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Archive from June 2018

Leaf removal to protect the vines from mildew


Last weekend we had travelled from Avignon, Nancy, Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Switzerland and England to meet Isabelle and Arnaud Guichard, the winemakers at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Massif d’Uchaux region of the Rhone Valley.

 

Wine gift box in a French vineyard in the Rhone Valley

The first question to come up over a cup of coffee and croissant was who knew the Massif d’Uchaux? Nobody? But that’s not surprising because it is a very exclusive appellation that was formally recognised in 2005 for having its own distinct terroir.  We were to talk lots more about the terroir during the course of this Discovery Experience Day, a hands-on wine course at the winery, dedicated to the work in the vineyard before the harvest.

Discovery day at the winery and oenology class in the Cote du Rhone area

We then headed out into the vineyard, passing by the olive trees.  The winery has its own special biodynamic ecosystem, including 30 hectares of vines, an organic olive grove, and 20 hectares of woodland, all of which are to be found around the winery buildings, on a small hill which looks a lot like paradise on this beautifully sunny day!

The hill is what makes the Massif d’Uchaux so special compared to the Rhone Valley plain below.  Around 90 million years ago, the sea covered the valley and the hill was an island.  On our way to the adopted plot of vines, we stopped to look at the remnants of an old beach that dates back to the Miocene era, where you can still see some shell fish fossils.

Vine adoption at Domaine de la Guicharde, Mondragon, France
We then arrived on the plateau where a plot of Syrah and a plot of Grenache vines are planted on the terrace that also dates back to the Miocene era.  And yes, that’s why the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, is called the “Terroir du Miocène”, because it is a blend of the grapes that are grown here.
Wine gift box Vine tending class in the Rhone Valley
The winter pruning and biodynamic treatments had prepared the vines for the new campaign, and the vines were flourishing.  The flowering period went well in early June, and the grape berries are now starting to form.  The combination of warm weather and rain in May and June, has seen vigorous growth in the vineyard.  Perhaps even a little too much, because the work to till the soil had been delayed.  As Arnaud explained, it had been impossible to get the tractor into the vineyard because the ground had been too wet, and it had also not been possible to treat the vines after the rain, because the mistral wind had picked up as soon as the rain clouds had passed over.  Regulation stipulates that treating the vines is not allowed if the wind reaches 19 kph, which is a regular occurrence in the Rhone Valley!

Having found our adopted vines and taken a few souvenir photos, we took a closer look at the vines.  Arnaud showed us how to spot the difference between Syrah and Grenache vines.  The leaves are different as we had seen during our last visit, but now that the grapes have started to form, it is even more evident.  The grenache vines produce compact and round bunches of grapes, whereas the syrah vines have more elongated bunches and the grapes are more spaced out.  This also explains why the Syrah vines are generally less susceptible to disease than Grenache vines.
Gift box discovery day in the vineyard in Mondragon, France
The combination of rain, heat, and lack of treatment leads inevitably to an attack of mildew, and unfortunately we could see some spots on the leaves and berries on the Grenache vines.  Thankfully the Gourmet Odyssey adoptive parents had come to help out.  Today our task was to remove some of the leaves on the side facing the rising sun to help the air better circulate around the grapes and reduce the spread and impact of the mildew.    On the side facing the rising sun, the grapes are only exposed to the weaker morning sun, when the temperature isn’t yet hot enough to dry out the berries, whereas the side of the falling sun receives hotter sunshine at the end of the day, and the leaves are needed to shade the grapes and stop them from burning.
Wine box meet the winemaker in his windery in France
It’s easy to remove the leaves, as Arnaud explained.  You just remove all of the leaves from in front of the vines.  He uses quick and precise movements, and then we tried to do it as efficiently as him.  In pairs, we spread out among the vine rows, and starting plucking.  Arnaud moved between us to talk about his work, and to answer the many questions regarding the vintage, weather and the treatments used in the vineyard.
Vineyard discovery day and wine tasting in the Cote du Rhone area
We took a brief pause to quench our thirst, and then Arnaud brought us up to speed on all of the work that had been carried out in the vineyard so far.  Pruning, de-budding, raising the training wires, trimming the vines.  By this time, we were starting to get a little hungry, and so we headed back to the winery for lunch.  On the way, we spotted some of the plants, such as horse tail or yarrow, that are used in the biodynamic treatments.
Organic and biodynamic wine tasting at Domaine de la Guicharde
The nicely chilled rosé in the shade of the courtyard was most welcome.  We also tasted the “Pur rouge”, a wine for friends according to Arnaud, and which went down very well on this hot day.  We also had some grape juice, organic of course, made from merlot and cabernet grown in Isabelle’s second winery, “Les Mourgettes”.
Winery visit, vineyard tour and winmakers' lunch in France
Lunch had been prepared by Thierry Bonfante, from the restaurant Le Temps de Vivre, just 4 km away.  A lentil salad with regional caillettes, slow-cooked beef stew with carrots, cheese and tiramisu, accompanied by a selection of wines from the winery.  For the reds, we tasted the Genest and Terroir du Miocène, and enjoyed the Autour de la Chapelle white wine with the cheese.
Winemaker experience in the Cotes du rhone area
The questions abounded over lunch regarding the daily life of a winemaker, and at the end of the meal, we came back to the topic of biodynamics.  Isabelle talked to us about the book written by Jean-Michel Florin, Viticulture Biodynamique, for those who are really interested in learning more.  For the majority of us who are novices in the subject, Isabelle recounted some of the amusing anecdotes from her short book Précis à l’usage de ceux qui pensent que Demeter n’est qu’une déesse grecque. Laughter rang out around the table as she told us about her adventures with the cow horn manure…

Arnaud explained the principals of the biodynamic wine making, developed by Rudolph Steiner and organised around the lunar calendar.  To make it more easily understandable, he took us to see the tools used such as the dynamiser and the spraying machine.  He told us how he makes the treatments, and he talked about the constraints of the calendar in caring for the vines, depending on whether it’s a fruit, flower, root or leaf day.
Wine-making and vine adoptione experience in mondragon,  france
We finished the day with a visit to the chai, to understand where the grapes will go after the 2018 harvest.  But we still have a little time to go.  The date for the harvest has yet to be fixed as we need to wait a few weeks more to see how the weather influences the development of the grapes.  As we had heard throughout the day, in this calm haven where time seems to stand still, it’s the nature and the raw elements who lead the show, and then Isabelle and Arnaud work their magic to make the most of nature’s gift and to produce their excellent wines. 

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Green harvesting the vines in the south of France


For our last wine Discovery Experience Day of the summer at the winery, we were welcomed warmly by the winemakers and we had glorious sunshine beaming down in us.  After the introductions and coffee outside, we made our way into the vineyard.

 

Organic Vine adoption in Pézenas, Languedoc, France

As we walked through the vineyard, we learnt about how the year has been shaping up so far.  With the alternating rain and hot weather in May and June, the vines have seen some mildew form on them, and we could see the tell tale spots on the leaves, and noticed that some of the grapes had also been touched.  Mildew loves hot and damp conditions.

We arrived in the Mazet vineyard, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  The Syrah vines are less susceptible to the mildew and fortunately there was hardly any trace of it on the leaves.  After taking a few photos, we learnt about the work that has already been done to prune, de-bud and support the vines using the training wires as we continued our walk through the vineyard.

Adopt-a-vine experience in an organic French vineyard as a gift
Opposite the winery buildings, there is a plot of young Grenache vines that had been planted last year, and that will not come into production until the 2019 harvest.  Lots of grapes have already started to form on these small vines, but the priority for now is to help them develop their root system.


So armed with a pair of harvesting secateurs, we cut the bunches of un-ripened grapes from the vines.  Sacrificing this tiny harvest this year will help the plants become stronger in anticipation of better harvests later.

After the effort, the reward.  During lunch prepared by Delphine, we tasted different wines from the winery.

Wine gift box tastig and visit at Domaine Allegria, Languedoc, france

We visited the cellar after lunch to discover the vinification hall where the grapes are received at harvest time, and the barrel room where the wines age before being ready for bottling, but we’ll talk more about these aspects during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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De-leafing organic vines in the Loire Valley


For the last time this Spring, Marc Plouzeau welcomed us for a Discovery Experience Day at Château de la Bonnelière to discover his winery, his vines and the Loire valley wines that he produces.  We were also to meet our adopted vines which are used to make the Clos de la Bonnelière red Chinon wine, and to learn about the work carried out in the vineyard.

  Wine Box with vineyard visit in Chinon, France

After the introductions we ventured out into the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard to meet our adopted vines and to see the grape bunches that have already started to form! 

Wine gift oenology course in Chinon, Loire, France

Marc talked about the work that has been so far to get the vines to this stage. The flowering period had gone well despite the wet spring, and we can start to hope for a good harvest, as long as the weather doesn’t have other plans between now and the moment when the grapes are picked.

Oenology box vine tending experience in the Loire Valley

The task for the day was de-leafing, which involves removing the leaves from in front of the vines. The principal reason is to allow the grapes to dry more quickly after any rain, thus limiting the spread of diseases such as mildew. A simple, but important task, expertly carried out by our adoptive vine parents!

Wine gift, vineyard tour and meeting the winemaker in Chinon France

Mission accomplished, and after a question and answer session on organic wine-making, the daily life at the winery, and the work left to do in the vineyard, we sat down to enjoy the lunch which had been prepared by Mme Plouzeau. Her great specialty, the strawberry Chantilly proved to be a big hit once again. And of course, we enjoyed a selection of wines from Château de la Bonnelière.

Wine box with winery visit, wine tasting and winemakers' lunch

After lunch, we visited some of the other vineyards to get a better idea as to the different terroir that make up the winery. We talked about how the work varies in the different plots, and discussed the organic practices used, many of which can also be used in the garden back home!

We’ll next be back for the harvest, and so have to wait patiently to see the fruit of our labour. In the meantime, we wish Marc and the vines a great summer!

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The flowering period of the vines


The much awaited vine flowers have made their appearance in the vineyards throughout France recently, and if you take a walk through them, you’ll notice a very light and delicate fragrance wafting on the wind.  It’s also one of the critical stages in the wine-making calendar as it will have a large impact on the potential size of the 2018 harvest to come.

The flowering period is one of the growth stages of the vine life cycle and marks the start of the formation of the grapes.  After the winter rest period, the vines start to come back to life as the soil starts to warm again in March, and the sap starts to flow again in the vines.  In April the buds start to appear on the branches and then burst to make way for the leaves to start unfurling.

The leaves and branches continue to develop into May, and you can start to see the structure of the future bunches to form.  Small tight green clusters that look like buttons appear on the tips of the young shoots.  Each of the flower buttons has a cap of petals known as the calyptra to protect the reproductive organs inside.

Vine flowers
The caps are shed to reveal the reproductive organs.  Vines used in wine-making are generally hermaphroditic, containing both male and female reproductive organs, and so are capable of pollenating themselves.  The conditions have to be right however for this to occur.

And that is where the difficulty lies.  As a general rule of thumb, flowering happens eight weeks after bud burst and lasts between 8 and 15 days.  If the weather is mixed it can take longer than if it is hot and sunny.  It normally happens around June, when the weather can be variable, and so the results can be mixed.
The flower caps fall away during flowering

If it rains a lot or the temperatures are cool, the floral caps aren’t able to detach themselves properly, and the fecundation can’t take place, which means no fruit to harvest in the autumn.  That is known as coulure, and the flower dries up without having been pollinated.

Flowering can be more or less marked depending on the region, and the grape varietal.  You can tell that the vine has been well fecundated when the grapes that form a few days later are all of the same size.

Traditionally you count 100 days from the flowering period to the start of the harvest.  We should shortly have a good indication of when the 2018 harvest will be!

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Learning the secrets of making and ageing organic wine in Burgundy


We were welcomed at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay for a Vinification Experience Day to learn all about the work of the winemaker in the cellar. The 2017 vintage has now finished its fermentation period and the wines have been racked and put into barrels to start their ageing process. The work is not yet over for the winemaker however, as there still remain a whole host of decisions and actions that must be undertaken to ensure that we end up with a great organic wine in the bottle.

 

Vine adoption and daay at the winery in Santenay, France

 

The sun was shining brightly, and so we made ourselves at home in the winery’s garden, overlooking the Clos des Cornières vineyard where our adopted pinot noir vines are located. 

Oenology lessons at the winery with Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy, France

Jean-François, the winemaker and owner at Domaine Chapelle introduced us to the winery and gave us a recap of the 2017 vintage. He also pointed out the different terroir found in the surrounding vineyards to get a better understanding of the geology and its impact on the hierarchy of the Burgundy AOC system. The surrounding area is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Wine gift box aromas masterclass at the winery

We then split into two groups, one of which went first with Jean-François for a visit of the cellar and to taste the 2017 vintage directly from the barrel, and the other group stayed with Yvette, Jean-François’ wife, to develop their senses that would be put to the test during the wine tasting to come. The groups then swapped over.

Wine experience and wine tasting in Burgundy, France

Jean-François explained how the sugar in the grapes is transformed into alcohol during the first fermentation phase after the harvest.  We also had the honour of tasting some of the 2017 wines that are currently still in the ageing process, drawing them by pipette directly from the barrel.

Yvette helped us discover and identify the aromas that can be found in Burgundy wines, and explained where they come from, whether it’s from the grape and quality of the grape, or from the vinification and ageing process. 

Vineyard visit box in Santenay, Burgndy, France

We then put our new found knowledge to the test as we tasted different wines from Domaine Chapelle, starting with a glass of the chardonnay AOC Santenay Saint Jean white wine.

During lunch we enjoyed some local dishes of jambon persillé, Gaston Gérard chicken, local cheeses and a chocolate and blackcurrant entremets desert, accompanied by three red wines from Domaine Chapelle, the 2014 Santenay Clos des Cornières, the 2011 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru and the 2013 Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru.

After lunch we headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines, and see how they are preparing for the 2018 vintage. We encouraged them to continue their good work, and passed the baton to the adoptive owners of the 2018 vintage!

Vine renting at Domaine CHapelle, Burgundy, france

Jean-François explained the three different ages of vines that are used in making the Clos des Cornières wine. The 2017 vintage will be the last for a while to use the three different aged vines because the oldest plot of vines was uprooted earlier in the year.  It will be replanted with young vines, but it will take a few more years before any grapes will be produced.

Vina adoption box for a perfect to wine lovers

Back at the winery, we tasted the wines that are currently ageing from these three different aged vines, and so could see for ourselves the difference in quality. Each of the three plots is picked, vinified, and aged separately before being blended when it comes time to bottle the wine.  We noted that the tannins were much softer for the oldest vines, whilst they were still marked for the youngest plot. The winemaker can balance these different styles when blending the final wine.

We had spent a very enjoyable day in Santenay at Domaine Chapelle and can’t wait to taste the 2017 Clos des Cornières wine when it is finished!

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