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Archive from June 2019

Summer work in the vineyard in the Loire Valley


The beginning of summer is a hectic time in the vineyard. Everything grows quickly and the winemaker has lots of work to do to keep everything under control and safeguard the quality of the future harvest as we were to find out during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley.
Adopt-a-vine experience in Chinon, France
We started the day in Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, next to the château.  This is where our adopted vines are located, and we took a few minutes to find our vines, encourage them to produce a good harvest, and immortalise the moment with a few photos!
Rent-a-vine experience in the Loire Valley, France
The winemaker, Marc Plouzeau, then explained all of the work that has been carried out in the vineyard so far this year, and in particular the vital task of pruning, so important in controlling the yield and improving the potential quality of the grapes.
The wet end to spring, followed by the warmth and sun of the past couple of weeks has meant that the vegetation has thrived and everything is growing really quickly.  There is way more than enough to keep the winemaker busy, and so Marc was very welcome of our help for the day!  He had set aside three different jobs for us to do.
Meet-the-winemaker experience in the Loire Valley, France
At this time of the year, the vines can grow more than 10 centimetres in a week.  To protect the branches and future grapes, they need to be trained behind the training wires.  This helps the vine support the weight of the branches, leaves, and future grapes, and keeps them out of the way of the tractor when it drives up and down the rows.  First we had to raise the training wire on each side of the row, being careful not damage the floral caps of the vine flowers, and then we clipped the wires together.  Finally we ensured that all of the branches were contained between the wires and as evenly spaced as possible to help improve the air flow around the leaves, something that is important to help the foliage dry more quickly following any rain, thus reducing the risk of disease.
Wine-making course in the Loire Valley, France
Despite the best efforts to prune the vines, there are always unwanted shoots that grow, either as double buds or from low down on the vine trunk.  These shoots drain energy from the vines to the detriment of the quality of the grapes.  By hand or with the help of a small spade, we removed any shoots that grew from the trunk.  Marc also explained the way that vines are grafted onto root stocks that are resistant to phyloxera, and showed us the difference in the shoots that grow from the grafted vine or directly from the root, shoots that are known as Americans in reference to the origin of the roots.
Wine-making course in Chinon, France
It’s not just the vines that are growing quickly.  The grass and wild flowers are also thriving.  The tractor had recently been put to work in the vineyard, lightly ploughing every other row to remove the grass and flowers.  The unploughed rows had been mowed to keep the grass short and stop fungi from spreading to the vines.  When ploughing, the tractor carries a special mechanical plough that does a fairly good job of ploughing around the vine stocks.  It however struggles if the gap between two vines or between a vine and a training post is too small.  In such instances, the only way to remove the grass and flowers is by hand with the help of a hoe.  This was the third task Marc had reserved for us, and so hoe in hand, we got stuck in!
Vine tending course in Chinon, France
After our busy morning, we had earned our aperitif!  Marc served us a nice fresh glass of “Perle Sauvage”, his naturally sparkling wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes, accompanied by local rillettes, and homemade goats’ cheese cake and gougères.  We continued the tasting of wine over lunch, the crisp 2018 Touraine Sauvignon “Bonnelière” pairing well with the fish terrine starter.  We then tasted the reds with the Tagine main course, cheese and desert, starting with the fruity 2018 Chinon “La Roche”, then the more complex 2017 Chinon “Clos de la Bonnelière”, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, and finishing with the full-bodied 2016 Chinon “Chapelle”.
Organic wine tasting in the Loire Valley, France
In the afternoon, we went for a short walk through the vineyards to a plot that Marc had recently planted.  He explained how the vines are planted and the implications on production quantities involved.  Before planting a new plot, another crop is planted to replenish the soil with lost nutrients. The new vines won’t produce any grapes for making wine in the first three years, followed by several years of low quality grapes.  Replanting is something that it takes time to reap the rewards from!
Organic vine tending lessons in the Loire Valley, France
Marc also took time to explain how the vines are cared for organically and the implications that it entails.  
Organic Winery visit in Chinon, Loire Valley, France
We ended the day in the cool of the vinification hall.  Here Marc gave us an introduction to what happens when the grapes are received at harvest time, and how the juice is turned into wine.  We’ll be spending much more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.
Many thanks to all for a great day.  We look forward to coming back for the harvest at the end of September or beginning of October.

Find out more about how you too can adopt vines and get involved in making your own bottles of personalised organic wine.

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Flowering vines in the Côtes du Rhône


Early June is a critical time in the vineyard as we were to find out during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Domaine de la Guicharde in the southern Côtes du Rhône region. We joined the winemakers, Arnaud and David, to learn first-hand about the care and effort that is needed to nurture the vines to enable them to produce the best quality grapes, and to understand the principals and challenges of organic and biodynamic wine-making.

  Wine-making expeirece in the Rhone Valley in France

After the introductions, we walked past the olive grove and up into the vineyards.  From the top of the hill, Arnaud told us about the unique terroir of the Massif d’Uchaux, the land having never been covered by the sea which brings a freshness to the wines not usually found in southern Côtes du Rhône wines.

Meet teh winemaker in a French biodynamic winery in the Rhone Valley
Arnaud and David explained the work that has been undertaken so far to prepare the vines for this year’s campaign, showing us the pruning methods used, the need to de-bud the vines, and how the soil is tilled to remove the grass and weeds.
We then continued our walk into the next vineyard on top of the hill.  Arnaud pointed out the two different grape varietals grown here.  On the left, the Syrah vines, and on the right Grenache.  The leaves of the Syrah were more silvery and were slightly furry on the underside compared to the more lush green and smoothness of the Grenache.
The plot of Grenache is where our adopted vines are to be found, and so we took a few minutes to visit our micro plot of vines, and encourage them to produce a great harvest this year!
Vine rental in the Rhone Valley, France
A wonderfully delicate fragrance filled the air.  On closer inspection, we could see that there were lots of tiny white flowers on each of the vines.  This happens for a short period each year, lasting just a week, and is one of the most critical periods in determining the quantity of grapes that we will pick at harvest time.  Vines are self-pollinating plants, the pollen falling directly from the anthers of the stamen to the stigma.  The weather is crucial for this to happen properly.  If it is rainy, then the pollen sticks and cannot fertilize the ovaries, and if there is too much wind, pollen is carried away from the vines.  Fortunately, the conditions were perfect the day that we were at the winery.  Sun, a little wind, and not too hot.
Organic vine tending class in the Rhone Valley, France
The vines grow very quickly at this time of year, and there had been around 30-50cm of growth from the last time we were at the winery a month ago.  To help maintain order in the vineyard and to help the vines support the weight of the foliage and grapes to come, we train the vines using a trellis system.  This was our task for the day!
After receiving a quick lesson in how to train the vines, we split into twos and raised the training wires, being careful to not damage the flowers, and ensuring that the branches were supported between the wires.  To keep the wires in place, we used a biodegradable clip.
Vineyard visit gift box for organic wine lovers
By this stage we had built up an appetite and a thirst, so we headed back to the winery and the shade of the courtyard.  As an aperitif we tasted Le 18 rosé and Autour de la Chapelle white wines, and over the delicious lunch prepared by a local restaurant, we tasted some of the red wines, the 2016 Pur Rouge Côtes du Rhône, the 2015 Terroir du Miocène and the 2018 Genest Massif d’Uchaux wines.
After lunch we headed back into the vineyard to learn about the work that will be carried out between now and the harvest.  We also took the time to listen to Arnaud explain how the vineyards are managed organically and biodynamically, a topic which generated lots of questions and gave rise to much reflection as to how it is possible to work in harmony with nature.
Vine adoption gift box for French organic wine lovers
The day finished with a quick tour of the vinification hall to see where the wine is made and aged.  We’ll be spending much more time here when we come back for the harvest in September, and during the Vinification Experience Days next year.

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Training the organic vines in Bordeaux


In the beginning of June, we met up at Château Coutet, near the banks of the Dordogne river and just 800m from the village of Saint-Emilion. We were there for a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day to learn how the vines are nurtured to produce the 2019 harvest.

Matthieu, one of the winemakers at the chateau was our guide and introduced us to the day, accompanied by the Gourmet Odyssey oenologist, Benoît.  He works all year with his father and cousin, continuing the organic winemaking philosophy that the family has adopted over the past 400 years at the winery. 

Vineyard tour in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

The estate covers 16 hectares.  Matthieu explained the different tasks carried out in the vineyard throughout the year.  Pruning in winter, tilling the soil using the tractor, and the manual work on the vines in spring.

Our adopted vines are located in the Peycocut vineyard, up on the limestone plateau, which is one of the highest points of the Saint-Emilion appellation.  It looks down on the Dordogne valley, and the view is magnificent.  We each found our adopted vines with the help of a small slate with our name on.  A great photo opportunity!

Adopt an organic vine in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

At this time of year, the vines have grown lots and so need to be trained. This is a vital job. Vines are creeper plants which develop in 3 dimensions.  The aim of supporting them with the trellis system is to contain them to 2 dimensions.  We need to get the tractor and horse down the rows without breaking the branches which will carry the future grapes.

Vine tending lessons at a French winery

Spring is the time that needs the most use of the tractor. We need to keep the growth of grass and weeds under control by mowing or tilling the soil regularly. We must also protect the vines from fungal diseases by spraying organic treatments.  We therefore lift up any branches that protrude into the middle of the row and tuck them behind the training wires. This was to be our task for the morning, and after a quick lesson from Matthieu, we carefully tended to the vines.

Vine tending lessons at a French winery
Vine tending lessons at a French winery 
We then gathered on the lawn in front of the chateau for the aperitif, starting with the winery’s second wine, the 2015 Belles Cimes. It’s a very pleasant fruity wine, produced from the young vines whilst conserving the quality of the first wine at Château Coutet.

To accompany the starter of local charcuterie, we tasted the 2014 Château Coutet, an elegant wine with nice depth.  The 2016 Château Coutet showed more structure and maturity due to its vintage, and was perfect with the main course.

Organic wine tasting in Saint-Emilion, France

We were lucky enough to taste the 2014 Demoiselles wine with cheese.  This is a wine that is produced in a very small quantity, blending together the grapes from nearly 100 year old vines that grow up on the limestone plateau. They are worked entirely by horse or hand using the greatest care and precision. The power and finesse of the tannins are unique to this particular Saint-Emilion terroir.

After lunch we headed back out into the vineyard, where Matthieu explained the challenges but pride in cultivating the vines organically.  The family has been doing so for 4 centuries at Château Coutet.  Working in this way poses a slight risk to the quantity of production in the difficult years, but the result shines through in the quality of the wines.

The day drew to a close in the chai, where we will be spending more time during the Vinification Experience Days.
Many thanks to Matthieu for his warm welcome and interesting explanations throughout the day.

Learn more about adopt some vines and making your own organic wine in Saint-Emilion

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