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De-budding the vines in Alsace


We spent last Saturday in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher for a Discovery Experience Day.  The objective of the day was to learn about all of the work in the vineyard needed to produce the best possible grapes come harvest time, and as we were to find out, there is lots to do!

Original wine gift for organic wine lovers.  Adopt a vine in Alsace and get involved in making your own wine

After the introductions to the winery and family history by Céline, we made our way through the vineyards.  On the way, Céline showed us the different terroir, and pointed out the Hengst and Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyards slightly further up the hillside.

We arrived at the Rosenberg vineyard, home to our Pinot Gris adopted wines.  We took a few minutes to take a few pictures of our vines and to say a few words of encouragement for this year’s harvest.

Rent-a-vine gift experience in an organic vineyard in Alsace

Jean-Jacques, Céline’s father and founder of the winery, joined us and brought us up to speed on the work that has been carried out in the vineyard during the winter.  He explained the importance of pruning the vines and how it is done, the need to protect the vines during the colder winter months from the frost by heaping soil around the vine stocks, and the laborious task of repairing the training posts and wires.  He also showed us the plot next to our vines which was replanted 4 years ago, and will produce the first grapes this year.

Learn how to de-bud vines alongside the wine-maker

The buds burst on the vines at the end of March, and since then the shoots have sprung to life.  A little slower than the last couple of years when the harvest was very early, but in line with a more normal year.  This time of year is principally taken up with de-budding, and after pruning, it is probably the most important task in controlling the yield and improving the quality of the grapes.

Jean-Jacques demonstrated how to select which shoots to keep and which to remove.  Remove any shoots that have sprout from below the head on the trunk, and remove the weaker branch from any double shoots.

Hands-on vineyard experience gift

Sounds easy in theory, but once we had spread out among the rows and started having a go ourselves, we quickly learnt that there are many exceptions to the rule!   To keep the growth at the same height among the vines, we are always trying to keep the growth as low as possible.  This means that sometimes we leave a shoot lower than this year’s branch, so that we can use it next year.  As with pruning you always have to think at least one year ahead!  After a few tentative tries, and clarifying questions, we gradually gained in confidence!
We then headed back to the winery, where Céline gave us a wine tasting session, starting with the delicious 2015 Riesling Ortel. We then tasted the 2017 vintage of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Experience, the Pinot Gris Rosenberg, followed by the 2012 Pinot Noir.  Next up, a 2015 Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru, followed by a surprisingly full bodied 2015 Pinot Blanc Vielles Vignes white wine.

A local caterer had prepared a delicious baeckeofe for us, and we continued the wine tasting with the  2017 Who Am I?, a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Céline served a 2016 Gewürztraminer Rosenberg with cheese, and the meal ended with a tasty blueberry tart.

Organic wine tasting with the winemaker in Alsace

After lunch we had a tour of the cellar where we were introduced to what happens to the grapes once they have been harvested.  We’ll be learning more during the Harvest and Vinificiation Experience Days.

Cellar tour with the winemaker near Colmar in Alsace

The day ended back in the vineyard, where Jean-Jacques explained the work yet to come in the vineyard between now and harvest time, and how they will monitor the grapes to choose when is the best time to start harvesting.  The next critical phase should happen within the next couple of weeks, when the vines flower.  How well this goes will set out the potential yield of the harvest, and will give the first indication of when the harvest is likely to start.  The old adage says that the harvest will be 110 days after flowering. We will be closely monitoring the vines over the coming days.

Many thanks to the Stentz-Buecher family for sharing their passion for wine-making with us.  We’ll be back again at the end of June for the next Discovery Experience Day.

Find out more about adopting vines in Alsace.

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De-budding, a critical task in producing good quality grapes


We met up with Mathieu, winemaker at Château Coutet, over a coffee and pain au chocolat. We were in Saint-Emilion for a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience day to learn about all of the work that the winemaker undertakes in the vineyard. Mathieu is the 14th generation of winemaker to nurture the great vines at Château Coutet.

 

Vineyard tour in Saint-Emilion, France

Château Coutet is on the right bank of the Bordeaux vineyards, the kingdom of the Merlot grape varietal. The limestone terroir of Saint-Emilion produce wines that have stood the test of time, and as we climb the hillside through the vineyards, Mathieu shows us the changing soil types.

On the way, our path crosses a little robot, invented by Mathieu’s uncle. It automatically cuts the grass in a given vineyard, allowing the grass to be kept short and avoiding it being destroyed by turning the soil. Turning the soil too much can disturb the microbial life in the soil, which is the natural habitat of worms, essential to maintaining the vitality of the soil.

Vine-adoption experience in Saint-Emilion France

We visited our adopted vines in the Peycocut vineyard situated on the limestone plateau, the best terroir in Saint-Emilion. Here we are surrounded by the prestigious wineries that have helped write the history of the Saint-Emilion wines.

Wine lover ideal gift in Bordeaux, France

De-budding is one of the most important jobs in the vineyard during spring. We have to select the shoots that we will keep on the vine. Some will produce the grape bunches for this year, and others will produce the branches for next year. This task is therefore vital in ensuring this year’s production and in safeguarding the future production.

Wine-making courses near Bordeaux, France

The difficulty lies in choosing which branches to keep. Mathieu clearly explained the theory to us, and then it all came to life as we had a go ourselves, worked with him in de-budding the vines.

Organic vine tending experience near Bordeaux, France

We then returned to the winery to enjoy tasting some of the wines, starting with the 2016 Château Belles Cimes. It’s the winery’s second wine, made from the grapes from the young vines and some of the press wine. It’s a fairly fruity wine which is ideal for the aperitif.

Lunch was served in the dining room, overlooked by the portraits of some of Mathieu’s ancestors. The 2014 Château Coutet, which is the main wine, accompanied the starter. It’s a blend of the different terroir and grape varietals, offering elegance and complexity. We then went up a notch with the 2015 Château Coutet. Blended from the same terroir and grape varietals as the 2014 vintage, the 2015 has a more evolved aromatic character, and has more power and length on the palate. Mathieu spoiled us over cheese, serving the 2014 Cuvée Demoiselle. It’s a very select wine made from the winery’s best and oldest vines that are worked using horses.

Winery visit gift box in France

After lunch Mathieu explained the family’s commitment to organic wine-making, and we visited the vinification hall and the family cellar where the old bottles are stored. We go back in time as we imagine tasting a wine from 1953.

The day at Château Coutet drew to a close. Many thanks to Mathieu for welcoming us so warmly. We left having learnt that there is much more to wine-making that you would think.

Learn more about adopting a vine in Saint-Emilion.

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Wine-making and wine-tasting in Chinon


Under a sunny blue Chinon sky, our hosts at Château de la Bonnelière welcomed us last Sunday for a Vinification Experience Day, a day dedicated to learning about the wine-makers secrets in making wine and to tasting wines.

The busy day started with by introducing ourselves to one another over coffee and croissants, and enabled us to meet the winemaker, Marc Plouzeau, who had opened the doors of Château de la Bonnelière to us.

Marc gave us an overview of the 2018 harvest and vintage so far.  It’s looking to be a very good year, in terms of both quality and quantity!  The first wines that have been bottled from this year are already pleasing on the palate, whilst other wines are still ageing in the cellar.  We’ll get to taste them later on in the day.

Meeting the adopted vines in the vineyard

After a quick visit of the adopted vines and a few quick souvenir photos, we split the group in two, one to go with Marc to learn about what happens in the chai, and the other group with Louise to identify the different aromas found in wine.  Of course, we then changed groups later on in the morning!

In the chai, Marc explained how the vinification process is managed at the winery.  The grapes are handled as gently as possible using gravity to transfer them into the vats, no other elements are added, how the fermentation takes place in the vats and barrels…  It’s the combination of all of these factors that make Marc’s wines unique and reflect the different vineyard plots of the left bank.

In the caveau, Louise got everyone busy scribbling away with paper and pens!  We learned how to identify the different aromas found in Chinon wines.  Young and old, everyone did well for a first attempt, even if some answers left us a little bit puzzled!!

Workshop to identify the aromas found in Loire Valley wines

We then headed to the winery’s cellar underneath the Chinon Fortress, where the wines are aged, and stopped in the courtyard next to the entrance.  The sun and temperature gave us a taster of the summer to shortly come, and even gave a few of us a little more colour than we would have liked!

Enjoying the aperitif in the sunny cellar courtyard


We tasted the different red and white Chinon wines from the winery over lunch, and put our newly acquired wine tasting skills to the test.

Visiting the cellar where the wine are aged under the Chinon fortress

The day finished in the cool of the cellar, where the temperatures remains a constant 12°C all year round, ideal conditions for ageing wines.  Marc explained the history of the cellar, it having been excavated to extract the stone used to build the fortress overhead.  We then set about tasting the wines that are still in the ageing process.  We were very pleasantly surprised as the tannins are already silky, and the aromas very present.  The 2018 vintage looks set to be a big hit!

Re-assured by this tasting, we left at the end of the day longing to taste the wines again when they are finished!

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De-budding the vines in Burgundy


We spent Saturday at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay for a Discovery Experience Day. The main objective was to learn about the life-cycle of the vines and how to work organically in the vineyards to bring the grapes to maturity for the 2019 harvest.

The day started with a short presentation of the winery by the owner, Jean-François Chapelle. He talked about the history of his family and the path he took to convert the winery to being organic. The viewpoint from the winery over the surrounding vineyards helped us to understand the make-up of the Burgundy terroir, and their influence on the wines.

Vine adoption in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We then made our way to the Les Crais and Clos des Cornières vineyards to meet our adopted vines, the first planted with Chardonnay, the second with Pinot Noir vines. We learnt about the vegetative life cycle of the vines and the work necessary to nurture them from when they wake up after winter to harvest time.

Organic vineyard visit in Burgundy France

We were accompanied by Jean-François, and Yannick, the Technical Director of the vines and cellar.  Between the harvest and December, the winemaker’s time is mainly taken up with the vinification of the vintage that has just been harvested.  But then from December to March, they are very busy in the vineyards, pruning each and every vine manually.  The cut branches are then pulled away from the vines and either crushed in the rows or burned, usually by a different team than those who pruned.  It’s a tough job that takes around 4 months, and must be finished by around mid-March, the time when the first buds start to burst, and the vines spring back to life.

The vines shoots and branches grow quickly at this time of the year, some 30 or more centimetres in a month.  It’s therefore important to manage the growth.  This is also done manually for the most part by de-budding or removing some of the leaves, which also improves the air flow around the vines.

Adopt-a-vine experience at Domaine Chapelle in France

It’s the de-budding that keeps the team busy at the moment.  This task enables the quantity of fruit produced by the vines to be reduced, and thus improve the concentration and aromatic qualities of the remaining grapes.  Reducing the yield helps the grapes to reach optimum maturity, and also helps to increase the life expectancy of the vine plants in the long term.

Organic vine tending in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We’ll be able to see the result of this spring work in September when we reach harvest time.

After this full morning, we returned to the winery for the aperitif and lunch, served with some of the winery’s wines.  A Santenay Saint Jean white wine to start with, followed by a red Burgundy, Santenay Clos des Cornières, and Santenay La Comme Premier Cru.  We compared the wines and enjoyed the fine Burgundy dishes.

In the afternoon, we visited the fermentation hall and cellar for a little insight into the wine-making side of things, something that we will learn more about during the Vinification Experience Days.

We hope that everyone had a good time, and we look forward to welcoming another group soon to Santenay!

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The biodiversity is under threat in the very near short term


That is the conclusion of the summary of the global assessment of nature published on the 6th May 2019 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent organisation made up from over 130 member states.  More than a million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction within decades according to their report made after three years of research in more than 50 countries.  However the report also presents the solutions available to avoid such a catastrophe.

 

What are the principal conclusions of the report?


The first and most important is that humans are directly responsible for the decline in nature, with an average of around 25% of animals and plant being threatened.  The rate of destruction is alarming, and is tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years.  

Among the main causes of the extinction of the species are the changing uses of the sea and land (e.g. deforestation), the exploitation of certain species (e.g. overfishing), climatic change, pollution, and invasive species introduced by man in unsuitable habitats which then threaten the natural biodiversity (e.g. ragweed).

Rare tulips in the vineyard at Chateau Coutet

 

How will we be affected in the short term?


The report warns that most of nature’s contribution will not be completely replaceable.  For example more than ¾ of the world’s crops rely on pollinisation by animals.  Foods such as fruit, vegetables, coffee and chocolate could quickly become in short supply if the animals that pollinate the plants become extinct.  And it’s not just food, many medicines rely on plants that are at risk of disappearing.  

Another worry is that the number of conflicts linked to natural resources is already very high, some 2500 happening at the moment.  This number will increase as the world population increases, putting even more pressure on the natural resources available.

Humans are directly responsible for the decline in nature

 

What can we do now?


The good news is that we can reverse the trend.  To do so we need change and positive actions on a local and global scale.  We can use more sustainable agricultural methods, and enforce quotas on resources used on a global scale, for example by ending subsidies for intensive farming, fishing, deforestation, or the mining of fossil fuels.

On a local level, we can all make an impact by the choices we make to move around, heat our homes, and feed ourselves.  For example reducing the amount of meat and fish that we eat and by choosing producers that respect biodiversity.

we need change and positive actions on a local and global scale

 

How are we concerned at Gourmet Odyssey?


Gourmet Odyssey only works with organically certified producers.  It’s a choice that we made when creating the company 10 years ago, convinced that we could also help support agriculture on a human scale which preserves the environment and biodiversity.  Our partner, Château Coutet is a good example, a family run winery which has preserved the biodiversity in its vineyards for more than 400 years, having never used chemical products in the vineyards at the winery.

When choosing presents for friends and family, or activities for corporate events, we can make our choice by limiting our impact on the environment and helping to support the producers who fight to preserve the living.

More information on the criteria used to select Gourmet Odyssey’s partners.

 

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The work of the winemaker in the cellar to make and age the wines


We spent an excellent week-end in Chinon for a Vinification Experience Day where we would learn about all of the work and skill that enables the winemaker to transform the grape juice collected at harvest time into wine, and then age it until it is ready for bottling.

An original experience gift for wine lovers.

After a welcome over coffee and croissants, Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner of Château de la Bonnelière, took us to the fermentation hall.  Here he explained how the grapes are received at harvest time and put into the vats.  At Château de la Bonnelière, the grapes from each vineyard are kept separate for the most part to make a range of wines that express the different terroir.

Learn how to make organic wine in the Loire Valley

We discussed how the grape juice ferments to produce wine, and how Marc monitors and controls the process to try and produce the best quality wines.

Marc then took us to the hall next door where we saw the bottling and labelling machine that is used at the end of the process, once the wines are finally ready.

The wine bottling and label machine

The Vinification Experience Day is a fascinating day when we get the chance to taste wines that are still in the ageing process.  To help prepare us, we participated in a workshop to develop our wine tasting skills, which included a fun game to try and identify different aromas that can be found in wine.

Wine tasting course in the Loire Valley

We then headed outside to the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard that surrounds the château.  This is where our adopted vines are to be found, and so we took a few minutes to find them and take some photos!

Rent some organic vines in the Loire Valley

The wines at Château de la Bonnelière are aged in the cellar that is located directly underneath the Chinon Fortress in one of the galleries where the stone had been extracted to build the castle above.  So we transferred to the cellar, where a glass of the winery’s Perle Sauvage naturally sparkling white wine was awaiting us.

Wine tasting gift with the winemaker

We then sat down to a delicious lunch prepared by a local caterer and friend of Marc’s, during which we tasted the 2017 Silice Chinon white wine, and the 2018 La Roche, 2017 Clos de la Bonnelière and 2016 Chapelle Chinon red wines.

Lunch and wine tasting in Chinon with the winemaker

After lunch Marc explained the role of the barrels in ageing wine, and the perfect conditions that his cellar provides.  He also explained a brief history of the cellar, and how it was excavated, entirely by hand.

Learning the art of wine-making in the Loire Valley

We ended the day with a tasting of different wines to better understand the work of the winemaker in ageing and preparing the wines for bottling.  The first wine was the same La Roche 2018 wine that we had tasted over lunch, the only difference being that it had been drawn from a vat, and had not yet been prepared for bottling.  We could taste that it wasn’t quite as polished, and still had some residual gas in it that Marc will remove before it is bottled.

We then tasted a second wine that was richer and more complex.  The second wine was the 2018 Clos de la Bonnelière, which is the wine that the 2018 vintage Gourmet Odyssey clients will receive next year.  The main difference between the first two wines was the way in which they are aged.  The former in stainless steel vats, and the second in oak barrels.

Wine cellar tour and tasting with the wine-maker

The third wine, the Chapelle, is aged in the same way as the Clos de la Bonnelière, but was darker in colour and more intense, the difference arising from the terroir where the grapes used for the Chapelle wine are grown.

The fourth and final wine was different again which a much more tannic structure.  This wine was the Vindoux Intégrale, a wine that Marc makes whereby the grapes are put directly into a large barrel at harvest time, the wine staying in the barrel throughout the fermentation and ageing phases.

All of the wines were made using the same grape varietal, Cabernet Franc, but it’s amazing the range of tastes and aromas that can be found depending on the different terroir or choices that the winemaker takes when making and ageing his wines.  A fascinating day and a great insight into the life of a winemaker.  Many thanks to Marc for sharing his passion with us.

Follow this link to find out more about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

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Making and ageing wines in Alsace


Today we had travelled from Switzerland, Belgium, around Paris, and from throughout the North-East France for a Vinification Experience Day, the last in the wine-making cycle, where we would learn the choices that the winemaker takes to produce the best balanced organic wines.

 

Meet an organic winemaker in Alsace, France

We enjoyed the welcome coffee in the sunshine of the courtyard, with the temperature being unusually warm for the season. So warm that it’s as worrying for the vines as for us, as Céline explained. 30 years ago the norm was to harvest around mid-October, but the last couple of years it has been more usual to harvest in the beginning of September, and this year even saw the harvest start at the end of August.  Céline reminded us that the 2018 vintage however had been exceptional, both in terms of quality and quantity.

Vine tending experience day in Alsace, France

The vines are developing earlier than usual this year because of the warm temperatures, as we could see when we visited our adopted vines. This is worrying because the pruning and attaching of the vines to the training wires isn’t yet finished everywhere, but the sap is already flowing through the branches and the first buds are just about to start bursting. The problem is that frost is still a distinct possibility in April, and new buds are particularly sensitive. If they freeze, the quantity of the 2019 harvest will be adversely impacted.

Adopt-an-organic-vine experience in Alsace, France

But for now, under the lovely blue skies, it’s time to enjoy and take a few souvenir photos with our adopted vines, and marvel at the valleyed Alsace landscape around us.

Aromas workshop in organic wines from Alsace, France

Back at the winery, we got down to the serious matter of the day with a little test of our ability to detect the aromas that can be found in Alsace white wines. There are first of all the primary aromas that hail from the grapes themselves, and the secondary aromas that are a result of the fermentation. Most of the aromas are fruity and floral. For example Riesling wines are often noted for their citrus fruit aromas such as lemon or grapefruit, whereas litchi or rose are found in Gewurztraminer wines, and Muscat wine smells of… Muscat grapes! Then come the tertiary aromas that are to be found after the wine has been aged in oak barrels or casks. Not all Alsace wines are aged in wood, but it’s a good occasion to talk about the different aromas that barrels can bring depending on the type of wood and way that they have been toasted.

Visiting the cellar at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace, France

We then visited the cellar where Stéphane explained the choices that he makes to vinify and age the wines to extract the maximum aromatic potential of each one. We picked up where we had left off at harvest time, and talked about the alcoholic and malo-lactic fermentations, how long they take (at this time, not all of the wines have finished fermenting), the strange gurgling sounds that emit from the vats as the carbon dioxide escapes from the must, racking the wines, transferring the wines to casks or stainless steel vats… The questions flow, and Stéphane replies with humour and passion.

Vinification and tasting experience day in Alsace, France

To better understand, we tasted the 2018 Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine that is still ageing in the oak cask.  There are still a few months ageing left to go and it’s fairly closed for the moment, but we can already get a good impression of the potential to come.

Tasting organic white and red wines from Alsace, France

We returned to the courtyard for an aperitif in the form of a blind tasting of the wines. Céline served three Riesling wines from three different terroir and vintages. A 2017 Riesling tradition, a 2013 Riesling Tanenbuehl, and a 2016 Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru. We had fun describing the aromas we could identify and the difference between the wines. We then tasted two Pinot Gris Rosenberg wines, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, from the 2010 and 2017 vintages. The difference was astonishing, so much so that the majority of us thought that they were two completely different types of wine.

With all of the work our taste buds were doing, we started to get a little hungry, which was just as well, as our local caterer had prepared an excellent choucroute, followed by regional cheeses and a Black Forest gateau.  During lunch we tasted the winery’s Who Am I white wine with the choucroute, an unfiltered Pinot Noir with the cheese, and the Ambre wine with pudding, another Pinot Noir, but made like a white wine (pressed, without any maceration) and which has a little residual sugar, making it slightly sweet and perfect with dessert.

Visit a winery and help the winemaker producing the wine in Alsace, France

After the gargantuan meal, we needed some exercise to help with the digestion!  So we returned to the cellar to find out what happens at the end of the wine-making cycle once the wine is ready for bottling.  Stéphane explained how the wine is bottled, and the conundrum of choosing corks that enable the wine to age well over time whilst being protected from oxidation.  We then had a go at labelling some bottles and packaging them into boxes.  We were proud to have labelled and packed 300 bottles in about 15 minutes.  It takes just two people at the winery to label and bottle 1200 bottles an hour.

The day drew to a close and we left thinking about how we will name our wine once it is ready, and of the good time that we had spent learning about the work that goes into making a good bottle of Pinot Gris!


Interested in participating in a Vinification Experience Day at one of Gourmet Odyssey’s partner wineries?  Learn more about the Wine Experience.

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Learning what goes on in the cellar to make wine in the Côtes du Rhône region


Wine-making can be summed up as the art of producing the best quality grapes from the terroir and climate for a given year, and then taking the necessary decisions and actions to transform the juice from those grapes into wine.  We spent last Saturday at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley for a Vinification Experience Day to learn all about the work in the cellar from harvest time through to when the wine is ready for bottling and labelling before being sent to customers and restaurants all over the world.

Renta a vine wine experience in the Rhone Valley, France

After the introductions, we sat down for a workshop to better understand the different senses that we call upon when wine tasting, especially the importance of our nose.  We had to identify different aromas that can be found in red and white wines, and we learnt the ones that are most typical for different grape varietals, and some of the aromas that can be attributed to ageing in oak barrels.

Wine tasting course with the winemaker

We then headed to the fermentation hall, where the wine-maker, Arnaud, described how the grapes had been received at harvest time and explained their different journeys into the vats depending on whether they were destined to make white or red wine.

The grapes for red wine are separated from their stalks, and then put whole into the vats.  Côtes du Rhône wines are generally a blend of at least two different grape varietals, the ratios varying depending on the different appellations.  The Massif d’Uchaux appellation selected for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience at Domaine de la Guicharde has to have at least 50% Grenache and can be blended with other regional grape varietals such as Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan or Cinsault.

There are two main schools of thought for blending.  You either blend as soon as possible after the harvest or you wait until the just before bottling.  Arnaud is a proponent of the former, and the grapes from different plots and grape varietals are selected and mixed together at harvest time or shortly afterwards.  This, he argues, gives a more harmonious wine because the wine has fermented and aged together for the whole of the wine-making process.

Make your own organic wine experience gift in France

The human aspect and skill of the wine-maker is important and as Arnaud reminded us, if left on its own, grape juice will naturally transform itself into vinegar!  Arnaud talked about how the grape juice is turned into wine during the fermentation process and showed us the analysis that is carried out for each vat to track measurements such as the sugar density, alcoholic volume, and temperature.  He also explained how the carbon dioxide that is released during fermentation, pushes the solid matter of pips and skin to the top of the vats.  The skins contain the pigment and tannins necessary to give the wine structure and colour, and so we learnt how the wine is drawn from the bottom of the vat and pumped back into the top to extract more of the tannins and colour.

The grapes made for making white wine are treated differently.  The whole bunches are put into the press, where the juice is separated from the skin and pips, placed into a vat, and left to settle.  Once the remaining solid particles have fallen to the bottom of the vat, the juice is drawn off and put into another vat to go through the fermentation phase.

Tasting wines that are still in the ageing process

Arnaud then drew off some of the wines from the vats, and we tasted them to better understand how they change during the ageing process.  It’s a really interesting experience as we don’t normally get the chance to taste unfinished wines.

Lunch and wine tasting at the winery with the winemaker in the Rhone Valley

After this full morning, it was time for lunch, so we headed to the courtyard and sat down to an excellent lunch of chicken terrine, 7 hour cooked lamb shank, cheese, and chocolate tart, which had been prepared for us by a local restaurant.  We tasted the range of white, red and rosé wines over lunch, including the Terroir du Miocène Côtes du Rhône Massif d’Uchaux Village red wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

Vineyard guided tour with the winemaker

Arnaud took us on a walk through the vineyards after lunch, describing the different soil types and showing us the remnants of a beach on the way.  At the top of the hill, we arrived at the vineyard where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  We took a few minutes to take some pictures with our vines, before making our way back to the winery.

Visiting the rented vines

We ended the day back in the chai, where Arnaud explained how the wine is prepared for bottling, and we then saw the labelling machine in action and learnt about the different regulations for labels depending on where the wine is to be sold.

Putting the labelling machine to work

Many thanks to Arnaud for a very informative day.  We’ll think a little bit differently the next bottle of wine we open!

Interested in participating in a Vinification Experience day in the Rhone Valley or giving an adopt-a-vine gift?  More information on the Wine Experience.

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Learning the art of pruning the vines


Last Sunday we were welcomed to Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay for a Wine Discovery Experience Day.  The aim of the day was to learn more about the work of the winemaker in the vineyard to cultivate the vines.

Jean-François Chapelle, the owner of the winery, recounted his family’s involvement at the winery over the generations, and introduced us to a brief history of winemaking in Burgundy and the organisational changes that happened throughout the 20th century.  We also talked about Jean-François’ philosophy of organic winemaking that he introduced to the winery in the early 2000s.

Learn about the vineyard in Burgundy with a vine adoption

We headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines and to take a few photos.  There are two plots for the Gourmet Odyssey adopt-a-vine experience at Domaine Chapelle.  The Clos des Cornières vineyard, planted with Pinot Noir used to make the red wine of the same name, and the adjacent Les Crais vineyard, planted with Chardonnay to make the Santenay Village white wine.

Simon, Jean-François’ son and successor, then started to talk about the different work that is carried out in the vineyard throughout the lifecycle from one harvest to another, with the aim of producing the optimum quality of grapes.

Gift box organic wine experience day in Burgundy

From the harvest through to December, little is done in the vineyard.  Sometimes a task known as pre-pruning can be carried out whereby the top half of the branches are cut away mechanically to make the pruning that follows easier and quicker.  The vineyard team starts to repair the trellis system where needed at this time too, a task that will be finished before spring sets in and the vines start to grow again.

Starting in December, each vine is pruned manually using one of two techniques:
- The Cordon de Royat method leaves four to five short spurs, each with two eyes on them, on the old wood that grows along the training wire.  Fruit-bearing branches will grow from each of these spurs.
- The Guyot method is a little different and more productive.  Just one branch is selected and cut to about 50-60 cm, or 5 to 6 eyes.  A spur is also left which will form the long branch to be used next year.  The long branch is then attached to the bottom training wire.

Organic vine adoption in Santenay, Burgundy, France

The Guyot method is reserved for chardonnay vines in Burgundy, as it is a vine that can support producing a little more.  The pinot noir vines are pruned using the Cordon de Royat method.  Once all of the vines have been pruned, a team passes through the vineyard again to pull the cut wood away from the vines and trellis system, burning the cut branches or crushing them to return nutrients to the soil.

It takes roughly four months to prune all of the vines which cover the 18 hectares of vineyards at Domaine Chapelle.

From around mid-April and depending on the temperature, the buds will start to burst.  Spring is an important period of growth, and many manual tasks are necessary to help nurture the vines through the cycle. De-budding, removing the leaves, raising the training wires…  All of this to help the grapes reach their optimum, and to do so means hiring a small group of 10 seasonal workers to give a helping hand to the permanent team.

During the summer period the vines will be treated using the copper sulphate treatment that is authorised in organic winemaking.  The frequency of treatments depends on how often it rains, but on average it’s every 15 days or so until one month before the harvest.

Sometime in September, depending on the maturity of the grapes, the harvest will start and the yearly cycle will come to a close once more.

Organic Burgundy wine tasting

After this very informative morning, we headed back to the winery for the aperitif, the excellent Santenay Saint Jean white from the winery.
Lunch was a typical Burgundy affair.  A fish terrine, boeuf bourguignon, regional cheeses and a chocolate, pear and blackcurrant desert. We tasted three different reds, the red Burgundy, a 2015 Santenay Clos des Cornières, and a 2011 Santenay Comme Premier Cru.

We finished this enlightening day with a visit of the cellar.

Gift box vinae adoption and cellar visit in Burgundy

The next bottle of wine that we open will be appreciated in a different light and we look forward to coming back for the harvest when the grapes have grown and become ripe!

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Understanding the wine-making process in Burgundy


We met up at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy last weekend for a Vinification Experience Day to learn about what happens to transform the grapes into wine and the subsequent ageing process of the wines in oak barrels.

After a welcome coffee and brief introduction to the day and the idea behind the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, Jean-François and Simon Chapelle recounted the history of their family and explained the structure of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

Meet an organic winemaker in Santenay, Burgundy

They told us how the vineyards had been organised, and the transition of the commercialisation of wine from merchants to the winemakers who took the step to bottle and sell their own wines.

The wines from Domaine Chapelle are organically certified, and Jean-François talked to us about his reasons for embracing organic winemaking and the challenges that it entails.

We then embarked on two different workshops:

One of the workshops taught us how to taste wines and put our noses to the test.  We tried to name the different fruity and floral aromas and the tertiary aromas that are brought through ageing in oak barrels.  It’s a much more difficult task than you at first think.  We also tasted four different solutions that were acidic, sweet, salty and bitter to explain the importance of balance in a wine.

Wine aromas workshop at the winery in Burgundy, France

We then made our way into the fermentation hall and admired the different sections that had been created by the successive generations of the family from Jean-François’ grandfather, his father and then the work that he carried out to extend the hall and re-organise the way that the grapes are worked during harvest time.  We learnt about the vinification process before heading down into the vaulted cellar below, where the wines are aged in oak barrels.

The wines are put into the barrels once the alcoholic fermentation has finished, and stay there for 9 to 12 months depending on how they evolve.

Cellar visit gift box in Burgundy, France

The choice of barrel is very important and varies from winery to winery depending on the taste and objectives of each winemaker.  Various factors come into play such as where the oak comes from, how the inside of the barrel was toasted, and the age of the barrel.  The skill of the winemaker is to choose a mix of different barrels that enable a harmonious wine to be produced.

To illustrate the impact of barrels, we compared the same wine that was in the process of ageing in different types of barrel, and marvelled at the big differences aromatically and taste-wise.

Once the ageing period is over, all of the various lots of wine from the same plots will be blended together to prepare the wines for bottling.

The bottles will then be labelled at a later date depending on the regulations of the country that they will be sold in.

After a busy morning absorbing lots of new knowledge, we enjoyed the aperitif in the vinification hall.  To quench our thirst, a Santenay Saint Jean white wine with gougères, a local cheese shoe pastry speciality. 

Wine gift idea: wine tasting and winemaer's lunch in Burgundy

For lunch we continued the regional theme with some parsley ham, Gaston Gérard chicken, Burgundy cheeses and a three chocolate dessert, accompanied by some of the winery’s red wines, including the Clos des Cornières red chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

It was difficult to get going again after lunch!  But the walk in the vineyard was good for the digestion!  We went to the Clos des Cornières vineyard and visited our adopted vines.

Organic vines adoption and day at the winery in Burgundy, France

Simon explained the different plots within the vineyard.  Originally, there were three distinct zones.  The oldest one saw the vines removed last spring, and is currently lying fallow until 2021. The two remaining plots were planted in the 70s and 90s.

Vine tending workshop in Burgundy, France

We then returned to the cellar for a final wine tasting session of the 2018 Clos des Cornières vintage that is still in the ageing process.  We tasted wines from the two different plots to better understand the impact that the age of the vines has on the characteristics of the wine.

It was then time for this day, rich in information and tasting, to draw to a close.  We left with a few bottles that we’ll appreciate differently now that we know a little more about what goes on to make wine, and having met the people responsible for making it!

We hope that everyone had a good time, and we look forward to welcoming you again soon!

 

Learn how you can adopt some chardonnay or pinot noir vines at Domaine Chapelle and participate in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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Learning to prune vines in Saint-Emilion


A new year starts and so the work in the vineyard for the new vintage gets underway.  We met up at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion to learn more about the work of the winemaker in the vineyard during a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience day.

Original wine present for wine lovers.  Adopt a vine and participate in making your own wine

We made our introductions over a coffee and croissant.  Mark, Gourmet Odyssey’s founder, and Benoît explained the programme in store and presented the winery that we would roam through during the day.

The passion of the winemaker, Adrien, was plain to see from the outset as he recounted the long history of his family that have cultivated the vineyards organically ever since their arrival at Château Coutet several hundred years ago.

We made our way through the vines up to the limestone plateau, the terroir that is home to all of the greatest wines from this legendary appellation.  On the way, Adrien showed us the three types of soil that the winery’s vineyards cover.

The weather has been glorious since the beginning of February in the Bordeaux region, the temperatures rising to 20°c at times.  We can feel spring itching to get started, and the flight of cranes coming back from Africa can once again be seen in the sky.  These are signs that the winemaker must hurry to finish pruning the vines before the buds start to burst and the vegetative cycle begins again.

Vine pruning gift experience in a French organic vineyard

Pruning is the starting point of what we will find a few years later in our glasses, and particular care needs to be taken during this crucial phase.  The choice of which branches we keep will determine the amount of grapes that are produced this year, and you also have to carefully choose the branches to make spurs that will prepare the pruning for next year.  We quickly learnt that pruning isn’t as easy as it would at first appear!

Once the vines have been pruned, the cut branches need to be removed.  This is a task that is much more physical and enabled everyone to warm up, as the sun was being a little shy in the morning.  The tendrils in the plot of Cabernet Franc were particularly tough, and we had to use all our strength sometimes to prise them away from the training wires and leave the vineyard tidy for this years’ growth.

Vineyard Experience Gift in Saint-Emilion

We placed the branches that we had pulled away from the vines in the middle of every other row.  They will then be crushed to return nutrients to the soil.

Our adopted vines are located in the Peycocut vineyard, surrounded by the Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé vineyards.  The view is magnificent in this picture postcard landscape, and the photos that we each took in front of our adopted vines will be a nice reminder of our day.

Rent a vine gift.  Visit the winery, meet the winemaker and make your own personalised bottles of wine

Some of the vineyard plots at the winery are worked by horse to produce the grapes that are used to make a very special wine at Château Coutet.  As Adrien talked about this wine, everyone listened attentively and the taste buds started to salivate in anticipation of tasting it.

The sun finally broke through, and so we enjoyed our first wine tasting on the lawn in front of the château.  A nice fresh Claret de Coutet rosé wine to set us up for lunch.

Oragnic wine tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

We started the meal with a foie gras starter, accompanied by the Belles Cimes 2015 wine, which is the winery’s lighter second wine, produced from the younger vines.  We then climbed the grades with the 2014 vintage and the excellent 2015 vintage of the Château Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, which paired very well with the duck.  With cheese, we rejoiced with the 2014 Demoiselles wine which hails from the limestone vineyard on the plateau that is worked by horse.  The extremely delicate and velvety tannins swirled around our mouths as we gave our taste buds to a real treat!

After lunch, we returned to the vineyard to learn about the different steps that will be taken to nurture the vines between now and the harvest.  We also took the time to discuss what is involved in working organically, and the problems that that causes in a region such as Bordeaux where the relatively wet climate is heavily influenced by its proximity to the Atlantic ocean.

Cellar tour and visit in Saint-Emilion with the winemaker

We ended the day with a visit of the fermentation hall, barrel room, and family cellar, to gain an insight into the work that is in store for us once the grapes are harvested at the end of the summer.

Many thanks to Adrien for this great day.  We look forward to coming back soon.

 

Discover the range of wine-making courses organised by Gourmet Odyssey.

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Gold medal at the 2019 Challenge Millésime Bio organic wine competition


Millésime Bio, the internationally acclaimed organic wine fair for trade professionals took place this year at the Parc des Expositions in Montpelier. A few days before, the Challenge Millésime Bio wine competition winners were announced to reward the world’s best organic wines.

 

Millesime Bio Medals in 2019

 

In 2019, Challenge Millésime Bio received more than 1400 wines entered into the competition.  It was the presided over by Philippe Faure Brac, the World’s Best Sommelier in 1992 and President of the Union de la Sommellerie Française.

Challenge Millesime Bio 2019 Competition

The wine tastings saw 183 wines win a gold medal, among them the 2016 vintage of Santenay Beaurepaire Premier Cru red wine, from our adopt-a-vine partner winery in Burgundy, Domaine Chapelle.

Wine adoption experience in Burgundy with Domaine Chapelle

Domaine Chapelle spearheaded the development of organic wine in Santenay, and has been a regular winner at this prestigious wine competition over the years. Congratulations once again to all the team.

 

2018 Medal winners

2017 Medal winners

Learn more about adopting vines in Burgundy with Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

 

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Top 10 Saint Valentine’s Gift Experiences


For St Valentine’s Day this year, why not give an experience to ensure that you get to share a great moment that you will both cherish for a long time to come?  Here are a few original St Valentine’s gift ideas to give and to live!

For lovers of all things gourmet

Rather than giving a box of chocolates, it’s possible to make your own chocolates, perfectly suited to your own taste. For those that love the heat of the action, join the kitchen staff for a night in a top restaurant in France and book a backstage cooking course.

Original St Valentine's gift experience to share.  Adopt your own organic vines in France

If you’re starting to think of your future together as a couple, adopt your own vines and get involved in making your own personalised bottles of organic wine in an award-winning winery in France. And for those who love a nice cup of tea, create your own tea blend with an expert mixologist!

For nature lovers

Nothing better than a nice walk to spend some quality time together, so set off for a night-time walk and let yourselves be led by the moon and stars, or venture to Norway and marvel at the magic of the Northern Lights.

Top St Valentine's gift ideas.  Fall for the charm of the Northern Lights

For city lovers

Head off for a romantic weekend city break in Europe, soak up the culture, take the time to watch the world go by, and immerse yourself in the local culinary scene.

For thrill-seekers

Take the controls and fly a Boeing 737 simulator and your loved one to your chosen destination!  Or for those who like the feeling of a bit more wind in your hair, there’s always a tandem skydive!

For the more chilled

Pamper yourselves with a spa weekend or couples massage to relax and unwind.  Or you could make your own perfume together, and create your own special fragrance.

Whatever gift you choose this St Valentine’s make sure that it gives you some quality time together and creates some unforgettable memories for you to cherish!  Happy Saint Valentine’s!

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Last minute Christmas presents for wine fans


Just a few days left for your Christmas gifts! If you haven’t yet finished your Christmas shopping and you’re looking for an original wine related Christmas gift idea, here’s some good news. The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gifts can be ordered right up until the last minute

The welcome packs will arrive in time for Christmas if they are ordered before 12:30 on the 21st December for France.  For the rest of Europe, the deadline is 12:30 on the 19th December.

And for the really last minute Christmas gifts, we can send an email containing the vine adoption certificate for orders received up until 17:30 on the 24th December.

Last minute Christmas wine gift.
The welcome gift packs to put under the Christmas tree contain a wine cooling bag, a DropStop, re-usable glass wine stopper, a personalised vine adoption certificate, and an activation code to access the customer portal and begin the wine adventure.

More information on the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience
More information on the Christmas delivery deadlines

 

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Wine Tasting. How to choose the perfect wine glass


Wine lovers are often faced with a dilemma when it comes to choosing the best wine glasses for bringing the best out of their wines. Ideally the perfect glass could be used for all types of wine. But unfortunately, it doesn’t exist! That’s why the crystal and glassware manufacturers have such wide ranges! Even if the universal glass can’t be found, we can still choose a glass that allows the aromas of the majority of wines to best express themselves. Here are a few factors to take into account.

The diversity of wine glasses

When looking around a wine accessory or wine glass shop, the first observation is usually that the choice is very or even too vast!  The glassmakers produce different styles of glass that are each best suited to a different style of wine, whether it be from France or another wine-producing country.

Some have ranges that cover different grape varietals, because a pinot gris from Alsace, for example, doesn’t have the same aromatic characteristics as a marsanne from the Côtes du Rhône.  But these glasses don’t cover the depth of the different wines, notably those that are blended as is the case in Bordeaux, the Côtes du Rhône or the Languedoc-Roussillon.

Adopt-avine and tasting experience in Burgundy

To bridge this gap you can find glasses that are best suited to a particular region such as Burgundy or the Médoc. But you can imagine the number of different shaped glasses that exist, just for the different wine growing regions in France, let alone the rest of the world!

Wine tasting gift box experience in France

You can then even find glasses that claim to be better for Premier or Grand Cru wines, or for differing ages of wines.  So perhaps the perfect glass does exist for a particular wine, but you’d have to have a very wide collection if you like different styles of wine.

And what if you don’t have the space in your wine glass cupboard?

So how to choose the glass that is best adapted to the majority of wine that you will serve?  The glass plays an essential role when tasting wines in diffusing the aromas.  Aromas are made up of molecules that are more or less volatile, that are released into the air, travelling from the glass to the nose.  The more that the glass allows the aromas to evaporate, the more you will smell them, that is unless they are diffused too widely before reaching the nose.

You therefore need to have a glass where the diameter of the base is wide enough to allow evaporation to take place, but with an opening that is a little smaller than the base.  This will help channel the aromas in the direction of your nose. Tulip shaped glasses are good for this.

Rent-a-vine experience in Frnce in an organic winery

Of course, not all aromas have the same volatility, so depending on the type of wine being served, you might want to help some aromas become more volatile by oxygenating the wine and using a glass with a wide base and large opening.  For others that are more delicate of already fairly volatile, you might want to have a narrower base and an even smaller opening, or else you risk not detecting any aromas at all with the nose.  By testing different ratios between the diameter of the base and the opening, you should be able to find an acceptable compromise for most of the wines that you serve.

By concentrating on the two or three styles of wine that you serve the most frequently, you can define the types of aroma that they most often contain: heavy aromas such as wood and spices, or lighter aromas such as fruit and flowers, and the need for oxygenating the wine, and so the shape of the glass best suited.

Then you just need to choose the maker and the price range before opening the next bottle, and savouring the taste... in moderation of course!

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End of year wine competitons and gifts


This month we had the pleasure of organising two events to win some gifts to put underneath the Christmas tree or to share a good time with friends and family.

This month we had the pleasure of organising two events to win some gifts to put underneath the Christmas tree or to share a good time with friends and family.

Our annual My Vine competition rewards the winners of the most original photo and the one that received the most votes on our Facebook page.  The photos were taken during the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Days at our different organic wineries and submitted by the adoptive vine owners.

This year the prizes went to Philippe and Coraline.  A magnum of wine from the winery where their adopted vines are located is on its way to each of them!

Day at the winery for making ones own organic wine

 

Christmas wine gift box for making your organic wine

And at the ViniBio organic wine fair we organised a prize draw to win some adopted vines at Château Coutet, our partner winery in Saint-Emilion.  The visitors to the stand had to try to identify the aroma contained in a small bottle.

Congratulations to Maxence who correctly identified strawberry, and who will be able to come and pamper his vines at the winery during the 2019 vintage!

And talking of gifts, it’s not too late to spoil someone special with an adopt-a-vine gift this Christmas  ! Click here to learn more about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and the Christmas gift delivery date limits.

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What to get the person that has everything ?

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

From € 159

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