Adopt a Vine and Make Your Own Wine

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Côtes du Rhône

Leaf removal to protect the vines from mildew


Last weekend we had travelled from Avignon, Nancy, Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Switzerland and England to meet Isabelle and Arnaud Guichard, the winemakers at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Massif d’Uchaux region of the Rhone Valley.

 

Wine gift box in a French vineyard in the Rhone Valley

The first question to come up over a cup of coffee and croissant was who knew the Massif d’Uchaux? Nobody? But that’s not surprising because it is a very exclusive appellation that was formally recognised in 2005 for having its own distinct terroir.  We were to talk lots more about the terroir during the course of this Discovery Experience Day, a hands-on wine course at the winery, dedicated to the work in the vineyard before the harvest.

Discovery day at the winery and oenology class in the Cote du Rhone area

We then headed out into the vineyard, passing by the olive trees.  The winery has its own special biodynamic ecosystem, including 30 hectares of vines, an organic olive grove, and 20 hectares of woodland, all of which are to be found around the winery buildings, on a small hill which looks a lot like paradise on this beautifully sunny day!

The hill is what makes the Massif d’Uchaux so special compared to the Rhone Valley plain below.  Around 90 million years ago, the sea covered the valley and the hill was an island.  On our way to the adopted plot of vines, we stopped to look at the remnants of an old beach that dates back to the Miocene era, where you can still see some shell fish fossils.

Vine adoption at Domaine de la Guicharde, Mondragon, France
We then arrived on the plateau where a plot of Syrah and a plot of Grenache vines are planted on the terrace that also dates back to the Miocene era.  And yes, that’s why the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, is called the “Terroir du Miocène”, because it is a blend of the grapes that are grown here.
Wine gift box Vine tending class in the Rhone Valley
The winter pruning and biodynamic treatments had prepared the vines for the new campaign, and the vines were flourishing.  The flowering period went well in early June, and the grape berries are now starting to form.  The combination of warm weather and rain in May and June, has seen vigorous growth in the vineyard.  Perhaps even a little too much, because the work to till the soil had been delayed.  As Arnaud explained, it had been impossible to get the tractor into the vineyard because the ground had been too wet, and it had also not been possible to treat the vines after the rain, because the mistral wind had picked up as soon as the rain clouds had passed over.  Regulation stipulates that treating the vines is not allowed if the wind reaches 19 kph, which is a regular occurrence in the Rhone Valley!

Having found our adopted vines and taken a few souvenir photos, we took a closer look at the vines.  Arnaud showed us how to spot the difference between Syrah and Grenache vines.  The leaves are different as we had seen during our last visit, but now that the grapes have started to form, it is even more evident.  The grenache vines produce compact and round bunches of grapes, whereas the syrah vines have more elongated bunches and the grapes are more spaced out.  This also explains why the Syrah vines are generally less susceptible to disease than Grenache vines.
Gift box discovery day in the vineyard in Mondragon, France
The combination of rain, heat, and lack of treatment leads inevitably to an attack of mildew, and unfortunately we could see some spots on the leaves and berries on the Grenache vines.  Thankfully the Gourmet Odyssey adoptive parents had come to help out.  Today our task was to remove some of the leaves on the side facing the rising sun to help the air better circulate around the grapes and reduce the spread and impact of the mildew.    On the side facing the rising sun, the grapes are only exposed to the weaker morning sun, when the temperature isn’t yet hot enough to dry out the berries, whereas the side of the falling sun receives hotter sunshine at the end of the day, and the leaves are needed to shade the grapes and stop them from burning.
Wine box meet the winemaker in his windery in France
It’s easy to remove the leaves, as Arnaud explained.  You just remove all of the leaves from in front of the vines.  He uses quick and precise movements, and then we tried to do it as efficiently as him.  In pairs, we spread out among the vine rows, and starting plucking.  Arnaud moved between us to talk about his work, and to answer the many questions regarding the vintage, weather and the treatments used in the vineyard.
Vineyard discovery day and wine tasting in the Cote du Rhone area
We took a brief pause to quench our thirst, and then Arnaud brought us up to speed on all of the work that had been carried out in the vineyard so far.  Pruning, de-budding, raising the training wires, trimming the vines.  By this time, we were starting to get a little hungry, and so we headed back to the winery for lunch.  On the way, we spotted some of the plants, such as horse tail or yarrow, that are used in the biodynamic treatments.
Organic and biodynamic wine tasting at Domaine de la Guicharde
The nicely chilled rosé in the shade of the courtyard was most welcome.  We also tasted the “Pur rouge”, a wine for friends according to Arnaud, and which went down very well on this hot day.  We also had some grape juice, organic of course, made from merlot and cabernet grown in Isabelle’s second winery, “Les Mourgettes”.
Winery visit, vineyard tour and winmakers' lunch in France
Lunch had been prepared by Thierry Bonfante, from the restaurant Le Temps de Vivre, just 4 km away.  A lentil salad with regional caillettes, slow-cooked beef stew with carrots, cheese and tiramisu, accompanied by a selection of wines from the winery.  For the reds, we tasted the Genest and Terroir du Miocène, and enjoyed the Autour de la Chapelle white wine with the cheese.
Winemaker experience in the Cotes du rhone area
The questions abounded over lunch regarding the daily life of a winemaker, and at the end of the meal, we came back to the topic of biodynamics.  Isabelle talked to us about the book written by Jean-Michel Florin, Viticulture Biodynamique, for those who are really interested in learning more.  For the majority of us who are novices in the subject, Isabelle recounted some of the amusing anecdotes from her short book Précis à l’usage de ceux qui pensent que Demeter n’est qu’une déesse grecque. Laughter rang out around the table as she told us about her adventures with the cow horn manure…

Arnaud explained the principals of the biodynamic wine making, developed by Rudolph Steiner and organised around the lunar calendar.  To make it more easily understandable, he took us to see the tools used such as the dynamiser and the spraying machine.  He told us how he makes the treatments, and he talked about the constraints of the calendar in caring for the vines, depending on whether it’s a fruit, flower, root or leaf day.
Wine-making and vine adoptione experience in mondragon,  france
We finished the day with a visit to the chai, to understand where the grapes will go after the 2018 harvest.  But we still have a little time to go.  The date for the harvest has yet to be fixed as we need to wait a few weeks more to see how the weather influences the development of the grapes.  As we had heard throughout the day, in this calm haven where time seems to stand still, it’s the nature and the raw elements who lead the show, and then Isabelle and Arnaud work their magic to make the most of nature’s gift and to produce their excellent wines. 

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Working in the vineyard in the Cotes du Rhone


Last weekend we were at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley for the very first wine experience day at Gourmet Odyssey’s new partner winery.  The topic for the day was to learn about all of the work that happens in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes at harvest time.  As we were to learn there is much more to do than you might think, and with the winery being both organically and biodynamically certified, particular attention is paid to the well-being of the estate as a whole.

Rent some biodynamic vines in the Rhone valley and participate in making your own biodynamic wine

After the introductions to the day by Mark, the founder of Gourmet Odyssey and to the winery by Arnaud, the winemaker at Domaine de la Guicharde, we set off out into the vineyard.  On the way we passed the olive grove which Arnaud nurtures to produce biodynamic olive oil.  Arnaud had started working at 5:30 to prepare and dynamise a biodynamic silica treatment used to strengthen and invigorate the leaves.  The vines had already been treated and as we walked by, we watched the olive trees being sprayed with the same dynamised water.

Vineyard and Olive grove tour Rhone Valley

Arnaud explained the geological history of the Massif d’Uchaux wine-growing region, and how the surrounding area was covered in water during the Miocène era.  He showed us the remnants of the ancient beach where shell fish can still be seen in the soil.  Difficult to believe when you are looking out over the vines and garrigue towards the pre-Alps and the Mont Ventoux.

We then arrived in the vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  The grapes picked in this plot are used to make the Terroir du Miocène red that is the wine chosen for the personalised wine bottles included in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  A name plate had been put in front of each micro-plot of vines and we took a few minutes to find our vines, take a few photos and encourage them to produce a good harvest this year!

Adopt a vine wine experience in the Rhone Valley vineyard

Arnaud then explained the work that had been carried out in the vineyard during the winter to work the soil, prune the vines using the cordon de royat method, and repair the trellis system used to train the vines.

With the hot weather of the past couple of weeks, the buds on the vines had burst into life, and were starting their growth phase when the branches can grow several centimetres per day.  Sometimes the vines get a little over excited with all this growth, and stems grow from lower down on the vine stock, two branches grow from the same bud, or there are simply too many branches appearing on the vine.  To limit the number of grapes that the vine will produce and improve the quality, it is necessary to remove the unwanted branches.  This is known as de-budding, and Arnaud explained how to select which branches to remove.

Working in the vineyard

We then spread out in the vineyard, two to a row, and had a go at de-budding ourselves.  As with pruning, it is very easy to understand in practice, but more difficult when you have to make the decision yourself!  Each vine is unique, and sometimes you need to leave a branch that in theory you would remove, but that might be useful in the future to reshape the vine or bring the fruit-bearing branches back close to the vine stock.

Adopt a vine and get involved in making your own biodynamic wine

Arnaud then took us on a short walk through the vineyard to show the different grape varietals and how to identify them just by looking at their leaves.  The Grenache vines that we had been working on were a lot greener and had a shiny coat, compared to the adjacent plot of Syrah that was slightly yellower, and had a soft velvet duvet on the underside.

Recognising different grape varietals

It wasn’t just the vines that were enjoying the good weather.  The grass and wild flowers were also flourishing in the vineyard, and we admired the beauty of the poppies dancing in the breeze.

 

Biodynmaic vineyard tour in the Rhone Valley, France

After the morning’s activities, we made our way back to the winery, and convened in the shade of the courtyard for an aperitif and lunch, which had been prepared by the excellent local restaurant, Le Temps de Vivre.  The first wine that we tasted was the Cotes du Rhone white, Au tour de la Chapelle 2017.  During the starter, main course, cheese and desert courses,  we then tasted Le 17 rosé 2017 wine, the Cotes du Rhone Pur Rouge 2017 red, followed by two Cotes du Rhone Villages Massif d’Uchaux red wines, the Genest 2016 and the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the Terroir du Miocène 2015.

Wine tasting experience and lunch at a biodynamic Cotes du Rhone winery

In the afternoon, we ventured back into the vineyard.  Arnaud explained the work to come between now and the harvest to raise the training wires, treat the vines, control the growth of the grass and wild flowers, potentially remove some of the leaves from the vines depending on the weather, and how to choose the date for the harvest.

Sponsor some vines and learn about biodynamic wine making

We then spent a while talking about what is involved in organic and biodynamic wine-making.  Arnaud is a passionate advocate of biodynamics and explained how he converted the winery and his reasons for doing so.  He told us about the different preparations that are used to treat the vines and how the work in the vineyard is managed in coordination with the lunar calendar.  We stopped to have a look at the dynamiser used to prepare the biodynamic tisanes.

Winery tour Rhone Valley

We ended the day with a quick visit of the chai to see where the wine is made once the grapes have been picked.  We’ll spend more time here during the Harvest Experience Day in September and the Vinification Experience Days next year.

Many thanks to Arnaud and all of the participants for making this such a great first wine experience day at Domaine de la Guicharde!

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Discovering the southern Cotes du Rhone wines


As you venture south of Lyon, the steep hillsides overlook the Rhone Valley and you see vines in places that make you wonder how on earth the winemakers will be able to harvest the grapes. You’re now entering the Rhone Valley. Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, then Saint Jospeh, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas… But you’d be wrong to limit the Cotes du Rhone wines to these famous crus from the north of this vast and varied wine growing region.  There is so much to discover further south once you have passed Montelimar.  Rasteau, Cairanne, Vinsobres, Gigondas, Chateaunuef-du-Pape, then Lirac, Tavel, Costieres de Nimes, Coteaux du Ventoux, and other wines from the Luberon. Let’s take a closer look at the southern Cotes du Rhone wine growing region.

The terroir and grape varietals of the Rhone Valley

The Rhone Valley landscape is very old, being formed some 300 million years ago as a result of the volcanic activity of the Massif Central, then when the Alpes were born 40 million years ago, some of the land subsided, separating the two massifs by the valley created between the two. At first the sea covered the land, but little by little the water level decreased and the river bed dug deeper leaving behind layered terraces on the banks of the valley. Today, four different types of rock and soil type can be found. Granite, sandy silica, limestone and clay. This varied terroir helps explain why the region is home to so many different grape varietals.

Some 27 grape varietals can be found in the Rhone Valley, 21 of which can be used in the Cotes du Rhone wine appellations. The main varietals found are grenache noir, syrah and mourvèdre for the red wines, and marsanne and viognier for the white wines. Grape varietals with a high tannic structure such as syrah favour silica soils for example, whilst the Grenache do well in limestone.

The history of the Cotes du Rhone wine-growing region

Wine-making in the Rhone Valley goes back a very long way, and we can find traces near Marseille that date to 400 BC, and as you go further north, to the first century AD. At this time, the large wine growing towns emerged on the banks of the river, as well as the workshops that produced the amphorae, used to transport the wine. These archaeological discoveries make the Rhone wine growing region one of the oldest in France.

The reputation of the wine from the region expanded in the 14th century during the time that the Popes settled in Avignon rather than Rome. The wine growing region developed lots during this time, and in 1650, there was even regimentation in place to guarantee the origin and quality of the “Coste du Rhône” wines. The appellation AOC Cotes du Rhone was launched in 1937.

The appellations

 

A map of the Rhone Valley wine appellations

 

The Cotes du Rhone AOC territory stretches some 250 km from north to south and covers 171 communes. A wine that carries the Cotes du Rhone AOC can be made from grapes grown anywhere within this geographical area. Next up the chain are the Cotes du Rhone Villages wines that are produced by 95 authorised communes. There are then 18 Cotes du Rhone Villages appellations that are allowed to include the name of the village from where the grapes are grown. Wines that fall into this category include Cairanne, Laudun, Massif d’Uchaux, Valréas and Visan. At the top of the hierarchy are 17 Cotes du Rhone Cru wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vinsobres, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, and Tavel. These wines are considered to be of the best quality.

There are also a few AOC appellations from the Rhone Valley that don’t fall under the Cotes du Rhone umbrella, such as Costiere de Nîmes, Ventoux, and Grignan-les-Adhemar.

An interactive map of the different appellations is available on the InterRhone website, a site that promotes the AOC Cotes du Rhone and Rhone Valley wines.
 

A few hidden gems to discover

As we have seen, there are many different wines in the Rhone valley, covering a large geographical area, and even if we have only looked at the southern Rhone wines in this article, the wines produced are very varied in style. There are still lots of appellations that are largely unknown to many, but which are gaining in notoriety and becoming more and more sought after by wine professionals and wine lovers alike.

The Massif d’Uchaux Cotes du Rhone Villages is a great example. This relatively new appellation was granted a named Villages status in 2005 to designate the 750 hectares that make up the distinct geology of the terroir, being made up of principally limestone soil, at a slightly higher altitude than the surrounding landscape, and with south, southeast or southwest facing slopes. Millions of years ago, the Massif d’Uchaux was an island, surrounded by sea. This unique terroir produces fruity and concentrated wines. The wine must be made up of at least 50% Grenache noir, but can be blended with a mix of the other regional grape varietals of syrah, mourvedre, cinsault or cargignan.  Domaine de la Guicharde and Domaine la Cabotte are great ambassadors of the appellation.

Another appellation is Grignan-les-Adhémar, formerly known as the Coteaux du Tricastin. Thanks to thoroughly renewing their charter and changing their name, they have been able to rejuvenate this wine growing region. It benefits from a diverse geology and its proximity to the hillsides helps develop wines that are fruity and fresh.

Next time you’re passing through the southern Rhone wine growing region, don’t hesitate to stop to admire the picturesque scenery and to treat your taste buds to the many delicious wines and culinary delights!


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Le Domaine de la Guicharde rejoint l’Expérience Vin de Gourmet Odyssey

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Winemaker profile. Isabelle and Arnaud Guichard at Domaine de la Guicharde


Continuing the series of our Gourmet Odyssey partner winemaker profiles, we recently asked a few questions to Isabelle and Arnaud Guichard, who run the Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley village of Mondragon.  It’s a biodynamic winery surrounded by wooded hills and bushland, where they make wine with passion and care.

Adopt-a-vine experience in France, Cotes du Rhone

For how long have you been winemakers and why did you create the winery?

Whilst looking for a few hectares of vines to set ourselves up with, we stumbled across the Guicharde, hidden away in the heart of the Massif d’Uchaux in the Haut Vaucluse region of the Rhone Valley.

The property was for sale and our surname is Guichard.  It just seemed the right place to put down our city dweller bags and settle in this Provençal villa, surrounded by vines and woods.  And so the adventure began in 1988.

The first harvest was fun. Complete philistines that we were, we had everything to learn. We didn’t yet know where we were headed or what type of wine we wanted to make, but we knew that we had made the right choice. Our relationship with the terroir and the vines slowly developed over the days, the seasons, and the years.

This slow journey led us naturally to turn towards organic winemaking.

 

What is your best memory at the winery?

The first steps of the winery towards becoming biodynamic.  Thanks to a wonderful encounter with a delightful man, we started our biodynamic conversion in the autumn of 2010.

Virtuous and caring, this marvellous approach to farming re-enchanted our daily life and our vines.

 

For the 2016 vintage, that you are in the process of ageing, what is your favourite wine and its short story?

Terroir du Miocène. The newcomer amongst the wines at Domaine de la Guicharde, the Terroir du Miocène was born the previous year with the 2015 vintage. A few young grenache and syrah vines that thrive in the white limestone marl from the beginning of the Miocène epoch.

From the nursery to the vineyard, the vines have only ever known what it’s like to be cared for biodynamically. The vines have reached the age of reason, and even if they are still young, the potential of this wine is already evident, because the quality of the terroir can already be discerned in the wine.

 

What are your challenges, wishes or projects in the coming months?

Biodynamics has made our wines become more refined. They are less sun-drenched and exuberant, and more elegant. The aromatic palette has become more developed. In the vineyard, the soil is softer, the vine branches flourish and they have become a nice golden mahogany colour. We would like to learn more and further develop our biodynamic approach to wine-making.

We would also like to create new wines. It’s always fun to try new things at harvest time. In 2010, we made a very exclusive wine called Petites Mains. Using grenache grapes from some old vines that had been carefully picked, placed in small crates, sorted grape by grape and then lightly crushed, we aged the wine in some large 600 litre demi-muid barrels for a few months before bottling. It was a successful test. We used the same technique again in 2012, only using syrah grapes this time.

 

One question that our clients often ask. What do winemakers like to do when they have a little time to themselves?!

When nature allows us and the vines take a breather, we take a few days rest to climb mountains and marvel at the snow-capped peaks.  Arnaud is a great lover of downhill skiing and walking. Isabelle prefers taking a small rucksack and walking the paths that lead to Saint Jacques de Compostelle.

Wine and the love of nature are never far away. Arnaud is actively involved in the winemaker associations and Isabelle has written two books on the harvest and biodynamics. Recettes de vendangeurs (Harvesters recipes) was published in 2012 by the publisher, Rouergue, and Précis à l’usage de ceux qui pensent que Demeter n’est qu’une déesse grecque (A summary to be used by those who think that Demeter is just a Greek Goddess) has just been published by L’Epure. Two different works about the daily life of being a winemaker.

 

Interviews of our orther partners

Marc Plouzeau from Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley

Eric, Etienne and Marie-Pierre Plumet from Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhône Valley

Jean-François Chapelle from Domaine Chapelle in Burgudy

Delphine and Ghislain d'Aboville from Domaine Allegria in Languedoc

Adrien David Beaulieu from Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion

 

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Domaine de la Guicharde joins the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience


We recently had the good fortune to meet Arnaud and Isabelle Guichard, winemakers at Domaine de la Guicharde since 1988. Their organic winery is nestled among the foothills of the Massif d’Uchaux in the southern part of the Côtes du Rhône wine growing region, and the passion they have for their terroir and wines was infectious from the very first meeting, one of the most important elements in the selection criteria of becoming a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience partner.

Starting with the 2018 vintage which is now available on the Gourmet Odyssey website, you can adopt some organic vines at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley and embark on a fascinating journey to learn more about wine and discover the passion, hard work, and skill needed to make quality wines. Follow the progress of your vines in your customer portal and by newsletter from the work in the vineyard to the bottling of your own-labelled bottles of wine. You can also opt to include a wine experience day at the winery to meet Isabelle and Arnaud and participate in tending the vines, harvesting the grapes or working in the cellar. Follow this link to learn more about all that is included in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

adopt-a-vine experience in an organic vineyard in france

As well being passionate about their work, Arnaud and Isabelle are both actively involved in the local wine and biodynamic wine-making associations. You can learn more about them in the winemaker profile and on the Domaine de la Guicharde partner page that also presents more information about the wine, region and winery.

When choosing a new partner, one critical factor is of course the quality of the wine. Domaine de la Guicharde produce a lovely range of white and red Côtes du Rhône wines that express the unique Massif d’Uchaux terroir upon which the vines grow. Regularly selected by the leading wine guides, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the Terroir du Miocène, was most recently picked in the Bettane+Desseauve 2018 Guide des Vins. Read more about the wine reviews of the Gourmet Odyssey partner wineries here.

wine-gift-box-vine-renting-rhone-valley-france

All of the Gourmet Odyssey partners are organically certified, another important selection criterion. Domaine de la Guicharde is also biodynamically certified by Demeter since 2010. During the Wine Experience at Domaine de la Guicharde, you will also learn about this holistic approach to caring and nurturing the totality of the surrounding environment, and the role that the lunar calendar plays in working in the vineyard and cellar. Isabelle recently appeared on France Inter’s “On va déguster” (French language only) radio show, alongside the CEO of the world renowned Château Palmer, to discuss the merits of biodynamic winemaking, and she has also written a book on the subject called “Précis à l’usage de ceux qui pensent que Demeter n’est qu’une déesse grecque" (A summary to be used by those who think that Demeter is just a Greek Goddess), published by Edition de l'Epure.

gift-for-wine-lovers-adopt-an-organic-vine-in-france

So for those of you who like Côtes du Rhône wines and are interested in learning more about organic and biodynamic wine-making, you’ll be in expert hands with Isabelle and Arnaud at Domaine de la Guicharde! We can’t wait for the first wine experience days next year.

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Harvesting the grapes in the Rhone Valley


As we were setting up on Saturday for the Harvest Experience Day with Marie-Pierre and Eric, the winemakers at Domaine la Cabotte, we looked out at the surrounding vineyards and noted how dry the soil was and how warm it was despite the early hour. The team of harvesters were already at work. With the heat of the summer, the harvest started earlier than usual, and the winery is trying to get the grapes in more quickly to try and keep as much juice as possible for this harvest that will be small in quantity. The Gourmet Odyssey apprentice harvesters were therefore very welcome to lend a helping hand!

Over a coffee and croissant, we listened to Eric quickly introduce us to the winery. We then headed into the vineyard just below the winery building to harvest the clairette grapes before the rain arrived, which was forecast for the end of the morning.

harvest wine box in the rhone valley france

As Eric explained, normally that white grapes such as the viognier and clairette are picked first, then the red grapes such as the syrah, moruvèdre or grenache. This year, the high temperatures in July and August meant that the harvest started on the 25th August, some 2 weeks earlier than a typical year, and with the red grapes.

The night time temperatures have also not been cooling as much as they would normally in September, meaning that the maturity is progressing very quickly. The harvest usually spans over almost a month, but all will be finished by Monday the 11th September, meaning that the whole harvest will have taken just two and a half weeks. If we wait any longer, the heat will have dried the grapes out, meaning less juice, and therefore less wine.

All of the red grapes have now been harvested and there is just the clairette left, which has been allotted to us. The clairette that we picked is not used for the usual white wine, but for a wine that will be made and aged in a large clay amphora, something that the winery has been experimenting with for a couple of years now. For making wine this way, we’re looking for a more ripe grape that has less acidity than for a classic white wine where you need more freshness. That’s why these grapes had been left to the end.

meet the winemaker at a harvest experience day in france

It was therefore up to us to pick a good harvest for Marie-Pierre and Eric, both of whom are particularly passionate about this wine. The secateurs were distributed, and then we split up among the vine rows.

harvest experience day at the winery in the cotes du rhone france

The grapes were of a very good quality, making our work that much easier. We didn’t need to sort the grapes whilst picking, as all the grape bunches were in good condition. However we had to take our time as the colour of the grapes were camouflaged with the leaves.  We therefore first stripped away the leaves to make it easier to see the grapes and cut the stems.

oenology course in the rhone valley vineyard france

The buckets quickly filled up, and as Eric and a few courageous volunteers emptied them into the trailer, the conversations abounded regarding the grape varietals, weather and the early harvest. Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the row, and just in time, as the rain started to fall. Along with the team of harvesters next to us, we had enough grapes to fill the press.

harvest experience wine box gift in france

We followed the tractor and trailer full of the precious harvest back to the shelter of the chai. Here we saw how the grapes were emptied into the press. Eric then gently rotated the press to ensure that the grapes were evenly spread in the press and to make place for the rest of the grapes. Once it was full, Eric set a gentle programme during an hour and a half to extract the juice as gently as possible which helps preserve the aromas.

winery tasting and vineyard visit in france

We had earned our aperitif and enjoyed it with the hum of the press in the background. Marie-Pierre brought out some homemade savoury cake to accompany the Colline, a very lively white wine. We also tasted a previous vintage of the white wine that is made in the amphora to see how the grapes that we had harvested in the morning might end up.

harvester meal and wine tasting for the harvest in a french vineyard

We tasted the red wines from the winery over lunch, prepared by a local restaurant, Au Temps de Vivre in Uchaux. We talked with Eric, Marie-Pierre and Jacqueline about the 2017 vintage which will be small, but should be of a good quality. We’ll be able to see for ourselves during the Vinification Experience Days early next year!

By the time we had finished our meal, the press had finished, and so we saw how the pressed juice is pumped into the vat. It will stay there for a couple of days to allow the solid particles to settle in the bottom of the vats, before the clarified wine is pumped into another vat where it will start the two week fermentation process. The skin, pips and stalks that remained in the press were removed and will be sent to the distillery to make liqueur.

wine-making and grapes picking course in france

While the press was being cleaned, we made the most of a dry patch, and went to the vineyard where our adopted vines are located to see how they had fared since the last Discovery Experience Day. After taking a few photos, we returned to see if the vat had been filled with the juice from our harvest.

Eric explained what happens during the first days of fermentation and how the grape juice transforms into wine. We then finished the day answering many questions about biodynamics, a way of making wine that Marie-Pierre and Eric are expert in and passionate about.

wine-making experience in a biodynamic vineyard in france

We could stay listening to Eric talk about his terroir and vines for hours, but all good things must come to an end.  At least a few bottles, taken home in the boot of the car, will allow the pleasure to last a little longer!

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Supporting the vines in the Rhone Valley


We welcomed some of the 2017 vintage adopt-a-vine parents of the 2017 vintage last Saturday at Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhone Valley.  There was a little wind and a few clouds, which we were all pleased to see following the heatwave that the region had endured in the preceding days with the temperature in the high 30s.

Great gift for a wine lover.  Rent some vines in France in the Rhone Valley

Eric Plumet, the winemaker, led us down through the vineyard to a plot that we were to work in.  The vines have been growing lots recently and our task was to raise the training wires and clip them together ensuring that the vine branches were held between them.
On the way, Eric showed us the different grape varietals grown in the vineyard.  We passed plots of syrah and clairette, and in a plot of Grenache, branch in hand, he showed us some shot berry which was the result of the late frost in spring.  Some of the flowers had been harmed, and so the number of grapes produced will be less.

Wine-making experience gift in a biodynamic vineyard

After a few technical explanations, we got down to work to place the vine branches between the training wires.  Eric explained the important role of the very tip of the vine branches which forms a Y shape, and absorbs the nutritive elements from the air to feed the plant.

Organic gift idea.  Adopt a vine in France, and participate in making your own wine

As the winery is worked biodynamically, Eric only starts to trim the tops of the vines when the apex dries.  The vine then stops growing to concentrate on ripening the grapes.

Marie-Pierre arrived to quench our thirst.  Water at first, but she had also brought a rosé wine produced at the winery, a fresh and very aromatic wine that gave us a glimpse of the tasting to come.

We returned to the winery at lunchtime and sat down at the wooden tables under the shade of the trees.  With the light breeze, it was the perfect place to relax.

Organic wine-tasting experience gift

We compared a clairette aged in oak barrels with a clairette aged in an amphora.  Same grape varietal but very different wines!  We each had our own preference for one or the other.

Over lunch, we tasted the Côtes du Rhône, Massif d’Uchaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines which paired perfectly with the tourte, pâtés, quail and fruit tart, all home-made by Marie-Pierre.  Our palates revelled in the different tastes and we in the good company!

After coffee, we went on a hunt to find our adopted vines, to say hello to them, and take a few photos.  With all that we had learnt during the day, we were more appreciative of all the effort that our bottles of wine will contain once our grapes have reached maturity!

Rent-a-Vine gift and personalised bottles of wine

The day finished in the chai to see the vats and take in the smells of the wines that are finishing ageing.  We’ll be back again in September to participate in the Harvest Experience Days.

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Wine-making in the Côtes du Rhône region at Domaine la Cabotte


Today is a festival for our taste buds! We're going to taste and re-taste all of the wines at Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône Massif d'Uchaux region during a Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Day.

The 2016 vintage wines are still slowly finishing the vinification process in the vats. The weather is a little unstable, and the arrival of the rain sees the participants put on our boots. The vines are delighted and all of the young buds get ready to soak up this lovely spring rain.

Adopt-a-vine gift box in a French vineyard

Marie-Pierre and Eric, the owners take us to meet our adopted Grenache vines that are used in making the Garance wine. The cameras come out and click away to immortalise the moment.

As the first drops of rain start to fall, we head for cover in the chai. Here, Marie-Pierre had prepared a long table with wine glasses, bottles and spittoons. We each take a seat as Eric explains how the grapes are transformed into wine.

Oenology course in the Rhone Valley France

The questions flow and we cover lots of topics. We learn about the fundamental role of yeast, which is naturally present on the grape skins, and turns the sugar into alcohol. Each vat of wine ferments at its own pace, one of the wonderful mysteries of wine-making. We taste different wines that are still ageing to appreciate for ourselves how they are each developing.

Wine tasting and visit of the winery in Mondragon, France

We then head to the caveau to put our noses to the test. We try and identify the floral and fruity aromas that can be found in wine: blackcurrant, lime tree, blackberry chocolate truffle, raspberry, lemon, honey etc...

Aroma workshop as a wine gift in a French winery

There are two or three "noses" in the group who are very good at naming the different aromas, but for the majority of us, it's more difficult to put a name to them. That is until we're told what the smell is, and we hear a chorus of "of course it is!"

Winemaker lunch with wine pairing Domaien la Cabotte France

It is now lunch time, and we sit down to enjoy a pork confit, local goat's cheese and dessert. Each dish is accompanied by different wines, and we enjoy our glasses of Clairette, Colline, Gabriel, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Organic vineyard visit in the Rhone Valley France

In the afternoon the sky clears, and Eric takes us on a walk around the vineyard to better understand the Massif d'Uchaux terroir and its influence on the wine's style. The ground is very rocky and the vines share the plateau with trees and scrubland, giving the wine both complexity and freshness.

The day draws to a close, and we look back on the variety of tastes and smells that we have enjoyed and discovered. We also load the car boots up with a few bottles of our favourite wines to take a little piece of Domaine la Cabotte home with us!

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Pruning the vines in the Rhone Valley


The first Discovery Experience Days for the 2017 vintage got underway recently at Domaine la Cabotte.  Marie-Pierre and Eric, the winemakers, were waiting for us with a nice warm coffee, and we admired the view over the vines and Massif d’Uchaux terroir as we waited for everyone to arrive.

We were at the winery to learn about the work of the winemaker in the vineyard to grow and nurture the best possible grapes come harvest time.  And as we were to learn, there’s a lot of work involved between now and the harvest!

Eric explains how to prune the vines

Eric and Marie-Pierre explained their philosophy of working the soil and the wines.  Why do you need to prune?  Why at this time of year?  Having been shown how to prune, we each had a go for ourselves under the guidance of Eric & Marie-Pierre.

The participants have a go at pruning under the guidance of Marie-Pierre

At the end of the morning, we visited the plot of Grenache where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located, and took some photos of the plants that will hopefully give us the fruit to make an excellent wine this year.

We then enjoyed a home-made lunch prepared by Marie-Pierre of endive salad, provençal stew, and raspberry tiramisu, paired with the Garance, Gabriel and Colline Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.

Enjoying lunch in the caveau overlooking the vineyard

After lunch we returned to the vineyard to finish the pruning and to perfect our cutting.  It’s not always easy to choose which branches to keep and which to cut!

Pruning is not as easy as it looks

In the chai, we talked about how biodynamics impacts the work and the environment at the winery.   We learnt about how it helps to improve the biodiversity in the vineyard, and how prevalent it is in the Massif d’Uchaux appellation, respecting the soil and nature’s rhythm.

And so the day drew to a close, a day full of information and the clip clip of the secateurs.  We’ll soon be able to see if our pruning bears any fruit as Eric and Marie-Pierre update us on how the buds develop.  Many thanks to our hosts for welcoming us and for being as authentic as ever.

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Wine-making and blending experience day in the Rhone Valley


Last Saturday, we were welcomed by Marie-Pierre and Eric Plumet at Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhone Valley to learn more about the vinification process of the 2016 vintage.  For some of the participants it was their third wine experience day at the winery, having already participated in pruning the vines and harvesting the grapes last year.

Wine-making experience gift at the winery in France beside the wine-maker

The programme of the day was to talk about how the wine progresses through the fermentation and ageing stages once the harvested grapes arrive in the chai, and for this, we were in the expert hands of Eric.

Original wine enthusiast gift to learn about wine-making

At Domaine la Cabotte, whenever possible they blend the different grape varietals together to make each of their different wines.  Marie-Pierre and Eric prefer that the juice from the grenache, mourvèdre, carignan and cinsault mix and ferment together.  It’s not something that is easy to do, and sometimes they opt to vinify the grape varietals separately.  It’s all a question of the vintage.

They regularly taste the wines to determine the best moment to rack them and separate the wine from the solid matter of skin, pips, and stems that is deposited at the bottom of the vats.  The fermented juice becomes “vin de goutte”, and continues to be closely monitored to check that nothing untoward is happening.

Tasting the wines that are still ageing

Four to ten months after the harvest for the most part, the wine is then racked again, bottled, labelled and then enjoyed by wine lovers all over the world, including the adoptive parents, who have followed the birth of the vintage from first bud to the bottle.

We then returned to the caveau for a workshop that put our noses to the test.  We had to try to name a series of different aromas that can be found in wine.  Honey, lemon, pear… for the whites.  Raspberry, blackcurrant, liquorice… for the reds.

A couple of the participants were very good at this game, but all were agreed to step out into the sunshine to smell some real aromas from some real wine!

We tasted the Garance and Gabriel red wines and the Clairette white wine that had been aged in Italian amphorae.  A real treat.
To accompany the wines over lunch, we enjoyed a home-made salad, lamb tagine, and fruit cake.  And Jacqueline, the sommelier, recited ‘L’Ame du vin”, Beaudelaire’s tribute to the divine nectar.

Rent-a-vine gift in the rhone valley in a biodynamic vineyard

We spent the afternoon in the vineyard, amongst the plot of grenache vines that have been adopted by the Gourmet Odyssey clients.  Here, Eric recounted the geological history of the Massif d’Uchaux terroir, and explained the influence it has on the aroma and structure of the wine.

We finished the day in front of the chai, where we learnt a little more about the biodynamic philosophy, and the importance of respecting nature’s rhythm which help to create the balance in the wines at Domaine la Cabotte.

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A fun Harvest Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


Some of the adoptive Gourmet Odyssey vine owners at Domaine la Cabotte recently came to the winery to participate in the 2016 harvest. We were accompanied by Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne who run this excellent Côtes du Rhône winery together, and this year we had the pleasure of welcoming some very young harvesters, a little girl and a couple of babies to lend a helping hand!

 

harvest experience in the Rhone Valley France

The weather was on our side. After the rain of the preceding days, the sky was getting ready for the Mistral wind, which was welcome to help dry the ground between the vine rows and make it easier to harvest.

We began the day by heading to the Grenache vineyard where our adopted vines are located. These vines are used in the making of the winery's Garance red wine, which is the biodynamic wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey.

wine gift course in RHone Valley France

Eric and his son, Etienne, handed out the buckets and secateurs, and everyone got stuck in, having learnt how to pick the bunches of grapes, and more importantly how to avoid cutting any fingers!

It's hard, but fun and rewarding work. With a glass of rosé at the break to help keep the smiles on the faces, we managed to harvest 7 rows, filling 4 containers.

Picking grapes experience at the wiery in France

We then followed the tractor, laden with our harvest, back to the chai, and gathered around the de-stemming machine to better understand how the grapes are handled before being put into the vats.

The harvested bunches pass through the de-stemming machine to separate the berries from the stalks.

Whilst we were waiting for the machines to be put in place, Jacqueline, the oenologist, showed us some of the tools and materials used in making the biodynamic preparations, and explained how they are used to bring the soil more alive.

Marie-Pierre, then announced that lunch was ready, and we sat down under the shade of the trees to some fresh salads, terrine, vegetable quiche, local cheeses and cherry clafoutis, all of which had been home-made.

winemaker's meal and wine tasting at the winery

To accompany our delicious lunch, we tasted the range of red and rosé Côtes du Rhône wines produced on the estate. We started with the "Colline" red and rosé before tasting the Massif d'Uchaux Côtes du Rhône Village appellation wines that are more structured and keep for longer. We also tasted the new "Clairette" white wine, an amazing wine which is made in Italian clay amphorae.

wine ageing and vinification in Rhone Valley France

After our late lunch, we ended the day next to the vats to taste the first juice from the harvest, and to understand how it will be nurtured to make the next wines from Domaine la Cabotte.

A few bottles were ordered to take home to enjoy later, and the little girl left with a lovely vine branch that had already taken on the hues of autumn. She was taking it back to her school as a souvenir of the harvest!

Many thanks to Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne for welcoming us, and we look forward to returning soon to learn more about the vinification and blending!

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Winemaker profiles - Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne Plumet-d’Ardhuy at Domaine la Cabotte


Once again, for our profile series of our partner winemakers, we asked a few question to Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne Plumet-d'Ardhuy from Domaine la Cabotte. We learnt that what really makes them tick is their passion for their job, and in learning and sharing with others.

Meet the Côtes du Rhône winemakers in Mondragon 

How long have you been a winemakers?

For us (Eric & Marie-Pierre), since 1981: It's both a profession and passion that we share as a family, that our respective parents did before us, and that our son, Etienne will carry on since his arrival at the winery this year.

What is your best memory in the vineyard or cellar?

So many memories over the past 35 years, but the ones that stand out the most are the first times. We created the winery, and all of the first times we did something new will be forever etched in our memories; the first planting of the vines, first vinification, first tasting of our wines, first bottling, and first bottle labelled with the name of our winery.

Everything is not always perfect the first time, but it's always the beginning of a new journey, a new challenge, and forces you to question yourselves.

Adopt some organic vines in the Rhone Valley at Domaine la Cabotte 

For the 2015 vintage, what is at present your favourite wine and why?

We never have a favourite wine. Ask a parent which is their favourite child? It's impossible to answer. We love all of our wines for their qualities and their imperfections.

They are all touched by the same vintage, whether they are rich, full, smooth, fruity, fresh, or velvety, they are all the product of our passion and so deserve the same attention.

What are your projects or challenges for 2016?

The arrival of our son, Etienne, to the winery, then uprooting and replanting 12ha of vines that our son is leasing.

A question that our clients often ask. What do winemakers do when they have a little time to themselves?

A bit like everyone. We go to the cinema, to the theatre, we visit exhibitions and museums, and we spend time with our children and grandchildren.

Sometimes we get the chance to go on holiday, and if there is a winery or wine merchant nearby, we stop by to learn and exchange knowledge on wine-making!

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Training the vines in the Rhone Valley


What a great day we had last Saturday.  A clear sky and the last wisps of the Mistral to bring a little freshness to help us in our work in the vineyard.

The adoptive vine parents at Domaine la Cabotte arrived punctually, coming from near and far.  From the Var, the other end of the Vaucluse, Paris, Geneva and Brsitol.  And yes, after the Brexit vote, four brave British clients reported present to show their support for good French wine!

After a quick coffee and croissant to give us strength, we climbed to the top of the estate to help with the work in the vineyard at this time of year.  The vines are currently growing rapidly, and need help to support the weight of the grapes and leaves by means of a trellis.  Our job was to raise the training wires and ensure that the vines pointed up towards the sky by clipping them between the wires.

Biodylanic wine experience gift in the Rhone Valley, south of France

Eric Plumet, the winemaker explained how to do it, and then we spread out between the rows, pockets full of coloured clips.

In biodynamic wine-making, we don’t trim the tops of the vines.  The extremity of each branch is left alone because it is the apex that allows all of the force of the aerial environment to penetrate the sap and enter the grapes.  The leaves will stop growing on their own accord when the time is right for the vine to concentrate its energy exclusively on the fruit.

Once we had finished our mission, we went and had a look at the part of the vineyard where our adopted Grenache vines are to be found.

Rent-a-vine gift experience to learn about the art of winemaking

Here the vines are completely different, as the Grenache are pruned using the “gobelet” technique and so do not need the support of a training wire.  We each went on the hunt for our adopted vines, and with the height of the vines, we were soon out of sight of each other as we disappeared into the forest of vines.

We then headed to a plot of Syrah vines to observe the differences between the grape varietals, the leaves, how the grapes form, and the orientation of the plot.  And from here, we had a great all round view of the estate, surrounded by the woods of the Massif d’Uchaux.
By now, it was already lunchtime.  Marie-Pierre awaited our return in the shade with some welcome cold refreshment!

Wine tasting gift experience with the Cotes du Rhone winemakers

The Colline rosé, a delightfully fresh and tasty wine opened our taste buds for the lunch and tasting prepared by Marie-Pierre and Jacqueline.

Two poultry and dried fruit terrines prepared by the winemaker and some Greek “Cabotte” stuffed vine leaves prepared by Jacqueline, were accompanied by the Garance and Gabriel red wines.

We finished the meal with a nice glass of Châteauneuf du Pape which we enjoyed with some goats cheese made at a neighbouring farm, and a homemade red fruit clafoutis.

The warmth of the southern summer threatened our energy levels, so the winemakers quickly ushered us into the coolness of the chai.  We talked some more about the vines and the wine, and noticed that in June the majority of the vats are empty, but the bottles are now full!

In front of us were cases full of freshly picked horsetail, yarrow and oak bark.  Eric explained how they are used in the different biodynamic preparations, and we also discovered the cow horns and how they are used to transform cow dung into rich natural fertiliser.

The questions flew, and Eric tried to clearly explain the answers.  The time passed all too quickly, but hopefully we all learnt a little more about the passionate but complex world of wine-making and biodynamics.  And so it was time to say our goodbyes, a bottle or two under the arm to take away as a souvenir of the day.

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De-budding the vines in the Côtes du Rhône


We had a marvellous Discovery Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte in the southern Côtes du Rhône region. After a few days of the mistral wind blowing, the good weather set in and we enjoyed a wonderful sunny day, perfect for spending the morning in the vineyard.
Vine adoption in the Rhone Valley

Over a welcome coffee, Eric and Marie-Pierre introduced us to the day. On the agenda was some work in a nice plot of Mourvèdre vines, where we would have a go at de-budding.

Vine life cycle and de-budding course at the winery

Our hosts explained how to de-bud, and then in pairs, we got stuck in. The demonstration that Eric gave us looked fairly simple. All we had to do was to remove some of the unwanted shoots to help control the yield that each vine will produce.

Wine gift vine de-budding course at the winery

But when you have to do it yourself, it's not quite as easy as it appears. No two vines are the same, and you end up asking yourself lots of questions. Is this shoot the one that needs to be removed? We didn't yet have Eric's expert eye. We de-budded a couple of rows each, which took us a little more time than it would have done Eric!

Vineyard tour wine gift in the Rhone Valley

Eric then took us on a walk through the vineyard, explaining on the way a whole host of things such as why some vines were pruned using the "gobelet" method and others using the "cordon de royat" technique.

Biodynamic wine making in the Cotes du Rhone

We took a little detour so that Eric could show us the biodynamic preparations that they use on the vineyards, notably the biodynamic cow manure compost, which nature transforms from a foul smelling matter into rich compost that encourages the microbial life in the soil. After a couple of weeks this compost is put into cow horns and then buried for a few months before being diluted and dynamised with rain water before being sprayed throughout the vineyard. Then the magic does its work!

Wine tasting at the winery in the Cotes du Rhone

Back at the winery, a nice cool aperitif awaited us in the shade of the trees. We tasted a 2015 Côtes du Rhône rosé and a Côtes du Rhône red wine from the same year. Marie-Pierre presented the wines, explaining their blends and how they had been worked in the chai.

Winemaker meal at the Domaine la Cabotte Rhone Valley

Marie-Pierre than invited us to sit down for an al fresco lunch that she had freshly prepared: a lentil salad, tomatoes and pumpkin seed salad, duck and nut terrine, local goats cheese and a delicious cake. During the meal we tasted the range of wines that are produced at the winery, the "Garance" and "Gabriel" Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d'Uchaux wines and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 red.

Vine adoption gift box France Rhone Valley

After lunch, we went to meet our Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines, giving us the chance to immortalise the moment by taking a few photos. Eric then told us about the specificity of the Uchaux terroir and how it differs from other areas in the Rhône valley.

Biodynamic winemaking course at Domaine la Cabotte

We then headed to the chai, where Eric briefly explained how the wine is vinified and the differences between the biodynamic methods they use from conventional. He showed us some of the plants that are used to make the treatments such as horse tail and fennel. He told us how the dynamiser works and the impact of the different biodynamic treatments on the vineyard.

The 2016 harvest is still a long way off, but the day enabled us to better appreciate the importance of the preparative work that is done beforehand throughout the year by Eric, Marie-Pierre and their son Etienne to ensure the best possible grapes.

The path is still long before we can taste the "Garance" 2016 wine, and we'll have to be patient, whilst hoping that Mother Nature is as kind as it was in 2015. Warm thanks to Marie-Pierre and Eric for their generous welcome and to all of the participants for a great day!

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The role of vats, barrels and other types of container in making wine


With all of the different Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Days taking place at the moment in our different partner wineries, we’ve been struck by the multitude of different methods and techniques used in the cellar to make and age wine depending on the different regions and partners. In this article we wanted to take a closer look at just one of these differences, that difference being the type of container used to produce wines. Here’s a quick overview of some of the different containers used to make wines.

After the harvest, the winemakers have to make a whole raft of crucial decisions in the cellar that will directly impact the quality, taste, and characteristics of their wines. Among them is the choice of container to age the wine once the fermentation has finished. Generally speaking, once the second fermentation has finished the wines are racked, and they are transferred from their fermentation tank to another container to continue their ageing process. There are lots of different types of container, but the most popular by far are either vats or barrels.

Vats

Vats come in all shapes and sizes, and can be made from different materials. The largest capacity vats can hold up to 1 000 200 litres, which is the colossal amount that the world’s largest oak vat holds at the Caves Byrhh. Vats of this size are far from the norm as there are very few wineries that would have the space to house them!

Unique wine gift, Alsace, France

The most common materials used to make vats are stainless steel, concrete and wood. Each has its own advantages. Wood and concrete vats are more porous and allow a micro-oxygenation of the wine which can be something favourable that the winemaker is looking for to make the wines softer and rounder. Wooden vats can also bring some extra tertiary aromas to the wine, particularly when they are new, to add to those present from the fruit and terroir. Stainless steel vats don’t allow these aromas to develop, but they can have the advantage of concentrating the aromas on the primary and secondary ones found in the must. All depends on what type of wine the winemaker wants to develop!

Wine making experience, Burgundy, France

When it comes to the shape, we often imagine that they are all more or less cylindrical, and that is indeed the case in the majority of wineries, but there are also less common forms such as cubic, ovoid, pyramidal, or rectangular. Each shape has its advantages. For example, an ovoid vat allows the wine to perpetually move, keeping the lees in suspension, without having to stir the lees at all. This results in fuller, more concentrated wines.

Original wine gift, Chablis, Burgundy, France

Barrels

When you think of wine ageing at the winery, more often than not you will think of it doing so in an oak barrel. The volume that a barrel holds varies from region to region, and in French, there are also different names for them depending on the region and the size of the barrel. For example, in Bordeaux, the typical Bordelaise barrel, a “barrique,” can hold 225 litres (300 standard sized bottles of wine). A Bordelaise “tonneau” is four times bigger, containing 900 litres, and it is this size of barrel that is used for pricing the wines. In Burgundy, the standard measure for a barrel of wine is called the “pièce” and has a capacity of 228 litres (304 standard sized bottles of wine). For much larger quantities there also the “foudres”.

Wine experience gifts, Loire Valley, France

There are two main reasons why the winemaker might choose to use oak barrels. The first is the micro-oxygenation that takes place as we mentioned in the section before on vats. The second is the impact that the interaction between the wine and the oak has on the aroma and taste of the wine. The majority of tertiary aromas found in wine are developed thanks to prolonged contact with the oak. Vanilla, cinnamon, hazelnut, toast, leather, etc – different aromas depending on the type of wood, its origin, and the way in which it was toasted during the manufacture of the barrels. Choosing the right barrel that will enhance the characteristics of a wine without overpowering it can be a difficult decision for the winemaker.

Vineyard experience, Bordeaux, France

Choosing the right container

Each type of container has its qualities and its supporters, the choice resting with the winemaker to help produce the desired wine. At our partner winemakers, we often taste the same wine that has been aged in different types of container. For example at Domaine la Cabotte, they have started to test using clay amphorae like the Romans used. They are trying to benefit from the porosity of the clay jar for the micro-oxygenation that is similar to a barrel, but without the exchange of tannins and development of tertiary aromas.

Wine lover gift, Rhone Valley, France

Whatever the choice of the container to be used, its impact will diminish as the volume increases, as the surface area becomes smaller relative to the volume of wine contained. The larger the container, the slower the ageing process will be. Controlling the temperature is also important, not just during the fermentation process, but during ageing as well to regulate the ability of the oxygen to dissolve into the liquid. Yet more choices for the winemaker!

 

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The vines come back to life in Spring


As our adopted parents for the 2016 vintage will have noticed during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Days that are currently under way, the vines are slowly waking up from their winter rest. The winemakers have been busy finishing the last pruning, bending and tying the remaining vine branches to the training wires before the first buds peek through, so it’s now time to take a look at what happens during spring in the vineyard.

Once the harvest has finished and the first cold winter weather sets in, the sap descends into the roots and foot of the vine stock. The vines are further protected from the frosts by heaping earth around the trunks, and last year’s branches are cut away so that the plant can concentrate its energy on producing the growth necessary for the coming year’s harvest. Even if this winter was uncharacteristically mild, the vines still passed through this hibernation mode, the length of which varied depending on the region of France.

Waking up

With the warming of the weather towards the end of March, the sap starts to climb back up the plant into the branches. Sometimes you can even see tears of sap form and drop from the where the branches have been cut.

Adopt a vine, Alsace, France

The tears herald the arrival of the first buds breaking through on the vines. This is a much awaited moment in the vineyard, but one that causes lots of worry for the winemakers. At this stage the vines are very vulnerable, and next year’s harvest is at the peril of frosts or wild animals that love to feast on the fresh, succulent buds. It’s time to watch and protect the vines as best as possible.

Vineyard experience, Burgundy, France

When it comes to buds, there are various different types. There are those that we leave on the main branches at the time of pruning, which are also sometimes referred to as eyes, and from these buds will grow the first shoots.

On these shoots, another type of bud, terminal buds, will form at the end of the new branch. These buds are responsible for the growth of the branch, and so once the vine has sufficiently grown and the winemaker wants the plant to turn its attention to ripening the grapes, the ends of the branches are cut off, and the growth is then stopped.

Adopt a vine france, Bordeaux

Then there are auxiliary buds, found under the leaf axils. These are latent, and won’t develop this year, but will burst next year. Vines have a two year vegetative cycle, and it is these buds that we leave when we prune for the following year’s campaign.

The growth of the vines

Once the bud burst period has finished, the vines enter a growth phase for the rest of spring and summer until the temperatures start to fall again in September or October.

Leaves also develop on the branches and they have a double role. They enable photosynthesis to take place, and they help the vine to regulate its temperature through releasing water. The leaves from each vine varietal haven their own distinct morphology, making it much easier to name a particular type of vine in springtime than in the depths of winter!

Original wine gift, Loire Valley

At the same time as the growth of the leaves, tendrils also develop to help the vine support itself. The green and supple tendrils reach out and wrap themselves around whatever they can find, the training wires being ideal. As time goes by, the green tendrils turn brown and into wood, which is why it’s so much harder to pull the branches away at pruning time.

Spring work in the vineyard

Ren a vine, Rhone Valley, France

From Spring onwards, a large part of the winemakers work in the vineyard is to control and manage the growth of the vines in such a way as to help the grapes reach optimal maturity at harvest time. De-budding and removing any unwanted shoots, and training the vines are the first tasks to be undertaken as the growth gets under way. Read our post on the spring work in the vineyard for more information.

 

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Bud burst of the vines in Spring

In the vineyard. De-budding and training the vines

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Winemaking in the Rhone Valley


For this second Vinification Experience Day of the year at Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône wine making region of France, we were blessed with magnificent sunny weather all day long.
Wine making experience, Rhone Valley; France

After the initial introductions, Eric started to tell us about his work as a winemaker. He told us about the important choices that have to be taken in the vineyard, how to choose when to harvest, and about the steps taken to transform the grapes into quality wine.

The winery is both organically and biodynamically certified, and Eric explained the impact that this has had on the estate’s wines over the years. There is a big difference not just in the working techniques used, but also in the quality of the wine that is produced.

Wine lover gift, Rhone Valley, France

We then gathered outside for a workshop to awaken our senses. We had to try and identify the aromas that can be found in wine through the fruit or the way that it has been made.

Wine tasting gift, Rhone Valley, France

Eric then told us all about how to blend wine, and we tasted different wine blends from the 2015 vintage that are still in the ageing process to see for ourselves.

Unique wine gift, Rhone Valley, Mondragon

We then enjoyed an aperitif before sitting down to a meal prepared by Marie-Pierre. An endive, lentil end turmeric salad, beef stew, local goat’s cheese, and some almond cake to finish. During the lunch, we tasted several of the estate’s wines starting with the Colline rosé 2015, then proceeding with the Garance 2014 Massif d’Uchaux red wine, the Gabriel 2014 Massif d’Uchaux red, and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 red.

In the afternoon, we took a short stroll to visit our adopted vines and take some photos. Eric talked some more about the specificity of the different soil structures found in the Uchaux area, and the impact of biodynamics.

Adopt a vine france, Mondragon , Rhone Valley

We now have to wait patiently until the 2015 vintage of our Garance wine has finished ageing. Many thanks to Eric and Marie-Pierre for their warm welcome, and to all of the participants for making it such a good day.

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Pruning vines in the Rhone Valley


When we arrived at 8:00 on Saturday to get everything ready, there was a little worrying drizzle in the air. We were getting ready to prune during the Discovery Experience day, and it’s a little difficult to do whilst holding an umbrella!
Vineyard experience, Rhone Valley, France

But at 9:00, the clouds rolled away, and the Mont Ventoux showed off its flanks in the sunshine. Phew! Everyone arrived, and got to know each other over a cup of coffee or tea. From Lyon, the Ardèche, and even from London, we had lots of ground to cover!

Jacqueline from Gourmet Odyssey presented the programme for the day, and our winemakers, Marie-Pierre and Eric, introduced us to the winery, its history and the different grape varietals that they cultivate.

We then put on our boots and equipped ourselves with a pair of croppers, before heading to the plot of vines that had been set aside for us to prune. We’re in March, and as the old saying goes, “prune early or prune late, the best pruning is that of March”.

And so we found ourselves amongst the vines, which also happened to be the vines that we had adopted.

Adopt a vine france, Rhone Valley

Eric explained the essentials of pruning and how it helps control the quantity and quality of fruit that the vines will produce. Our Grenache vines are pruned using the goblet method. We have to leave a maximum of 5 branches, each with two eyes. We then place the cut branches in between the rows of vines. In this windy environment, we’re best to choose the branches that will be strong enough to withstand the force of the mistral. And the final advice that Eric gave, follow your instinct!

Rent a vine, France, Rhone Valley

We had 4 rows, each of about 150 vines, and so it took us until noon to get the job done, thanks to our team of ace apprentice winemakers. And noon signals the time for the aperitif!

The nice weather meant that we could enjoy the sun in front of the caveau. The sun’s rays played with the white and rosé wines in our glasses.

During the wine tasting, we learnt about the differences between conventional, organic, and biodynamic wine making.

Wine lover gift, France, Rhone Valley

Lunch had been prepared by Marie-Pierre, and was accompanied by the red wines of Domaine la Cabotte.

The Colline wine is a lovely blend of the great southern grape varietals, Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Carignan. The Garance wine, chosen for our Gourmet Odyssey wine, is a blend in equal measures of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, whilst the Gabriel wine is made up of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah. The final wine is the estate’s Châteauneuf du Pape which blends 8 of the 13 different authorised grape varietals.

After lunch, we took a walk in the vineyard to see where the biodynamic preparations are buried. Here Eric and Jacqueline explained how different substances such as cow manure are dynamised and spread amongst the vines in Autumn and Spring. These treatments help to enrich the soil and invigorate the vines.

Eric showed us the specificity of the porous rocks that make up the local terroir, and their ability to keep the soil damp in periods of high temperatures.

Unique wine gift, France, Rhone Valley

The day finished with a quick visit of the chai as the end of the day was already fast approaching. Eric & Marie-Pierre will continue the work in the vineyard over the coming months before some of us will come back to help them with the harvest. And then there still remains the work in the chai to vinify the wines, but that is the subject of another wine experience day!

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Wine-making Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


It was a full house for the first 2015 Vinification Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte. Eric and Marie-Pierre, the winemakers, were there as usual and this time were accompanied by their son Etienne, who joined the winery at harvest time last year. On the Gourmet Odyssey side, we also had the pleasure to welcome Jacqueline and Bertrand, both sommeliers, who will be running the next experience days.

At 9:30, once everyone had arrived and had finished their coffee and croissant, we introduced the day and Marie-Pierre presented the history of the winery, how it is named after the little “Cabotte”, a stone shelter for the workers in the vineyard, and how she and Eric became winemakers.

Vineyard experience, Rhône Valley

We then went to visit our adopted vines, and talked about the different grape varietals grown on the estate. The plot of vines where our adopted vines are located is planted with Grenache, and the Garance wine that we will end up with at the end of the experience, also contains Mourvèdre and Syrah.

Rent a vine in Rhône Valley, France

We then went to the chai to see what happens after the harvest. The grapes from the different vineyard plots are put into individual vats and go through two fermentation phases before being racked to separate the wine from the marc of solid matter such as the skin and pips. Eric explained how this part of the vinification process differs slightly for the white wines.

Throughout the vinfication period, there are many controls and decisions that the winemaker must make, but as Eric reminded us, much of the work is done in the vineyard before the harvest, especially for wineries like Domaine la Cabotte who work biodynamically.

After having answered lots of questions on organic and biodynamic wine making, and the work that they entail for the winemaker, we returned to the reception to put into practice our wine tasting skills. We started with a challenge to test our noses by identifying the primary and secondary aromas found in wine. It’s not such an easy thing to do!

And it’s a task that is even more difficult for the winemaker who must identify the aromas that are all intermingled following the blend of several wines and where tertiary aromas are also added depending on the choice of ageing the wine in oak barrels.

Wine tasting gift, Rhône Valley, France

Eric took us back to the chai to taste some of the 2015 wines that have been blended and are still in the process of ageing. Of the three wines, the first two had exactly the same age and the same proportion of different grape varietals, the only difference being that the second wine had been ageing in new oak barrels for a couple of months. We could already taste a big difference. The third wine had not completely finished its malo-lactic fermentation, and was measuring 10g of sugar per litre instead of the authorised maximum of 3g. More time is needed for this wine to finish fermenting.

Wine experience gift, Rhône Valleu, France

Once we had tasted these wines, it was time for lunch, which had been prepared by Marie-Pierre. We tasted some of the finished wines too, starting with the rosé with the starter. We then tasted the Garance and Gabriel 2014 red wines with the main course and cheese. We finished with a Château-neuf-du-Pape from a recently acquired vineyard which is worked entirely by hand and by horse.

We started the afternoon with a short walk around the vineyards whilst Eric explained the geology that makes the Massif d’Uchaux such a unique place, and gives the wine its special qualities.

Unique wine gift, Rhône Valley, France

We finished the day by learning what happens to the wine at the end of the maturing period and how it is bottled, labelled and packaged. Being biodynamic, this too is done in harmony with the lunar calendar that takes into account the position of the moon and the tidal coefficients. There are still a few months to wait until our 2015 vintage of the Garance wine will be ready, but as Eric said, you need time to become mature and wise!

Many thanks to all of the participants for your curiosity

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A unique Saint Valentine gift for a wine lover


Here’s an original gift idea for St Valentine’s – Adopt some vines with your loved one and make your own personalised bottles of wine together. From the vine to the bottle, get behind the scenes in an organic French winery and follow the work of the winemaker as he shares with you the keys steps in making your own wine.

Personalised wine gift, France

It’ an imaginative gift for Valentine’s Day for any wine affecionado. You can choose to adopt some vines in one of our 7 organic partner wineries, and for a wine-making year, you’ll follow their evolution via newsletters, blog articles and photos. At the end of the experience you’ll get to personalise the wine labels and you’ll have a great time whilst you taste your own wine!

If your better half loves wine, then this personalised gift pack is sure to please. The welcome pack includes a sommelier’s apron, a Drop Stop, personalised certificate and further details of the chosen wine experience.

Wine experience gift, France

And to make the gift even more hands-on, you can add a wine experience day at the winery. You can choose a Discovery Experience Day to learn about the work in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes, or you could go for a Harvest Experience Day and get involved in picking the grapes and following their journey into the fermentation tanks. And then there is also the Vinification Experience Day to learn about the work in the cellar to transform the grape juice into wine. Each lasts a full day from 9:30 to 16:00, and gives you the unique opportunity to follow and help the winemaker in his work, to share a meal, and to taste the wines from the winery.

Vineyard experience, France

All of our partner winemakers are organically certified, and are passionate about their work. They’ll welcome you with open arms, and you’ll get to share a unique and authentic moment in a French vineyard. It’s also the perfect excuse to get away for a romantic break in France!

More information on the Wine Experience.

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What to get the person that has everything ?

Adopt a Vine in France and Let Them Follow the Making of Their Own Wine !

From € 159

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