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Archive from February 2018

A look at the ageing process of red wines

After the first stages of fermentation that followed on from the harvest, the red wine in most wineries is now approaching the start of the ageing phase. What happens whilst the wine is ageing and what keeps the winemaker busy in the cellar?

The start of the ageing process

The ageing process refers to the time and work carried out by the winemaker once the fermentation has finished, up until the wine is bottled. It can last for just a couple of weeks in the case of primeur wines that are made quickly to be drunk young, or up to several years for more complex wines that are crafted to be laid down and drunk in the future. It all depends on the type of wine that the winemaker wants to produce.

All begins once the fermentation has finished and the wine is racked to separate it from the larger lee particles of solid matter and dead yeast cells by transferring it to a new container where it will stay during the ageing period. This new container could be a vat, barrel, earthenware jar, or another type of recipient.

Fermentation process course in a Franche Winery

Recipients used for ageing wines

Wine is typically aged in a vat or a barrel. The choice of recipient the winemaker decides upon depends on the style of wine that the winemaker is striving for (see our article The role of vats, barrels, and other types of container in making wine).

The main tasks of the winemaker, whatever recipient is chosen, are to allow the wine to mature whilst protecting it from oxidation, to develop the taste of the wine, and to stabilise it. That means that although the wine remains in its recipient, it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening during the months of ageing.

Protecting the wine from oxidation

Air is an enemy of wine. If a wine is left in contact with the air, it will oxidise and become vinegar. When a wine is aged in wooden barrels, the winemaker has to pay particular attention to not let too much air stay in contact with the wine.

First of all, when a barrel is filled, the wood will soak up some of the wine. This is more marked when new barrels are used for the first time, and the wood can absorb as much as 5 litres of wine. In addition to this waste, whilst the wine is lying in the barrel, micro-oxygenation happens as the staves of the barrels naturally let a tiny bit of air to get inside the barrel and some of the wine evaporates in the opposite direction, often referred to as the angel’s share. Between the wine that is soaked up by the barrel and the wine that evaporates, a void is created at the top of the barrel as the level of wine decreases. To avoid this pocket of air from staying in contact with the wine, the winemaker regularly tops up the barrel to keep it full, a process known as ouillage. If the air was left inside the barrel, the bacteria that transform the ethanol in the wine to acetic acid will develop when combined with oxygen, and the wine will turn to vinegar.

Wine making course gift box

To top up the barrels, the winemaker takes out the stopper on top of the barrel, and pours in wine using an ouillette, which is a sort of watering can with a long thin spout. The same wine that was racked from the fermentation tank is used. The winemaker keeps aside some of the wine for this purpose, and it is stored in a small vat with a floating cap which adjusts to the level of wine remaining, thus keeping the air at bay.

Maturing the wine

So once the wine is no longer at risk from the oxygen, how does the winemaker develop the desired taste and character? The winemakers have many different techniques available to them that they will choose to use or discard as they taste and monitor the wines during the ageing process.

As the wines rest and age, the lees fall to the bottom of the recipient. If the winemaker wants to bring more depth and aromas to the wine, he can stir the lees to put them back into suspension in the wine. This is easiest done for wines ageing in barrels whereby the winemaker will open the stopper, put a long baton into the barrel and mix up the lees. This is known as batonnage. You can also find barrels that are fixed to a rotating support that allows the winemaker to turn the barrel, thus achieving the same objective.

Vine adoption gift box oenology course in France

Conversely, if the winemaker decides that the wine already has enough character, the wines will be racked to separate them from the lees.  This is done by pumping the wine into another recipient, leaving the lees at the bottom of the initial recipient. This action also clarifies the wine, which can still be a little cloudy at this stage.

Winemaking gift box in a Franche vineyard

Getting ready for bottling

Once the wine has matured sufficiently, there are a few steps necessary to stabilise it before it can be bottled. It first needs to be clarified further. The aim isn’t just to make the wine more visually attractive, but also to remove any particles that, if left in contact with the wine, may cause the wine to deteriorate after bottling.

The wine can be clarified by filtering or fining. Filtering consists of passing the wine through a filter to remove the particles. The winemaker needs to be careful when using this technique to not diminish the aromatic qualities or structure of the wine.

Fining works by adding a substance to the wine, traditionally egg white, but nowadays other elements are used such as bentonite or gelatine. Each of these substances work by attracting the particles held in suspension in the wine, which then stick to it as the veil slowly falls through the wine. Once it has settled at the bottom, the wine is then racked in the usual way.

At this stage, the wine is almost ready for bottling, a delicate operation for the wine which will be exposed to the air again and so the risk of oxidation rises once more. This is why most winemakers will add some sulphites to their wines just before bottling, adding it in the form of a tablet or powder.

Stabilising wine during a vinification and ageing day aat the winery

Sulphur is an anti-oxidant and an anti-septic that helps preserve the wine once it has been bottled, minimising the risk of oxidation, further fermentation in the bottle, or it being otherwise spoiled. All wines naturally contain some sulphur, because even if no SO² was added during the vinification or bottling stages, the enzymes secreted by the fermenting yeast cells produce SO² from the sulphites naturally present in the grapes.

So now the wine is ready for bottling and almost in your wine glass. Just a few more things for the winemaker to do. Choose the type of cork, cap or stopper used to seal the bottle, reserve the bottling lorry if the winemaker doesn’t own an in-house bottling line, label the bottles and pack them in the cases, or make room in the cellar for storing the unlabelled bottles of the new vintage, prepare the tasting notes for each wine, and organise the wine fairs and events to present the new wines. A winemaker’s work is never done…

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The role of vats, barrels, and other types of container in making wine

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Wine-making weekend in the Loire Valley

Last weekend saw the first Gourmet Odyssey wine-making courses of the year take place at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley. The snow that had fallen earlier in the week could still be seen in places, and was highlighted by the sun that shone down upon us.

  Organic vine adoption experience in the Lire Valley, France

Over a coffee and some croissants, our partner winemaker, Marc Plouzeau, welcomed us and explained the history of his family’s winery.

Meet the winemaker at a Chateau winery in France

The winery has some 30 hectares of vines, all of the vineyards being located on the left bank of the River Vienne, something of which Marc is very proud as he has a penchant for the unique terroir that characterises the wines from this region of the Chinon wine appellation.

A busy day awaited us which would see us meet our adopted vines, visit the chai to learn about the vinification techniques used to make wine, learn how to taste wines, enjoy lunch with the winemaker, and visit the cellar to taste the wines that are currently in the ageing process!

Wine gift adopted organic vines in France

To start, a quick visit of the adopted vines that were resplendent in their dusting of snow under the morning sun! It was also the opportunity to take a few pictures for the My Vine photo competition and to talk with Marc about the work that is currently in progress in the vineyard.

We then split into two groups. The first went to the chai with Marc and the second put their noses to the test in a workshop to help identify some of the aromas to be found in wine.

Wine-making course in a French winery in Chinon, France

With Marc, the apprentice winemakers discovered the work that takes place during the fermentation and ageing stages, starting with where we left off at harvest time. All of the wines at the winery are made and kept separate according to the plot of vines where the grapes come from, and Marc enlightened us regarding the differences between wines that are aged in a vat or a barrel.

Aromas wine course in a French organic winery

The aroma workshop helped us spot which aromas could help us identify a particular grape varietal and which could give us some pointers as to how the wine made or aged. It was a fun exercise that we could put into practice as we tasted the wines over lunch!

The morning drew to a close, and we reconvened in the Petite Bonnelière building where lunch awaited! As always, we enjoyed the tasty meal, prepared by Marc’s mum that paired perfectly with the wines.

Vineyard visit and winemaker meeting in a French Chateau

After lunch, we made our way to the Marc’s cellar, located in a vast cave underneath the Chinon fortress.

The cellar is where the wines that are aged in barrels are kept.  It’s the perfect place because the temperature and humidity are always constant. We had the privilege of tasting some of the 2017 wines that are still in the ageing process. We tasted a wine that is ageing in a vat, one in a new barrel, another in a barrel that has been used for a few wines already, finishing with a press wine. A few grimaces as the press wine bit into the cheeks, as the press wine is made from the juice that is extracted from the solid matter that is left in the bottom of the vat after the maceration period. It’s a very tannic and concentrated wine that is not meant for drinking on its own, but can add complexity and depth when blended with other wines. It was a great way to complement what we had learnt in the morning and to learn about different choices available to a winemaker!

Wine tasting and wine-making course in France

It was a fantastic weekend to start the new year, and we thank Marc for all of his passionate explanations.

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How to read wine labels

Whether your wine bottles have personalised labels, as with our adopt a vine wine experience, or not, they contain lots of information, some of it not always easy to understand! Some of the information is a legal obligation, some is useful to describe and qualify the wine, and other mentions are sometimes purely whimsical. Here’s a short guide to help you decipher a wine label.

Most French wine bottles have two labels. The main label that is on the front of the bottle and a back label. Usually the front label is used for the name of the wine, the branding and the obligatory information. The back label is often used to give more information, notably about its taste, the winery or pairing suggestions. 

It is not set in stone however on which label much of the required information should appear, and so sometimes as little information as possible will appear on the front label, to keep it as uncluttered as possible, leaving more space for the name of the wine and graphics.

The legally required information

Some of the information has to appear on a label. In France there are 8 required mentions for still wines, and for sparkling wines a ninth is added to state the level of sugar.

Obligatory mentions on a French organic wine label

First of all the name of the appellation (AOC / AOP) or the protected geographical indications (PGI), both of which serve to guarantee where a wine was made and the methods used in working in the vineyard and cellar.

Then comes the volume of wine. A classic French wine bottle holds 0.75 l of wine, 1.5 l for a magnum, 3 l for a jeroboam etc. There are however some special cases such as 0.62 l for bottles of “vin jaune” that are put into a distinctive bottle, called a “Clavelin”. (0.62 l represents the amount of wine that is left of 1 l of wine at the end of the 6 year ageing period. The rest is lost to the angels share!).

The alcoholic degree gives an indication to the maturity of the grapes when they were harvested. A ripe grape has more sugar in it, giving a wine with a higher alcoholic degree.

The country where the wine comes from, the name and legal entity of the bottler. The bottler is not necessarily the winemaker, and can be a wine merchant.

A batch number is also attributed to the wine to identify where exactly it came from and how the wine was made. Sometimes this number is printed directly onto the bottle instead of the label.

For health warnings, in addition to the pregnant woman graphic which has been required since 2005, the label is also obliged to say if the wine contains sulphites, and since 2012 if it contains any allergens such as egg or dairy based products which can sometimes be used to clarify or filter the wines. If you’re worried about sulphites, please note that a wine that is completely free of sulphites does not exist. It’s naturally present in the grape, and is indeed needed to help stabilise and keep the wine a minimum amount of time.  Natural wines are wines that have no added sulphites, but there is no certification and hence logo to look out for. Natural wines tend not to travel or keep as long as wines that have had some sulphites added, so it’s good to take into consideration when and where you will likely drink the wine if you see a mention like “sans sulphites ajoutés”, “no added sulphites”, “vin nature”, “natural wine”.

Obligatory mentions on a French organic wine label

In addition to these legal mentions for all wines, some AOP regions impose other requirements for the labels. For example in Burgundy, the name of the wine should not be larger than the name of the appellation. The name of the appellation has to be the tallest and widest in font size of all of the information printed on the labels.

Other information: optional, but regulated

Even if the majority of the remaining information is mainly commercial, the winemaker still has rules to follow. On most bottles, the name of the wine will appear along with the type of wine and obligatory information as decided by the appellation. The winemaker may also include the name of the village or the vineyard where the grapes were picked. In a wide spread and well-known wine growing region such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, this helps to identify different styles of wine.

Pay attention to some specific words such as “Clos”, “Château” and “Cru”, which are reserved for use by AOP or PGI wines that have been made exclusively from grapes coming from the named winery or vineyard.

The vintage, which is always the year that the grapes were harvested, is an important piece of information, because some years are better than others, some wines are better drunk sooner rather than later, and some have a better potential for storing than others. To use the vintage, at least 85 % of the grapes have to have been picked from the mentioned year.

The winemaker may also choose to mention that the wine was estate bottled or “mis en bouteille au domaine / château”. This is reassuring to some customers that the wine was made by the winemaker, and the grapes or wine weren’t bought and made by a wine merchant.

In France, the grape varietal used in making the wine is not always mentioned, and is done so much less frequently than New World wines. This requires some basic knowledge on the part of the customer, for example to know that a Burgundy red wine is made from pinot noir grapes and a Burgundy white wine from Chardonnay. It can be very useful to state the grape varietal to help consumers with little wine knowledge, or to help people when it comes to blended wines. For example if you know that you prefer fruitier wines when choosing a Bordeaux wine, it would be helpful to look for a wine that has a high percentage of Merlot over Cabernet Sauvignon, and vice versa if you prefer a wine that is more robust and has a longer finish.

You will sometime see a phrase similar to “elevé en fût de chêne” or “aged in oak barrels”. This is an optional mention, but is regulated. At least 50% of the wine has had to have spent at least 6 months in an oak barrel. Ageing in oak changes the structure, taste and aromatic characteristics of a wine, so this mention can help you depending on the style of wine that you are looking for.

Other information: optional, but unregulated

This where you have to be a little more careful not to be led astray. Although some of the information may be very helpful in helping you to choose a wine and learn a little more how it tastes, sometimes the information can be a little subjective.

For example, our partner winemaker in Alsace, the Domaine Stentz-Buecher, puts a scale on the back label to show how dry or sweet their different wines are. This is very helpful to the consumer as the different grape varietals of Alsace wines can vary greatly in how dry or sweet they are, and even the same grape varietals from different winemakers or vineyards can vary.

An example of a mention that is much more subjective and can be misleading is “Vielles vignes” or old vines. As vines get older, their roots dig deeper, and they produce better quality grapes. So “vielles vigne” should be a term that indicates a higher quality wine. The problem is at what age does a vine become old? There is no regulation as to the age, and so it is up to the winemaker. For one winemaker a plot of 30 year old vines might be considered vielles vignes, however another winemaker who has 80 year old vines might consider them to be still relatively youthful. It can be helpful when choosing among different wines from the same producer, but should be taken with more caution when comparing wines from different winemakers.

Regarding the graphics of the label, there are no rules, and so the winemaker has more freedom to be creative, which can sometimes lead to some very surprising results! When choosing the design, the winemaker is trying to create an identity for the wine, and to make it visually attractive to the target consumer. But the winemaker has to be careful because what might attract one person, might not be to the taste of someone else, and sometimes the visual identity can make finding and reading the rest of the information more difficult.

How to read a label on a French wine bottle

And organic wine labels?

Until 2012, the organic certification for wines only concerned itself with the grapes were grown, and not how the wine was made once the grapes had been picked. French wine labels stated “wine made from organically grown grapes” or “vin issu de raisins de l’agriculture biologique”.

Since then, the winemakers work in the cellar to age and bottle the wine is also controlled to meet organic standards. For example organic wine has to have a level of sulphites less than 100 mg/l for red wines, and 15 mg/l for white wines. Wine can now be called “organic wine”, and this mention now appears of the labels.

There are two logos used in France to identify that a wine is organically certified. Firstly there is the AB logo (Agriculture biologique) and secondly the green leaf European organic logo. On older bottles prior to 2010, you’ll most likely see just the AB logo, but since then, you’ll either see the AB logo together with the European logo, or just the European logo.

French Organic Farming logo
European Orgnaic Farming logo

Biodynamically certified wines can be identified by either the Demeter or Biodyvin logos. Read our article on organic, biodynamic and natural wines for more information.

Biodyvin biodynamic farming label
Demeter biodynamic farming label

Don’t judge a book by its cover

It’s therefore worth spending a bit of time reading the wine labels when choosing a bottle. But as with reading, it’s best to look inside, and so the surest way to judge the quality of a wine is to open the bottle and taste it!


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2018 Wine fairs to taste the wines from our partner vineyards

Wine fairs are a great way for our independent winemakers to showcase their wines, and for you to discover great bottles of wine at good prices. Our winemakers are no exception, and often take to the road. Here is a list of the wine fairs where you can meet them. Don’t hesitate to stop by, say hello, and taste their wines!

  Wine tasting french organic wine fairs

February 2018

Domaine de la Guicharde, Côtes du Rhône Massif d’Uchaux winery located in Mondragon, will be at the Sous les Pavés la Vigne wine fair on the 10th & 11th February, in Bordeaux, Hangar 14. It’s a natural wine fair.

They will also be at the Vinisud professional wine buyers trade fair in Montpellier from the 18th to 20th February 2018, and at the 19th Salon des Vins de Producteurs Kiwanis Club in Saint-Etienne.

Domaine Chapelle from Santenay in Burgundy will be at the Salon des Vins de Neuville sur Saône wine fair, salle Jean Dousset (86) on the 10th and 11th February 2018.

Château Beau Rivage will share their Bordeaux wines with you at the Salon des Vignerons Indépendants wine fair, in Strasbourg, stand D104, from the 16th to 19th February 2018.

March 2018

Château Beau Rivage from Macau en Médoc, will also be present at the Salon des Vignerons Indépendants wine fair, at Bordeaux Lac, stand D32 from the 2nd to 4th  March 2018.

Domaine Chapelle are once again attending the Salon des vins de Paray Le Monial (71).  Come and taste their wines on the 17th and 18th March 2018, and at the Vivre Autrement organic living fair in Paris at the Parc Floral de Vincenne (75) from the 17th to 19th March 2018.

Domaine Allegria will be at the Salon des Vignerons wine fair in Olne, Belgium on the 24th  and 25th March 2018.

May 2018

Domaine Chapelle, will be presenting their organic Burgundy wines at the 29èmes Journées Gourmandes du Grand Morvan gastronomy fair in Saulieu (Hall des Expositions) from the 10th to 13th May.

Domaine Chapelle will also be at Foire Gastronomique de Mailly in Champgane (51) from the 19th to the 21st 2018.

More information about our partner wineries and the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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Original St Valentine’s gift for wine lovers. Adopt some organic vines!

Your other half loves wine? For the perfect Saint Valentine’s present, adopt some organic vines in an award-winning French winery and follow the making of your own personalised bottles of wine. It’s a fantastic way to learn about the art of wine-making and gives you a great excuse to get away and share a weekend break together in one of France’s beautiful wine-growing regions.

Your valentine will love following the progress of his or her adopted vines from the work in the vineyard at one of our organically certified vineyards to the bottling of the personalised wine bottles. The apprentice winemakers will receive newsletters, articles and photos to keep them updated and to learn about all of the hard work and skill that goes into make a quality wine. When you get to taste this unique St Valentine’s wine at the end of the experience, it sure to have a very special taste!

Personnalised bottles of wine for the Valentines Day

And if you’re looking for an original weekend break idea, visit the winery, meet the winemaker and see your adopted vines! You can add one or more wine experience days at the winery. Each day is valid for two, and you have the choice of three themes. The Discovery Experience Day teaches you about all of the work and care that goes into nurturing the vines, and gets you involved in working in the vineyard alongside the winemaker. The Harvest Experience Day enables you to participate in picking the grapes, and to learn about the work in the chai at harvest time. The Vinification Experience Day explores the choices the winemaker takes in the cellar to ferment, age, blend and bottle the wine through a series of interactive workshops.

Wine course in a French vineyard for wine lovers

Each of the wine experience days enable you to learn directly from the winemakers and their teams, and last the whole day from 09:30 to 16:00, the time necessary to get to the know the winemakers more and learn about the complexities of wine-making. You will also taste the wines from the winery and share lunch to sample other local delicacies.

Adopt-a-vine Valentine gift in a French winery

We are very particular when it comes to choosing our partner winemakers. They are selected not only for the high quality of their wine, but also for their warmth and hospitality in welcoming you to their winery and in explaining their profession. We have also chosen to work exclusively with organically certified wineries, and it’s fascinating to learn about all they do to enhance the quality of the environment around them, and protect the health of their family, employees, neighbours and customers.

We promise you a fun, enlightening, and thought provoking experience to learn more about the world of wine.

More information about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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