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Archive from April 2014

In the vineyard. De-budding and training the vines

With the arrival of Spring, the vines are emerging from their winter rest. In March we could see the tears of sap appearing on the tips of the pruned branches, and the first buds burst into life a few weeks later. These are all signs that the vines are starting their growth for the new season. And for the winemaker, it's the signal that a whole series of jobs will soon need to be done in the vineyard to ensure the best quality grapes come harvest time.
bud burst in the vineyard Burgundy France

The first of the tasks is the de-budding to remove all the excess buds and any unwanted shoots. De-budding generally takes place a few weeks after the bud burst. During pruning, a certain number of eyes are left on the branch, which represents the number of buds and branches that will form (see our post of pruning). However, sometimes more buds appear than were bargained for during pruning, which can increase the load on the vines and reduce the quality of the harvest. Studies have shown that de-budding improves the maturity of raisins at harvest time by increasing the sugar levels, and thus the potential alcoholic volume. De-budding is a purely manual task. There is no machine capable of removing the buds without harming the plant.

de-budding vines in Burgundy

We also remove the buds and shoots from the base and trunk of the vines. This is known as "epamprage" and can be done manually or mechanically using a tractor with rotating axels that brush the vines and remove the unwanted growth. Epamprage can also be conducted chemically with contact products or by using heat to burn the new shoots. Empamprage is often conducted at the same time as the soil is turned to remove grass and weeds.

training wires for vine Rhône Valley

The remaining shoots on the vines will then continue to grow, and from May to July comes the moment to raise the training wires in the vineyards. As the vines grow, the wires are raised and fixed to the posts, a task that usually requires several passes. We make sure that all of the branches grow between the two training wires so that the weight of the leaves and fruit are better supported. To help avoid the branches falling back down, the wires are clipped together. The branches are spaced apart to let the air better circulate and the sun to reach the leaves. This also helps the tractors to pass freely in the vineyard without damaging the vines and to improve the efficiency of any treatments.

At the same time as working on the vines, the winemaker also works the soil from April onwards to air the soil, let in more warmth, and to keep the growth of grass and weeds in check.

The next tasks for the winemaker in the vineyard will be to control the growth between the leaves, branches and fruit, jobs that we will explain in more detail soon.

More articles on the work in the vineyard :

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Blending wine in Bordeaux

We spent a sunny weekend in Bordeaux for the last of the 2013 vintage Vinification Experience Days at Château Beau Rivage. The aim of this wine course is to better understand the vinification, ageing and blending of wine. As we were to find out, the work of the winemaker is far from over once the grapes have entered the chai at harvest time!

To start talking about the fermentation and vinification stages, there is no better place than the chai, and it was here that Christine Nadalié, the winemaker at Château Beau Rivage, explained all about the alcoholic and malo-lactic fermentation.

Wine making : alcoholic and malo-lactic fermentation

Christine comes from a family of coopers and as she says, she fell into a barrel at a very young age! The barrel room at the winery is very impressive, and Christine talks with as much passion about her barrels as she does her wines. She explained the importance of the source of the oak used for the barrels and the different toasts that are used to influence the structure of the wine. With the stirring of the lees, topping up the angel's share, and racking the barrels, there's more than enough to keep the maitre de chai busy!

winery visit Bordeaux Château Beau Rivage

We then took a few minutes to venture into the vineyard and enjoy the sunshine. With a week to go before Easter, instead of hunting for the Easter eggs, we searched for the adopted vines!

vine adoption Bordeaux France

The Vinification Experience Day is the course where we taste the most wine. To better prepare us for the wine tastings, we organised a workshop to identify the aromas found in wine. When tasting wines, finding the words to describe our impressions is often the most difficult thing.

wine aromas tasting Bordeaux workshop

The first tasting was blind, and we had to find the difference between two wines. They were both however identical wines, the only difference being the type of barrel that they had been aged in. The comparison showed us the aromatic and difference in taste of a wine aged in French oak and a wine aged in American oak.

wine tasting at the winery in Bordeaux

At lunchtime, we dined in the 1902 restaurant, located at the family cooperage. During the meal we tasted wines from the range made by Christine.

Blending wines is a true art form, and we set aside the afternoon to better understand it. First of all, we tasted wines from four different grape varietals separately - merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot to appreciate the characteristics of each.

wine blending in Bordeaux France

We then made several blends to see how the wine changes when different combinations of grape varietals are used. Even a small change in percentage can have a big impact on the final wine. We gradually honed our blends to try and find the best wine.

Many thanks to Christine and Guillaume from Château Beau Rivage for sharing their passion for their profession with us, and to all of the participants for their enthusiasm. We now just have to wait patiently as we give the wine the time to age sufficiently before knowing the blend that Christine will choose for our cuvée!

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Pruning in Chablis

Last Saturday, we were in Chablis at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard for a Discovery Experience Day. The aim of the day was to learn more about the work carried out in the vineyard to have the best quality grapes possible at harvest time. So after the introductions, we headed out into the vineyard to start the day.
vine pruning Chablis Burgundy


We met up with Arnaud from the vineyard management team in the Boissonneuse vineyard, which was the first plot of vines to be converted to organic and biodynamic farming. Arnaud talked about the work that was conducted during the winter, and showed us how the vines are pruned and then attached horizontally to the training wire.

Pruning has finished throughout the estate, but Arnaud had left us a few small rows to prune. After a few demonstrations, it was our turn to have a go. Secateurs in hand, we quickly learnt that pruning is not as simple as you would have thought. Each vine requires thinking about and it seems that there are as many exceptions as there are vines!

vine pruning Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis

Arnaud also showed us how to "pluck" the remaining branch to better concentrate the vines energy in the fruit-bearing branches.

The special vineyard tractors were also out working in the same plot, and so we were also able to see how they are used to turn the soil in between the vine stocks and the rows.

Vineyard work Burgundy Chablis

The Boissonneuse vineyard is also the plot where the adopted vines of Gourmet Odyssey's clients are located, and so we took a few minutes to find our micro-plot of vines!

vine adoption Burgundy Chablis

Our taste buds were fully awake after all the morning's fresh air, and so back at the winery, we began to taste different wines from the range of Chablis wines that are produced on the estate. We continued the tasting during the meal, which was prepared by a local Chablis caterer.

The afternoon continued with a visit of the winery building for an introduction of the work carried out in the cellar, something that we will explore in more detail during the Vinification Experience Days.

Winery visit Chablis Domaine Brocard

Many thanks to Pierre and Arnaud for having shared their passion for the professions with us, and to all of the participants for their enthusiasm!

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Ageing wine in Burgundy

Last Saturday was an emotional day as the adoptive parents of the 2013 vintage visited their vines for the last time before making way for the 2014 vintage. We ran the last of the Vinification Experience Days and closed the 2013 vintage with a great day full of questions concerning the fermentation and ageing of Burgundy wines at Domaine Chapelle.

We were welcomed to the winery by its owner winemaker, Jean-François Chapelle, who recounted the history of the vineyard and surrounding area. It was also the opportunity to remind ourselves of some of the Burgundy geography basics!

Cellar tour Domaien Chapelle Burgundy

In the fermentation hall and cellar, Yannick, the Technical Director, explained how the grape juice is transformed into wine after the harvest and then aged until it is ready for bottling. He told us how the vinification process differs between red and white wines, and how the wine is aged in the oak barrels. We tasted the same 2013 wine, but aged in different types of barrel, one new, the other a few years old, to better understand the role each has on the taste and structure of wine.

Wine tasting 2013 vintage Burgundy

During this time another group, under the direction of Jean-François, participated in a workshop to help develop the senses of taste and smell when tasting Burgundy wines.

Wina aromas tasting Worshop Burgundy

We then started the wine tasting in earnest with a couple of white wines from the estate, accompanied with some gougères. We continued the tasting during the meal with some of the red wines.

Wine tasting at the estate in Burgundy

After the meal, we made the most of the sunshine, and headed into the Clos des Cornières vineyard to visit our adopted vines and take a few photos.

Vines adoption in Burgundy Domaine Chapelle

The Clos des Cornières contains three different ages of vines, and their grapes are picked and vinified separately before being blended to produce the wine that is chosen for the clients of Gourmet Odyssey. Back at the winery, we tasted the three different wines separately, as the 2013 vintage is still in the process of ageing, and has not yet been blended together.

We now have a several more months left to patiently wait and let the wine slowly age before being bottled. Another fascinating day spent at the winery - many thanks to all the team at Domaine Chapelle!

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2013 Vintage. Vinification and ageing of wine

At this time of year, the vines are nearing the end of their winter rest. The winemakers are finishing preparing the vineyards for the 2014 vintage, and are busy attending wine fairs to showcase their 2011 and 2012 wines. But what's happening in the cellar with the 2013 vintage?
harvest chai grapes Bordeaux


As soon as the grapes are harvested, they start the vinification process to extract the different compounds from the grapes and to optimise the quality of the wine produced. Once the grapes are brought to the chai from the vineyard, the grape must starts to ferment to transform the sugar into alcohol with the help of yeast. The juice then becomes wine. Often a second fermentation then takes place to turn the malic acid into lactic acid, making the wine rounder and softer. The wine then enters the ageing period in vats or oak barrels.

winery tank red wine Burgundy

The general principle seems fairly straightforward, but there are different processes according to grape varietal, colour and wine producing regions. And at each step, the winemaker takes decisions that are crucial in influencing the aroma and taste of the wine. These choices are personal and so there are as many different ways of vinifying and ageing wine as there are winemakers!

Without going into specific vinification details for rosé, sparkling or sweet wines, there are two principal details for vinifying white and red wines.

wine press white wine Alsace

First the white wines. Once the grapes have been picked and sorted, and have arrived in the chai, they are put into a wine press to extract the juice from the grapes. The time that the pulp and grape skins are in contact with each other is very short for white wine, explaining why the wine is lightly coloured. Next the juice is clarified by removing the solid particles present in the must, such as skin, pip or stalk particles. This is done by letting the particles settle or by centrifuge. The juice then ferments to become wine and enters the ageing phase which can be just a few weeks or a few years for wines that are made for keeping. Ageing can be in barrels or vats.

For the red wines, the process is slightly different. Once the grapes have been picked and sorted, they are put into a vat, either whole or having been separated from the stems. Sometimes the grapes are lightly crushed to set free some of the must. In the vat the grapes are left to macerate so that the juice can extract the tannins and colour from the skin and pips.

wine bottles cellar Burgundy

The alcoholic fermentation starts at the same time and generally lasts between one and three weeks. Once it has finished we draw off the liquid. The remaining solid matter is known as marc and is then pressed to extract the wine that has been soaked into it. This is known as press wine, and the winemaker can choose whether or not to blend it with the rest of the wine. The wine is then left to finish the fermentation, alcoholic and malo-lactic, before being aged in barrels or vats.

wine ageing in cellar Loire Valley

At each step of the way, the winemaker tastes the grapes and wines, analyses them, and then makes a multitude of decisions such as how strong to press, whether to de-stem the bunches, how long to let the wine macerate, how long to age the wine, whether to use vats or barrels... As many important choices as there are different wines!

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