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Archive from May 2022

A day behind the scenes to learn about the work in an organic vineyard


We met up at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion for a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day.  The aim of the day was to learn about the winemaker’s work in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes.

 

A Wine Discovery Experience Day at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux

 

Alain, the owner and winemaker, welcomed us with a coffee and some pastries.   Alain is the 13th generation of winemaker at Château Coutet, his family’s history there starting some 400 years ago.   He is now proud to work alongside his son and nephew who have joined him in running the winery. 

We started with a walk through the different terroir that make up the winery to better understand this prestigious Bordeaux wine, and the different grape varietals that are grown on the estate.

At the top of the hill that looks down over the Dordogne Valley, we stopped to take in the magnificent view and then learnt about the winemaker’s work in the vineyard during winter to prune the vines. It’s a fascinating job, but also very complex as we were to learn.

 

Meeting our adopted vines

 

The plot of Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines was located nearby, on Saint-Emilion’s limestone plateau, rubbing shoulders with some of the most prestigious names.  We each found our micro-plot of vines, thanks to a slate nameplate that had been placed in front of them.  We all took some photos of this magnificent setting, and some came up with original ideas for the “My Vine” photo competition organised by Gourmet Odyssey in the hope of winning a magnum of wine!

It was now time to get down to some work.  The task of the day was to raise the training wires, trapping the branches between them in the process.  This ensures that the tractor can continue to pass freely through the vineyard to treat the vines and protect them from mildew and odium.  It’s quite an easy job, but the intense heat made us aware of how the weather can have a big impact on the winemaker’s work.

 

Raising the training wires

 

The Claret de Coutet wine was welcome refreshment back at the winery after our efforts in the vineyard.  We then sat down to lunch and continued to taste different wines.  The winery’s second wine, the 2019 Château Belles-Cimes gave us an introduction into the more classic Saint-Emilion red wines.  It’s made using the young vines and is less fruity and less tannic than the longer 2019 Château Coutet that we tasted afterwards.  We ended the tasting with the magnificent 2018 Demoiselles that is a truly great wine that will further improve with age.

After the delicious lunch, we regrouped in the shade of the old oak tree to listen to Alain talk about the benefits and challenges of cultivating the vines organically.  He also explained the work still to do in the vineyard before the harvest, at which time we will return for the Harvest Experience Days.

 

Visiting the private cellar containing the old vintage bottles.

 

We ended the day with a visit of the cellar which is one of the more rustic ones to be found in Saint-Emilion, and a tour of the family cellar that stores the old vintage bottles from the winery, the oldest of which dates back to 1945!

Many thanks to Alain for his good humour and his explanations of the vineyard, family, and his daily life of being a winemaker.

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A Wine Experience Day in the Côtes du Rhône to learn about the work in the vineyard


Chéli and Jérôme, the passionate winemakers at Château Cohola, welcomed us warmly to their organic winery for a Discovery Experience Day.  The aim of this wine experience day was to learn about the work required in the vineyard to nurture the vines and produce the best quality grapes possible.

 

A Discovery Experience Day in the Côtes du Rhône at Château Cohola

 

Perched in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail ridge, the winery has a stunning view over to the village of Sablet and the plain of Côtes du Rhône vineyards that stretch below.  This was our backdrop for the introductions to the day by Mark, the founder of Gourmet Odyssey, and Chéli and Jérôme from Château Cohola.

We then headed out into the vineyards, pausing on the way for Jérôme to explain the work done in the vineyards during the winter months, notably the different pruning methods used for different grape varietals, and the organic methods used to nurture and protect the vines.

 

Jérôme explains how to prune the vines

 

At this time of year, the vines grow rapidly, and it’s a very busy period to try and keep everything in order, and so the help of our winemakers-for-a-day was very much appreciated!  As always with a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Day, we had some work to do to attach the staked vines, or “échalas” vines.

The vineyards at Château Cohola are spread among 15 terraces, some of which are fairly small and unpractical for tractors and heavy machinery to access.  In such places the échalas system is used to provide support to the vines that would normally be done by training wires.  A wooden stake is positioned next to each vine that has been pruned using the goblet method, and once the branches have grown to around a metre in length they are bunched together and tied around the stake using a piece of raffia.  This will help the vine support the weight of the grapes to come and reduces the risk of branches being damaged by wind, something that is often present in the Rhone Valley.

 

Chéli and Jérôme show us how to attach the échalas vines

 

Chéli and Jérôme demonstrated how to attach the vines, and then in pairs we spread out in the vineyard to have a go ourselves.  Standing on opposite sides of the vine, we collected together all of the vine branches.  One person hugged the vine to keep them all together, whilst the other tied a piece of raffia around the stake and branches to keep them in place.

It took us a few vines to get the hang of it, but we were soon experts, and we became much quicker.  It’s also a very rewarding task, as you can instantly see the result of your work.  When we arrived in the vineyard, the branches were falling in all directions, but at the end everything was very orderly, and we could walk easily around the vines.  This also has the benefit of lifting the branches off the ground and from becoming entwined with the surrounding vines which would increase the risk of disease spreading.

 

Getting involved in the work in the vineyard

 

Jérôme then guided us up the hill, explaining the different plants along the way, until we arrived at another stunning viewpoint looking over the Rhone Valley below.  Here we enjoyed an aperitif of the Château Cohola rosé wine, with some local olives and cheese.

 

Enjoying the views, rosé wine, olives and cheese during the apertiif

 

Back at the winery, we sat down to lunch in the shade of the platane trees.  With the deliciously fresh crespou starter we enjoyed the Château Cohola Cuvée Fruit red wine.  To accompany the filet mignon and ratatouille main course, we tasted the 2018 vintage of the Château Cohola Sablet, the red wine that is chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience. The local goat’s cheese was served with the delicious honey made from the winery’s own beehives and the 2021 Château Cohola Sablet white wine. Lunch ended with a strawberry tart and two more wines.  First the Château Cohola TBF red wine, which is made using wine aged in a clay amphorae and oak and stainless-steel barrels, followed by the powerful and full-bodied Cor Hominis Laetificat Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

 

Lunch and wine-tasting in the shade

 

After lunch, we visited our adopted vines that will produce the grenache grapes used to make the wine that we will receive at the end of the experience. 

 

Visiting our adopted vines

 

Jérôme then explained the work that remains to be done between now and the harvest before we headed down into the village of Sablet for a quick tour of the chai. 

Chéli and Jérôme showed us the press used to extract the juice from the grapes for the white and rosé wines, and the vats where the grape juice will ferment, and then the barrel room where the wines are aged.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

 

Visiting the chai

 

Many thanks to all for a fantastic day! We’ll think a little differently and will appreciate the work that goes into making wine a bit more when we open that next bottle of wine!

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Discovering the work in an organic Burgundy vineyard


We were blessed with a lovely summer day to welcome the apprentice winemakers to Domaine Chapelle in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay.  This hands-on wine-making experience day is designed so that wine lovers can learn more about all of the work in the vineyard needed to produce the best quality grapes.

 

A wine Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Chapelle to learn about the work in the vineyard

 

In the château’s garden, overlooking the vines, Jean-François explained the history of his family, the winery and the development of Burgundy wines.  The terroir, the grape varietals, and the winemakers are the major influences on the quality of wine, something that was important to Jean-François to emphasise as an introduction to the day.

We made our way down into the vineyard to start the day by meeting our adopted vines, and giving them some gentle words of encouragement in producing a good harvest this year! There were lots of photos taken, some of them very original for the “My Vine” photo competition.

 

Meeting our adopted vines

 

Simon, the son of Jean-François, is now in charge of the production side of things at the winery, and he explained the work that is carried out in the vineyard throughout the year’s cycle, including working the soil, and the treatments used in organic winemaking.

The main work in the vineyard at the moment is de-budding, which involves removing some of the unwanted shoots to stop the vines from producing too many grapes and from wasting energy on non fruit-bearing branches.  It also helps to improve the airflow around the vines and grapes which will help reduce the risk of mildew setting in.  A good air flow is very important in organic farming to dry the leaves and grapes as soon as possible.

There are a few important details to take into consideration.  First we need to identify which branches are well placed to act as the spur during pruning and so produce the branches for next year.  We also need to be sure not to damage the fruit-bearing branches that we wish to keep for this year, and to clean the old wooden branches by brushing them to remove any potential buds that might yet sprout into life.

 

Simon explains how to de-bud the vines

 

It’s a delicate job that demands a skilled eye, and is something that needs to be achieved in 3 weeks throughout all of the winery’s vineyards, before the branches become too thick to be easily removed.  That’s why the winery hires an extra 10 seasonal workers during this period to bolster the team of permanent staff.

The help of our apprentice winemakers was therefore very much appreciated!  We each had a go, and despite our worries of not doing a good job, we soon gained confidence!

After our effort, we reconvened back at the winery for a nice fresh glass of Santenay white wine, accompanied by some gougères.  We then sat down to a delicious lunch which had been prepared by a local caterer from Meursault. We tasted three other wines from Domaine Chapelle, a Burgundy white, a Santenay Clos des Cornières red, and a Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières. 

 

Organic wine tastings at Domaine Chapelle

 

We started the afternoon with a walk through the vineyards to have a look at a plot that had recently been replanted.  Simon showed us the surrounding landscape and explained how the different terroir determines the quality of the wine.  He then shared with us how to plant new vines and the consequences of doing so.  

 

Simon showed us a newly planted vineyard

 

The old vines had been pulled out, and the vineyard plot left fallow for 3 years to regenerate the soil.  The new vines were planted in 2021 just before a severe frost, and around 20% of the vines perished as a result, so the winery has had to replace the dead ones.  For a further three years the vines will concentrate on developing their root system, and there will be no harvest, so the winery will have to wait around 7 years before the whole plot is productive again. The cost of replanting a vineyard is substantial for the winemaker, but is necessary to successfully transfer the winery on to the following generations.

After, this very interesting discussion in the vineyard, we returned for a quick tour of the cellar, which gave us a good introduction to the Vinification Experience Day for those that will be coming back or want to add the day.

It was a great day and we loved sharing it with you.  We hope to see you again soon at Domaine Chapelle or another of our partner wineries!

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Discovering the work in the vineyard to nurture the grapes in Alsace


To make a great wine, you need to make sure that you produce the best possible grapes, and that involves lots of hard work and dedication in the vineyard throughout the year.  We spent a very enjoyable and informative day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace to learn about the different tasks involved, and by the end of the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day we left with a much deeper appreciation of just how much there is to do to make organic wine.

 

A Discovery Experience day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher

 

After the introductions to the day, we headed out into the vineyard with Céline and Stéphane, the brother and sister duo who run the winery.  Our first stop was to visit the Rosenberg vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  We took a few minutes to find our vines, give them some words of encouragement and to take a few photographs.

 

Visiting our adopted vines in the Rosenberg vineyard

 

Stéphane then led us to a plot a little further along the track and explained the work that has already been carried out in the vineyard during the winter months to prune the vines and work the soil.  Pruning is one of the most essential jobs, as it helps the winemaker to control how many grapes each vine can potentially produce.  By reducing the quantity, you can increase the quality of the grapes and thus the wine that they will make. 

Stéphane explained how the branches left on the vine were then bent and attached to the training wire to slow the flow of sap and help the vines to produce more uniformly ripe grapes.
The buds had already appeared, and the shoots had started to grow from each of the nodes.  Each shoot will grow to form the fruit bearing branches for this year.  We could even see the first signs of the grapes to come.

 

The first signs of the future grapes on the vines

 

As always during a Gourmet Odyssey Experience Day, Stephane had left us some work to do.  Despite their endeavours during pruning, there are always some extra unwanted shoots that appear, whether from a double bud, or from lower down on the vine trunk.  The vines that Stéphane had brought us to were fairly young and vigorous, so they had lots of shoots that had sprouted on the trunks.  If left, they will take energy away from the vines and have a negative impact on the quality of the grapes, so our job was to remove them.  A simple job by hand when they have just appeared, so it’s important to do so before the shoots grow too much and become thicker. 

 

Removing the unwanted shoots form the vine trunks

 

We then returned to the winery, where Céline had prepared a tasting of some of the different wines that the winery produces, starting with the 2019 Muscat wine from the Rosenberg vineyard.  We then tasted the citrus and aromatic 2018 Riesling Ortel, followed by the 2019 vintage of the Pinot Gris Rosenberg that is the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience. 

 

Tasting the organic wines in the courtyard

 

The tasting continued over lunch of a delicious baeckeoffe, local cheeses, and blueberry tart, which were paired with the 2018 Who Am I?, a blend of Pinot blanc, Pinot Gris  and Riesling, the 2020 Pinot Noir Tradition, and the 2019 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg. 

After lunch Stéphane explained the work that is left to do in the vineyard between now and the harvest, and how to know when the right time is to pick the grapes.  We also talked about working organically and the importance of respecting the surrounding environment.

 

Visiting the wine cellar

 

We ended the day with a tour of the cellar.  Stéphane showed us where the grapes will be received during the harvest and gave us an overview of the fermentation and ageing process.  We’ll learn more about these two stages during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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An experience day gift for wine lovers to discover the work in an organic vineyard


A summary of an excellent wine experience day in the vineyard at Château de Jonquières in the dynamic Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region in the south of France.  Our small group of wine lovers got together to spend the day with the winemakers and learn more about their job and the work that they get up to in the vineyard.

 

A Discovery Experience Day at Château de Jonquières in the Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region

 

Our young wine-making couple, Clément and Charlotte, welcomed us in the courtyard of the château, facing Mont Baudile.  The weather was perfect with a sunny blue sky and a gentle cooling breeze that blew down off the Larzac plateau, so typical of the terroir that brings freshness and balance to these Languedoc wines.

We headed straight out into the vineyard.  The winemakers showed us the different grape varietals and explained the work carried out during the winter to work the soil and prune the vines, cutting the branches to leave spurs with just two nodes.  In early spring, the spurs give birth to new buds, which grow to produce the grapes for the next harvest.

 

Clément explains the work in the vineyard

 

Clément and Charlotte brought us to a plot of chenin vines next to the château to show us how to de-bud the vines, the main job in the vineyard at this time of year.

De-budding is the removal of any superfluous buds or shoots, and is necessary to maintain the quality of grapes by limiting the number produced, and increasing their sugar concentration.

We spread out among the vines, one row per couple, and set about de-budding the vines.  Clément was close at hand to guide us, and help us to learn which shoots to keep and which to remove.

 

We all had a go at de-budding the vines

 

It’s a painstaking and time-consuming job, where you have to select the best shoots, and ones that are best positioned on the vine.  We removed those that were growing out into the row, and those that could hinder the development of the vine by taking away energy from the fruit-bearing branches.   It was a very important task, because we were selecting which branches would produce the fruit for the 2022 harvest for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients.

Clément and Charlotte then led us to a vineyard that had been recently replanted.  They explained how they had prepared the ground and how they manage the plots to rejuvenate the vines without having too much of an impact on the overall production levels. 

 

Planting new vines in the vineyard

 

After more than two hours in the vineyard, we had a much better understanding of the huge task that the winemakers face to nurture each and every vine in the vineyard.

Back at the winery, we had earned our lunch, which had been prepared by a local caterer and was accompanied by the château’s wines, starting with the 2021 Lansade rosé and Lansade white wines.  We then tasted the White Label N°5 100 % Carignan red wine which had been aged in oak barrels, and, paired with the beef main course, we enjoyed the 2020 Lansade red, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  The gourmand 2020 Baronnie white was a great match for the ewe’s cheese, and we finished with the 2020 Baronnie red with pudding.   

After lunch, we traversed the small village on foot to visit our adopted vines, located in a magnificent plot of Carignan which was planted 80 years ago by Charlotte’s grandmother.  We took some souvenir photos to mark the occasion.

 

Visiting our organic adopted vines

 

Clément then explained the remaining work to be done between now and the harvest, and how he will know when the grapes are ripe enough for harvesting.

The day ended back at the winery for a quick overview of the work in the cellar.  We see more what happens here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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