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Archive from September 2020

Apprentice harvester for a day in Saint-Emilion


The vines had a particularly warm and dry summer for the 2020 vintage in the southwest of France.  The grapes reached perfect maturity and so we had a harvest of top quality grapes.  We met up at Château Coutet with Mathieu, Adrien, and Alain, all members of the David-Beaulieu family who have been the owners of the winery in Saint-Emilion for 400 years.  After a coffee and croissant, we got the Harvest Experience Day underway.

Origiinal wine gift. Get involved in the harvest in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey wine expert, presented the programme of the day, and reminded us of the social distancing and protective measures put in place in light of the current epidemic.

We started the day by visiting our adopted vines which are located on the limestone plateau above Saint-Emilion, where the winery’s best plots are to be found, surrounded by the most prestigious of Saint Emilion’s Grand Cru Classé vineyards.

Adopt-a-vine gift at a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru winery

We each took some souvenir photographs of this magnificent setting, and some entered some pictures for the “My Vine” competition to reward the most original photo of their vines.

Walking through the vineyards gave us a good warm up before starting the harvest of the grapes.  After the safety reminder that we make better wine with grapes rather than finger tips, the sound of the secateurs snipping away resonated throughout the vineyard.

Harvest Experience Gift in Bordeaux

We put the bunches of grapes into a bucket which we then emptied into a crate which was carried to the awaiting tractor by some porters.  The grapes were in perfect condition, the first and most important indicator of a good potential vintage to come.

Wine picking experience gift in Bordeaux France

After our morning’s hard work, we returned to the lawn in front of the chateau for the aperitif, tasting the Clairet wine, which is either a very light red wine, or a strong rosé wine depending on your viewpoint.  During the vinification stage, the grape juice only remains in contact with the skins for a short time to extract less colour than for a red wine, giving the wine its light and fruity character.  It’s a very refreshing drink.

We then sat down to a delicious lunch prepared onsite by the caterer and accompanied by some other wines from Château Coutet.  The first wine was the 2017 Château Belles-Cimes made from the young vines which has a delicate tannic structure and paired perfectly with the winemaker’s salad.  We went up a grade with the 2017 Château Coutet Grand Cru, the winery’s signature wine.  Made using the grapes from the estate’s three different types of terroir and the four grape varietals, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is more powerful with a longer finish, making it a great match for the guinea-fowl farcie with morille and foie-gras sauce.

We discovered an exceptional Saint-Emilion wine with the 2017 Desmosielles, a limited edition wine made using the best vine plots that are worked by horse, without the intervention of the tractor and electricity.  It’s a real treat to taste this wine that has such depth and voluptuous soft tannins on the palate.  We finished the wonderful meal with a cheese platter and chocolate praline dessert.

In the afternoon we turned our attention to the work in the cellar to de-stem and sort the grapes.  We separate the grapes form the stalks and take away any grapes that aren’t ripe enough, which weren’t very many this year.

Sorting the grapes

We ended the day with a visit of the cellar to learn about the first stage of fermentation.  We’ll learn more about what happens next during the Vinification Experience Days.

Winery tour and experience day with the winemaker

Many thanks to the David-Beaulieu family for welcoming us so warmly during the harvest which is a particularly busy and stressful time for the winemakers.

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Getting invloved in the 2020 harvest in Alsace


A gorgeous sunny day welcomed us to Alsace for the Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher last week-end.  The harvest is early this year due to the warm and dry weather, and whilst we were all in lock-down, the vines were soaking up the sun and having a great time.  The vineyards around Wettolsheim received just the right amount of rainfall at the crucial moments, so the grapes were in perfect condition to be picked.  All they needed were a team of harvesters, so the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers were very welcome to give a helping hand!

Top wine lover gift to get involved in harvesting the grapes in Alsace

After the introductions we headed towards the Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyard, where the pinot noir grapes that we were to harvest were to be found.  Céline explained which grapes to pick and how to harvest them, then armed with a bucket and pair of secateurs we got down to the serious business of harvesting the grapes!

Harvest Experience gift in organic french vineyard


The Steingrubler vineyard is on quite a steep slope, so the tractor and trailer waited patiently for our grapes at the end of the rows. To avoid wasting time and energy by everyone walking to and from the trailer, a couple of brave people volunteered to be a porter, strapping a large hop on their backs.  Once we had filled our buckets, the grapes were then poured into the hop for the porter to then empty them into the trailer.  It’s a physical job at the best of times, particularly so when you have to contend with the slope of the vineyard!

Join the harvest and learn the hard work that goes into making wine


The buckets filled quickly, and as we picked, we asked questions about life at the winery to Céline, her father Jean-Jacques, and the winery harvest team who were also on hand to help with the harvest.

Once we had picked all the grapes from the plot, we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard where our Pinot Gris adopted vines are located. They had reached optimum maturity earlier in the week, so had already been harvested.  Once the grapes are ripe, they need to be picked straight away to ensure the best quality wine possible.  We took a few souvenir pictures and some for the “My Vine” photo competition with our adopted vines before heading back to the winery.

Adopt-a-vine gift in an organic French vineyard

Our next job was to put the grapes that we had harvested into the fermentation tank.  We used a long-handled rake to gently pull the grapes out of the trailer and into the de-stemming machine below.  This machine separates the berries from the stalks, and then the grapes continue their fall into the waiting vat.  The winery building has been designed to use gravity as much as possible in preference to pumps, so that the grapes arrive with their skins as intact as possible in the vat or press, helping to preserve the aromatic concentration.
Learning about the work in the cellar during the harvest


It was now time for a well-earned aperitif.  Céline had prepared an extensive wine tasting session for us, starting with the fresh and floral 2019 Pinot Blanc Tradition.  We then tasted the lovely mineral 2014 Sylvaner Vielles Vignes, followed by the complex and aromatic 2016 Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru.  Next was the intense 2015 Pinot Noir Old Oak, the wine that the grapes we had picked in the morning are used to make, and then the 100% Pinot Noir Crémant Nature Rosé sparkling wine, accompanied by a savoury Kougelopf.

Wine tasting session with teh winemaker in Alsace


We continued the tasting over lunch, starting with the 2018 Pinot Gris Rosenberg which perfectly paired with the “Bouchée à la Reine” and spatzlé.  With dessert we compared two different wines, the 2017 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg and the 2016 Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru.

We picked up after lunch where we had finished in the morning and descended into the cellar.  Stéphane described how the grapes for the white wines are treated differently, being emptied directly into the press, where the time and pressure are regulated depending on the quality of grapes ad thickness of the their skins.

Stéphane then explained the different processes and work needed for red and white wines up until the end of the first fermentation period.

Wine-making gift experience in Alsace

We visited the barrel room where the Pinot Noir wines are aged, and ended the day in the fermentation hall where the white wines were bubbling away as they start the fermentation process.  We’ll be spending more time here next year for the Vinification Experience Days to discover all of the work that is left to do between now and the time when the wine is bottled and conditioned.

Many thanks to Céline and Stéphane for a great day!

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Harvest Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


Last Saturday, we were at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley for the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Day. We were there to help pick the grapes for this year’s harvest and to learn about all of the work involved at the winery during harvest time.  As we were to discover there is more to it than just picking grapes!

The Harvest Experience gift in the Rhone Valley, France

After the introductions, we walked past the winery’s olive grove and up the hillside to the vineyard where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  The vineyard is one of the winery’s best plots, and the Grenache Noir grapes are used to make the excellent AOC Massif d’Uchaux red wine.  We took a few minutes to find our adopted vines, laden with delicious ripe grapes, and take a few pictures before we started the harvest.

Adopt a vine gift and personalised bottles of biodynamic wine

Laurence, the wine-maker at Domaine de la Guicharde, then explained which grapes to pick, and which to leave, and how to cut the bunches.  Equipped with a pair of secateurs and a bucket, we then spread out among the rows and started to pick.

Grape harvest gift in the Rhone Valley

The buckets quickly filled as the grapes were generally in very good condition, and so there was little to sort.  The dry and hot weather meant that there had been no mildew, the only damage being a few vines that had been too exposed to the sun, causing the grapes to burn and dry out.  Once the buckets were full, we emptied them into a trailer and then carried on picking.

Wine-making experience gift in an organic winery in the Rhone Valley

Laurence took the time to explain how she monitors the ripening of the grapes and decides when the best time to pick them is.  She has to plan and juggle resources between the different grape varietals and vineyard plots, as the grapes don’t all ripen at the same speed.

The terroir of the Massif d’Uchaux is unique amongst the different Côtes du Rhône appellations, the principal characteristic being that millions of years ago, in the Miocène era, all of the surrounding land was covered by seawater.  You can still make out where the ancient beach used to be, and if you look hard, you can find fossils of shell fish.

Domaine de la Guicharde is both organically and biodynamically certified, and so Laurence explained the difference between the two approaches, and how they influence the work in the vineyard and cellar.

After the morning’s hard work and effort, the aperitif was very welcome!  Back in the courtyard of the winery, Laurence served us a nice cold glass of her rosé.

Organic wine tasting gift with the winemaker

We then sat down to a delicious lunch, paired with other wines from the winery.  The rich and complex 2019 Côtes du Rhône “Autour de la Chapelle” white wine perfectly accompanied the Millefeuille of aubergines, confit tomatoes with fresh goats cheese and courgette coulis.  We enjoyed the fruity 2019 Côtes du Rhône “Pur Rouge” red wine with the main course of roast veal, mushroom and épeautre risotto, finishing with the more powerful and spicy 2017 Côtes du Rhône Massif d’Uchaux red with the cheese platter and chocolate cappuccino cream dessert.

After lunch we made our way to the chai, where the grapes that we had harvested were waiting in the shade.  Our next job was to put the grapes into the vat. To do so we emptied the trailer of grapes slowly into a hopper where the grapes pass through a de-stemming machine to separate the berries from the stalks.

Learning about the work at harvest time in the chai

The grapes are then pumped through a large tube into one of the vats.  Laurence explained how the fermentation process will transform the sugar into alcohol, and how the wine will extract the colour and tannins from the grapes skins during the maceration period.

Laurence explains the work and in the chai during the harvest period and the fermentation process

It’s an exciting year, because the 2020 vintage will be the first to be made in the new chai.  Building started in February, and despite a break in work during the lockdown period, the main shell of the building was completed and the fermentation hall equipped with the essential equipment just in time for the start of the harvest.  It was touch and go for a while, but the much larger space means that Laurence and her team will be able to work in much better conditions.

We finished the day by tasting the juice from the grapes that we had picked.  It was cloudy in colour and very sweet with the sugar that is needed to make the wine.  We then compared it with the grape juice from another vat that had already started the fermentation process.

Tasting the grape juice from our harvest

We’ll be back next year for the Vinification Experience Days to see how this year’s vintage has progressed and to learn about all of the work that still remains between now and the time that the wine is ready for bottling.  Many thanks to Laurence and her team for looking after us so well during the day.

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The 2020 harvest in Burgundy ends with the Pinot Noir


The Chapelle family and their team of harvesters awaited the Gourmet Odyssey adopt-a-vine owners for three days of harvesting pinot noir vines in the Clos des Cornières vineyard in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay.  It’s the plot where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located to make the Santenay red wine of the same name, and as we were to find out, to produce a wine of this quality, there’s lots of work to do!

The harvest this year in Burgundy was very early, starting on the 19th August at Domaine Chapelle, and finished with the Gourmet Odyssey team on the 30th August. We were eagerly awaited, as we were the ones to pick the last grapes, put them into the vats, and close out the harvest of the 2020 grapes! As soon as Jean-François Chapelle had introduced us to the winery and the surrounding area, we headed out into the Clos des Cornières vineyard, which is located just next to the winery.

Harvest Experience Day Wine Making Experience Burgundy

It’s called a “clos” because the plot is surrounded by a wall on three sides. The clos has two distinct areas, each with different ages of vines. The winery’s team of harvesters picked the grapes from the younger vines in the lower part of the vineyard, whilst we took care of the older section. Jean-François explained that the harvest from the two areas would be kept separate in different vats and aged separately until the end of the ageing process, when they will be blended together to form the Clos des Cornières wine.

Adopt a vine and meet an organic winemaker

This year, the quality of grapes is exceptional thanks to the warm and dry weather. Even if the grapes are small as a consequence, they are in great condition and of a very homogenous maturity. Jean-François directions were therefore very straight forward; pick everything!

Harvest Experience Gift in Burgundy

We quickly got into the groove. Spread out among the rows we quickly filled up the crates, and once full, we brought them back to the beginning of the rows to exchange for an empty one. The crates were then loaded into the van to transport the grapes back to the winery.

Harvest your own organic vine in Burgundy

The winery harvest team used a person with a basket on his back to collect the grapes from each of the harvesters. The basket contains more grapes than the crates and gets very heavy. The porter then empties the basket into a trailer by climbing up a ladder and pouring the grape bunches over his head. The trailer is then emptied back at the winery. It’s a slightly different process, and we would see later that the grapes which arrive in the trailer are not treated in the same way as our grapes in the crates.
Once we’d finished picking the grapes, we went and had a look at our adopted vines in the Clos des Cornières vineyard for the clients of the Santenay red wine, and in the Les Crais vineyard on the other side of the road for the Santenay white clients. Jean-François then explained the different terroir that make up the Burgundy wine growing region and how that determines the lay out of the vineyard plots, before making our way back to the courtyard where we tasted a well-earned glass of Santenay white wine!

Winery visit and tasting in Santenay, Burgundy

We continued tasting the wines from Domaine Chapelle over lunch, before heading to the winery building where the grapes we harvested were waiting for us. It was now time to sort the grapes, and as Yannick, the Technical Director, said, the task was made relatively easy because we had worked so hard in the vineyard and the grapes were in excellent condition! To sort the grapes, we tipped out the crates onto the sorting table, which has a vibrating conveyor belt to shake off any water when it rains. We removed any damaged grapes or ones that weren’t yet ripe enough, as well as any leaves, snails or other stowaways from the vineyard!

Harvest and grape sorting exprience in an organic winery in France

The grapes then fall either into a destemming machine or directly into the vat. The grapes from the winery’s harvest team were separated from the stems before being put into the vat. The bunches harvested by the Gourmet Odyssey clients were put directly into a vat because the harvest took place over 3 days. If we had separated the grapes from the stems we would have pierced the skin of the grapes a little, the juice would have fallen to the bottom of the vat, and would have risked starting to ferment before the vat was full, which would be more difficult to control. Putting the whole bunches into the vat produces a stronger, more tannic wine. It will be aged separately from the other vats, and then blended with the other wines from the Clos des Cornières vineyard later to produce the final wine.

Organic winery visit and harvest course in Santenay, Burgundy

We also saw the press used for the white wines. The grapes used for the whites are sorted and pressed as soon as they arrive back at the winery. The juice is then put into a vat before the fermentation process begins. The grapes from the Les Crais vineyard were harvested on the 24th August, as the thinner skinned chardonnay grapes had reached their optimal maturity before the pinot noir. The fermentation had already begun for the Santenay Village white!
The fermentation period will also be the maceration phase for the red wines, where the wine will extract the colour and aromas from the skin and pips.

Wine-making and vine adoption experience in France

Jean-François explained how they manage the fermentation by regulating the temperature. The winery doesn't use any added yeast, relying solely on the yeast cells that are naturally present on the grape skins, so it is more difficult to predict when the fermentation will start and how it will evolve. If the temperature is too low, the fermentation has a hard job getting started, but if the must gets too warm, the yeast cells will die and won’t finish transforming the sugar into alcohol. The temperature is controlled using immersion heaters that are placed into the vats and have either hot or cold water pumped through them to heat or cool the must as needed.
Over the next few weeks, the team in the fermentation hall will be on tenterhooks as they monitor the progress of the different fermentations. The next step will be to rack the first wines to separate the wine from the solid matter of stems, skin and pips, but we’ll cover that in more detail during the next Vinification Experience Days at the start of next year.
Many thanks to all the team at Domaine Chapelle for welcoming us and for replying to our numerous questions with passion and good humour!

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