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Archive from October 2021

Harvest Experience Days in the Loire Valley


We had beautiful sunny days last weekend to welcome the participants of the Harvest Experience Days at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley.  We were there to discover the work of the winemaker during the harvest, and we learnt that there is much more to do than just pick the grapes!

 

Lovely blue skies for the Harvest Experience Days at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley.

 

For many, it was their first day with Gourmet Odyssey.  Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner of the winery, welcomed us with a coffee and croissant, introduced us to the history of his winery, and brought us up to speed with the 2021 vintage so far, one that has been far from easy.
The late frosts and wet summer have meant that it’s been a nervous time for Marc leading up to the harvest.  Fortunately, the old saying that “September makes the wine” has indeed come into effect this year!  The good weather in September allowed the grapes to ripen and be ready in time for the harvest, even if it is slightly later than usual.
On the Saturday, Marc had kept one of his most special vineyard plots for us, one with an exceptional history.
Hidden in a small village on the left bank of the River Vienne, lies a small chateau which even Rabelais talks about in his writings!  Behind the chateau is a tiny walled vineyard, less than half a hectare in size.  This vineyard has the amazing peculiarity of being spared from the phylloxera disease that destroyed almost 80% of the French vineyards around 1890.  The vines are not grafted and are reproduced by taking cuttings from the old vines.
It’s a treasure and demands particular care throughout the year to nurture the vines and grapes, involving lots of manual work and the use of horses instead of tractors.
On Sunday we harvested a section of the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard which is home to the adopted vines of the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers.

 

Secateurs in hand, we participated in the harvest

 

After receiving our instructions as to which grape bunches to select and how to cut them, we accepted our mission and started to harvest the grapes.  There were less grapes than usual, making those that we picked that much more precious!
We filled our buckets with the grapes, and then tipped them into the crates.  Thanks to the good cheer and motivation of our teams each day, we successfully accomplished our missions!

 

We emptied the grapes into crates

 

Back at the winery, it was already time for the aperitif and lunch!  The work in the chai would wait.  The meal was the ideal time to taste the wines that Marc makes, covering a range of sparkling, white, rosé, and of course red wines, for which Chinon is most well-known.  It’s always a much-appreciated time for the guests and it was difficult to get up from the table afterwards.  But our day wasn’t finished, and we had to put the grapes into the vat.

 

Enjoying the aperitif before the harvesters lunch

 

Marc makes different wines from each of the different vineyard plots, not blending grapes from different terroir together.  We therefore did the same for our respective harvests.
We sorted the grapes by hand to remove any leaves or unripe grapes that had inadvertently found themselves in the crates, before putting the grapes into the vats by gravity.  Marc uses a forklift truck to lift a trolley which he can then open the bottom of to let the grapes fall into the vat below.  It avoids damaging the grapes as much as possible.

 

Sorting the grapes

 

Marc then explained the work of the winemaker in the chai during the harvest over the maceration and fermentation phases.  It’s important to closely follow the transformation of sugar in the grape juice into alcohol to regulate the speed, in order to keep the maximum taste and aromatic qualities.  Through the pumping over and piegeage, Marc and his team extract the tannins and colour from the grape skins to give the wine more body and structure.

 

Explaining the winemaker’s work in the chai during harvest time

 

The day finally drew to a close after a thorough cleaning of all the equipment that we had used!  Our fantastic harvesters for a day had participated in all the stages with much professionalism and enthusiasm.  Many thanks to all and we hope to see you again soon!  The next step in this wine-making adventure will be the Vinification Experience Days next year, when we’ll learn about all the work in the cellar after the harvest up until the time that the wine is ready for bottling.

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Harvest Experience Day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


Last Saturday we were in Alsace for the Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  Our mission was to pick the pinot noir grapes located in the Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyard and learn about the work in the cellar during harvest time.

 

An original gift idea for wine lovers to get involved in harvesting the grapes

 

Domaine Stentz-Buecher is run by the brother and sister duo of Céline and Stéphane.  After a brief introduction to the day and the winery, we headed straight off out into to the vineyard, and climbed up to the Steingrubler vineyard, marvelling at the wonderful views on the way.  Céline instructed us how to pick the grapes, and how to choose which grapes to pick and which to leave behind.

We were then each given a pair of secateurs and a bucket and assigned in pairs to a row.  We started to pick the grapes, tentatively at first as we decided which grapes were worthy of putting into the buckets.  It’s been a complicated year for winemakers in Alsace, first because of the frost in spring that hit much of France’s wine-growing regions, and then due to the wet summer that saw mildew impact many of the vineyards.  These two phenomena have meant that the vines have produced far fewer grapes than normal, making the grapes we harvested all that more precious!

 

Adopt-a-vine and learn how to make wine in an award-winning organically certified winery in Alsace, France

 

Our buckets quickly filled up though, and we passed them under the rows to one of the waiting porters.  The grapes were then tipped into the basket on their back, and the empty buckets passed back for the next fill.

 

Great wine gift experience to get involved in the grape harvest

 

The porters then carried the grapes to the tractor and tipped them into the trailer.  It’s a physical job as the baskets quickly become heavy, and the Steingrubler vineyard is located on a fairly steep slope!

 

Learn how to harvest the grapes

 

Time flies by when you’re having fun, and before we knew it, we had arrived at the bottom of the vineyard and the end of the rows. 

We then headed to the Rosenberg vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  These had been harvested earlier in the week, because the grapes had reached optimum maturity and couldn’t wait any longer.  We spread out among the rows in search of the name plate designating where each of our micro-plot of vines started and took a few photos to immortalise the moment.

 

Rent-a-vine in an organic Alsace winery

 

We then followed the grapes back to the winery, where Stéphane was waiting for us to put the grapes into the vat.  We emptied the bunches of grapes into a de-stemming machine that separates the berries from the stalks.

 

Following the grapes on their journey into the cellar

 

The grapes then fall into a vat.  Stéphane explained how the fermentation process will transform the grapes into wine, and the work needed to extract the colour and tannins from the skins during the maceration process.

 

Harvest Experience Gift in Alsace

 

We then headed back into the courtyard for the wine tasting session that Céline had prepared to discover the breadth of the organic wines produced at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  After the Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine, we tasted the 2019 Pinot Gris Rosenberg, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, followed by the elegant 2016 Sylvaner Vielles Vignes, and the delicious 2018 Riesling Ortel.  Then came the intense 2018 Pinot Noir Old Oak, which is the wine made from the vines that we had picked.

 

Discovering the breadth of Alsace wines

 

Over lunch, we tasted the 2019 Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir Tradition wines, finishing with the aromatic 2018 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg.

Back down in the cool of the cellar, Stéphane then explained how the white grapes are pressed and left to clarify in the holding tanks for up to two days before being racked to separate the clear juice from the solid matter that has settled in the bottom of the vat.

 

Learn how grapes juice is fermented and tunred into wine

 

We finished the day in the room where the white wines ferment and age. Stéphane explained how he will closely monitor the wines through the fermentation stage as the sugar is transformed into alcohol.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Vinification Experience Days next year to learn about the rest of the wine-making process and to see how our wine is developing.

And so the day drew to a close.  Many thanks to Céline and Stéphane for a really enjoyable day.

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Participate in harvesting Saint-Emilion Grand Cru grapes


At the end of September we joined the winemakers at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Harvest Days.  The aim of these days is to get involved in picking the grapes and following their journey into the cellar to discover the work at the winery during the harvest period.  It’s a busy time for the winemakers and really exciting to be a part of!

 

A great gift idea for wine lovers.  Adopt aome organic vines and get involved in harvesting the grapes

 

Over coffee and croissants, we started to get to know Mathieu, Alain and Adrien, the winemakers at Château Coutet, and Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey wine expert.  The amazing family history at the winery started several hundred years ago in this beautiful wine-growing region on Bordeaux’s right bank.

We started the day by visiting the vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  They grow in the best area of the Saint-Emilion vineyards, up on the famous limestone plateau.  The vines are old, and produce some of the estate’s best grapes.  The view is marvellous, and we could see across to the bell tower of Saint-Emilion’s church, just a few hundred metres away, and down to the Dordogne valley below.  We each took a few minutes to visit our adopted vines.

 

Rent a vine in Bordeaux, harvest the grapes and follow the making of your own personnalised bottles of wine

 

We then got equipped to start the harvest.  The winemakers explained which grapes to pick and which to leave on the vines.  The good bunches are found where the vegetation starts to grow, close to the bottom training wire.  The bunches that grow higher up appeared later and are not at the same level of maturity, so it’s better to leave them as they would diminish the quality of the wine.

 

Learning how to harvest grapes

 

A pair of secateurs in one hand and a basket in the other, we were then ready to start harvesting the grapes.  We picked a plot of merlot grapes, one of the main grape varietals grown at the winery, located on the clay-limestone hillside.  We were two to a row, one on either side, but not exactly opposite each other to avoid cutting the fingers of our partner!

 

Grape harvest experience gift in France

 

Once our baskets were full, we emptied them into a crate that we then carried and put on the trailer behind the tractor.

 

Grape picking experience gift alongside the winemakers in Saint-Emilion

 

The grapes are low to the ground and at times are well hidden behind the leaves. You need to pay attention to not leave any behind or to cut your fingers!  Having harvested a few rows, we finished the morning by following the tractor back to the winery to clean the material and tidy it away.

The glass of Clairet wine served for the aperitif was very refreshing and awoke our taste buds for lunch and the tasting of the other wines produced at Château Coutet.  It’s an unusual wine, between a red and a rosé, which was at first made just for the private consumption of the family, but has proved to be very popular with the clients as well, and now has firmly established its place alongside the range of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru wines.

Once seated, we started lunch with a winemaker’s salad, accompanied by the 2019 Château Belles-Cimes, the winery’s second wine.  It’s made from the young vines which give a fruitier wine that can keep for around 10 years.

 

Enjoying lunch with organic wines from the winery

 

The stuffed guinea fowl with foie-gras and morille sauce paired delightfully with the complexity of the 2017 Château Coutet.  It’s a blend of the four grape varietals grown on the estate; Merlot, Bouchet, Pressac, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and of the three soil types. A real treat!

We finished lunch with the Demoiselle wine made from the oldest vines grown on the limestone plateau.  They are nurtured by hand and horses are used to till the soil.  It’s a very elegant wine that takes you back in time to how wines used to be made centuries ago.

The afternoon was devoted to the second stage of work during the harvest to sort the grapes and put them into the vats and barrels.  We manually sorted the grapes, as is done for the Demoiselle wine, separating the grapes from the stem by hand.

 

Selecting and de-stemming the grapes by hand

 

The day ended with a visit of the fermentation hall where the winemakers explained the work done during the maceration and fermentation stages to transform the grapes into wine.  We’ll pick up from here during the Vinification Experience Days next year, when we’ll get the chance to taste the wines during their ageing phase, and better understand the work of the winemaker in the cellar.

 

Learning about the work in the cellar at harvest time

 

Many thanks to the winemakers for their warm welcome, for taking the time to explain their work, and for sharing their passion for their profession.

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