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Archive from December 2010

Vinification Experience Day at Château Beau Rivage

Last weekend, we had the pleasure of sharing it with our clients for the Vinification Experience Day at Château Beau Rivage, our Bordelaise partner based in Macau-en-Médoc. This third experience day closes the series for the 2010 Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience at the Château (see previous posts for the Harvest Experience Day and the Wine Discovery Experience Day).

Gourmet Odyssey Winemkaing Experience Day Bordeaux

The aim this time was to learn more about the technical side of making wine, particularly the ageing and blending of the wine.

As with each wine experience day, it started directly in the vineyard, giving everyone the chance to see what shape their adopted vines are in.  At this stage of the year, the pruning has already begun to prepare the vines for the 2011 harvest.

Pruning the Vines at Château Beau Rivage

Christine Nadalié, the owner and winemaker, and Christophe Issartier who assists her, explained how to prune the vines and the importance of doing so to control the growth of the plant.

Clearing the branches from the pruned vines

The main idea of the wine experience days is to get involved, so we helped Christine and Christophe "tirer les bois" which involved pulling the cut vine branches from the training wires.  We set some aside to be dried, for use during the harvesters? barbecues next year, and left some in the middle of the rows to be crushed, enabling some of the nutrients to be returned to the soil.

The temperature being just above freezing in the vineyard, we were very happy to return to the relative warmth of the château to begin the main part of the day.

Identifiying aromas in wine tasting

In preparation of the wine tasting sessions to follow, we started with a little exercise.  With the help of small jars containing the aromas found in red wine and wood, we tried to identify the different smells, something which is more difficult than it seems!  Often we know that we recognise the aroma, but find it more difficult to put a name to it (one in particular caused a big debate - smelly feet, leather, or burnt toast??)!

Winetasting to identify influence of oak barrels

At Château Beau Rivage, each grape variety is aged separately in French or American oak barrels.  Our first tasting session enabled us to discover the difference that each type of oak plays in influencing the taste of the wine.  Two merlots from exactly the same plot, but aged in different types of oak barrels have completely different structures!

Wine tasting of the different grape varietals

Next up, we blind tasted 4 of the grape varieties grown at Château Beau Rivage - merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot from the 2010 harvest, and tried to identify the characteristics of each one.  We learnt for example that the cabernet sauvignon gives length to the wine, and that the merlot brings a fruity first impact, but little length.

These tastings brought on the appetite, so we shared a good meal accompanied by a selection of the estate's wines in front of the vines that were burning in the large fireplace.

Visit to the chai and cellar

After a visit of the fermentation hall and the cellar to see where the vinification and ageing takes place, Christine unveiled her recipe for blending the Château Beau Rivage wine by mixing in front of us the different grape varietals in the measuring tubes.

Caluclating the blend

The professional's demonstration over, it was now our turn to split into small groups and blend our own wine, according to our tastes and the outcome that we desired to achieve.  As is often the case with the magic of winemaking, there were a few surprises, as the taste changes depending on the grape varieties and percentages that are blended.

Blending our own Bordeaux Wine

We finished by tasting each of the blends we had created, each with there own characteristics - some ready for drinking quickly, others better suited for laying down.  One constant of the day was that it enabled us all to share a great moment, and to learn a little bit more about the art and science of winemaking.

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What is biodynamic wine?

In our blog post of 15th June "What makes French Organic Wine Organic?", we talked about what the label "organic wine" actually means.  Whilst organic wines are becoming more and more popular, there is also another environmentally responsible way of producing wine that is much less well understood, but is gaining momentum - biodynamic wine.

Biodynamic Wine Treatment Using Cow Horns and Manure

Biodynamic wine making shares the same root principles as organic wine, eliminating the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, and then goes much further.  The guiding philosophy of biodynamic agriculture is to respect the harmony between the earth, plants, and animals, and the natural energy from the cosmos. 

The practice of biodynamic farming dates back to 1924, after a group of farmers had voiced their concerns about the deterioration of the quality of their seeds and produce to Rudlof Steiner, an Austrian philosopher.  Steiner believed that an over-used and poor quality soil can't re-establish itself on its own.  It is therefore necessary to give life back to the soil using natural treatments using medicinal plants, or animal matter such as cow manure.  Administered following the lunar calendar, these treatments improve the wellbeing of the soil and plants, and help to produce more healthy food. Biodynamic agriculture has continued to grow in popularity, and now has many practioners in a wide variety of sectors.

Sounds pretty farfetched to many, but there are many followers and indeed initial doubters who have noted that it significantly improves the quality of the wine.  One of Gourmet Odyssey's partners confided to us that intellectually he finds it difficult to believe that the state of the moon and the herbal treatments have such a direct impact on the health of the vines, but what he has actually witnessed from biodynamic winemaker friends is that their vines are indeed healthier, resulting in better quality wines since their biodynamic conversion.

  Biodynmic Wine Certified by the Demeter Label

Biodyvin Biodynamic Label


In France, two labels exist to certify and show that the products have been produced biodynamically: Demeter and Biodyvin (specialised in biodynamic wine. French language only link).

Another of Gourmet Odyssey's partners, Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, started producing biodynamic Chablis wine in 1999 from their Domaine de la Boissonneuse vineyard.  In 2005 the estate received biodynamic certification by Demeter.  Clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience who adopt vines at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard not only learn all about winemaking, but also about the biodynamic methods used.

Follow this link if you would like to find out more about biodynamic winemaking.

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