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Archive from September 2022

A great gift for a wine lover to get involved in the grape harvest in the Cotes du Rhone


A look back to the Harvest Experience Day at Château Cohola in the Rhone Valley on Saturday 17th September.  Joined by our apprentice winemakers, we helped Jérôme and Chéli, the wine-making couple at Château Cohola with the harvest.  The aim of this hands-on wine experience day is to accompany the winemakers throughout the day and follow the grapes from the vines until they arrive in the vat.  It’s a fun way for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience participants to understand the work of the winemaker during the busy harvest period.
Harvest day with gourmet odyssey
We started the morning with a coffee and brioche at Château Cohola, marvelling at the superb view down over the vines and the Rhone Valley.  Mark, Gourmet Odyssey’s founder, explained the programme for the day, and then Jérôme and Cheli introduced us to their winery, the winegrowing region of the Côtes du Rhône and Sablet, and talked a little about the organic methods they use and other more unusual techniques, such as playing music twice a day to the vines to help them resist disease.  A surprising method, but one that they believe has made a differenc over the last 4 years.
 
Wine lover gift in cotes du rhone
Before getting down to harvesting, we made our way to one of the lower terraces to meet our adopt-a-vines.  It was a fun moment, and we each took some photos with our adopted vines.
 
Wine experience day with gourlet odyssey
We then followed the winemakers to a plot of vines just a little higher up the hill, and the real work was about to get underway.  We each took possession of our harvesting tools of a bucket and pair of secateurs.  Before starting, Cheli and Jérome showed us how to cut the bunches of grapes without injuring ourselves or our partner.
 
adopt a vine in cote du rhone
We then paired up, and spread out among the rows, with one pair of harvesters at each end of the row, who would eventually meet up somewhere in the middle.  The buckets filled quickly, and we then emptied them into crates positioned every two metres along the row.
We rapidly perfected the cutting action, and the crates were soon full.
 
discover how to harvest with gourmet odyssey
Jérôme then passed down the central row, pulling a trailer behind his quad.  A few volunteers from our group, helped load the crates onto the trailer.  It was an energetic task as the crates were fairly heavy, but the team was very efficient. We then cleaned our hands and drank some cold water to refresh ourselves whilst Jérôme and Cheli congratulated us on a job well done.
 
Harvesting of organic vines at chateau cohola
It was a busy morning and we had managed to harvest all of the grapes from the plot of Syrah that had been set aside for us.  To capture the moment, we took a photo to celebrate the end of the harvest.
 
Adopt your own vines with gourmet odyssey
We then went down into the village of Sablet, where Château Cohola’s cellar is located, taking our precious harvest with us.  Lunch was fast approaching, so Cheli served us a glass of the 2021 Château Cohola white wine, a well-earned aperitif after our morning’s work.
 
Organic wine tasting at chateau cohola
After we had finished our glass, we sat down to a delicious lunch prepared by a caterer from the village.  And of course, we also tasted some of the other organic wines from Château Cohola.  Jérôme served us the 2021 Château Cohola rosé to accompany the lovely country pâté starter.
We compared two very different red wines over the main course.  The 2021 Cuvée Fruit Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet, a red wine that is to be drunk slightly chilled, and then the 2018 Château Cohola Sans Soufre Ajouté Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet with no added sulphites.  Two distinct styles, but both of which paired well with the chicken and wild mushroom fricassee. A delight for our taste buds!
Jérôme then served us some of the honey that he produces, cutting the honeycomb into squares before us.  The honey was served with some local goat’s cheese and a glass of the 2018 Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet red wine.  We finished the meal with a slice of pear tart, accompanied by another glass of the wine that we had each preferred.  It was a great moment shared, during which time we asked lots of questions to Jérôme and Cheli.
 
harvest day wat chateau coholo in cotes du rhone
After this generous lunch, we returned to the fermentation hall to put our grapes into the vat.  Jérôme explained the first stage of separating the grapes from the stems and showed us the machine that we would use.
We emptied the crates of grapes into the de-stemming machine.  Once the grapes had been separated, the machine crushes them
slightly to help release some of the juice.
 
Wine experience day with gourmet odyssey
At Château Cohola, some dry ice is added to the grapes to stop the juice from oxidising and the quality diminishing.  It also enables the temperature of the harvested grapes to be lowered, which delays the start of the fermentation process and will help improve the aromatic characteristics of the wine.  The grapes are then put directly into a vat or barrel to start the fermentation process.
 
Rent your own organic vines in cotes du rhone
We helped Jérôme clean all the material used, and once again, it was a great team effort!  We then tasted some juice that had been fermenting for a few days and compared this to the juice from the grapes that we had just picked.  We could all taste the difference and saw how it only takes a few days before the sugar in the grapes starts to transform into alcohol as the fermentation process begins.
 
Gift idea for all wine lovers with gourmet odyssey
Jérôme then explained all the rest of the work in the cellar during the harvest period to track and manage the evolution of each vat and barrel.  He told us about the different techniques used to extract the tannins and colour from the grape skins, and showed us the pigeage method, whereby the cap of skin that rises to the top, is pushed down into the juice.
 
harvest day in cote du rhone vineyard with gourmet odyssey
This thoroughly enjoyable day then came to an end, we said our farewells, and left with some bottles to replenish our wine cellars at home!

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Harvesting organic grapes in the Loire Valley


Last Saturday, we harvested lots of beautiful grapes under a sunny blue sky at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley, in the expert company of our partner winemaker, Marc Plouzeau.  This hands-on day, organised by Gourmet Odyssey as part of the Wine Experience enables wine lovers to discover the work of the winemaker in the vineyard and cellar during the harvest.  We would quickly understand that it’s a very busy time for the winemaker!
Gift for wine lover in Loire Valley
2022 hasn’t been a simple year for the winemakers.  It looked as though it would be very early after rapid growth in spring, but finally the summer drought delayed the maturing of the vines and reduced the quantity of grapes which didn’t grow so big due to the lack of water.  But they were of a very high quality with a good level of concentration.
Once we had finished breakfast, over which we discussed the nature of this vintage, we headed to Les Roches St Paul.  It’s a wonderful little hamlet, typical of the Touraine region, with its lovely houses made of the local limestone and slate. 
 
Harvest day with Gourmet Odyssey in loire Valley
Marc has several small vineyard plots here.  We learnt which grapes to harvest and how to pick them, then equipped with a bucket and pair of secateurs, we spread out among the rows.
 
Wine experience day at chateau Bonneliere
The grapes were indeed a little smaller than usual, but were very good!  Our harvesters turned out to also be very good tasters, and we appreciated the lovely sweet grapes.
We put the grapes we had picked into our bucket, and once full we emptied it into the trailer.  It’s one of three ways of harvesting at Château de la Bonnelière.  We can also empty our buckets into crates, each weighing around 20 kilos when full.  The other method is to use porters who walk down the rows collecting the grapes from each harvester, filling up the basket on their backs, to then take to the trailer.  The porter’s basket can weigh up to 80 kilos, making it a fairly physical job.
 
Participate to a harvest day with gourlet odyssey
We harvested two plots of vines in the morning, one of 23 ares and the other of 12 ares (although Marc had fooled us into believing that we had 2 hectares to pick!)
Our harvesters for the day were very productive, and in 2 hours we had completed our mission!  We enjoyed an aperitif in this wonderful setting among the vines of the Roches St Paul priory, tasting the Perles Sauvages natural sparkling wine that Marc makes using Chenin Blanc grapes.
We then returned to the winery for lunch and to build our strength back up for the next stage of putting the grapes into the vat.
Taste organic wine in Loire Valley
We ate lunch in front of the winery.  Château de la Bonnelière has three different buildings, each dedicated to different functions.  There is the fermentation hall where the grapes are received at harvest time and put into the various stainless steel and concrete vats, the hangar dedicated to bottling and labelling, and the hangar used for storing and dispatching the deliveries.  We’ll learn more about these areas during the Vinification Experience Days
After lunch, we saw the first stages of transforming the grapes into wine.  First, the grapes are separated from their stems using a de-stemming machine.
 
Harvest day in organic vines at chateau de la bonneliere
The grapes then fall into a trolley below, which is raised above one of the vats using a forklift truck.  Once stable, the bottom of the trolley is opened little by little, to let the grapes fall into the vat.  It’s a very good way of doing so, as it ensures that the grapes enter the vat in as good condition as possible.
 
Gift for winelover with Gourmet odyssey
Once this important step has been completed we can then start the analysis of the harvest, measuring the sugar level to give us the probable alcoholic degree, and the pH levels to determine the acidity.  This will help Marc make the right decisions during the following fermentation stages.  We asked lots of questions, and saw how much Marc enjoys talking about his favourite passion!
We finished this great day by paying a visit to our adopted vines.  They hadn’t yet been harvested because the Clos de la Bonnelière is a little behind the other plots, and so the grapes hadn’t yet reached optimum maturity.  We’re all hoping for a magnificent 2022 vintage!
Many thanks to Marc and all of the participants.  We hope to see you again soon!

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Participate in harvesting the grapes in a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru vineyard


We spent another great couple of Harvest Experience Days in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet.  We were warmly welcomed by Alain and Matthieu, the father and son wine-makers at this family run winery who taught us how to harvest the grapes as we followed their journey during the course of the day from the vines and into the vats.  As we were to learn, there is much more to harvesting than just picking grapes!

Gift for wine lover with Gourmet Odyssey

After the introductions, we headed straight out into the vineyard, climbing the hillside to reach the famed Saint-Emilion limestone plateau, where the best plots are located, including the Peycocut vineyard, home to the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines.  We took a few minutes to each find our micro-plot of vines, take a few photos and admire the lovely scenery of sloping vineyards, châteaux and the church spire of Saint-Emilion.

Adopt a vine with Gourmet Odyssey in Bordeaux

We then made our way to the plot of vines to be harvested.  Here we were each given a basket and pair of secateurs and listened to the instructions of which grapes to pick, which ones to leave, and how to cut the bunches safely without cutting our fingers!

 

In pairs, we spread out among the rows, and started to harvest the grapes!  The grapes this year were of excellent quality, so our job was made much easier.  There was very little to sort, and virtually all of the grapes were for picking. 

 

Experience day gift in Saint Emilion

Once our baskets were full, we emptied them into larger crates which were then taken back to the beginning of the row.  It’s important not to squash the grapes at this stage, and the crates ensure that they don’t get crushed from the weight of the grapes above them.

 

Harvest day with Gourmet Odyssey in Bordeaux

Once we had filled all of the crates, we loaded them onto the trailer to be taken back to the winery and placed in the shade.  We followed behind and stopped in the garden in front of the chateau for a well earned glass of wine!

 

Adopt a Vine for a winelover
 
We then sat down to a delicious lunch of salade vigneronne, guinea fowl with a morille and foie gras sauce, and chocolate praline dessert, enjoying the 2019 Château Coutet and 2018 Les Demoiselles Saint-Emilion Grand Cru wines at the same time . 

 

In the afternoon, our mission was to put our harvested grapes into a vat.  First we had to separate the grape berries from the stems.  This is normally done by a de-stemming machine, but at Château Coutet, the grapes from the best plots are done by hand, including the ones that we had picked.  In fours, we gathered around some tables and removed each of the grapes by hand, placing them in a separate basket, and throwing the stems away in a bin.  The stems will then be spread in the vineyards to return some nutrients to the soil.  It also gave us the opportunity to remove any dried-up grapes or leaves that might have inadvertently made their way into the baskets.

 

organic harvest experience with gourmet Odyssey

The full baskets of grape berries were then emptied into a large bucket, and we then lightly crushed them using a wooden post to break the skins and release some of the juice.  Theses grapes were then emptied into a vat, where they will begin the fermentation process in a couple of days time once the yeast cells naturally present on the grape skins come to life and start to transform the sugar into alcohol.

 

Wine experience gift in Saint Emilion

Alain and Matthieu showed us the de-stemming machine and sorting table used for the majority of the grapes at the winery, explaining how they work and how the grapes are then pumped into one of the vats.
We then learnt about the work during the fermentation and maceration phases to monitor the transformation of sugar into alcohol, and to extract the colour and tannins from the grape skins.  At Château Coutet the extraction is done mainly by drawing the juice from the bottom of the vat and pumping it back into the top to filter down through the cap of skin and pips that has been pushed to the surface by the carbon dioxide released during fermentation.

 

Follow a winemaker during a day with Gourmet Odyssey

Alain and Matthieu will be kept busy over the next 3 to four weeks tracking and managing each of the vats until the fermentation has finished and the wine is ready to be transferred to the barrels.

 

We look forward to learning more about this work, and the rest of the wine-making process to age, blend, and prepare the wine for bottling during the Vinification Experience Days next year.

 

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Harvester for a day in the Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region



We spent two great Harvest Experience Days on the 3rd and 10th September at Château de Jonquières, a magnificent family-run winery in the Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region of Languedoc in the south of France.  We were there with some clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience who had come to get involved in harvesting the grapes and learn about how the grapes are turned into wine during the fermentation and maceration phases.

Charlotte and Clément, the young wine-making couple, are the 32nd generation of winemakers at the winery, welcomed us in the courtyard of the château over coffee.  Smiles beamed from each of their faces, which maybe hid a little bit of stress that this crucial period of harvesting in the wine-making year inevitably brings!

Equipped with buckets and secateurs, Charlotte explained how to harvest the grapes.

After a quick explanation of the winery’s history, the Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region, a recap of the 2022 vintage so far, and an overview of the day’s agenda, we were equipped with a bucket and pair of secateurs.  We then made our way through the vineyards to a nearby plot of Syrah vines.  It’s important to pick the grapes early in the morning to preserve their full potential.

As we walked to the vines, Clément followed by tractor, pulling a trailer into which we would delicately put our harvest.
We were taught how to pick the precious grapes without damaging them or harming ourselves!  Sometimes we had to remove some of the leaves in front of the bunches to be able to get to the grapes more easily.

Getting involved in picking the grapes

The harvest was generous and of great quality this year despite the very hot spring and summer.  The vines were able to adapt to the climate and responded well to the treatment and care of the winemakers throughout the year.  Some of our apprentice winemakers had learnt this first-hand during the Discovery Experience Days earlier in the year.
Once the buckets were full, we emptied them into the trailer.

We emptied our grapes into the trailer

 In didn’t take us long to realise that it’s a fairly difficult job.  The positions we find ourselves in to pick the grapes can be uncomfortable at times, some rows are more abundant than others, and some harvesters are quicker than others...  But the groups remained supportive of one another and we had lots of fun.  In just over two hours, we had harvested the plot and had become real harvesters!

We had a quick refreshment break until Charlotte informed us that Clément was already ready to put out harvest into the vat.

We didn’t have any time to lose, and so we brought our precious gaped back to the winery to put them into the vat, but we had one last little job to do before then.  We set about cleaning the buckets and secateurs with water so that they were nice and clean for the next day, and once again the team spirit shone through!

Cleaning the buckets

  Clément carefully positioned the crates of grapes in front of the chai to then put them into the de-stemming machine.

This is in some ways the first step in making wine, and involves separating the grapes from the stems and any leaves that may have inadvertently fallen into one of the buckets.  This avoids the wine from developing a bitter taste.

Once the grapes are freed from their stems, they are put into a stainless steel vat to start the fermentation process.  
Charlotte then explained the differences in the process for white, red and rosé wines.  For example, the red wines are kept in contact with the skins during the fermentation and maceration phase which lasts around 20 days, whereas the white grapes are immediately pressed before the fermentation phase starts to separate them from their skins.   

Charlotte explains the work in the chai during the harvest.

 

 We tasted some of the grape musts that had been fermenting for 10 days, and Charlotte suggested that we put our ears to the vats to listen to the effervescence of the fermentation.

It was then time for lunch, and so we made our way back into the shade of the courtyard to taste 5 of the winery’s organic wines over lunch which had been prepared by a local caterer.  We took the opportunity to ask the winemakers lots of questions about a wide range of topics such as their way of life, their philosophy of being organic, and the differences between the wine that we had tasted.

Our adopted organic vines

  After lunch, we went to visit our adopted vines.  After a short walk through the village of Jonquières, we arrived at the vineyard where our vines are located, and spent a few minutes metting our vines, and taking some photos of them.

We then returned to the chateau to bring the day to a conclusion, and collect a few bottles of wine to take home with us and share with friends and family.

We look forward to welcoming you back to the winery next year for one of the Vinification Experience Days!

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Harvest Experience Day in Alsace


We sent a most enjoyable time last Saturday at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace, harvesting the grapes in the Steingrubler grand cru vineyard.  We then followed their journey back to the winery to learn about the work in the cellar during harvest time. As with all of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Days, the aim is to better appreciate the skill and effort that goes into making wine by actually getting involved in the work.

After the introduction to the day by Mark, the founder of Gourmet Odyssey, and Céline, the winemaker at Domaine Stentz-Buecher, we made our way to the Steingrubler grand cru vineyard with Céline, her father, Jean-Jacques, and a few of the winery’s harvest team.  Céline handed us each a pair of secateurs and a bucket, and explained which grapes to pick, and gave us some useful tips on how to avoid cutting our fingers!

Original wine lover gift to get involved in harvesting organic grapes in Alsace

In two or fours, we were then assigned a row, and started the harvest.  The grapes we were picking were of the Gewurztraminer variety, were in perfect condition, and tasted delicious!  There were very few bad grapes to sort, so our buckets quickly filled up.

Harvest Experience Day in Alsace to picj the organic grapes

When the buckets were full, we passed them under the rows until they reached the central row of the porter.  Here, we took it in turns for two people to carry a hop on their back, which we then filled up with the buckets of grapes.  It’s surprising how heavy grapes can be, and when full the hopper can weigh between 40 and 50 kg.

Harvest gift experience in France to pick grapes

The porters then carried their load to the nearby trailer, climbed a ladder, and tipped the grapes in.  You have to tip them over your shoulder, something which is a little difficult the first time, but our team of apprentice harvesters quickly got the hang of it!

Grape harvest gift experience in an organic vineyard

When we got to the top of the row, we then took another row and came back down.  The slope made it a little harder to walk up and down, but also made it easier to pick the grapes because we could position ourselves to have the grapes higher up.

Once we had finished harvesting the plot of vines, we gathered around the trailer to admire our work, wash the sticky grape juice from our hands, and have a drink.

50th birthday gift experience for wine lovers

We then headed to the Rosenberg vineyard to meet our adopted vines.  The grapes had been picked earlier that week because they had already reached optimum maturity.  We took a few minutes to take some pictures and admire the view across the vineyards and of the nearby châteaux.

Rent-a-vine in Alsace, France and follow the making of your own organic wine

Back at the winery, we met up with Stéphane, Céline’s brother and fellow wine-maker.  We helped our harvested grapes into the press by raking them out of the trailer and into the press below.

Original gift idea for wine enthusiasts.  Harvest the grapes from your adopted vines

Stéphane explained how the press works, and how the cellar had been designed to use the force of gravity, as opposed to pumps, to get the juice into the vats.  The first vat is a holding vat, where the juice will rest for between 24 and 48 hours during the “débourbage” process as the small solid particles of skin, pips, and stems that managed to get through the press, settle on the bottom of the vat and the juice becomes clearer.

We then headed back out into the courtyard where Céline had prepared a well earned wine tasting session for us, starting with a delicious naturally sparkling Crémant d’Alsace.  For each of the following wines, we had to say what aromas and tastes we could identify, and try to guess which of the Alsace grape varietals it was.  An easy task for Céline, but not quite so easy for the rest of us!

Wine tasting gift experience with the organic winemaker in Alsace

Céline first served us the 2019 Pinot Gris Rosenberg, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, followed by the 2018 Sylvaner Vielles Vignes, the 2017 Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru, and finishing with the 2019 Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru.

We then continued the tasting over the harvesters lunch with the 2019 Pinot Blanc, 2020 Pinot Noir, and 2019 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg to accompany the local charcuterie, cheeses and apple pie.

After lunch, we returned to the cellar, where Stéphane showed us the fermentation hall where the white wines start the process of transforming the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol.  Stéphane explained how he monitors the progress of these wines through the process, as we listened to the vats and casks gargle away.

Wine-making experience gift in Alsace, France

The Pinot Noir grapes don’t go into the press straight away.  Stéphane explained how the berries are separated from the stems, and are then put into vats.  The juice is clear in Pinot Noir grapes, the colour being found in the skin.  Therefore to make red wine, the juice needs to be kept in contact with the skins to be able to extract the colour.  Tannins are also found in the skin which adds body to the wine.  During the fermentation phase carbon dioxide is released which pushes the skin to the surface, forming a solid cap.  This cap needs to be broken and pushed down into the juice for the extraction of the colour and tannins to take place.  At Domaine Stentz-Buecher this is done using the pigeage method.

Original wine gift to discover the work in the cellar during the harvest period

Stéphane explained pigeage and showed us how to use the large plungers to break the solid cap of skin and pips.  We took it in turns to have a go, and realised that it is a very difficult job, and the cap is actually very hard to push down!  The job gets easier as the fermentation progresses, but it’s still something that has to be done once or twice a day for each vat!

Before we knew it, the day had come to an end.  We look forward to returning next year for the Vinification Experience Days, and learning about all of the work after the harvest to age the wines and prepare them for bottling.

Many thanks to all for making it such a great day.

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