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Archive from September 2019

Picking the grapes in the Rhone Valley for the 2019 harvest


The 2019 grape harvest season continues, and last weekend, it was the turn of Domaine de la Guicharde, in the Côtes du Rhone region, to welcome the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients to participate in the harvest.  As we were to learn, there is much more work at harvest time than just picking grapes!
After the introductions to the winery and day, we headed out past the olive grove into the vineyard.  Our first stop was the Miocène vineyard, home to our adopted vines. We took a few minutes to find our micro-plot of vines and immortalise the moment with a few photos.
Organic vine adoption in the Cotes du Rhone vine growing area
It was then time to get down to the serious business of the day. We listened intently to the instructions of how to pick the grapes, which ones to pick, and which to leave. But as we could see, the quality of the grapes this year was excellent and the vines were laden with full bunches, so there were hardly any grapes that needed to be sorted.  
Equipped with a bucket and pair of harvesting secateurs, we split into twos, each pair taking a different row of vines.  To make picking the grapes easier, the first task was to remove the leaves from in front and around the grape bunches.  We then cut the stem just above the bunch, letting the grapes fall into our hand, before being put into the bucket.  
Harvest Experience in the Rhone Valley region
With the nice large bunches, the buckets soon filled up, and we then passed them from row to row to be emptied into the trailer.  We were harvesting Grenache Noir, the grapes that are the last to mature at the winery.  The harvest had started on the 31st August with the white grapes, and the harvest of the Syrah grapes had started two week ago.  The winery is nearing the end of the harvest, and all the grapes should be picked in the next couple of days.
Grape picking Experience in the Rhone Valley region
Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the morning, and we had managed to fill three trailers, which was a great effort from our team of apprentice winemakers!  Having washed hands and cleaned up, we enjoyed a nice refreshing glass of the winery’s 2018 white wine, “Au tour de la Chapelle”, in the courtyard.
We continued the tasting over lunch, the rosé 18 accompanying the millefeuille of aubergine, goats cheese, sundried tomato and courgette coulis starter.  The fruity 2018 Pur Rouge Côtes du Rhône red went well with the roast veal and mushroom risotto, before we tasted the 2015 Terroir de Miocène Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, with cheese.  Our tasting ended with the 2016 Genest  Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux, served with the chocolate mousse.
Harvesters' lunch in a French Orgnic winery
After lunch we followed the journey that the grapes take to the fermentation hall.  We watched as our trailers were emptied and the grapes fell into the de-stemming machine.  Here the berries are separated from the stems, and the grapes then continue their journey into the vat.
Chai visit during the haarvest in the Cotes du Rhone area
Inside the fermentation hall, Laurence explained the process that will take place over the coming weeks to transform the grape juice into wine.  Laurence showed us the mustimeter that she uses daily to monitor the sugar density and temperature of each of the vats.  We also learned about the important role of pumping over the wines throughout the maceration period to extract the colour and tannins from the grape skins.
Wine and grape juice tasting during the harvest
We ended the day by tasting the juice from the grapes we had picked, and compared this to the juice from grapes that had been harvested a week earlier, and was now in its fifth day of fermentation.  It was impressive to see the difference that just a few days make.
We’ll be back at Domaine de la Guicharde next year for the Vinification Experience Days, where we’ll pick up from where we left off, and learn more about the rest of the fermentation process, blending, ageing, and bottling.  There’s still lots to be done, but for now the winemakers can sleep a little more soundly knowing that the harvest is safely in the fermentation hall!

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The 2019 harvest of Pinot Noir grapes in Burgundy


We were welcomed to Domaine Chapelle in Santenay on a gloriously sunny weekend for the Harvest Experience Days of the Clos des Cornières vineyard, the grapes from which will be used to make the personalised organic red wine for the clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

 

Meet the winemaker of an organic winery in Santenay, France

In the garden in front of the chateau, Jean-François, the owner briefly recounted the history of Burgundy wines, and explained the evolution of the production and commercialisation of the wines over the last 100 years, focusing on the decisions that he had taken, notably in converting the winery to becoming organically certified.

Vine adoption in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We the made our way to the Clos des Cornières vineyard and the Crais plot opposite to meet our adopted vines that will make the red and white wines. Having taken a few photos and whispered some sweet words to them, we met up again in front of the vine rows that we were to harvest. We were to harvest the pinot noir grapes from the Clos des Cornières plot, the chardonnay grapes from the Crais having already reached optimum maturity and so having already been picked a few days earlier.

2019 Harvest quality in Santenay Burgundy

As with the team of professional harvesters, we listened intently to the briefing for the day, and the instructions of how and what to harvest.  Jean-François explained which bunches to pick, those that are found between the training wires near the bottom of the vines.  The smaller bunches higher up are not sufficiently mature to produce good quality wine. We were also to leave the bunches that had been attacked by mould, and those that had dried out and had no pulp inside them. With the extremely hot weather this summer, quite a few of the bunches unfortunately contained little or no juice.

Harvest Experience Day in Burgundy, France

Armed with a pair of secateurs and a harvesting crate, we started to pick the grapes.  In pairs facing each other we each took a side of the vine row to make sure that we didn’t leave any good grapes behind.  By the end of the morning we had finished our work and filled a fair few crates, some with a little plaster on their cut finger!  The work of a harvester isn’t always as easy as all that!

Grapes picking experience in Burgundy, France

The time for the aperitif beckoned, and well deserved it was too!  Back in the garden, we enjoyed the Saint-Jean Santenay white wine, accompanied by the famous Burgundy gougères.

Organic Burgundy wine tasting, France

We then savoured the regional lunch, accompanied by three red wines, the Burgundy, Santenay Clos des Cornières, and Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières.

Grape sorting Experience in Burgundy

After lunch we went to see how the grapes are sorted and put into the vats. The sorting table is a crucial step in ensuring the quality of the grape juice that will then start fermenting. At the beginning of the table, the crates are emptied one by one onto the conveyor belt.  Either side of the table, 6 to 8 sorters remove any grapes that aren’t of a good enough quality and any leaves that might be present.  At the end of the table the grapes are separated from the stems mechanically and then fall into the fermentation hall below, where a trolley catches them, before being trundled to a another conveyer belt that lifts them up and into the vat.

Chai visit and wine tasting in Burgundy

There is no pumping at this stage so that the grapes arrive in the vat intact, helping to keep a higher degree of freshness to the future wine.
The day ended with an explanation of the fermentation process which will start in the next few days, and the work involved during this time.  It will be the first stage in the vinification and ageing process, more of which will be explained at the start of next year.
So the time to leave arrived, Jean-François and Myriam thanking us and looking forward already to our next visit!

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The effects of climate change on the harvest


There’s no longer any need to prove it, the climate is changing and the temperature is rising, and that of course includes the vineyards, as we already talked about back in 2016. What are the consequences of climate change for the vines and what solutions are there for the winemakers to combat them?

The heat has brought the harvest earlier and earlier

A recent study by the European Geosciences Union successfully demonstrated a correlation between the rise in average temperatures and the earlier harvests. They did so by using the recorded data collected from the Burgundy wine region since 1354. The study calculated that between 1354 and 1988, the average start date for the harvest was around the 28th September. Since 1988, the year when the inflexion of the temperature curve took place and the temperatures started to increase by more than the average, the average start date for the harvest is now 13 days earlier, on the 15th September.

It’s not just the hot summer temperatures and heatwaves which cause the grapes to ripen faster (sometimes the heat can have the opposite effect and block the maturity), it’s the average temperature throughout the year that is making each stage of the vine’s development earlier.  The bud burst, flowering, and veraison are all happening earlier, as a study by INRA France Agrimer showed in 2017 (donwload the chart – in French).

The debudding happens earlier

The harvest being earlier makes the organisation of the teams and the harvest more difficult for the winemakers, but it’s not the only consequence, nor the most worrying.

The impact of the heat on the harvest

As we just mentioned, the winemakers must reorganise the way they work in the face of climate change, not just for the harvest, but in the methods and techniques used in the vineyard throughout the year. All of the green work is challenged. For example, when the summer is forecast to be hot, the winemakers remove much less leaves than before, so as to not burn the grapes by leaving more shade. The tops of the vines are trimmed more severely to reduce the surface area of foliage, thus limiting the photosynthesis that causes the grapes to ripen too quickly. 

Less leaves are removed

And even before this stage, some winemakers opt to spread mulch in the vineyard as opposed to mowing the grass.This creates a vegetative layer that limits the evaporation of water when it is hot. Research is also under way in some regions to evaluate the planting of grape varietals that mature later and are less sensitive to the heat.

We can also note that other climatic conditions are also impacting the vines.  When the winters are warmer, the bud burst happens earlier, and so any late frosts are more likely to cause significant damage to the buds.  Hail falling from thunderstorms, and droughts are becoming more frequent and intense, increasing the risk of reducing the yield. And then there are new diseases and parasites that are appearing with the warming, as well as shortening the reproductive cycles and the number of generations of insects each year.  The eudemis grape berry moth and leaf hoppers are good examples.

The heat has burn the grapes

Even without all of the above, a summer drought can drastically reduce the yield because, without water, the grapes don’t swell enough and produce less juice to ferment.

The quality of the wine evolves and the characteristics change.  With heat, the level of sugar in the grape must increases, and can give wines with a higher alcoholic degree and less acidity.  For red wines, sometimes it is a characteristic that is sought after, allowing the wine to have stewed fruit aromas rather that fresh fruit.  But it is generally much less desirable for white wines because you need a certain freshness and equilibrium with the acidity.

A few avenues to explore in the face of rising temperatures

In terms of the work in the vineyard, we have already touched on some of the techniques that can be used to fight against the heat and lack of water.  As well as research into new types of grape varietal, studies are underway to produce rootstocks that are more resistant to drought.

On the winemaking side, you can also compensate for the lack of acidity by choosing yeast that is able to produce less alcohol from the same amount of sugar, or by using tartaric acid, although these methods are of course less naturel.  You can also remove some of the alcohol by filtering it through a membrane, but this can also alter the taste of the wine.  Filtering is also possible before the fermentation to remove some of the sugar in the juice.

These procedures are just avenues to explore for the moment, and are not completely satisfactory in that they act in response to the initial problem, that of rising temperatures and global warming.  But they are worth exploring given the acceleration of the rise in temperature over the past few years, as the winemakers are likely to face bigger and bigger threats to their harvest over the coming years.

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The 2019 harvest of cinsault grapes in the Languedoc


We spent a very enjoyable day harvesting the grapes under the bue sky in Domaine Allegria’s plot of cinsault vines.  It was a plot that had unfortunately suffered from the heatwave on the 28th June, so the quantity was reduced, but there were still enough grapes to keep us busy!

 

Meet an organic winemaker in teh Languedoc area France

After the introductions and instructions on how to harvest, we were each given a pair of harvesting secateurs, and we started to pick the grapes and put them in the crates.

Grape picking experience in Languedoc, France

We quickly got into the routine, and by midday we had finished the plot. We had picked 1200 kg, compared to 2500 kg in 2017 for the same plot, less than half the quantity.

Harvest Day experience in Languedoc, France

We then headed back to the winery, where Delphine, the winemaker had prepared a delicious lunch, centred around the old variety tomatoes that had been grow in the winery’s garden, and of course tasted the different wines throughout the meal.

harvesters' lunch at domaine Allegria in Languedoc, France

After lunch, we headed to the fermentation hall to put our harvest into a stainless steel vat. We first emptied the crates into the de-stemming machine to separate the grape berries from the stems.

Wine-making experience in Languedoc, France

The grapes then continued their journey into the vat, and we then washed the emptied crates. In 30 minutes we had put all of the grapes into the vat and all of the materiel was cleaned, thanks to our enthusiastic and efficient team of apprentice winemakers that we would like to have with us every day in the cellar!

Harvest experience in the chai in Languedoc, France

The day ended with a walk in the vineyard and a visit to see our adopted syrah vines. The grapes from this plot will be blended with the neighbouring mourvèdre grapes to make the Tribu d’A wine. The grapes had already been harvested because they had reached optimum maturity, and once that has happened, you can’t wait any longer!

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