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Archive from February 2012

Pruning the Vines

In theory, pruning vines is relatively easy. You just need to cut off some of the old branches to control the yield of grapes, thereby  increasing the level of sugar in the fruit which will then in turn produce a better quality of wine. But if you're new to pruning, and you find yourself in front of a vine, secateurs in hand, it's not always quite so simple. If only the vines would each grow the same way!

Discovery Experience Day at Chinon Château de la Bonnelière


Last Sunday, we were at Château de la Bonnelière in Chinon for a Discovery Experience Day with clients of the 2012 vintage of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience. The aim of these hands-on wine courses is to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in to discover what it's like to be a winemaker.  During this time of year, we are towards the end of the pruning season, so all booted up and secateurs in hand, we headed out into the vineyard.

Before starting the real work, we took a few minutes for each client to get acquainted with their adopted vines! 

Adopted Vines Gourmet Odyssey

Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker at the winery, then showed us how to prune.
Pruning the vines

The only real way to learn though is to have a go yourself, so we spread out among the vines to get down to some pruning. Not as simple as Marc made it out to be because you have to think not only of this year's harvest, but of the following year too!

The pruning

Marc then explained all of the other tasks that will be carrieid out in the vineyard between now and the harvest. The vineyard is organically certified, so we learnt about the organic and biodynamic treatments used to protect the vines.

Having spent the entire morning outside, the aperitif was well earnt. We started the wine tasting session with the Touraine Sauvignon blanc 2011, followed by the Chinon Rosé "Rive Gauche" 2011, and a Chinon "Rive Gauche" 2010 red wine. During the meal, we continued the tasting with the Chinon "Château de la Bonnelière" 2010, which is the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, and the Chinon "Chapelle" 2009 and 2008.

We headed over to the chai in the afternoon for an introduction into the winemaking side of things. It's in this building that the grapes will be received at harvest time.

Visite of the fermentation hall

To finish the day, we visited the impressive cellar which is underneath the Château de Chinon. It's within these cool galleries that the wine is aged in oak barrels and where the bottles are laid down.
Visit of the cellar

A big thank you to Marc for letting us catch a glimpse of the life of a winemaker, and for shared his passion for his profession.  

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Vinification Experience Day in Chinon

Last Saturday we were at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley to learn more about the vinification, ageing and blending aspects of winemaking during one of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Days. 

Vinification Experience Day in Chinon Château de la Bonnelière


With Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker at the estate, by our sides we started the day in the chai. Here Marc showed us how the grapes are put into the vats at harvest time, and he then explained the fermentation process that has been happening since the last time we were here in late September.

Fermentation Hall

We then headed into the depths of the winery's cellars which are located underneath the Château de Chinon in the galleries left behind when the stone was extracted to build the fortress. It's in these ideal and calm conditions where the temperature stays a constant 12°C all year long that the wine barrels are laid down to age, and the wine that has been bottled is stocked.


The cellar

Back at Château de la Bonnelière, it was time to put our tasting skills to the test. The first challenge was to use our noses to identify the different smells to be found in wine. We had split the test into two parts to identify the aromas that come from the fruit and the terroir, and the second series to detect those that are caused by oak barrels. 


Different aromas in the wine

Now that our noses and taste buds were warmed up, we got down to the serious business of tasting the 2011 wines that are still in the process of ageing. We followed the same process as Marc conducts with his oenologist to follow the evolution of his different wines. For those that had also participated in the Harvest Experience Day, it was an eagerly awaited moment to see what had become of the fruit of their labour!

We started by comparing wines from three different vineyard plots situated on sandy and gravelly soils. These are the wines that Marc blends to create his Chinon "Rive Gauche" red wine, and so we set about making our own blend using the measuring cylinders.


Blend to create our wine

Next up were three wines from the chalk limestone vineyards closer to the winery. The first had been ageing in a stainless steel tank, the second in an old oak barrel, and the third in a new oak barrel, which enabled us to compare the different impact of the terroir and wood on the wine.

Over a hearty stew shared around the kitchen table, we continued the tasting with some wines from 2010, 2009 and 2008.

After lunch we took in some fresh air in the vineyard so that we could see how our adopted vines were faring. Marc also showed us how to prune the vines, which is the task that is currently being undertaken in the vineyard.


Adopted Vines Château de la Bonnelière

We finished the day back at the chai to see the hall where the wine is bottled and the labels are applied. We have a few more months to wait though until our vintage will be ready for bottling, but we already have a much better idea of what it will be like, and that's worth the wait!

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First tasting of the 2011 vintage during the Vinification Experience Day at Domaine Chapelle

Last weekend we were at Domaine Chapelle in the pretty Burgundy village of Santenay for the first of the 2011 vintage Vinification Experience Days at the winery. This wine course enables our clients to discover all that happens in making and ageing their wine between the harvest and the moment when it will be bottled.

The Vinification Experience Day at Domaine Chapelle

We started in the winery building where the grapes are received during the harvest. Yannick, the Technical Director at Domaine Chapelle,  showed us how the grapes are put into the tanks, and then explained how the sugar is then transformed into alcohol during fermentation.

Visit of the fermentation hall 

Then down into the cellar we headed to learn all about the malo-lactic fermentation and how the wine is aged in oak barrels. The cellar is also the place where the bottles are stored once the wine has been bottled.

Visit of the cellar

Following the discussions and questions, it was time to return upstairs and start putting to work the senses that we use in wine tasting.  The first exercise was for the nose. We passed around small flasks containing aromas that can be found in red wine, starting with the fruity and floral smells. Our task was to try and name what each one was. We then repeated the exercise, but this time with the aromas that result from wine that has been aged in barrels to understand the impact that oak has.

Wine aromas

When we compare wines, it's also useful to talk about the difference in levels of acidity, sugar, bitterness and salt. We had created 4 water solutions to see not just the difference in taste, but also how they each feel on different parts of the tongue.

Wine tasting

But enough of exercises, it was time to get down to the real wine tasting! First, a comparison of two white wines, the Santenay and Meursault from Domaine Chapelle. During the traditional Burgundy meal, we compared different vintages of the Santenay Clos des Cornières, the red wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, and we also contrasted them to a Santenay Premier Cru Beaurepaire.

Wine tasting at Domaine Chapelle Vinification Experience Day

To keep the afternoon nap at bay, we braved the cold and took a tour in the vineyard so that each client could see their adopted vines and snap a photo or two! Yannick then explained the difference in the surrounding vineyard plots and the ages of the vines, and showed us how to prune the vines.

Meeting with the adopted vines Gourmet Odyssey

Back at the winery, the warmth from the log fire was most welcome! Two final exercises awaited us. The first was to compare three wines from the same Clos des Cornières vineyard, but from different ages of vines. We had seen in the vineyard the three distinct areas where the vines had been planted in the 60s, 70s and 90s, and it was really interesting to taste the differences. The wines that we tasted were the 2011s that are still ageing, and so were from the grapes that we had harvested back in September.

Wine tasting of the 2011 wines

The last wine tasting exercise also involved two 2011 wines from the Clos des Cornières, but each ageing in a barrels of differing wood.  The first was from an old French oak barrel, and the second from a new French oak barrel. 
So in summary, a day packed with information, but also with a very practical side to understand firsthand the choices that the winemaker faces, from the vines and terroir used, through the vinification methods selected and even down to the choice of barrels used.
Many thanks to Yannick and to everyone who came to share this fun and fascinating day.

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Tasting the 2010 and 2011 wines during the Vinfication Experience Day

The life of a winemaker can be tough at times, especially in winter when the weather is as freezing as it is at the moment!  And sometimes, even for the Gourmet Odyssey clients, you need to brave the elements, as we did last weekend in Bordeaux in sub zero temperatures and with 8cm of snow covering the vineyard on Sunday!  Fortunately, during the Vinification Experience Days, we spend most of the time inside, so we made ourselves at home around the roaring fire in the kitchen!

Snow covered Bordeaux vineyard

Wrapped up from head to toe, we started the day in the vineyard so that everyone could (re)visit their adopted vines.

At this time of the year, the principal activity in the vineyard is pruning.  Christine and David from Château Beau Rivage explained why pruning is so important and showed us how to do so.  When you see the number of vines to prune, and realise that each is pruned manually, you have a much better understanding of the huge and manually intensive task that it is for the winery.

Christine explains pruning the vines in Bordeaux during the Wine Experience day in Bordeaux

Next stop, the fermentation hall and barrel room where the wine is fermented and aged, to learn more about the vinification and wine making stages.

Learning about the fermentation process in the barrel room

We then headed to the warmth of the kitchen to delve into the heart of the day's topic with a wine tasting lesson and some exercises to put our sense of smell to work.  We passed around some small jars containing the main aromas to be found in red Bordeaux wines, and we had to identify which aroma each flask contained.  It's not as easy as it at first appears!

Training the nose to identify the aromas forund in wine

Our tasting senses awakened, it was then time to start the wine tasting.  First up, three different wines were chosen to better understand the effect that wood has on the wine.  Each wine was 100% merlot from 2010, but each had been aged separately in a different type of barrel.  The first had matured in an old French oak barrel, the second in new French oak, and the third in new American oak.  The result, three wines with completely different aromas, structure and taste.  The marked difference between the three is really quite astonishing!

We then continued the wine tasting during the meal with some of the winery's finished wines to compare different vintages and blends.
In the afternoon, we concentrated on the different grape varietals grown in the vineyard to better understand what characteristics each brings to a blended wine.  Chrsitine had prepared samples of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot from the 2011 harvest.  We tasted each one by one, and discussed their differences.


Wine tasting by grape varietal, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot
In small groups, we then mixed our own blends to learn how the different grape varietals and their percentages change the wine.
Blending our own wine

We finished the day by tasting the blend that Château Beau Rivage had presented at the Millésime Bio organic wine fair the week before.

It's impossible to learn everything in a day, and as Christine remarked, she studied oenology for 4 years, but we each left with a better appreciation of the choices that the winemaker faces to create very different wines depending on the grape varietals, percentages and barrels used.

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Vinification Experience Day in Chablis

We've just enjoyed our first Vinification Experience day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard. This day is the third and last in the series of wine courses organised for the clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience. The aim is to pick up from where we left off at the Harvest Experience day and learn about what happens to the wine between fermentation and bottling.

The vineyard

For some clients, it was their first visit to the winery, and for others the second or third time. To ensure that everyone had the same foundation of knowledge, we started with a brief overview of the Burgundy region, its terroir, wines and a more in depth introduction to the wines and terroir of Chablis.

We then headed off to the fermentation hall to learn about what's been happening in the winemaking process since the grapes were pressed during the harvest, from the settling of the solids in the wine, to the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation of the wines.

Fermentation Hall

We had a look at the fermentation tanks where our 2011 vintage is currently ageing.

Fermentation tanks

In the preparation hall, we followed the production line to see the machines that clean the bottles, bottle the wine, and then add the cork or screw top to the bottles. At the end of the line, we saw the machine that adds the labels to the bottles. It's impressive to see the technology and organization that the winery has put in place to work as efficiently as possible.

Wine labelling

Back at the winery, we delved into the heart of the matter with a wine tasting and oenology course. Without giving too much away for the next clients, we had prepared several tests to develop the senses used when tasting wines, mainly using the nose and mouth. The goal of the tests was to learn more about the differences in terroir, grape varietals, vinification methods and ageing of wines.

Practical wine course

After the meal of regional specialties, we took in some fresh air and visited the vineyard where the adopted vines are located. 

Meet the adopted vines

The last part of the day was reserved for tasting the two vats of the "La Boissonneuse" Chablis 2011, which is the wine chosen for our clients. The last time we had the chance to taste it was the day of the harvest when it was just grape juice. The wine from the two vats comes from two distinct parts of the Boissonneuse vineyard, and we were able to taste a difference in the terroir and also in the stage of the malolactic fermentation.

Wine tasting Chablis

Using measuring cylinders, we blended the two lots of wine to the same proportions that will be used just before bottling, and then we tried some other ratios to see the effect that it has on the blended wine.

Blending wine

So to sum up, a day with lots of information, but we hope with enough practical participation to make the world of wine more accessible and understandable. Many thanks to Céline and Pierre from Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard to have been by our sides on Saturday and Sunday, and to our clients for their humour and enthusiasm!

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Adopt a Vine in France and Follow the Making of Your Own Wine !

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