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Archive from May 2018

The role barrels play in ageing wine


We have recently finished the en primeur season in Bordeaux when the 2017 vintage wines are tasted from the barrel and sample blends rated. The wines have only recently been put into the barrels and will spend the coming months, and in some cases, next couple of years ageing in barrels.  It’s the same too in lots of the other French wine-growing regions. So it’s a good time to ask what role the barrels play in ageing wines in the cellar.

Why age wine?


Once the grapes arrive in the chai and are put into the vats, the fermentation process begins naturally thanks to the yeast cells that are present in the grapes.  This stage finishes when all of the sugar has been transformed into alcohol.  If you taste the wine at this time, unless you are a trained professional, you will be disappointed because the wine is still very hard and closed, and therefore difficult to enjoy.

Burgundy barrels
The next stage in the wine-making cycle is to allow the wine to soften, improve its structure and develop its tertiary aromas, those that appear during the ageing process.  The aim is to obtain a wine that is mature enough to be bottled and stored, the time varies depending on the type of wine being produced.  To age a wine there are various different containers available to the winemaker.  One of which is the barrel.

 

What role do the barrels play?


A barrel is a wooden recipient, made out of staves which are bowed and held in place by metal rings.  They have been used for over 2000 years, at first to simply store and transport wine, but they are now used primarily for the ageing of wine, and other alcoholic products.  Wine is no longer stored indefinitely in barrels, as once the ageing process has finished, it is bottled for storing.

Bordelais barrels

How does a barrel bring structure to a wine? The wood from which it is made is a natural product, and allows a tiny amount of air to pass through the barrel, allowing it to breathe!  That brings oxygen to the wine and makes the wine fuller and more rounded.

And what about the aromas and tannins?  As the wine is in constant contact with the wood of the barrel, a tiny amount of particles from the wood dissolve into the wine, and transfer some aromas to the wine that vary according to the type of wood and the way in which the barrel was heated, or toasted, when being made.  Tannins are also present in wood as within wine, and when put into contact with one another, they combine to give a more delicate structure.

How are barrels made?


The foundation for a good barrel is the wood, and in most cases is made of oak.  Their trunks are first of all split and dried for several years.  Then they are split again to create the staves.  These are placed in a circle in a first metal ring, and heated so as to make the curve.  The heating can be done by burning them, by using hot water, or steam.

Heating the staves at the Nadalié cooperage

Then the staves have another belt applied and another circle is fixed at the other end. One of the staves has a hole put in it and the water and air tightness is tested.  The barrel is also heated a last time to change its chemical composition and bring the desired aromas that are wanted for the wine.

The aromas and the structure brought to the wine by ageing it in barrels can have a marked difference on the wine, as the clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience days can attest to!  Why not join us for your own Wine Experience?


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

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Working in the vineyard in the Cotes du Rhone


Last weekend we were at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley for the very first wine experience day at Gourmet Odyssey’s new partner winery.  The topic for the day was to learn about all of the work that happens in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes at harvest time.  As we were to learn there is much more to do than you might think, and with the winery being both organically and biodynamically certified, particular attention is paid to the well-being of the estate as a whole.

Rent some biodynamic vines in the Rhone valley and participate in making your own biodynamic wine

After the introductions to the day by Mark, the founder of Gourmet Odyssey and to the winery by Arnaud, the winemaker at Domaine de la Guicharde, we set off out into the vineyard.  On the way we passed the olive grove which Arnaud nurtures to produce biodynamic olive oil.  Arnaud had started working at 5:30 to prepare and dynamise a biodynamic silica treatment used to strengthen and invigorate the leaves.  The vines had already been treated and as we walked by, we watched the olive trees being sprayed with the same dynamised water.

Vineyard and Olive grove tour Rhone Valley

Arnaud explained the geological history of the Massif d’Uchaux wine-growing region, and how the surrounding area was covered in water during the Miocène era.  He showed us the remnants of the ancient beach where shell fish can still be seen in the soil.  Difficult to believe when you are looking out over the vines and garrigue towards the pre-Alps and the Mont Ventoux.

We then arrived in the vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  The grapes picked in this plot are used to make the Terroir du Miocène red that is the wine chosen for the personalised wine bottles included in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  A name plate had been put in front of each micro-plot of vines and we took a few minutes to find our vines, take a few photos and encourage them to produce a good harvest this year!

Adopt a vine wine experience in the Rhone Valley vineyard

Arnaud then explained the work that had been carried out in the vineyard during the winter to work the soil, prune the vines using the cordon de royat method, and repair the trellis system used to train the vines.

With the hot weather of the past couple of weeks, the buds on the vines had burst into life, and were starting their growth phase when the branches can grow several centimetres per day.  Sometimes the vines get a little over excited with all this growth, and stems grow from lower down on the vine stock, two branches grow from the same bud, or there are simply too many branches appearing on the vine.  To limit the number of grapes that the vine will produce and improve the quality, it is necessary to remove the unwanted branches.  This is known as de-budding, and Arnaud explained how to select which branches to remove.

Working in the vineyard

We then spread out in the vineyard, two to a row, and had a go at de-budding ourselves.  As with pruning, it is very easy to understand in practice, but more difficult when you have to make the decision yourself!  Each vine is unique, and sometimes you need to leave a branch that in theory you would remove, but that might be useful in the future to reshape the vine or bring the fruit-bearing branches back close to the vine stock.

Adopt a vine and get involved in making your own biodynamic wine

Arnaud then took us on a short walk through the vineyard to show the different grape varietals and how to identify them just by looking at their leaves.  The Grenache vines that we had been working on were a lot greener and had a shiny coat, compared to the adjacent plot of Syrah that was slightly yellower, and had a soft velvet duvet on the underside.

Recognising different grape varietals

It wasn’t just the vines that were enjoying the good weather.  The grass and wild flowers were also flourishing in the vineyard, and we admired the beauty of the poppies dancing in the breeze.

 

Biodynmaic vineyard tour in the Rhone Valley, France

After the morning’s activities, we made our way back to the winery, and convened in the shade of the courtyard for an aperitif and lunch, which had been prepared by the excellent local restaurant, Le Temps de Vivre.  The first wine that we tasted was the Cotes du Rhone white, Au tour de la Chapelle 2017.  During the starter, main course, cheese and desert courses,  we then tasted Le 17 rosé 2017 wine, the Cotes du Rhone Pur Rouge 2017 red, followed by two Cotes du Rhone Villages Massif d’Uchaux red wines, the Genest 2016 and the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the Terroir du Miocène 2015.

Wine tasting experience and lunch at a biodynamic Cotes du Rhone winery

In the afternoon, we ventured back into the vineyard.  Arnaud explained the work to come between now and the harvest to raise the training wires, treat the vines, control the growth of the grass and wild flowers, potentially remove some of the leaves from the vines depending on the weather, and how to choose the date for the harvest.

Sponsor some vines and learn about biodynamic wine making

We then spent a while talking about what is involved in organic and biodynamic wine-making.  Arnaud is a passionate advocate of biodynamics and explained how he converted the winery and his reasons for doing so.  He told us about the different preparations that are used to treat the vines and how the work in the vineyard is managed in coordination with the lunar calendar.  We stopped to have a look at the dynamiser used to prepare the biodynamic tisanes.

Winery tour Rhone Valley

We ended the day with a quick visit of the chai to see where the wine is made once the grapes have been picked.  We’ll spend more time here during the Harvest Experience Day in September and the Vinification Experience Days next year.

Many thanks to Arnaud and all of the participants for making this such a great first wine experience day at Domaine de la Guicharde!

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Discovering the southern Cotes du Rhone wines


As you venture south of Lyon, the steep hillsides overlook the Rhone Valley and you see vines in places that make you wonder how on earth the winemakers will be able to harvest the grapes. You’re now entering the Rhone Valley. Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, then Saint Jospeh, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas… But you’d be wrong to limit the Cotes du Rhone wines to these famous crus from the north of this vast and varied wine growing region.  There is so much to discover further south once you have passed Montelimar.  Rasteau, Cairanne, Vinsobres, Gigondas, Chateaunuef-du-Pape, then Lirac, Tavel, Costieres de Nimes, Coteaux du Ventoux, and other wines from the Luberon. Let’s take a closer look at the southern Cotes du Rhone wine growing region.

The terroir and grape varietals of the Rhone Valley

The Rhone Valley landscape is very old, being formed some 300 million years ago as a result of the volcanic activity of the Massif Central, then when the Alpes were born 40 million years ago, some of the land subsided, separating the two massifs by the valley created between the two. At first the sea covered the land, but little by little the water level decreased and the river bed dug deeper leaving behind layered terraces on the banks of the valley. Today, four different types of rock and soil type can be found. Granite, sandy silica, limestone and clay. This varied terroir helps explain why the region is home to so many different grape varietals.

Some 27 grape varietals can be found in the Rhone Valley, 21 of which can be used in the Cotes du Rhone wine appellations. The main varietals found are grenache noir, syrah and mourvèdre for the red wines, and marsanne and viognier for the white wines. Grape varietals with a high tannic structure such as syrah favour silica soils for example, whilst the Grenache do well in limestone.

The history of the Cotes du Rhone wine-growing region

Wine-making in the Rhone Valley goes back a very long way, and we can find traces near Marseille that date to 400 BC, and as you go further north, to the first century AD. At this time, the large wine growing towns emerged on the banks of the river, as well as the workshops that produced the amphorae, used to transport the wine. These archaeological discoveries make the Rhone wine growing region one of the oldest in France.

The reputation of the wine from the region expanded in the 14th century during the time that the Popes settled in Avignon rather than Rome. The wine growing region developed lots during this time, and in 1650, there was even regimentation in place to guarantee the origin and quality of the “Coste du Rhône” wines. The appellation AOC Cotes du Rhone was launched in 1937.

The appellations

 

A map of the Rhone Valley wine appellations

 

The Cotes du Rhone AOC territory stretches some 250 km from north to south and covers 171 communes. A wine that carries the Cotes du Rhone AOC can be made from grapes grown anywhere within this geographical area. Next up the chain are the Cotes du Rhone Villages wines that are produced by 95 authorised communes. There are then 18 Cotes du Rhone Villages appellations that are allowed to include the name of the village from where the grapes are grown. Wines that fall into this category include Cairanne, Laudun, Massif d’Uchaux, Valréas and Visan. At the top of the hierarchy are 17 Cotes du Rhone Cru wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vinsobres, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, and Tavel. These wines are considered to be of the best quality.

There are also a few AOC appellations from the Rhone Valley that don’t fall under the Cotes du Rhone umbrella, such as Costiere de Nîmes, Ventoux, and Grignan-les-Adhemar.

An interactive map of the different appellations is available on the InterRhone website, a site that promotes the AOC Cotes du Rhone and Rhone Valley wines.
 

A few hidden gems to discover

As we have seen, there are many different wines in the Rhone valley, covering a large geographical area, and even if we have only looked at the southern Rhone wines in this article, the wines produced are very varied in style. There are still lots of appellations that are largely unknown to many, but which are gaining in notoriety and becoming more and more sought after by wine professionals and wine lovers alike.

The Massif d’Uchaux Cotes du Rhone Villages is a great example. This relatively new appellation was granted a named Villages status in 2005 to designate the 750 hectares that make up the distinct geology of the terroir, being made up of principally limestone soil, at a slightly higher altitude than the surrounding landscape, and with south, southeast or southwest facing slopes. Millions of years ago, the Massif d’Uchaux was an island, surrounded by sea. This unique terroir produces fruity and concentrated wines. The wine must be made up of at least 50% Grenache noir, but can be blended with a mix of the other regional grape varietals of syrah, mourvedre, cinsault or cargignan.  Domaine de la Guicharde and Domaine la Cabotte are great ambassadors of the appellation.

Another appellation is Grignan-les-Adhémar, formerly known as the Coteaux du Tricastin. Thanks to thoroughly renewing their charter and changing their name, they have been able to rejuvenate this wine growing region. It benefits from a diverse geology and its proximity to the hillsides helps develop wines that are fruity and fresh.

Next time you’re passing through the southern Rhone wine growing region, don’t hesitate to stop to admire the picturesque scenery and to treat your taste buds to the many delicious wines and culinary delights!


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Le Domaine de la Guicharde rejoint l’Expérience Vin de Gourmet Odyssey

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