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Archive from September 2014

A sunny 2014 harvest in Alsace

When it comes to harvest time, the weather counts more than ever, as the adopt-a-vine clients at Domaine Stentz-Buecher learnt last Saturday. We were reunited for the Harvest Experience Day of the 2014 vintage, and enjoyed a beautiful sunny day despite the more pessimistic forecasts of the preceding days.
Harvest wine course in Alsace


We started the day in the courtyard of the winery where Céline, the owner with her brother Stéphane, introduced us to the Alsace wine region and the 2014 harvest, as well as her journey in becoming a winemaker.

Chasselas grapes harvest in Alsace France

We then got booted up and headed off into the vineyard to join the team of harvesters that will work at the winery for the whole harvest period. Under the guidance of Stéphane and the more experienced harvesters, we set about picking, and filled a couple of trailers with nice ripe grapes. The harvest was helped this year by the good quality of the grapes, with very little unripe or damaged fruit. There was also a good yield on each vine.

Picking grapes during the harvest experience in Alsace

On the way back to the winery, we stopped at the vineyard plot where the Gourmet Odyssey vines are located. Here, we inspected the health and quality of our Pinot Gris vines, which are not yet quite ripe for harvesting. After a few photos and some words of encouragement for the vines, we returned to the winery to watch our harvest be put into the press.

Vines adoption in Alsace France

Stéphane explained why it was important to press the grapes quickly after been picked, and how to regulate the pressure to obtain the best possible press. He also answered numerous questions on how to measure the maturity of the grapes and how to decide when to harvest.

Wine course in Alsace explaining how to press the grapes


Whilst the grapes were slowly being pressed, we tasted some of the wines from the winery, accompanied by a savoury Kouglof, before sitting down to an alfresco lunch in the courtyard.

Wine tasting at Domaine Stentz-Buecher Alsace France

After lunch we went down into the cellar to see how our pressed juice was coming along. Stéphane explained the next steps to settle the wine and how the fermentation will transform the sugar into alcohol. He told us about all of the work to be done in the cellar during the harvest period, and showed us the barrel room, fermentation hall, and wine store.

Wine making courses about wine fermentation in Alsace France

Another rich and informative day, and as always in good cheer thanks to our involved and curious participants!

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A great harvest in Chablis

We spent a very enjoyable weekend for the harvest  in Chablis at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard. The nice weather of the past few weeks remained in place, and had helped provide nice ripe bunches of grapes, with a good balance between sugar and acidity. Perfect conditions for harvesting!


Adopt a vine in Burgundy


After the coffee and croissants, we headed out into the vineyard to join up with the team of harvesters. Micheline, the team leader, distributed the secateurs and buckets to each of us, so we were equipped with the material necessary to harvest. She explained which grapes to pick and which to leave behind. We then spread out among the rows to get down to work.


Unique wine gift in Burgundy France


In tandem with the pickers, the other important role in the vineyard during harvest time is that of the porters. We took it in turns to carry a basket on our back, and when the harvesters had filled their buckets, they then emptied them into the basket. The basket can hold more grapes than you would think, and quickly becomes rather heavy! To empty it, the porter carries his load to a waiting trailer, climbs a ladder, and then lets the grapes fall over his shoulder.


adopt a vine in France and get involved in the harvest


With such a great harvest, the buckets and baskets filled up quickly, and the morning passed by in a flash. Back at the winery, we had earned our aperitif. We tasted a Petit Chablis « Les Plantes » 2012, a Chablis « La Boissonneuse » 2011 and a Chablis 1er Cru « Les Vaudevey » 2011 before sitting down to lunch, where we continued the wine tasting.


Personalised wine gifts in France


After lunch, we made our way to the fermentation hall to see where the harvested grapes are weighed and put into the press. Here, Pierre and Julien explained how the grapes are pressed, put into the vats and how the juice is separated from the sediment.


Rent a vine gift in Chablis and participate in the harvest


We then walked to the Boissonneuse vineyard where the adopted vines are located and to take a few pictures.


Wine lover gift in Chablis


The day finished with a tasting of two different grape juices, to compare the juice before and after settling. The juice will soon start to ferment to turn the sugar into alcohol, but we'll have to wait until next year for one of the Vinification Experience Days before we next get the chance to taste the wine!

Many thanks to Pierre, Micheline and Julien for welcoming us, and to all the participants for the work during the harvest and their good humour throughout the day.

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The 2014 harvest gets under way in the Côte de Beaune

The sun was out for the Harvest Experience Days last weekend at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay. We were there for the first days of this year's harvest, and we got involved in each of the harvesting stages from picking the grapes to putting them in the vats.


Adopt a vine gift in France and follow the making of your own wine


The day started in the Clos des Cornières vineyard, the plot where the adopted vines of our apprentice winemakers are located. Before getting down to the serious business of the day, we took a few minutes to find our vines and mark the occasion with a few photos.


rent a vine in France. Wine experience gift


Jean-François Chapelle, the winemaker and owner of the winery, showed us how to harvest; which grapes to pick and which are better left behind due to rot or a lack of maturity. Armed with a pair of secateurs and a crate, we spread out, two people to each row, to start harvesting the grapes. The harvest is looking good, and the warm, sunny weather of the last couple of weeks has done the world of good to reduce the acidity and increase the sugar levels in the grapes.


Harvest Experience Day gift in Burgundy


Each pair picked to their own rhythm, and once the crate was full, they brought it back to end of the row to exchange it for a new one. Fortunately, the vines in the Clos de Cornières are more heavily laden than last year, so the crates quickly filled up!


Participate in the harvest in Burgundy, France


After the morning's work, we returned to the garden of the château for a well earned aperitif - a nice fresh Santenay Saint Jean white wine to refresh the palate!


Rent-a-vine and wine tasting gift in Santenay, Burgundy


We continued the wine tasting with some red wines from the estate over lunch, which was served in the harvester's refectory. We tasted a Santenay Clos des Cornières, Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières, before finishing with an Aloxe Corton. After lunch, we continued in the steps of the grapes. First stop, the harvest reception hall. Here, the crates of picked grapes are unloaded from the vans, and then emptied one by one onto the sorting table to remove any unwanted grapes that went unnoticed in the vineyard. Yannick, the winery's Technical Director, showed us how to do this important work.


Original gift for a wine lover. Harvest Experience present in France


At the end of the sorting table, the grape bunches pass through a de-stemming machine to separate the berries from the stalk. The grapes fall into a chute that carries them down into the fermentation hall where a trolley is waiting to transport them on the final leg of their journey up a conveyor belt and into the vat. Jean-François explained how the sugar in the grapes will ferment over the coming days to transform the grape juice into wine.


Get involved in the grape harvest in Burgundy


The day ended with a final tasting session to taste the grape juice that we had harvested from our vineyard. The next chance we will get to taste it will be during one of the Vinification Experience Days at the start of next year.


Learn how to be a winemaker with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience


Many thanks to Domaine Chapelle for letting us take a sneak peek behind the scenes during the busy harvest time, and to all of the participants for their good cheer and hard work!

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The harvest starts at Domaine la Cabotte

We had a lovely sunny day to start the harvest at Domaine la Cabotte last Saturday. Following an introduction to the winery and an update on the 2014 campaign so far, we made our way through the vineyard to harvest the Syrah plot of vines that will be used in the Garance wine, which is the chosen wine for the Gourmet Odyssey clients.


adopt a vine gift in the Cotes du Rhone, France


Once Eric and his wife Marie-Pierre, the owners of the winery, had explained to us how to pick the grapes, we spread out among the vine rows in pairs. This year, the harvest was made easier due to the excellent condition of the grapes, with practically nothing to sort or leave behind.


Grape picking gift in France


The buckets filled up quickly, and by the end of the morning we had filled two trailers. We followed our harvest to the chai to assist with the de-stemming, before the grapes were put into the vat. The berries are separated from the stalks and then, once in the vat, will start to slowly ferment. It was then time to refresh ourselves with a tasting of some of the estate's wines.


Wine Experience gift in the Cotes du Rhone to get involved in the harvest


After lunch, which was prepared by Marie-Pierre, we headed back out into the vineyard. We learnt how to taste the grapes to decide whether they are ready for picking or if they need more time to mature. It's all a matter of the colour of the skin, the taste in the mouth, and what the pips look like. It all seems very easy to Eric, but for the rest of us, the nuances are often very subtle!


Unique wine gifts in the Rhone Valley


Whilst tasting the grapes, we took sample bunches from a number of different vine plots of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah. We then mixed these together in the cellar to estimate the sugar levels and hence the potential volume of alcohol of the wine, if it were blended with these three grape varietals. It's quite a simple technique, but one that has to be repeated often and for each plot during the harvest time, to ensure the quality of the juice and of the wine that it will produce.


How to be a winemaker hands on gift in the Rhone valley


We finished the day by tasting the grape juice produced from the Viognier vine plot, which had started its fermentation two days beforehand. It was still very sweet, but had already started to fizz a little. After a few words on how the estate is managed organically and biodynamically, we had spent a very full and informative day.


Harvets Experience present in the Rhone valley


Many thanks to all the participants for their questions and enthusiasm, and of course for the snip of their secateurs!

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The 2014 harvest starts in the Languedoc

The first of the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Days for the 2014 vintage took place on the 6th September at Domaine Allegria, and we were blessed with a magnificent summer?s day. This year we decided to start a little earlier so as to avoid the strong midday sun.

Vineyard experience in Languedoc

At 8:30, we headed out into the vineyard where we grow our Cinsault grapes. Cinsault is one of the oldest grape varietals found in the Languedoc, and our small plot is 35 years old. We had a half hectare of vines for our apprentice harvesters to pick.

Rent a vine in Languedoc, unique wine gift

We started relatively early because the temperature soon climbed to 30°C. For the grapes, and for the harvesters, it's better to pick when the temperatures are as low as possible. If the grapes get too hot, we then have to cool them down before putting them into the vat. It's always best to manipulate the grapes as little as possible.

wine making experience in France

The grapes are in great shape this year, but it's a smaller yield due to the very dry winter and spring. Around 11:00, we finished the harvest, and headed to the Mazet vineyard where the Syrah vines are adopted by the Gourmet Odyssey clients.

Wine tasting gift in Languedoc

Delphine had prepared lunch for us, a local recipe of mussels cooked on a plancha, called brasoucade. After lunch and a tasting of some wine, we helped put the grapes into the vats. We emptied the crates into the de-stemming machine to remove the stalks, and then we pumped the whole berries into the top of a vat.

At Domaine Allegria, we don't add any sulphur at this stage, the wines are vinified without adding any, and it is only when it comes to bottling that we add some. And finally we ended by cleaning all of the material.

It's what takes us the most time during the harvest. To make one litre of wine, it takes three litres of water to keep all of the material clean!

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Last preparations for the 2014 harvest

The harvest marks the end of a long year's work for the winemaker and is a crucial time for making decisions that will influence the quality and taste of the future wine. You've therefore got to be prepared, and with just a few days to go before the start of the harvest at some of our partner wineries, here are a few of the things that are keeping the winemakers busy!
The grapes are maturing in the Rhone Valley


Come July and August, the winemaker has usually finished the bulk of the work in the vineyard, and it is one of the rare times when a few well earned days holiday can be taken. During this time the grapes slowly mature, without the need for human intervention. The winemaker has always one eye to the sky though, hoping that the weather remains good until the harvest has finished! With the mixed summer that we've had in France this year, it hasn't always been the case, and some additional treatments have been necessary because of the rain, notably in Bordeaux and Burgundy.

The wineries are a hive of activity at the moment to get ready for the harvest. The teams of harvesters need to be recruited for the vineyards that will be manually harvested and the harvesting machines reserved for the others. Recruiting is not always an easy task as the winemakers are looking for people that are available for the whole harvest period, which can last between 1 and 3 weeks depending on the region, winery and year, and for people who are flexible in the dates because you have to adapt the days and hours worked according to the weather.

Cleaning the chai and tools before the harvest

The fermentation hall and cellar needs to be prepared for the arrival of the new harvest. Sometimes that means bottling the previous vintage to free up space in the vats, but in any case the vats and empty barrels need to be cleaned, the cellar tidied up to make space for the machines used during the harvest such as the sorting table, de-stemming machine, press, or conveyor belts used to carry the picked grapes. Buckets, hops, and secateurs need to be found, and all of the equipment thoroughly cleaned. It's the winemaker's version of a spring clean!

The most difficult thing left to do is to estimate the start date of the harvest. In the northern hemisphere, they generally start between August and October, and can even take place a couple of times a year in certain regions close to the equator where the cold and hot seasons are less marked. This year, for the most part, the harvest will start a little earlier than usual, and some of our partner winemakers will start the harvest this week.

Using the mustimeter to estimate the harvest date

Nowadays, the winemaker is equipped to analyse the maturity of the grapes to help decide when to begin harvesting. A mustimeter enables the density of the must in the grapes to be measured, giving an estimation of the alcoholic volume of the wine that it produces. It's important to monitor the alcoholic volume because minimum and maximum levels are highly regulated in the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée system.

But the most trustworthy and reliable tools used by the winemakers remain their eyes and mouth. As the harvest approaches, they roam the vineyards to look at and taste the grapes to see if they have reached optimum maturity. It is after all a personal choice by the winemaker for each plot!

So the much awaited moment of the harvest is now upon us, so it's time to start snipping the secateurs, but that will be the subject of a future article! If you would like to have a go at harvesting yourself, you can always participate in a Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Day!

Also read "A brief history of grape harvesting"

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