next up the chain are the Cotes du Rhone Villages wines that are produced by 95 authorised communes. There are then 18 Cotes du Rhone Villages appellations that are allowed to include the name of the village from where the grapes are grown. Wines that fall into this category include Cairanne, Laudun, Massif d’Uchaux, Valréas and Visan. At the top of the hierarchy are 17 Cotes du Rhone Cru wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vinsobres, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, and Tavel. These wines are considered to be of the best quality.

There are also a few AOC appellations from the Rhone Valley that don’t fall under the Cotes du Rhone umbrella, such as Costiere de Nîmes, Ventoux, and Grignan-les-Adhemar.

An interactive map of the different appellations is available on the InterRhone website, a site that promotes the AOC Cotes du Rhone and Rhone Valley wines.
 

A few hidden gems to discover

As we have seen, there are many different wines in the Rhone valley, covering a large geographical area, and even if we have only looked at the southern Rhone wines in this article, the wines produced are very varied in style. There are still lots of appellations that are largely unknown to many, but which are gaining in notoriety and becoming more and more sought after by wine professionals and wine lovers alike.

The Massif d’Uchaux Cotes du Rhone Villages is a great example. This relatively new appellation was granted a named Villages status in 2005 to designate the 750 hectares that make up the distinct geology of the terroir, being made up of principally limestone soil, at a slightly higher altitude than the surrounding landscape, and with south, southeast or southwest facing slopes. Millions of years ago, the Massif d’Uchaux was an island, surrounded by sea. This unique terroir produces fruity and concentrated wines. The wine must be made up of at least 50% Grenache noir, but can be blended with a mix of the other regional grape varietals of syrah, mourvedre, cinsault or cargignan.  Domaine de la Guicharde and Domaine la Cabotte are great ambassadors of the appellation.

Another appellation is Grignan-les-Adhémar, formerly known as the Coteaux du Tricastin. Thanks to thoroughly renewing their charter and changing their name, they have been able to rejuvenate this wine growing region. It benefits from a diverse geology and its proximity to the hillsides helps develop wines that are fruity and fresh.

Next time you’re passing through the southern Rhone wine growing region, don’t hesitate to stop to admire the picturesque scenery and to treat your taste buds to the many delicious wines and culinary delights!


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Learning about organic wine-making in the south of France


On the 7th April, we were in the south of France for the first of the wine experience days of the year at Domaine Allegria. The agenda for the day was to learn all about the art of making wines, ageing them, and blending the syrah and mourvèdre grape varietals that make up the Tribu d’A red wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

At this time of year, the buds start to unfurl to reveal the first young leaves on the vines.

Vine adoption at Domaien Allegria, Languedoc, France

After the introduction to the winery by Ghislain, the winemaker, we headed out into the vineyard to visit our adopted vines, which are now getting ready for the 2018 growth.

Vine renting and day at the winery in Languedoc,France

We made a little detour to visit a new plot of vines that has been planted with carignan blanc, a new grape varietal for the winery. We’ll be able to taste the first wine from this plot in 3 years time.

WIne gift box day at the winery in Languedoc france

After meeting our adopted vines, we returned to the cellar to discuss the vinification process. We picked up where we had left off after the harvest and talked about what goes on during the first fermentation phase. There is much more to do than you would think to prepare the wine for the ageing period., and Ghislain answered many questions regarding the use of sulphites and other technical matters.

We then visited the barrel room, where the wine is aged, and talked about the purpose of ageing, and the choice of the different containers used, and their influence on the taste and structure of the wine.

Wine box oeonology class in France

To prepare us for the wine tasting and blending sessions to come, we gathered around some wine barrels for a fun game to try and identify 12 aromas found in red wine. They were all scents that we knew well, being everyday aromas, but when you smell them blind, it’s much more difficult to put a name to each one!

Vineyard visit and winemakers' lunch in France

During the morning, Delphine, the winemaker and wife of Ghislain, had prepared a tasty lunch, made from local produce, of great winemaker salads, the first asparagus of the season, and some exceptional bread that had been cooked that morning by the local baker, Jean-Marie.  We also enjoyed some goats cheese from the local Mas Roland, and finished with a delicious home-made chocolate cake and coffee.

Organic wine tasting and winery tour in Languedoc, France

Lunch was accompanied by a tasting of the wines from Domaine Allegria; the new vintage of the Dolce Vita rosé wine, the 2015 Carignan Gourmand, the 2015 Tribu d’A white wine and 2016 Tribu d’A red.  We finished with the 2016 Cousu Main and 2015 La Belle Histoire.

After lunch, we participated in the much awaited wine blending workshop, where we discovered and had a go at blending three 2017 wines of differing grape varietals. It’s not a good exercise for mathematicians, as you learn that 1+1 should equal 3, the idea being that a successful blend should be better than each of the wines used individually. It takes trial and error to learn what works, but by adjusting the percentages used, tasting and re-tasting, we refined our blends. 

The day ended with us gaining a good idea of how the 2017 vintage will be, but we must still wait a few more months until the wine has finished the ageing process and is ready to be bottled. We can’t wait to taste it!

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Pruning the vines in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


As spring begins, so a new cycle gets ready to start in the vineyard.  There is much that the winemaker needs to do to nurture the vines and help them produce the best possible grapes for the coming harvest, as we were to learn during the Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace.

Original wine gift for organic wine lovers

After the introductions, we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard, the plot where the adopted vines of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience are to be found.  To get in some training for the Easter egg hunt to come next weekend, we spread out amongst the rows to find the nameplate that marks the exact location our micro plot of adopted vines!

Rent-a-vine gift of some organic Alsace vines

Accompanied by Céline and her father, Jean-Jacques, winemakers at Domaine Stenzt-Buecher, we listened intently as we learnt about pruning the vines, which is the most difficult but most important of the jobs in the vineyard as it limits the potential quantity of grapes that will be produced and helps controls the shape and form of the vines growth.  It is long job that takes up most of the winter months, but March marks the end of the pruning season as it has to be finished before the sap rises again.

Wine Experience gift to learn about wine making in Alsace, France

Jean-Jacques had left a few vines for us to work on.  Intellectually it is quite easy to understand the principals of pruning, but as we were to quickly find out, when you are the one standing in front of the vine and having to choose which branches to cut and which to leave, it suddenly becomes much more complicated!

Organic vineyard experience gift

The vines at Domaine Stentz-Buecher are pruned using the Double Guyot method.  This involves leaving one long branch of six to eight eyes on either side of the vine and a spur, from which the branches used for the following year’s harvest will grow.   When selecting which branches to keep, you need to take several factors into account.  The lower branches are preferred to minimise the distance that the sap needs to flow, and to keep the vines at the same height as the neighbouring plants.  Branches that grow along the same line as the training wire are favoured over ones that stick out into the middle of the passage between the rows, as these branches are more likely to get damaged by the passing tractor. The number of eyes left on the vine depends on its age and health...

Learning how to work organicaly in the vineyard

Once the branches to be kept have been selected, all of the other branches are cut away.  The next job involves pulling away the old wood from the trellis system, and putting the branches in the middle of the rows, a job that we all got stuck into with vigour!  The branches will then be crushed to return nutrients to the soil.

Jean-Jacques then showed us how to arc and attach the remaining long branches to the bottom training wire using a great little tool that twists and cuts the wire, saving lots of time from having to hand tie each branch.

Vineyard experience gift in Alsace, France

We also learnt about replacing vines, and visited a plot that had been replanted 3 years ago.  Jean-Jacques talked about working the soil, and showed us where the earth had been heaped around the vines to protect them from the cold winter months.  We finished the morning with a quick look at some of the tools and machinery that is attached to the tractor to help with the work in the vineyard.

After the full morning spent in the vineyard, we had earned our wine tasting.  Céline and Stéphane, took us through a selection of the different wines produced at the winery starting with a Muscat 2015, followed by a Riesling Ortel 2014 and the 2015 vintage of the Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.    We then tasted the Pinot Noir 2011 and Gewurztraminer Steingrubler 2015 Grand Cru, accompanied by a savoury Kouglof, a delicious Alsace specialty.

Wine tasting gift of organic Alsace wines

Over the lunch of typical Alsace dishes and cheeses, we continued the wine tasting with the Who Am I? wine, a blend of pinot blanc, pinot gris and Riesling grape varietals, and different vintages of the Pinot  Noir and Gewurztraminer wines.

Vineyard tour gift in Alsace

After lunch, we headed back out into the vineyard to learn about the work that remains to be done in the vineyard over the coming months to de-bud the vines, raise the training wires, remove some of the leaves depending on the weather, trimming the vines, and to discover how the moment the grapes are harvested is chosen.   Stéphane also explained to us how the vines are treated organically to help protect them.

Winery tour gift in Alsace, France

The day finished with a quick tour of the cellar to see where the grapes are pressed and where the wines ferment and are aged before being ready to be bottled.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.  But in the meantime, the winemakers will be busy in the vineyard over the coming weeks, as the temperature rises, and the vines burst into life.

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Pruning cabernet franc vines for making organic wine in the Loire Valley


On the 18th March we were at Château de la Bonnelière in Chinon for the first of the wine experience days for the 2018 vintage. Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker, was on hand to open the doors to his winery and for us to find out from him what is involved in making organic wine.

Marc explained the history of this family winery, which was brought back to life in the 1980’s by his father. Thanks to him, after 60 years without any production, the first Château de la Bonnelière wine was bottled in 1989.

Vineyard tour in Chinon, Loire Valley, France

Today, Marc manages the 35 hectares of vines, all of which are nurtured organically. The vineyards are all situated on the left bank of the Vienne river, and the different plots with their differing terroir enable Marc to produce a range of wines, from lighter wines that are fruity and ready for drinking to more full bodied wines that are best left to age a while.

The Clos de la Bonnelière, which is the wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey for the adopt-a-vine experience, is made from 100% cabernet franc grapes, all of which come from the same plot of vines that are planted next to the château. The way that the vines are nurtured is of the utmost importance in assuring the optimal quality of grapes for the 2018 harvest.

Pruning course as a wine gift box in France

The soil was worked over the winter period, and the pruning of the vines is finally coming to a close in March. There were still some rows left to prune in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, and so Marc showed us how to select which branches to keep and which to cut away. Secateurs in hand, we learnt that the vines are pruned using the Guyot method, and had a go at pruning some of the vines for ourselves.

Winemaking experience gift box in a French vineyard

We then pulled away the cut branches from the vines and training wires. It’s a fairly physical task as the tendrils from last year had wrapped themselves tightly around the wires.

Marc then showed us some of the other vineyard plots, explaining along the way the work that remains to be done this summer and what being organic means in the way of looking after the vines.

Wine tasting and winemaker lunch at the winery in France

The walking had given us all a good appetite, and so we headed to the cellar underneath the Chinon fortress, where Marc ages his wines.  This magical venue was to be where we were to have lunch! During the delicious meal, prepared by Marc’s mum, we tasted the different range of Chinon wines from the winery.

In the afternoon, Marc showed us the different tools and machinery used to treat the vines and to work the soil in the vineyard. We saw the tractors, different ploughs, and other equipment that has been specially adapted to working in the vine rows.

And so a busy and instructive day drew to a close, and we left having a gained an insight into what being a wine-maker entails. We’ll leave Marc to continue his work until we’re back for the next Gourmet Odyssey wine experience day!

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Learning the art of wine-making in Chablis


When you open a bottle of wine, you don’t always think about all of the work that has gone into making it.  Everyone knows that at some stage there is the harvest, but to have the best possible grapes come harvest time, there is much work and effort that has gone into nurturing the vines along the way.  But the harvest is not the end either, and marks the beginning of the wine-making side of things.  There is more that goes on in the cellar than you might think to press the grapes, ferment the grape must, age the wines and prepare them for bottling, as we were to find out during the Vinification Experience Day in Chablis at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard last Saturday.

Wine Experience Gift at an organic winery in Chablis, France

This wine experience day was split into different workshops to learn about everything that happens at the winery between the harvest and the wine being ready for bottling and labelling.  And so the day started in the loading bay where the grapes are put into the wine presses.  Odile, the head wine-maker at the winery, told us how the presses are controlled to extract the juice from the grapes.

Gift experience to learn how organic wine is made

We then learnt all about how the wines are settled and the wines  are clarified to separate the juice from the larger solid particles of pips and skin that made it through the membrane of the press.  Once this has happened the juice then continues its journey into one of the vats where it will remain during the fermentation process.

Wine-making gift experience in France

Odile explained how the sugar in the grape juice is transformed into alcohol over the following weeks.

Once the fermentation has finished, the wines are racked to separate them from the larger lee particles, and they are left to age on their finer lees to develop their depth and structure.  To better understand the process she let us taste some of the wines directly from the vats, including the wine that we will end up with at the end of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  It’s a rare opportunity to taste wines in their unfinished state.

Learn to taste wine like a professional oenologist

Before the wines are ready to be bottled, they are racked again and filtered to clarify them further, and to ensure that no impurities are left in the wine that might cause it to spoil in the bottle.  We then made our way to the production line to see where the bottling takes place, and we discussed the merits of the different options of sealing the bottles, by cork, screw-cap or other materials.

The wine bottling machine

After bottling, the wine is laid to rest again and then stored until ready for labelling.  Odile showed us the labelling machine that sticks on the front and back label and adds the capsule on top of the bottles.  The bottles are then boxed up and ready for sale or distribution.  It’s an impressive sight!

The next workshop was to learn how to taste wine and prepare us for the wine tasting session to come.  We use all of our senses when tasting wine, and we first put our noses to the test to try and identify different aromas found in white wine, either due to the different grape varietals or from having been aged in oak.  It’s not as easy as you would think!

Wine tasting gift at an organic winery in Chablis, France

We then tasted different sweet, saline, acidic, and bitter solutions to see if there was any difference in where we could feel them in our mouths.

It was then time to taste the wines.  We had three sets of wines to taste, and had to try and identify what the different factor was between the wines in each set.  The wine tasting session had been organised to show the difference between terroir, grape varietals, and the way in which the wine is aged.

Unique wine tasting and winery tour gift in Chablis

We tasted a wide range of different Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru wines, and continued the tasting over the delicious lunch which had been prepared at the winery by a local caterer.

Chardonnay adopt-a-vine gift wine-making experience

After lunch, we took in some air, and headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines.  We took a few photographs and admired the surrounding landscape of rolling Chablis vineyards.

Learnng about the terroir that makes Chablis wine so special

Back at the winery, we descended into the cellar where the far wall had been left bare, revealing the strata of limestone and marl that give the Chablis wines their character.

Winery tour gift to learn about making biodynamic wines

The final stop of the day was to visit the fermentation hall that houses the wooden casks for the wines that are aged in oak.  Here Jean-Louis explained the role of the casks, and we had ended the day with a last wine tasting to see how the oak casks influence the structure of the wine.

It had been a fascinating day to have a glimpse of the life of a wine-maker.  We’ll now have to wait patiently until our wine has finished ageing, but we’ll know that the wait has been worth it!

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Pruning the pinot noir vines in Burgundy


March always marks the change of season, and it is the last month that we can prune the vines in Burgundy before spring arrives and the vines start to grow again.  It’s also a month that has very changeable weather, and fortunately for the adoptive vine parents, the temperatures were very mild for the first Discovery Experience Day of the 2018 vintage at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay, enabling us to get out into the vineyard and learn all about the work to nurture the vines.

After a brief introduction to this day focused on pruning and attaching the vines, Simon Chapelle, the son of Jean-François and future winemaker at the winery, recounted the history of the family winery and how the different Burgundy wine appellations are defined.

Vineyard tour in Santenay, Burgundy
We then headed to the Clos des Cornières vineyard, accompanied by Simon and Yannick, the technical director at Domaine Chapelle. This is where our adopted pinot noir vines are located and we took a few minutes to take a few photos!

Split into two groups, Simon and Yannick then explained the work necessary in the vineyard during the winter and spring months to arrive at a quality harvest, and they told us how they work organically at the winery.
Wine-making and vine pruning course in France

The Clos des Cornières vineyard produces the eponymous wine, and is planted solely with pinot noir vines, as in Burgundy, there is no blending of different grape varietals. The quality of the 2018 vintage therefore relies on the quality of grapes that will be harvested this autumn, and the quality is determined for a large part on the ever so important work of the moment, the pruning of the vines.

Vine tending course gift box for a wine lover

Simon and Yannick explained which branches to keep, which to cut and how many buds to leave on each vine. This will directly impact the yield of each vine. They also enlightened us as to the many questions that have to be answered when thinking about how to prune each vine. Armed with a pair of secateurs, it was then our turn to put the theory into practice! Despite some hesitation at first, we gradually started to get the hang of this difficult job!

French vineyard and winery visit gift box

After pruning the next task is to bend the branches that haven’t been cut away. We crossed the road to the neighbouring vineyard that is planted with chardonnay vines, and is more advanced in the pruning. This is also an important step because by folding the branch and attaching it to the bottom training wire, it helps ensure that the sap will flow more evenly among all of the future fruit-bearing canes, and that they will be better spaced to avoid disease from spreading.

Organic wine tasting in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We then headed back to the winery to enjoy an aperitif outside in the courtyard whilst soaking up more of the spring sunshine! Some gougères, a typical Burgundy shoe pastry specialty, and the winery’s Santenay Saint-Jean white wine delighted our taste buds!

We continued the local specialties over a tasty lunch of other local dishes of perch terrine, boeuf bourguignon, local cheeses and a chocolate and cassis entremet. Lunch was accompanied by a Burgundy 2016 red, a Santenay Clos des Cornières 2013, and a Santenay Premier Cru “Les Gravières” 2012.

Wine gift box Cellar and winery visit in France

After lunch we had a tour of the vinification hall and labyrinth of vaulted cellars underneath the winery to see where the wines ferment and age.  

We’ll now leave it to the winemakers to continue to care for the vines, and wait for the grapes to develop and grow for the harvest. We’re looking forward to coming back already!

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Learning the art of wine-making in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet


Last Saturday, we spent an enthralling day at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion to learn all about the work and the choices the winemaker takes in the cellar to ferment, age, and blend the wine before it is ready for bottling.  As we were to learn there is much more to do than you might think and a multitude of tools and techniques that the winemaker can pick from to influence the structure, taste and aromatic depth of the wine.

Wine-making exerience gift in Saint Emilion

The day was split into several different workshops to explore different aspects of wine-making and wine tasting.  In the fermentation hall, Alain David-Beaulieu, the winemaker at Château Coutet, explained how the grapes were received at harvest time and the work carried out during the maceration and fermentation phases.

Participate in the making of your own organic Saint-Emilion Grand Cru wine

He showed us the old press that has been used at the winery for over 100 years to press the marc left in the bottom of the vats after racking the wines.  This gives the press wine that is aged separately, and held in reserve to be used if needed later on in the wine-making process.

Once the fermentation has finished, some of the lots of different grape varietals are pre-blended, and transferred into oak barrels.  A mixture of new and old barrels that have already been used to make one or two wines are used at the winery, and Alain explained the role that the oak barrels play in wine-making.  He talked about the work in the barrel room to stir the lees, top up the wine lost to the angel’s share, and the monitoring of the wines over time.

Perfect gift for a wine lover.  Make your own personalised bottles of Saint Emilion wine

Before tasting the wines, we participated in a fun workshop that put our sense of smell to the test.  We had to identify some of the aromas that can be found in wine, and learnt which ones were due to the grape varietal or terroir, and which were the result of being aged in oak.

Wine-tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

In the fermentation hall, we gathered around some barrels for the wine tasting and wine blending workshop.  First, we blind tasted three different wines, and had to identify which was the merlot, which the cabernet franc and which the malbec.  Once we had learnt what characteristics each of these grape varietals displayed, we then had a go at blending them to see how the wine changes as the percentages of each grape varietal vary.

Blend your own wine workshop in Saint-Emilion

We then blind tasted three other 2017 wines that had just finished the fermentation process.  Exactly the same wine but one which was being aged in the vat, one in an old oak barrel, and one in a new oak barrel.  The wines had only been put into the barrels a couple of weeks ago, but already it was possible to taste the difference between the wines.

Wine tasting course at the winery in Saint-Emilion

After this full morning, we had worked up a good appetite!  Before sitting down to lunch we refreshed our palates with the Clairet, a deep-coloured rosé wine that is made by drawing off some of the wine at the beginning of the maceration process.

Lunch and wine tasting at the organic winery in Saint-Emilion

Over lunch of Landaise duck confit salad, skewered steak with Bordelaise sauce, potato gratin and vegetables, cheese, and café gourmand, we tasted the 2014 and 2015 vintages of the Château Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, and the Château Belles-Cimes 2014, the winery’s second wine.

The cuvee Emeri, one of the world's oldest bottles of wine

The conversation flowed over lunch, and we listened intently to the wonderful story of the Cuvée Emeri.  When cleaning out the family cellar, Alain stumbled across an old bottle of wine buried in the earth floor.  The bottle was still full and had been closed with a glass stopper in the shape of a heart.  After having had the bottle analysed, it is estimated that it dates from around 1750, making it one of the oldest bottles of wine in the world!  Alain’s nephew, Adrien David-Beaulieu, then had the idea to try and recreate the wine as closely as possible using the oldest vines in the vineyard.  These vines are nurtured manually, the heavier work of tilling the soil done by horse.  The grapes are then hand-picked and sorted by hand, berry by berry.  The resulting wine is then put into hand-blown bottles that are made individually by one of France’s leading master glass blowers.  And the stopper is of course also made of glass in the shape of a heart, just like the original.  It took four years for the master wine blower to successfully recreate the liquid and airproof bottle!

Rent-a-vine in Saint-Emilion and make your own personalise bottles of organic wine

After lunch, we walked up onto the plateau where the vines stretch across to the village of Saint-Emilion, less than a kilometre away.  This is the most prestigious area for the Saint-Emilion vineyards and is where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are to be found.  We took a few minutes to take some pictures and enjoy the surrounding scenery.  On the way we talked about the different terroir and work currently being carried out to prune the vines and attach the remaining branches to the training wires.

Wine-making experience with personalised bottles of wine

Back at the winery, we then talked about how the wine is prepared for bottling and bottled.  We debated the use of sulphites, and talked about the choice of corks used.  We then went into the store and saw the machine in action that puts the capsules and labels on the bottles just before they are ready for consumption.

And so the day drew to a close.  We’d learnt a great deal, and saw just how varied and complex the life of a winemaker is.  We’ll now have to be patient as our wine slowly ages, but the wait for our personalised bottles will be surely worth it!  Many thanks to Alain and Juliette at Château Coutet, and to all of the participants for making this such a great day!

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Preparing the vines for the 2018 harvest


We spent Sunday in the vineyard at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion for a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience day, learning about all of the work that goes into nurturing the vines to produce the best grapes at harvest time.  At this time of year, there might not yet be any growth visible on the vines, but it is the winter work, and in particular the pruning that lays the foundation for managing the quantity and quality of grapes that will grow.

Rent-a-vine gfte experience in Saint-Emilion, France

After the introductions, we headed straight out into the vineyard, accompanied by Alain, the winemaker at Château Coutet and his son, Mathieu.  As we walked up onto the plateau, Alain explained the different terroir of the winery, as Château Coutet has the good fortune of having three distinct soil types among its different vineyard plots.

We passed a plot that is currently left as pasture.  Alain told us how the old vines had been pulled up a few years ago, and how it has since been left fallow to allow the soil to recover.

Vineyard experience gift in an organic winery

At the top of the hill, we reached the plateau, where the estate’s oldest vines are situated, including the plot that is worked manually and by horse, the grapes from which are used to make the Emeri and Demoiselle wines.  Alain explained the work that had been carried out during the winter, such as heaping the soil around the vine stocks.  He showed us how the vines had been pruned and explained the need to adapt the severity of the pruning depending on the age and health of the vines.  The older plots are pruned using the Guyot simple method to produce around 25 hectolitres of wine per hectare, compared to around 45 hectolitres for younger, more vibrant plots.

Pruning vine gift experience

The cut branches are left in the middle of the row and will be crushed to act as compost and return vital nutrients to the soil.

Original wine lover gift to discover the art of winemaking

The vines adopted by Gourmet Odyssey’s clients are in the neighbouring vineyard, and so we stopped by so that everyone could visit their micro-plot of vines, take some pictures, and encourage them to produce a good harvest this year.

Rent-a-Vine gift experience present

Once the vines have been pruned, the remaining branch needs to be bent and attached to the lower training wire.  From each of the eyes, a fruit bearing cane will grow, and by attaching the branch to the wire, this ensures that the canes will grow upright, and will be more evenly spaced, allowing a better aeration around the future grapes, which in turn will help prevent disease in wet weather.  The act of bending the branch also slows down the flow of sap, ensuring a more even distribution of the nutrients that it contains, and thus more homogenous grapes in terms of ripeness.

Participate in working in an organic French vineyard

Alain showed us how to bend and attach the branches using an ingenious tool developed specially for this task that allows you to twist the wire and cut it.  We then had a go for ourselves!  It’s a slightly scary job, as at first you are frightened of snapping the branch, but they are more flexible than you think!

Perfect gift for wine enthusiasts.  Learn what it's like to be a winemaker

We had earnt our aperitif, and enjoyed a glass of clairet rosé wine.  We then sat down to enjoy a lunch of foie gras with fig chutney, magret de canard served with crushed potato and truffle oil, cheese, and fruit tartlet, prepared on site by our fantastic local caterer. Over lunch we tasted the 2014 and 2015 vintages of the Château Coutet Grand Cru and the 2015 Château Belles-Cimes.

Wine tasting gift in an organic vineyard in France

We returned to the vineyard in the afternoon to learn about the work that will come over the following months before the grapes will be ready to be harvested.  De-budding, raising the training wires, treating the vines, de-leafing, trimming… there is still lots to be done.

Using robots to work in teh vineyard

Alain’s brother, Xavier, has developed a solar powered robot called the Vitirover that can be programmed to cut the grass automatically within a given vineyard plot using satellite positioning.  Alain showed us the robot and explained how it works.

Winery tour gift with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion

The day ended with a quick tour of the chai to see where the grapes will be received and the wine then aged in the barrel room.  We’ll learn more about these stages of the wine-making process during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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Making and ageing Santenay red Burgundy wine at Domaine Chapelle


We were warmly welcomed to Domaine Chapelle last weekend by Jean-François, Yvette and Myriam, for the first of the Vinification Experience Days for the 2017 vintage.  The aim of these interactive oenology courses is to learn about the wine-making process and the decisions that the wine-maker takes in the cellar, picking up where we left off after the harvest through to the time when the wine is ready for bottling.

After a welcome coffee, we started the day with an introduction to the winery by Jean-François. He told us about the history of his family, how the Burgundy wines are classified using the Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) system, and the geology that defines the different Burgundy vineyards. We learnt that even before the grapes are transformed into wine, the terroir enters into play, differentiating the wine that comes from different vineyard plots. 

These precious nuggets of information set us up for the rest of the day that would be dedicated to learning about the wine-making process and tasting wines.

One group stayed with Yvette for a fun sensorial workshop to identify the aromas and balance on the palate of Burgundy wines. This was an important step in preparing for the wine tasting to follow.

Oenology lesson in a French winery in Santenay Burgundy

The other group went with Jean-François to visit the fermentation hall and cellar where the wines age in oak barrels. Jean-François explained the work in the cellar during the ageing process and to better illustrate the influence that the barrels play on the aromatic and gustative characteristics of the wine, we tasted the same Santenay Gravières Premier Cru wine, the only difference being the type of barrel in which it was ageing.

Wine aageing process in Burgundy France

Surrounded by the large wooden vinification casks, we enjoyed a Santenay Saint-Jean white wine accompanied by the famous local gougères for the aperitif. 

We then sat down to lunch with other local delicacies. Jambon persillé, poulet Gaston Gérard, a selection of local cheeses and chocolate desert, accompanied by three different wines, the Santenay Clos des Cornières, Santenay Premier Cru Beaurepaire and Chassgane Montrachet Premier Cru reds.

After lunch we headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines and immortalise the moment with some photos. Jean-François pointed out the different areas of the Clos des Cornières vineyard, planted with three different ages of vines, the grapes from which are used in the making of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience. The oldest plot of vines will shortly be cleared and replaced.

Having different ages of vines in the same plot is often used to manage the longevity of a particular vineyard so as to not have to replace all of the vines at once, and thus be deprived of the wine for several years. It takes roughly 5 years before the vines will produce grapes that can start to be used to make wine.

Wine gift Box with a daay at the winery in Santenay, Burgundy, farnce

We then returned to the fermentation hall for a final wine tasting to compare the impact that the age of the vines has on the wine. We tasted the wine from the three different plots that make up the Clos des Cornières vineyard. They are each made and aged separately, until they are blended, shortly before bottling. We could taste the difference for ourselves and also noted that tasting wines that have not yet finished their ageing process is not always the easiest thing to do!

Ageing is a very important phase for softening the structure of the tannins and developing the aromatic complexity. Patience is needed, and a little imagination to try and foresee how the wine will turn out after a few more months ageing.

The time had come to end this great day learning and exchanging about wine. We’d had a privileged insight into the secrets of making wine, and we can’t wait to taste the final result of this 2017 vintage!

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Celebrate Motherís Day with a unique Wine Experience Gift


The time has come to find an original Mother’s Day gift to treat your Mum.  Instead of the usual bouquet of flowers or box of chocolates, give an unforgettable personalised wine experience gift to learn all about the art of wine-making.  You’ll adopt some organic vines in an award-winning French vineyard for her so that she can follow the making of her wine from the work in the vineyard right through to the time when the wine is ready for bottling with her personalised wine labels.

Adopt-a-vine Mother's Day gift experience in an award-winning French vineyard

This special Mother’s day gift box for wine lovers is much more than a wine course or wine tasting session.   Your Mum will receive a welcome gift pack with some wine accessories and personalised vine adoption certificate.  She’ll also gain access to her customer portal to receive newsletters and photos to learn all about the key stages of how the vines are cultivated organically to produce the best possible grapes come harvest time, and then how the grape juice is made into wine in the cellar.

Get involved in making your own organic wine in France

You can also include one or more wine experience days at the winery, each valid for two people, so your Mum can see her adopted vines, meet the winemaker and participate in the work in the vineyard or cellar.  It’s a great excuse to get away for a weekend break in France, and a fun way to discover the life of a winemaker.  Each day lasts from 9:30 to 16:00, during which time the winemaker and members of their team are by your side.  Wine tasting and winemaker’s lunch of regional specialties are included.

Personalised wine Mother's day gift.

At the end of the Wine Experience, your mother will get to choose the name of her wine and will receive one bottle of personalised wine for each adopted vine.  Each time she opens a bottle, she’ll be sure to remember this original Mother’s Day wine gift!

For last minute Mother’s Day gifts, we can send the personalised vine adoption certificate by email.

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A look at the ageing process of red wines


After the first stages of fermentation that followed on from the harvest, the red wine in most wineries is now approaching the start of the ageing phase. What happens whilst the wine is ageing and what keeps the winemaker busy in the cellar?

The start of the ageing process

The ageing process refers to the time and work carried out by the winemaker once the fermentation has finished, up until the wine is bottled. It can last for just a couple of weeks in the case of primeur wines that are made quickly to be drunk young, or up to several years for more complex wines that are crafted to be laid down and drunk in the future. It all depends on the type of wine that the winemaker wants to produce.

All begins once the fermentation has finished and the wine is racked to separate it from the larger lee particles of solid matter and dead yeast cells by transferring it to a new container where it will stay during the ageing period. This new container could be a vat, barrel, earthenware jar, or another type of recipient.

Fermentation process course in a Franche Winery

Recipients used for ageing wines

Wine is typically aged in a vat or a barrel. The choice of recipient the winemaker decides upon depends on the style of wine that the winemaker is striving for (see our article The role of vats, barrels, and other types of container in making wine).

The main tasks of the winemaker, whatever recipient is chosen, are to allow the wine to mature whilst protecting it from oxidation, to develop the taste of the wine, and to stabilise it. That means that although the wine remains in its recipient, it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening during the months of ageing.

Protecting the wine from oxidation

Air is an enemy of wine. If a wine is left in contact with the air, it will oxidise and become vinegar. When a wine is aged in wooden barrels, the winemaker has to pay particular attention to not let too much air stay in contact with the wine.

First of all, when a barrel is filled, the wood will soak up some of the wine. This is more marked when new barrels are used for the first time, and the wood can absorb as much as 5 litres of wine. In addition to this waste, whilst the wine is lying in the barrel, micro-oxygenation happens as the staves of the barrels naturally let a tiny bit of air to get inside the barrel and some of the wine evaporates in the opposite direction, often referred to as the angel’s share. Between the wine that is soaked up by the barrel and the wine that evaporates, a void is created at the top of the barrel as the level of wine decreases. To avoid this pocket of air from staying in contact with the wine, the winemaker regularly tops up the barrel to keep it full, a process known as ouillage. If the air was left inside the barrel, the bacteria that transform the ethanol in the wine to acetic acid will develop when combined with oxygen, and the wine will turn to vinegar.

Wine making course gift box

To top up the barrels, the winemaker takes out the stopper on top of the barrel, and pours in wine using an ouillette, which is a sort of watering can with a long thin spout. The same wine that was racked from the fermentation tank is used. The winemaker keeps aside some of the wine for this purpose, and it is stored in a small vat with a floating cap which adjusts to the level of wine remaining, thus keeping the air at bay.

Maturing the wine

So once the wine is no longer at risk from the oxygen, how does the winemaker develop the desired taste and character? The winemakers have many different techniques available to them that they will choose to use or discard as they taste and monitor the wines during the ageing process.

As the wines rest and age, the lees fall to the bottom of the recipient. If the winemaker wants to bring more depth and aromas to the wine, he can stir the lees to put them back into suspension in the wine. This is easiest done for wines ageing in barrels whereby the winemaker will open the stopper, put a long baton into the barrel and mix up the lees. This is known as batonnage. You can also find barrels that are fixed to a rotating support that allows the winemaker to turn the barrel, thus achieving the same objective.

Vine adoption gift box oenology course in France

Conversely, if the winemaker decides that the wine already has enough character, the wines will be racked to separate them from the lees.  This is done by pumping the wine into another recipient, leaving the lees at the bottom of the initial recipient. This action also clarifies the wine, which can still be a little cloudy at this stage.

Winemaking gift box in a Franche vineyard

Getting ready for bottling

Once the wine has matured sufficiently, there are a few steps necessary to stabilise it before it can be bottled. It first needs to be clarified further. The aim isn’t just to make the wine more visually attractive, but also to remove any particles that, if left in contact with the wine, may cause the wine to deteriorate after bottling.

The wine can be clarified by filtering or fining. Filtering consists of passing the wine through a filter to remove the particles. The winemaker needs to be careful when using this technique to not diminish the aromatic qualities or structure of the wine.

Fining works by adding a substance to the wine, traditionally egg white, but nowadays other elements are used such as bentonite or gelatine. Each of these substances work by attracting the particles held in suspension in the wine, which then stick to it as the veil slowly falls through the wine. Once it has settled at the bottom, the wine is then racked in the usual way.

At this stage, the wine is almost ready for bottling, a delicate operation for the wine which will be exposed to the air again and so the risk of oxidation rises once more. This is why most winemakers will add some sulphites to their wines just before bottling, adding it in the form of a tablet or powder.

Stabilising wine during a vinification and ageing day aat the winery

Sulphur is an anti-oxidant and an anti-septic that helps preserve the wine once it has been bottled, minimising the risk of oxidation, further fermentation in the bottle, or it being otherwise spoiled. All wines naturally contain some sulphur, because even if no SO² was added during the vinification or bottling stages, the enzymes secreted by the fermenting yeast cells produce SO² from the sulphites naturally present in the grapes.

So now the wine is ready for bottling and almost in your wine glass. Just a few more things for the winemaker to do. Choose the type of cork, cap or stopper used to seal the bottle, reserve the bottling lorry if the winemaker doesn’t own an in-house bottling line, label the bottles and pack them in the cases, or make room in the cellar for storing the unlabelled bottles of the new vintage, prepare the tasting notes for each wine, and organise the wine fairs and events to present the new wines. A winemaker’s work is never done…

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Wine-making weekend in the Loire Valley


Last weekend saw the first Gourmet Odyssey wine-making courses of the year take place at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley. The snow that had fallen earlier in the week could still be seen in places, and was highlighted by the sun that shone down upon us.

  Organic vine adoption experience in the Lire Valley, France

Over a coffee and some croissants, our partner winemaker, Marc Plouzeau, welcomed us and explained the history of his family’s winery.

Meet the winemaker at a Chateau winery in France

The winery has some 30 hectares of vines, all of the vineyards being located on the left bank of the River Vienne, something of which Marc is very proud as he has a penchant for the unique terroir that characterises the wines from this region of the Chinon wine appellation.

A busy day awaited us which would see us meet our adopted vines, visit the chai to learn about the vinification techniques used to make wine, learn how to taste wines, enjoy lunch with the winemaker, and visit the cellar to taste the wines that are currently in the ageing process!

Wine gift adopted organic vines in France

To start, a quick visit of the adopted vines that were resplendent in their dusting of snow under the morning sun! It was also the opportunity to take a few pictures for the My Vine photo competition and to talk with Marc about the work that is currently in progress in the vineyard.

We then split into two groups. The first went to the chai with Marc and the second put their noses to the test in a workshop to help identify some of the aromas to be found in wine.

Wine-making course in a French winery in Chinon, France

With Marc, the apprentice winemakers discovered the work that takes place during the fermentation and ageing stages, starting with where we left off at harvest time. All of the wines at the winery are made and kept separate according to the plot of vines where the grapes come from, and Marc enlightened us regarding the differences between wines that are aged in a vat or a barrel.

Aromas wine course in a French organic winery

The aroma workshop helped us spot which aromas could help us identify a particular grape varietal and which could give us some pointers as to how the wine made or aged. It was a fun exercise that we could put into practice as we tasted the wines over lunch!

The morning drew to a close, and we reconvened in the Petite Bonnelière building where lunch awaited! As always, we enjoyed the tasty meal, prepared by Marc’s mum that paired perfectly with the wines.

Vineyard visit and winemaker meeting in a French Chateau

After lunch, we made our way to the Marc’s cellar, located in a vast cave underneath the Chinon fortress.

The cellar is where the wines that are aged in barrels are kept.  It’s the perfect place because the temperature and humidity are always constant. We had the privilege of tasting some of the 2017 wines that are still in the ageing process. We tasted a wine that is ageing in a vat, one in a new barrel, another in a barrel that has been used for a few wines already, finishing with a press wine. A few grimaces as the press wine bit into the cheeks, as the press wine is made from the juice that is extracted from the solid matter that is left in the bottom of the vat after the maceration period. It’s a very tannic and concentrated wine that is not meant for drinking on its own, but can add complexity and depth when blended with other wines. It was a great way to complement what we had learnt in the morning and to learn about different choices available to a winemaker!

Wine tasting and wine-making course in France

It was a fantastic weekend to start the new year, and we thank Marc for all of his passionate explanations.

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How to read wine labels


Whether your wine bottles have personalised labels, as with our adopt a vine wine experience, or not, they contain lots of information, some of it not always easy to understand! Some of the information is a legal obligation, some is useful to describe and qualify the wine, and other mentions are sometimes purely whimsical. Here’s a short guide to help you decipher a wine label.

Most French wine bottles have two labels. The main label that is on the front of the bottle and a back label. Usually the front label is used for the name of the wine, the branding and the obligatory information. The back label is often used to give more information, notably about its taste, the winery or pairing suggestions. 

It is not set in stone however on which label much of the required information should appear, and so sometimes as little information as possible will appear on the front label, to keep it as uncluttered as possible, leaving more space for the name of the wine and graphics.

The legally required information

Some of the information has to appear on a label. In France there are 8 required mentions for still wines, and for sparkling wines a ninth is added to state the level of sugar.

Obligatory mentions on a French organic wine label

First of all the name of the appellation (AOC / AOP) or the protected geographical indications (PGI), both of which serve to guarantee where a wine was made and the methods used in working in the vineyard and cellar.

Then comes the volume of wine. A classic French wine bottle holds 0.75 l of wine, 1.5 l for a magnum, 3 l for a jeroboam etc. There are however some special cases such as 0.62 l for bottles of “vin jaune” that are put into a distinctive bottle, called a “Clavelin”. (0.62 l represents the amount of wine that is left of 1 l of wine at the end of the 6 year ageing period. The rest is lost to the angels share!).

The alcoholic degree gives an indication to the maturity of the grapes when they were harvested. A ripe grape has more sugar in it, giving a wine with a higher alcoholic degree.

The country where the wine comes from, the name and legal entity of the bottler. The bottler is not necessarily the winemaker, and can be a wine merchant.

A batch number is also attributed to the wine to identify where exactly it came from and how the wine was made. Sometimes this number is printed directly onto the bottle instead of the label.

For health warnings, in addition to the pregnant woman graphic which has been required since 2005, the label is also obliged to say if the wine contains sulphites, and since 2012 if it contains any allergens such as egg or dairy based products which can sometimes be used to clarify or filter the wines. If you’re worried about sulphites, please note that a wine that is completely free of sulphites does not exist. It’s naturally present in the grape, and is indeed needed to help stabilise and keep the wine a minimum amount of time.  Natural wines are wines that have no added sulphites, but there is no certification and hence logo to look out for. Natural wines tend not to travel or keep as long as wines that have had some sulphites added, so it’s good to take into consideration when and where you will likely drink the wine if you see a mention like “sans sulphites ajoutés”, “no added sulphites”, “vin nature”, “natural wine”.

Obligatory mentions on a French organic wine label

In addition to these legal mentions for all wines, some AOP regions impose other requirements for the labels. For example in Burgundy, the name of the wine should not be larger than the name of the appellation. The name of the appellation has to be the tallest and widest in font size of all of the information printed on the labels.

Other information: optional, but regulated

Even if the majority of the remaining information is mainly commercial, the winemaker still has rules to follow. On most bottles, the name of the wine will appear along with the type of wine and obligatory information as decided by the appellation. The winemaker may also include the name of the village or the vineyard where the grapes were picked. In a wide spread and well-known wine growing region such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, this helps to identify different styles of wine.

Pay attention to some specific words such as “Clos”, “Château” and “Cru”, which are reserved for use by AOP or PGI wines that have been made exclusively from grapes coming from the named winery or vineyard.

The vintage, which is always the year that the grapes were harvested, is an important piece of information, because some years are better than others, some wines are better drunk sooner rather than later, and some have a better potential for storing than others. To use the vintage, at least 85 % of the grapes have to have been picked from the mentioned year.

The winemaker may also choose to mention that the wine was estate bottled or “mis en bouteille au domaine / château”. This is reassuring to some customers that the wine was made by the winemaker, and the grapes or wine weren’t bought and made by a wine merchant.

In France, the grape varietal used in making the wine is not always mentioned, and is done so much less frequently than New World wines. This requires some basic knowledge on the part of the customer, for example to know that a Burgundy red wine is made from pinot noir grapes and a Burgundy white wine from Chardonnay. It can be very useful to state the grape varietal to help consumers with little wine knowledge, or to help people when it comes to blended wines. For example if you know that you prefer fruitier wines when choosing a Bordeaux wine, it would be helpful to look for a wine that has a high percentage of Merlot over Cabernet Sauvignon, and vice versa if you prefer a wine that is more robust and has a longer finish.

You will sometime see a phrase similar to “elevé en fût de chêne” or “aged in oak barrels”. This is an optional mention, but is regulated. At least 50% of the wine has had to have spent at least 6 months in an oak barrel. Ageing in oak changes the structure, taste and aromatic characteristics of a wine, so this mention can help you depending on the style of wine that you are looking for.

Other information: optional, but unregulated

This where you have to be a little more careful not to be led astray. Although some of the information may be very helpful in helping you to choose a wine and learn a little more how it tastes, sometimes the information can be a little subjective.

For example, our partner winemaker in Alsace, the Domaine Stentz-Buecher, puts a scale on the back label to show how dry or sweet their different wines are. This is very helpful to the consumer as the different grape varietals of Alsace wines can vary greatly in how dry or sweet they are, and even the same grape varietals from different winemakers or vineyards can vary.

An example of a mention that is much more subjective and can be misleading is “Vielles vignes” or old vines. As vines get older, their roots dig deeper, and they produce better quality grapes. So “vielles vigne” should be a term that indicates a higher quality wine. The problem is at what age does a vine become old? There is no regulation as to the age, and so it is up to the winemaker. For one winemaker a plot of 30 year old vines might be considered vielles vignes, however another winemaker who has 80 year old vines might consider them to be still relatively youthful. It can be helpful when choosing among different wines from the same producer, but should be taken with more caution when comparing wines from different winemakers.

Regarding the graphics of the label, there are no rules, and so the winemaker has more freedom to be creative, which can sometimes lead to some very surprising results! When choosing the design, the winemaker is trying to create an identity for the wine, and to make it visually attractive to the target consumer. But the winemaker has to be careful because what might attract one person, might not be to the taste of someone else, and sometimes the visual identity can make finding and reading the rest of the information more difficult.

How to read a label on a French wine bottle

And organic wine labels?

Until 2012, the organic certification for wines only concerned itself with the grapes were grown, and not how the wine was made once the grapes had been picked. French wine labels stated “wine made from organically grown grapes” or “vin issu de raisins de l’agriculture biologique”.

Since then, the winemakers work in the cellar to age and bottle the wine is also controlled to meet organic standards. For example organic wine has to have a level of sulphites less than 100 mg/l for red wines, and 15 mg/l for white wines. Wine can now be called “organic wine”, and this mention now appears of the labels.

There are two logos used in France to identify that a wine is organically certified. Firstly there is the AB logo (Agriculture biologique) and secondly the green leaf European organic logo. On older bottles prior to 2010, you’ll most likely see just the AB logo, but since then, you’ll either see the AB logo together with the European logo, or just the European logo.

French Organic Farming logo
European Orgnaic Farming logo

Biodynamically certified wines can be identified by either the Demeter or Biodyvin logos. Read our article on organic, biodynamic and natural wines for more information.

Biodyvin biodynamic farming label
 
Demeter biodynamic farming label
  

Don’t judge a book by its cover

It’s therefore worth spending a bit of time reading the wine labels when choosing a bottle. But as with reading, it’s best to look inside, and so the surest way to judge the quality of a wine is to open the bottle and taste it!

 

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Organic, biodynamic and natural wines

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