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Harvesting organic grapes in the Loire Valley


Despite a cloudy sky, our adoptive vine owners were raring to go on the 5th October for the Harvest Experience Day at Château de la Bonnelière in Chinon in the Loire Valley!

Pick your own grapes from your adopted vines with the Gourmet Odyssey Experience Wine

We were warmly welcomed over coffee and croissants by Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner of the winery, who took the opportunity to give us a quick review of the 2019 season so far.

The weather hasn’t been kind to the winemakers in the region this year.  After two spells of frost in April and May, the rain fell during the flowering period, which meant that the pollination wasn’t as regular as it should have been.  Then the very hot summer caused hydric stress in the vines, where they stop growing to concentrate their energy on preserving their core.  All of these factors mean that the 2019 harvest is smaller than usual.

The team of Gourmet Odyssey harvesters were to close the harvest at Château de la Bonnelière for this year.  The harvest was spread out over three weeks, allowing each of the different vine plots that make up the winery’s 34 hectares to be picked at just the right moment.

It was now time to get stuck in after all of these explanations!  So, off we set for the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard where the organic adopted vines are to be found.

Fortunately it wasn’t the whole vineyard that had been left for us to harvest, but one end!  The grapes are picked and put into crates at the winery, so once we had filled up our buckets, we emptied them into the crates that had been placed in each of the rows.  We spread out in pairs, one either side of the vine row, and off we went.

Get involved in the French grape harvest in the Loire Valley

The group was very meticulous, and took care to just pick the good bunches of grapes, the ones that hadn’t been affected by the coulure or had been burnt by the sun.  And we also managed to escape any little injuries from the secateurs!

Discover the French lifestyle during the harvest in the Loire Valley

A couple of hours later, and after a welcome winemaker’s snack of some rillettes and wine, the job was done!  The crates were loaded into the van, the secateurs collected up, and then we headed for a well earned lunch!

Participate in the French grape harvest

Lunch was a great moment, enrichened by the explanations and answers to the many questions asked.  And of course we enjoyed the different wines produced by Marc throughout the meal!

But the day wasn’t yet over! We still had to put the grapes into the vat.  We headed to the fermentation hall, to de-stem the grapes before putting them into the vat.  Under the instructions of Marc, he explained the different jobs to be carried out. 

Adopt vines in Chinon and harvest the grapes with the winemaker

We ended the day with a tasting of the grapes juice from the Clos de la Bonnelière.  The juice is very promising and should make for a good 2019 vintage.  But first, patience is required, as there are still many stages left, as we will find out during the Vinification Experience Days next year!

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Grape Harvest Experience in Alsace


Domaine Stentz-Buecher welcomed us to Alsace last weekend to get involved in picking the grapes and learn about the work at the winery during harvest time to transform the grape juice into wine.  We were there with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients who have each adopted a micro-plot of organic vines at the winery.

Discover a French winery during the Harvest Experience gift experience day in Alsace

After the introductions, we crossed the picturesque village of Wettolsheim to visit the Rosenberg vineyard, home to our adopted vines.  A small slate had been put in front of the vines to indicate who the adopted owner was, and so we dispersed among the rows to locate our vines.

Discover the Alsace wine region with the Gourmet Experience Vine Adoption gift

Then it was time to get down to some work.  Céline, the winemaker, and her mother, Simone, supplied us with a pair of secateurs and a bucket each, and then explained which grapes to pick and how to pick them.  We were to pick the pinot noir grapes, which had reached their optimum maturity and were ready to be harvested.

Pick your own grapes from your adopted vines in Alsace with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gift

We spread out through the rows, and started to pick the grapes.   The bunches were full and plentiful, meaning that the buckets quickly filled up.  Celine’s father, Jean-Jacques, drove a small tractor and trailer down the middle row, and when the buckets were full, we passed them under the rows to be emptied and then to be passed back to us.

The grapes are sometimes difficult to get to, so the easiest way to pick them is to first remove the leaves from in front.  This makes the access much easier, and also quicker to see where to cut the stalk from the vine.  The grapes to pick grow at the bottom of the vine, in between the first two training wires.  When you taste them, they are very sweet and packed full of sugar.  The pips are also brown, another indicator that the grapes are ripe and ready to make wine.  Some grapes also grow higher up the vine, but these are not ripe enough.  Firstly, they are much harder to the touch, and the colour is not as deep a blue.  Then, when you taste them, they are much less sweet and more acidic, and the pips are yellow in colour.  These grapes are left on the vines and will not be used.

Improve your knowkedge of wine-making by adopting vines and getting involved in the harvest in Alsace

Our speed increased as the morning passed and we managed to fill the second trailer in much less time than the first! 

We then followed the grapes back to the winery.  Here we watched the grapes being emptied into the vat, and we had a go at helping the grapes out of the trailer using a long fork.  On their way into the vat the grapes pass through a de-stemming machine that separates the berries from the stalks.

Learn how make wine in Alsace with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

It was now time for a well-earned aperitif, and Céline served us a nicely chilled glass of Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine.  We then sat down for the harvester’s lunch, accompanied by a selection of the organic wines from Domaine Stenzt-Buecher: The 2018 Pinot Blanc Tradition, 2017 Pinot Noir Tradition, followed by the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the 2017 Pinot Gris Rosenberg. We then finished the tasting and meal with the 2017 Gewürztraminer Rosenberg and the 2012 Sylvaner Vielles Vignes.

Get involved in a French winery's worklife during the harvest

After lunch we descended into the cellar to pick up where we had left off.  Stéphane showed us the press that is used for the white wines.  The grapes bunches are emptied whole into the press with no need for them to pass through the de-stemming machine.  The press contains a large airbag in the middle that inflates and crushes the grapes against the stainless steel, thus releasing the juice.  The pressure and time can be controlled depending on the thickness of the skin and the density of the pulp.  It is important to not press the grapes too quickly or too hard which can decrease the aromatic qualities of the wine.

Improve your lnowledge of white wine-making in Alsace

The juice then falls out of the bottom of the press and is pumped into a holding vat.  The skin, pips and stalks are then removed from the press and as the winery is organic, it is returned to the vineyard for composting.  In the holding vat, the juice is left to rest the time necessary for the small solid particles of skin, pips and stalks that might have slipped through to settle at the bottom of the vat.  The clearer juice is then drawn off and put into the vat or cask where it will start the fermentation process.

We also learned that the process is slightly different for red wine.  Having passed through the de-stemming machines, the grapes are collected in a vat.  The press isn’t used at this stage.  After a few days the yeast cells that are naturally present in the grapes will start working on the sugar in the grapes, transforming it into alcohol.  As it does so, the temperature will rise, and carbon dioxide will be released.  This gas will rise to the top of the vat, and in doing so push the skin and pips to the top.  The colour and tannins are held in the skin, so to extract them, the juice needs to be in contact with the skin.  To do so, the solid cap is pushed back down into the juice once or twice a day using a plunger.  This is known as “pigeage”, and is the same method used in Burgundy for their Pinot Noir grapes.

Adopt vines and discover white wines in Alsace

Once the fermentation has finished, no more gas is released and the solid matter then falls to the bottom of the vat.  Having done so, the wine is then drawn off and put into barrels to continue the wine-making process.  The solid matter is then removed and put into the press to extract the rich, dark coloured wine contained within it.  This is known as press wine, and the wine-maker will then decide whether to blend it with the rest of the wine or not.

The day had now reached the end.  We’ll pick up from where we left off during the Vinification Experience Days next year and learn about the ageing process and how the wines are prepared for bottling.  We look forward to tasting the wines and seeing how they are coming along!

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Participating in the grape harvest in Saint-Emilion


The mornings had started to be a little cooler in the South West of France and the leaves had started to change colour… a sure sign that it was harvest time in Saint-Emilion.  We met up at Château Coutet to get involved in picking the grapes during the 2019 Harvest Experience Days.

Harvest experience gift for wine lovers in Saint-Emilion

We were introduced to Mathieu, one of the winemakers and a member of the David Beaulieu family that own and run the winery.  He recounted the passionate history of his family, and kept us mesmerized all day long.

Our adopted vines are located on one of the highest points in Saint-Emilion, in the Peycocut vineyard up on the limestone plateau.  From here, the Saint-Emilion church tower seems very close as the crow flies.  The dark blue grapes contrast with the surrounding landscape of green vine leaves.  The vines were as tall as us, and we could just make out a few heads bobbing up and down as we searched for our adopted vines.  

Rent-a-vine gift experience in Saint-Emilion

Harvesting seems simple, just cut all the bunches of grapes!  First of all, Mathieu gave us some safety tips to try and avoid cutting our fingers.  We were to harvest two per row, opposite each other, so we had to be careful not to cut our partners fingers!  We also learnt that the grapes that grow at the top of the vines are not mature enough and too acidic to be harvested, so these grapes were to be left alone to ensure a better quality wine.

Wine-making gift experience in Bordeaux

Having listened to our instructions, we started the harvest.  The foliage can be dense and some grapes are more difficult to find than others, and some were even forgotten altogether!

Once the baskets were full, the porters brought the grapes to the tractor.  This technique allows the grapes to arrive intact to the winery.  The atmosphere was very relaxed and convivial as we snipped away!

A fantastic wine gift. Adopt some organic vines and harvest your own grapes

Before we knew it, we had arrived at the end of the morning, and time for a well-earned aperitif of Claret on the lawn in front of the château.  The aromatic and fruity rosé was very refreshing, and sharpened our taste buds before we sat down to the winemaker’s lunch in the château’s dining room.

Organic wine tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

Lunch was accompanied with some of the wines from the estate, starting with the 2016 Belles Cimes which is made from the younger vines.  The stuffed guinea fowl was paired with the 2014 Château Coutet, which is one of the classical wines, revealing the finesse and complexity that is the signature of the winery.  Mathieu then treated us to the 2014 Demoiselle wine with cheese.  It’s a special wine made exclusively from vines that are around hundred years old and are located on the Saint-Emilion limestone plateau.  The soil is worked by horse and everything is done manually to reduce the carbon footprint as much as possible.

After lunch, we set about sorting the grapes.  To ensure the best quality, the grapes have to be sorted so that only the best ones make it into the vat.

Grape harvest experience gift in Bordeaux

The grape bunches climb into the de-stemming machine with the help of a conveyor belt.  Here the grapes are separated from the stalks, and the berries then make their way along the sorting table, where any unripe grapes or leaves are removed.  The grapes that remain are then put into the vat to start the fermentation process.

Wine-making experience gift and winery tour, Saint-Emilion

The day ended with Mathieu explaining the different fermentation processes and the work that happens in the fermentation hall.  The work at harvest time isn’t just restricted to the vineyard!

Many thanks to Mathieu for his explanations and for sharing the love he has for his work.  We look forward to returning to the chateau next year to taste the fruit of our labour during the Vinification Experience Days.

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De-budding the organic vines in the Languedoc


For our last Discovery Experience Day at the winery for the 2019 vintage, a beautiful sunny day welcomed us to Domaine Allegria, in the south of France. As we listened to the introduction to the winery, we admired the view of the surrounding hills.

We then headed out into the vineyard to find the plot of Syrah vines that have been adopted for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  Blended with a neighbouring plot of Mourvèdre, their grapes will be used to make the 2019 Tribu d’A, an organically certified AOC Coteaux du Languedoc Pézenas red wine.  We took a few minutes to take some souvenir photos.

Organic vine adoption in Pézenas, France

After having explained the work carried out in the vineyard since the start of the year to prune and de-bud the vines, we continued our walk through the vines.

We made our way to the plot of Carignan white that was planted in 2018.  Since our last visit, the vines have grown a lot thanks to the rain in May, and the heat of the last couple of weeks.  Time to get down to some work.  Ghislain showed us how to de-bud the vines and attach the long branches to the wooden posts.  It’s a job that has to be done carefully as it will lay the foundation for the next 50 years.

When we de-bud the vines, we reduce the number of branches which grow, only keeping those that will produce fruit, so as to concentrate the energy of the plant on the growth and maturity of the grapes to come.

Work in the vineyard gift box in Languedoc, France

As the branches grow quickly at this time of year, and start to become loaded with grapes, the bend with their weight, and fall into the middle of the vine rows.  To be able to continue to work the vines and the soil, we need to be able to get the tractor into the vineyard, and so the branches must be carefully held between the training wires.  It also helps us to better control the amount of sun that reaches the grapes and improve the air flow around the leaves and fruit, which in turn helps reduce the risk of mould.

At the end of the morning, we enjoyed the shade of the terrace in front of the winery.  We enjoyed discovering and tasting the different wines of the winery over lunch that was prepared by Delphine, the winemaker.

Organic wine tasting in France

After lunch, we visited the fermentation hall to discover what happens on the wine-making side of things.  Here the grapes will be brought at harvest time, and we saw the barrel room where the wine will slowly age. We’ll find out more when we return for the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

Many thanks to all for this great wine discovery day!

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Training the organic vines in Bordeaux


In the beginning of June, we met up at Château Coutet, near the banks of the Dordogne river and just 800m from the village of Saint-Emilion. We were there for a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day to learn how the vines are nurtured to produce the 2019 harvest.

Matthieu, one of the winemakers at the chateau was our guide and introduced us to the day, accompanied by the Gourmet Odyssey oenologist, Benoît.  He works all year with his father and cousin, continuing the organic winemaking philosophy that the family has adopted over the past 400 years at the winery. 

Vineyard tour in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

The estate covers 16 hectares.  Matthieu explained the different tasks carried out in the vineyard throughout the year.  Pruning in winter, tilling the soil using the tractor, and the manual work on the vines in spring.

Our adopted vines are located in the Peycocut vineyard, up on the limestone plateau, which is one of the highest points of the Saint-Emilion appellation.  It looks down on the Dordogne valley, and the view is magnificent.  We each found our adopted vines with the help of a small slate with our name on.  A great photo opportunity!

Adopt an organic vine in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

At this time of year, the vines have grown lots and so need to be trained. This is a vital job. Vines are creeper plants which develop in 3 dimensions.  The aim of supporting them with the trellis system is to contain them to 2 dimensions.  We need to get the tractor and horse down the rows without breaking the branches which will carry the future grapes.

Vine tending lessons at a French winery

Spring is the time that needs the most use of the tractor. We need to keep the growth of grass and weeds under control by mowing or tilling the soil regularly. We must also protect the vines from fungal diseases by spraying organic treatments.  We therefore lift up any branches that protrude into the middle of the row and tuck them behind the training wires. This was to be our task for the morning, and after a quick lesson from Matthieu, we carefully tended to the vines.

Vine tending lessons at a French winery
Vine tending lessons at a French winery 
We then gathered on the lawn in front of the chateau for the aperitif, starting with the winery’s second wine, the 2015 Belles Cimes. It’s a very pleasant fruity wine, produced from the young vines whilst conserving the quality of the first wine at Château Coutet.

To accompany the starter of local charcuterie, we tasted the 2014 Château Coutet, an elegant wine with nice depth.  The 2016 Château Coutet showed more structure and maturity due to its vintage, and was perfect with the main course.

Organic wine tasting in Saint-Emilion, France

We were lucky enough to taste the 2014 Demoiselles wine with cheese.  This is a wine that is produced in a very small quantity, blending together the grapes from nearly 100 year old vines that grow up on the limestone plateau. They are worked entirely by horse or hand using the greatest care and precision. The power and finesse of the tannins are unique to this particular Saint-Emilion terroir.

After lunch we headed back out into the vineyard, where Matthieu explained the challenges but pride in cultivating the vines organically.  The family has been doing so for 4 centuries at Château Coutet.  Working in this way poses a slight risk to the quantity of production in the difficult years, but the result shines through in the quality of the wines.

The day drew to a close in the chai, where we will be spending more time during the Vinification Experience Days.
Many thanks to Matthieu for his warm welcome and interesting explanations throughout the day.

Learn more about adopt some vines and making your own organic wine in Saint-Emilion

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Wine Tasting. How to choose the perfect wine glass


Wine lovers are often faced with a dilemma when it comes to choosing the best wine glasses for bringing the best out of their wines. Ideally the perfect glass could be used for all types of wine. But unfortunately, it doesn’t exist! That’s why the crystal and glassware manufacturers have such wide ranges! Even if the universal glass can’t be found, we can still choose a glass that allows the aromas of the majority of wines to best express themselves. Here are a few factors to take into account.

The diversity of wine glasses

When looking around a wine accessory or wine glass shop, the first observation is usually that the choice is very or even too vast!  The glassmakers produce different styles of glass that are each best suited to a different style of wine, whether it be from France or another wine-producing country.

Some have ranges that cover different grape varietals, because a pinot gris from Alsace, for example, doesn’t have the same aromatic characteristics as a marsanne from the Côtes du Rhône.  But these glasses don’t cover the depth of the different wines, notably those that are blended as is the case in Bordeaux, the Côtes du Rhône or the Languedoc-Roussillon.

Adopt-avine and tasting experience in Burgundy

To bridge this gap you can find glasses that are best suited to a particular region such as Burgundy or the Médoc. But you can imagine the number of different shaped glasses that exist, just for the different wine growing regions in France, let alone the rest of the world!

Wine tasting gift box experience in France

You can then even find glasses that claim to be better for Premier or Grand Cru wines, or for differing ages of wines.  So perhaps the perfect glass does exist for a particular wine, but you’d have to have a very wide collection if you like different styles of wine.

And what if you don’t have the space in your wine glass cupboard?

So how to choose the glass that is best adapted to the majority of wine that you will serve?  The glass plays an essential role when tasting wines in diffusing the aromas.  Aromas are made up of molecules that are more or less volatile, that are released into the air, travelling from the glass to the nose.  The more that the glass allows the aromas to evaporate, the more you will smell them, that is unless they are diffused too widely before reaching the nose.

You therefore need to have a glass where the diameter of the base is wide enough to allow evaporation to take place, but with an opening that is a little smaller than the base.  This will help channel the aromas in the direction of your nose. Tulip shaped glasses are good for this.

Rent-a-vine experience in Frnce in an organic winery

Of course, not all aromas have the same volatility, so depending on the type of wine being served, you might want to help some aromas become more volatile by oxygenating the wine and using a glass with a wide base and large opening.  For others that are more delicate of already fairly volatile, you might want to have a narrower base and an even smaller opening, or else you risk not detecting any aromas at all with the nose.  By testing different ratios between the diameter of the base and the opening, you should be able to find an acceptable compromise for most of the wines that you serve.

By concentrating on the two or three styles of wine that you serve the most frequently, you can define the types of aroma that they most often contain: heavy aromas such as wood and spices, or lighter aromas such as fruit and flowers, and the need for oxygenating the wine, and so the shape of the glass best suited.

Then you just need to choose the maker and the price range before opening the next bottle, and savouring the taste... in moderation of course!

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End of year wine competitons and gifts


This month we had the pleasure of organising two events to win some gifts to put underneath the Christmas tree or to share a good time with friends and family.

This month we had the pleasure of organising two events to win some gifts to put underneath the Christmas tree or to share a good time with friends and family.

Our annual My Vine competition rewards the winners of the most original photo and the one that received the most votes on our Facebook page.  The photos were taken during the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Days at our different organic wineries and submitted by the adoptive vine owners.

This year the prizes went to Philippe and Coraline.  A magnum of wine from the winery where their adopted vines are located is on its way to each of them!

Day at the winery for making ones own organic wine

 

Christmas wine gift box for making your organic wine

And at the ViniBio organic wine fair we organised a prize draw to win some adopted vines at Château Coutet, our partner winery in Saint-Emilion.  The visitors to the stand had to try to identify the aroma contained in a small bottle.

Congratulations to Maxence who correctly identified strawberry, and who will be able to come and pamper his vines at the winery during the 2019 vintage!

And talking of gifts, it’s not too late to spoil someone special with an adopt-a-vine gift this Christmas  ! Click here to learn more about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and the Christmas gift delivery date limits.

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The organic wines from our Wine Experience rewarded by the 2019 wine guides


The organic wine makers with whom we work are carefully chosen, among other criteria, for the quality of their wine. This is directly linked to their talent and passion for their profession, in both the vineyard and cellar. And so, when the 2019 wine guides were published, we weren’t surprised to see them well referenced!

 

Château de la Bonnelière

Another good year for this winery which received praise from many of the guides. Bettane+Desseauve selected 4 of their wines with ratings between 15 and 17 out of 20.  The Guide Hachette gave their top pick award to the Chinon Chapelle 2016 wine.

The Gilbert Gaillard guide chose the Chinon Rive Gauche white and the 2016 vintage of the Clos de la Bonnelière, the red wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey for the adopt-a-vine experience. The wine guide gave it a rating of 88/100, describing its deep colour, woody nose with ripe red fruits, and on the palate as having a good tannic structure, fresh fruit, and an elegant woody finish.  A great wine to go with a roast.

The Gilbert Gaillard My Wine Guide 2019

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

Once again, the winery is picked out as being one of the remarkable wineries in Alsace. The Pinot Gris Rosenberg, Gourmet Odyssey’s chosen wine was selected with 13 others from the winery for inclusion in the Bettane+Desseauve guide.

The Bettane+Deseauve Guide 2019

Château Coutet

The Carité guide of organic wine gave four hearts (out of five) to the 2015 vintage of the Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, the wine made using the plot of Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines. The guide describes its subtle nose, which develops to reveal peppery, leathery and spicy aromas. It has a good level of concentration, packed with black fruit and a touch of grilled chocolate. A rich and intense wine to carafe 2 to 4 hours before serving. Ideal with an entrecote cooked over vine branches.

The Carite Organic Wine Guide 2019

Domaine Chapelle

As usual the winery seduces the guides with 2 stars in the Guide Hachette for its Aloxe Corton Les Petites Lolières, and 1 star for the Santenay Beaurepaire Premier Cru.

The Carité organic wine guide also selected the two wines that Gourmet Odyssey has chosen for the Wine Experience: the 2016 Santenay Village white was awarded 4 hearts (out of 5) and the 2013 Clos des Cornières red, 3 hearts.

The Hachette Organic Wine Guide 2019

For the Santenay Village blanc, the guide appreciated its elegant woody and smoky nose that is the epitome of the gourmand Chardonnay in these buttery and seductive soils. Full and honest on the palate, it evolves with a nice roundness.  Very good structure and a great white wine.

For the Clos des Cornières red they wrote that it had an elegant and distinguished nose. Subtle and silky with strawberry and cherry aromas. It’s a powerful aromatic wine that will pair well with pink meats and duck.

Domaine Allegria

The Guide Hachette selected the 2017 Dolce Vita rosé wine for its delicate redcurrant nose, soft and suave spices, with a good level of acidity. It’s an elegant and complete wine.

The Hachette Wine Guide 2019

Domaine de la Guicharde

The biodynamic wines from Domaine de la Guicharde were selected by the Glouguide and featured in the Terre de Vins and Elle à Table magazines.

The Terres de Vins Wine Franch Magasine


As we predicted when tasting the wines from our partner wineries, the quality has once again shone through and the 2019 wine guides confirm it!

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Gourmet Odyssey partner winemakers win medals at the Challenge Millésime Bio 2018 organic wine competition

The organic wines of our partner winemakers selected by the 2018 wine guides

Learn more about adopting vines and following the making of your own personalised bottles of wine with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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An original Christmas gift for organic wine fans


If you’re thinking of giving a wine related Christmas gift to someone special this year, adopt some organic vines for them in one of Gourmet Odyssey’s award-winning French vineyards. The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gets you behind the scenes at one of our organic partner wineries to follow and participate in the making of your own personalised bottles of vintage wine. It’s a great Christmas present to discover and appreciate all of the work that goes into making a bottle of organic wine, and enables you to live the dream of being a winemaker for a year. 

Adopt some organic vines

Adopt some vines and follow their progress as they produce the grapes that will make the wine for your personalised vintage, a Christmas gift that is sure to please all wine lovers. Via the customer portal, you can accompany the vines up to the harvest, and then you’ll learn about how the wine ferments and ages in the cellar. Each stage of the wine making process is explained in the newsletter, and you can also include wine experience days at the winery to spend the day with the winemaker and participate in helping to make your wine.
dopt-a-vine experience as Christmas Gift for wine lovers
We have chosen to only work with winemakers who produce organically or biodynamically certified wines, who have been recognised for the quality of their wines in the most prestigious wine competitions, guides and reviews, and that have been selected for their enthusiasm and desire to share their passion for their profession. This all makes for an exceptional experience!

How to choose the right Christmas Wine Experience gift?

There are many different options for this unique wine-making present. First select if you want to give a red or white wine experience for your Christmas gift, then pick the wine-making region and winery. You can then choose the number of adopted vines and personalised bottles of wine that you wish to include. One vine gives one bottle of personalised wine.
Wine Christmas gift box with course at the winery in France
You can also include up to three wine experience days at the winery with the winemaker and our oenologist. Each wine course lasts from 09:30 to 16:00, includes lunch and wine tasting, and is valid for two people. There are three types of day to choose from. The Discovery Experience Day focuses on the work in the vineyard to prepare the vines for harvest and includes hands-on participation in work such as pruning, de-budding, or training the vines. The Harvest Experience Day gets you involved in picking the grapes and learning about the work in the chai at harvest time to receive the grapes and start the fermentation process. The third option is the Vinification Experience Day which sees you participate in different workshops to discover the art of tasting, ageing, blending and bottling wine.

An unforgettable Christmas gift

It’s not just us who think so :-)! Take a look at the customer feedback we have received from our clients, press articles, or the wine reviews of our partner winemakers. We have been developing and delivering our Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience since 2009, forging strong links with our partner winemakers and our team of passionate oenologists to create the best possible experience for our customers.

Together we organise unforgettable, fun, and interactive days at the winery to learn all of the hard work and skill that goes into making a quality wine.

Order with confidence

Ordering is easy in just a few clicks, and then we do the rest:

- The welcome packs are sent out with 24 hours on working days
- There is a gift wrapping option with a personalised message possible
- For last minute gifts, we can send you the vine adoption certificate by email
- You can pay for your order in three instalments
An original Christmas gift for organic wine fans
The personalised welcome pack that we will send to your preferred address, contains some gifts to be enjoyed straight away: a DropStop, re-usable glass wine stopper, wine cooling bag, adoption certificate and personalised guide to explain the wine adventure that awaits!

Learn more about the Adopt-a-Vine Christmas gift

Visit our web site to learn more about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, to place an order, or to consult our Christmas delivery deadlines .

Further questions? We are available from 09:00 to 18:00 Paris time, Monday to Friday on +33 (0)1 46 27 05 92 or contact us on our web site.

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Harvest Experience Day in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet


We spent a great weekend picking the grapes in Saint-Emilion for the Harvest Experience Days at Château Coutet.  As we were to learn, there is much more to harvesting than just picking grapes, particularly when you’re trying to make a wine as closely as possible to one that was made almost 300 years ago.  But more of that later.

Original wine gift in Saint-Emilion for wine lovers

After the introductions, we headed up the grassy track onto the limestone plateau where Saint-Emilion’s finest vineyard plots are located.  This is where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are to be found, in the Peycocut vineyard.  We took a few minutes to find our micro-plot of adopted merlot vines, to take a few pictures.

Rent some vines and help make your own organic Saint-Emilion red wine

We then headed to a neighbouring cabernet franc vineyard plot, and equipped ourselves with a pair of secateurs and crate to put the harvested grapes in.  We listened intently to the instructions to learn which grapes to pick, and which to leave.  The mildew that had set in in the spring had meant that we had to be particularly attentive in sorting out the grapes that had dried up to become as hard as peppercorns.  To the chagrin of the winemaker, in a year that the harvest is much smaller than usual, it also takes much more time to pick the grapes as you have to be that much more selective.

Grape harvest gift experience in Saint-Emilion, France

As we picked the grapes we chatted away and asked the winemakers lots of questions covering a wide range of subjects such as the work in the vineyard, the surrounding Saint-Emilion vineyards, being organic, and the David-Beaulieu’s long history with the winery stretching back over 15 generations.

Once we had filled our crates, we took them to the trailer to be stacked carefully so as to not crush the grapes.  Our reward?  Another crate to keep us busy!  Once the bell from one of the nearby clock towers had chimed, we downed tools, and followed our precious harvest back down the hill to the winery.

Adopt-a-vine organic wine gift

A welcome glass of wine, the 2015 vintage of the winery’s second wine, Château Belle-Cimes, was waiting for us, which we enjoyed in the park between the château and the vineyard.  During the tasting, we learnt about the incredible story of Cuvée Eméri, a bottle of wine found in the family cellar that dates back to 1750, and that is still full thanks to the glass stopper used to seal the bottle.  The family has recreated the wine and bottle as closely as possible to how it would have been originally made, and the grapes that we had picked in the morning were destined to help make the 2018 vintage of the Cuvée Emeri.

Organic wine tasting gift experience at the winery in Saint Emilion

We then sat down to a delicious lunch prepared on-site by the excellent local caterer, where we tasted some of the other wines.   To start, we had a winemaker’s salad with smoked bacon and soft poached egg, served with the round and elegant 2014 Château Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru red wine.  Then for the main course we enjoyed guinea fowl with a foie-gras and wild mushroom sauce and a medley of seasonal vegetables, served with the more structured 2015 vintage of the same wine.  With the cheese and chocolate desert, we were privileged to taste the 2014 vintage of the Cuvée Demoiselle, which is the same wine that goes into the Cuvée Emeri, the only difference being the glass bottle itself.  Not your average harvester’s lunch!

Lunch with the winemaker in the vineyard, Saint-Emilion

Harvest time at the winery isn’t just about picking grapes as we were about to find out.  Underneath the awning that had been erected outside the chai, the grapes that we had picked were awaiting for us.  Several stations had been set up and we gathered around to listen to the instructions.  As the grapes were destined for the Cuvée Emeri, they were to be dealt with in a special manner.  Instead of using the sorting table and de-stemming machine, our grapes were to be sorted by hand, berry by berry.  By hand picking only the very best of the grapes, and removing any that weren’t ripe enough or had been affected by the mildew, the winemaker can significantly improve the quality of the resulting wine, particularly in a difficult year such as this one.

Gift to make your own Saint-Emilion Grand Cru wine with personalised labels

Hand sorting the grapes is however a very time consuming way of doing things, and therefore costly.  We therefore saw how the same job can be done by machine before heading into the chai.  Here we learnt how the grapes are put into the different vats, and the juice turned into wine during the fermentation period, and the work done to extract the colour and tannins from the skins during maceration.

Organic wine-making experience gift in Saint-Emilion

We ended the day in the barrel room for a quick introduction to the work that will be covered in more detail during the Vinification Experience Days to age, blend, and prepare the wines to be ready for bottling.  There is still lots that needs to be done before we have our personalised bottles of wine in our hands!

Interested in participating in the harvesting the grapes in Saint-Emilion or giving an adopt-a-vine gift?  More information on the Wine Experience.

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Grape Picking Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


We had fantastic Harvest Experience Day last weekend in the heart of the Rhone Valley at Domaine de la Guicharde.  The grapes were ripe for picking, the sun was shining, and the apprentice harvesters all in fine fettle.

Original gift idea for wine lovers.  Adopt a vine and partipate in the harvest of your grapes

After a brief introduction to the day and the winery, we made our way up the track to the Miocène vineyard, admiring the views across to Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail along the way.  When we arrived we noticed that name plates had been put in front of some of the vines, marking where each of our adopted vines were to be found.  We took a few minutes to visit our vines, admire the grapes that they had produced, and to take a few photos.

Rent-a-vine present in the Rhone Valley

Arnaud then explained how to harvest the grapes using the secateurs and bucket that we had each been given.  Fully equipped and briefed, we spread out between the vine rows and started to cut the grape bunches, being careful to avoid our fingers in the process!
We were picking Grenache Noir grapes.  A quick taste of the sweet grapes revealed that they had a good sugar level, and by looking at the pips, their brown colour confirmed that they were ripe.  The quality was good, but the quantity was less than in a usual year due to the mildew that had attacked the vineyard earlier in the year during the wet spring weather.   Domaine de la Guicharde had been relatively lucky though in comparison to some of the neighbouring vineyards.

Grape picking gift in a French biodynamic vineyard

The buckets soon filled up, and once there was no more room, we passed them underneath the rows where they were emptied into one of the trailers.  As we gained in confidence, the speed picked up, and we had soon filled the first trailer.

Special Birthday wine lover gift.  Harvest your grapes and make your own wine.

Once we reached the end of the row, we stopped for a welcome glass of water before starting the next row. Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the morning, and so we made our way back to the winery, following behind the tractor and our precious harvest.  We watched the grapes make their way through the de-stemming machine to separate the berries from the stems, and into the vat where they will begin the process to turn the grape juice into wine.

Learning about the work of the winemaker during harvest time

In the shady courtyard of the winery, Isabelle had prepared a well-earned chiled glass of rosé, followed by a glass of the Pur Rouge 2016 wine.  We continued the tasting of the winery’s biodynamic wines over lunch which had been prepared by the excellent local restaurant “Le Temps de Vivre”.  To accompany the millefeuille of aubergine, fresh goat’s cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and courgette coulis, we savoured the Genest 2016 red wine.  We then compared it to the 2014 Genest wine in a magnum with the main course of veal and mushroom risotto.  With the cheese platter, we enjoyed the Autour de la Chapelle 2016 white wine, and to accompany the home-made chocolate mousse, we finished with the 2015 Terroir du Miocène, the Massif d’Ucahux Côtes du Rhône Villages wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

Wine Experience Gift with lunch at the winery in the Rhone Valley

We returned to the chai in the afternoon to learn about the work carried out there during harvest time.  It’s not just about picking grapes.  Arnaud explained how the grapes start to ferment, and the work done to keep the juice in contact with the skin during the maceration process.  We learnt about the differences between making red, white and rosé wines.

Wine cellar visit in the Cotes du Rhone

The day ended with a discussion about biodynamic wine-making.  The winery is certified by Demeter, and Arnaud explained how the work at the winery is organised around the lunar calendar, both in the vineyard and in the cellar.  It’s a fascinating approach, and a subject about which Arnaud speaks with passion.

Many thanks to Isabelle and Arnaud for their warm welcome, and to all of the participants for their work and good spirits.  We look forward to returning next year to see how the wines are progressing during the Vinification Experience Days.

Interested in participating in the harvest in France or giving an original gift to a wine lover?  More information on the Wine Experience.

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Hints and tips for serving wine when itís hot


It’s not always easy matching wines to summer meals when it’s very hot.  You have to serve the wine at the right temperature without spoiling it, and then keep the wine at the desired temperature once it’s on the table.  If the wine is too warm, it will seem heavy and the alcohol will overpower the wine, and if it’s too chilled, you won’t be able to appreciate the aromatic qualities and depth of the wine.  Here are a few suggestions for enjoying your wine this summer.
Firstly be careful when choosing your wine because not all wines are at their best when the mercury starts to rise.  Of course, the wine should be chosen to match the dish being served, but you also need to take a few points into consideration.  For red wines, favour lighter wines because the heat makes the tannins more pronounced, and serve them between 15 and 18°C.  For the whites, choose dry and mineral wines over complex and sweet wines.  They are usually best served between 9 and 11°C, when the aromas are best released.  The same is true for champagnes and rosé wines, the latter being better suited if they are light and fruity.

These serving temperatures feel much less compared to the 30+°C often encountered during the summer months.  The most important thing is to try and avoid any thermal shocks.  For example with red wines, rather than letting the bottle breathe in the warm air and then cooling it down afterwards, if you’re lucky enough to have a cellar, it’s better to open the bottle and let it breathe in the cellar, and then bring it out at the last minute.  Not such an easy thing to do with a wine fridge though!

Alternatively, if you have a little time ahead of you, before opening the bottle, wrap it up in a damp tea towel and put it in the fridge for an hour at most, but no longer. The wet tea towel will help lower the temperature a little more quickly.

If you prefer to use an ice bucket or ice bag, which can also be used to stop the wine from warming up whilst on the table, mix some cold water with the ice cubes, as still wines don’t like to be frozen, and add some coarse salt which helps the temperature fall more quickly.

Chilling sleeves that you place in the fridge or freezer before wrapping them around the bottle don’t really chill a wine, but they are useful in maintaining the same temperature without causing any thermal shocks.

When using a carafe to serve your wine, they also exist with removable tubes that you can fill with water and freeze so that the ice can be used without diluting the wine.  Of course ice cubes and wine are not a good idea if you want to preserve the aromas and concentration of the wine.  If you really want to put something frozen directly in your wine, an alternative is to freeze some grapes, berry by berry, and then add them when needed.  They’ll cool the wine down without diluting it as ice cubes do, and at least its more eye catching!

Another tip is to chill the wine glasses using ice cubes just before serving the wine, which will stop the wine from warming up so quickly in the glass.  To chill the glass, put a few ice cubes in, and swirl them around until the glass starts to frost up.

By following these few tips, you should be able to continue enjoying a few nice bottles this summer. Enjoy your holiday!

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Nurturing the organic vines in Saint-Emilion


We spent another great Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience weekend in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet with the David Beaulieu family.  They have been making wine here for over 400 years and have a unique story to tell, not just from the 14 generations of wine-makers, but also because they have always been organic and have never used any chemical products on their vines.  We were to hear more about what makes Château Coutet unique throughout the day, but the main focus was on learning about all of the work in the vineyard needed to nurture the vines and produce the best possible grapes at harvest time.

Original wine gift for any wine lover. Adopt some organic vines in a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru vineyard

After the introductions, we made our way through the vineyards and up the hill.  On the way, we learnt about the different grape varietals of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec that are grown on the estate, and we marvelled at the trees and hedgerows that help to make up the special ecosystem of the winery. Around 20% of the winery’s surface area is voluntarily set aside from growing vines to preserve and encourage the biodiversity, which in turn helps maintain a natural equilibrium.

From the top of the hill, we had a good vantage point over the plain below, stretching past Libourne to Fronsac, and across the Dordogne River into the Entre Deux Mers wine-growing region.  Here we learnt the role that the landscape plays in influencing the weather in Saint-Emilion, and could see how the soil changes from the sandy loam flood plain, to the clay limestone on the side of the hill, to the limestone plateau at the top.  The vines at Château Coutet grow on these three distinct terroir.

Vineyard tour with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux

Up on the plateau, we made our way to the Peycocut vineyard, one of the 12 reference vineyards in Saint-Emilion, traditionally used by the Jura to determine the date for the harvest.  This is where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located, and we took a few minutes to visit our vines, admire the views of the rolling vineyards, and take a few pictures.

Rent some organic vines in Saint-Emilion and foloow the making of your personnalised wine

The work in the vineyard began during the cold winter months with pruning.  We learnt how this is done, and were brought up to speed on the other work accomplished so far this year to de-bud the vines, raise the training wires, and work the soil.

Learning the life of a winemaker

The past few months have been warm and wet.  This has meant that the vines have grown rampantly, but it is also been the ideal conditions for mildew to flourish.  Whilst walking in the vineyards we could see some of the tell-tale yellow spots on the vine leaves.  With the heavy downpours of rain, it hasn’t always been possible to get the tractor into the vineyard to treat the vines when needed.   As the vineyard is organic and the bouillie bordelaise used to protect the vines from mildew is a contact product, it gets washed away and needs to be reapplied after each 20mm of rain.

Protecting the vines from mildew

Another way to help reduce the spread and impact of mildew is to remove some of the leaves around the grapes, which improves the air flow and speeds up the drying time after any rain.  This was the job that had been set aside for us, and we were shown how to do so.  The first factor to take into consideration is the alignment of the vines.  In the Bordeaux region the summer months can get very hot with strong sunshine.  The leaves are therefore only removed on the east facing side which receives the gentler morning sun.  The leaves are kept on the other side to protect the grapes from the more powerful afternoon sun.  The leaves to be removed are those directly in front of the grapes and any which touch the grapes and could transport moisture to the grapes from the rest of the plant.

De-leafing the vines in Saint-Emilion

After watching the winemakers do this expertly, we spread out in pairs to have a go ourselves.  It’s not the most intellectually demanding task, but we soon learnt that it’s more physically demanding that you might think, and that there is a real technique needed to go fast.

Hands-on wine course in Saint-Emilion, France

We then headed back to the winery, and enjoyed a well earned glass of chilled Clairet rosé wine in the shade of the magnificent trees in the chateau’s garden.

Lunch and wine tasting gift in Saint-Emilion with the winemaker

Lunch was delicious as usual, prepared on site by the excellent caterers.  We had foie-gras with fig chutney and savoury breads for starter, followed by magret de canard with a 4 spice sauce, mashed potato with truffle oil, and garden vegetables.  To accompany these dishes, we tasted the Château’s second wine, Belles-Cîmes 2015, and compared the 2014 and 2015 vintages of the Château Coutet.  We then tasted the Cuvée Demoiselle 2014 with the cheese and dessert.

After lunch, we talked some more about how the winery is managed organically, and has always been so since time began.  We also learnt about the work left to do in the vineyard before the harvest, and how the winemakers will tell when the grapes are ripe enough to be picked.

Organic wine-making course and gift in Saint-Emilion

The day ended with a quick visit of the chai, family cellar, and barrel room.  The family cellar is full of old vintage wines going back over the past 50 years or so, and everyone tried to find the bottles from their birth years.

Cellar tour in Saint-Emilion with the wine-maker

We’ll be spending more time in the chai during the Vinification Experience Day next year.  For now we have to wait patiently as the grapes ripen before returning in September to help pick the grapes during the Harvest Experience Day.

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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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The flowering period of the vines


The much awaited vine flowers have made their appearance in the vineyards throughout France recently, and if you take a walk through them, you’ll notice a very light and delicate fragrance wafting on the wind.  It’s also one of the critical stages in the wine-making calendar as it will have a large impact on the potential size of the 2018 harvest to come.

The flowering period is one of the growth stages of the vine life cycle and marks the start of the formation of the grapes.  After the winter rest period, the vines start to come back to life as the soil starts to warm again in March, and the sap starts to flow again in the vines.  In April the buds start to appear on the branches and then burst to make way for the leaves to start unfurling.

The leaves and branches continue to develop into May, and you can start to see the structure of the future bunches to form.  Small tight green clusters that look like buttons appear on the tips of the young shoots.  Each of the flower buttons has a cap of petals known as the calyptra to protect the reproductive organs inside.

Vine flowers
The caps are shed to reveal the reproductive organs.  Vines used in wine-making are generally hermaphroditic, containing both male and female reproductive organs, and so are capable of pollenating themselves.  The conditions have to be right however for this to occur.

And that is where the difficulty lies.  As a general rule of thumb, flowering happens eight weeks after bud burst and lasts between 8 and 15 days.  If the weather is mixed it can take longer than if it is hot and sunny.  It normally happens around June, when the weather can be variable, and so the results can be mixed.
The flower caps fall away during flowering

If it rains a lot or the temperatures are cool, the floral caps aren’t able to detach themselves properly, and the fecundation can’t take place, which means no fruit to harvest in the autumn.  That is known as coulure, and the flower dries up without having been pollinated.

Flowering can be more or less marked depending on the region, and the grape varietal.  You can tell that the vine has been well fecundated when the grapes that form a few days later are all of the same size.

Traditionally you count 100 days from the flowering period to the start of the harvest.  We should shortly have a good indication of when the 2018 harvest will be!

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Learning the secrets of making and ageing organic wine in Burgundy


We were welcomed at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay for a Vinification Experience Day to learn all about the work of the winemaker in the cellar. The 2017 vintage has now finished its fermentation period and the wines have been racked and put into barrels to start their ageing process. The work is not yet over for the winemaker however, as there still remain a whole host of decisions and actions that must be undertaken to ensure that we end up with a great organic wine in the bottle.

 

Vine adoption and daay at the winery in Santenay, France

 

The sun was shining brightly, and so we made ourselves at home in the winery’s garden, overlooking the Clos des Cornières vineyard where our adopted pinot noir vines are located. 

Oenology lessons at the winery with Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy, France

Jean-François, the winemaker and owner at Domaine Chapelle introduced us to the winery and gave us a recap of the 2017 vintage. He also pointed out the different terroir found in the surrounding vineyards to get a better understanding of the geology and its impact on the hierarchy of the Burgundy AOC system. The surrounding area is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Wine gift box aromas masterclass at the winery

We then split into two groups, one of which went first with Jean-François for a visit of the cellar and to taste the 2017 vintage directly from the barrel, and the other group stayed with Yvette, Jean-François’ wife, to develop their senses that would be put to the test during the wine tasting to come. The groups then swapped over.

Wine experience and wine tasting in Burgundy, France

Jean-François explained how the sugar in the grapes is transformed into alcohol during the first fermentation phase after the harvest.  We also had the honour of tasting some of the 2017 wines that are currently still in the ageing process, drawing them by pipette directly from the barrel.

Yvette helped us discover and identify the aromas that can be found in Burgundy wines, and explained where they come from, whether it’s from the grape and quality of the grape, or from the vinification and ageing process. 

Vineyard visit box in Santenay, Burgndy, France

We then put our new found knowledge to the test as we tasted different wines from Domaine Chapelle, starting with a glass of the chardonnay AOC Santenay Saint Jean white wine.

During lunch we enjoyed some local dishes of jambon persillé, Gaston Gérard chicken, local cheeses and a chocolate and blackcurrant entremets desert, accompanied by three red wines from Domaine Chapelle, the 2014 Santenay Clos des Cornières, the 2011 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru and the 2013 Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru.

After lunch we headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines, and see how they are preparing for the 2018 vintage. We encouraged them to continue their good work, and passed the baton to the adoptive owners of the 2018 vintage!

Vine renting at Domaine CHapelle, Burgundy, france

Jean-François explained the three different ages of vines that are used in making the Clos des Cornières wine. The 2017 vintage will be the last for a while to use the three different aged vines because the oldest plot of vines was uprooted earlier in the year.  It will be replanted with young vines, but it will take a few more years before any grapes will be produced.

Vina adoption box for a perfect to wine lovers

Back at the winery, we tasted the wines that are currently ageing from these three different aged vines, and so could see for ourselves the difference in quality. Each of the three plots is picked, vinified, and aged separately before being blended when it comes time to bottle the wine.  We noted that the tannins were much softer for the oldest vines, whilst they were still marked for the youngest plot. The winemaker can balance these different styles when blending the final wine.

We had spent a very enjoyable day in Santenay at Domaine Chapelle and can’t wait to taste the 2017 Clos des Cornières wine when it is finished!

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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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Pruning the vines in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


As spring begins, so a new cycle gets ready to start in the vineyard.  There is much that the winemaker needs to do to nurture the vines and help them produce the best possible grapes for the coming harvest, as we were to learn during the Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace.

Original wine gift for organic wine lovers

After the introductions, we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard, the plot where the adopted vines of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience are to be found.  To get in some training for the Easter egg hunt to come next weekend, we spread out amongst the rows to find the nameplate that marks the exact location our micro plot of adopted vines!

Rent-a-vine gift of some organic Alsace vines

Accompanied by Céline and her father, Jean-Jacques, winemakers at Domaine Stenzt-Buecher, we listened intently as we learnt about pruning the vines, which is the most difficult but most important of the jobs in the vineyard as it limits the potential quantity of grapes that will be produced and helps controls the shape and form of the vines growth.  It is long job that takes up most of the winter months, but March marks the end of the pruning season as it has to be finished before the sap rises again.

Wine Experience gift to learn about wine making in Alsace, France

Jean-Jacques had left a few vines for us to work on.  Intellectually it is quite easy to understand the principals of pruning, but as we were to quickly find out, when you are the one standing in front of the vine and having to choose which branches to cut and which to leave, it suddenly becomes much more complicated!

Organic vineyard experience gift

The vines at Domaine Stentz-Buecher are pruned using the Double Guyot method.  This involves leaving one long branch of six to eight eyes on either side of the vine and a spur, from which the branches used for the following year’s harvest will grow.   When selecting which branches to keep, you need to take several factors into account.  The lower branches are preferred to minimise the distance that the sap needs to flow, and to keep the vines at the same height as the neighbouring plants.  Branches that grow along the same line as the training wire are favoured over ones that stick out into the middle of the passage between the rows, as these branches are more likely to get damaged by the passing tractor. The number of eyes left on the vine depends on its age and health...

Learning how to work organicaly in the vineyard

Once the branches to be kept have been selected, all of the other branches are cut away.  The next job involves pulling away the old wood from the trellis system, and putting the branches in the middle of the rows, a job that we all got stuck into with vigour!  The branches will then be crushed to return nutrients to the soil.

Jean-Jacques then showed us how to arc and attach the remaining long branches to the bottom training wire using a great little tool that twists and cuts the wire, saving lots of time from having to hand tie each branch.

Vineyard experience gift in Alsace, France

We also learnt about replacing vines, and visited a plot that had been replanted 3 years ago.  Jean-Jacques talked about working the soil, and showed us where the earth had been heaped around the vines to protect them from the cold winter months.  We finished the morning with a quick look at some of the tools and machinery that is attached to the tractor to help with the work in the vineyard.

After the full morning spent in the vineyard, we had earned our wine tasting.  Céline and Stéphane, took us through a selection of the different wines produced at the winery starting with a Muscat 2015, followed by a Riesling Ortel 2014 and the 2015 vintage of the Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.    We then tasted the Pinot Noir 2011 and Gewurztraminer Steingrubler 2015 Grand Cru, accompanied by a savoury Kouglof, a delicious Alsace specialty.

Wine tasting gift of organic Alsace wines

Over the lunch of typical Alsace dishes and cheeses, we continued the wine tasting with the Who Am I? wine, a blend of pinot blanc, pinot gris and Riesling grape varietals, and different vintages of the Pinot  Noir and Gewurztraminer wines.

Vineyard tour gift in Alsace

After lunch, we headed back out into the vineyard to learn about the work that remains to be done in the vineyard over the coming months to de-bud the vines, raise the training wires, remove some of the leaves depending on the weather, trimming the vines, and to discover how the moment the grapes are harvested is chosen.   Stéphane also explained to us how the vines are treated organically to help protect them.

Winery tour gift in Alsace, France

The day finished with a quick tour of the cellar to see where the grapes are pressed and where the wines ferment and are aged before being ready to be bottled.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.  But in the meantime, the winemakers will be busy in the vineyard over the coming weeks, as the temperature rises, and the vines burst into life.

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Learning the art of wine-making in Chablis


When you open a bottle of wine, you don’t always think about all of the work that has gone into making it.  Everyone knows that at some stage there is the harvest, but to have the best possible grapes come harvest time, there is much work and effort that has gone into nurturing the vines along the way.  But the harvest is not the end either, and marks the beginning of the wine-making side of things.  There is more that goes on in the cellar than you might think to press the grapes, ferment the grape must, age the wines and prepare them for bottling, as we were to find out during the Vinification Experience Day in Chablis at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard last Saturday.

Wine Experience Gift at an organic winery in Chablis, France

This wine experience day was split into different workshops to learn about everything that happens at the winery between the harvest and the wine being ready for bottling and labelling.  And so the day started in the loading bay where the grapes are put into the wine presses.  Odile, the head wine-maker at the winery, told us how the presses are controlled to extract the juice from the grapes.

Gift experience to learn how organic wine is made

We then learnt all about how the wines are settled and the wines  are clarified to separate the juice from the larger solid particles of pips and skin that made it through the membrane of the press.  Once this has happened the juice then continues its journey into one of the vats where it will remain during the fermentation process.

Wine-making gift experience in France

Odile explained how the sugar in the grape juice is transformed into alcohol over the following weeks.

Once the fermentation has finished, the wines are racked to separate them from the larger lee particles, and they are left to age on their finer lees to develop their depth and structure.  To better understand the process she let us taste some of the wines directly from the vats, including the wine that we will end up with at the end of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  It’s a rare opportunity to taste wines in their unfinished state.

Learn to taste wine like a professional oenologist

Before the wines are ready to be bottled, they are racked again and filtered to clarify them further, and to ensure that no impurities are left in the wine that might cause it to spoil in the bottle.  We then made our way to the production line to see where the bottling takes place, and we discussed the merits of the different options of sealing the bottles, by cork, screw-cap or other materials.

The wine bottling machine

After bottling, the wine is laid to rest again and then stored until ready for labelling.  Odile showed us the labelling machine that sticks on the front and back label and adds the capsule on top of the bottles.  The bottles are then boxed up and ready for sale or distribution.  It’s an impressive sight!

The next workshop was to learn how to taste wine and prepare us for the wine tasting session to come.  We use all of our senses when tasting wine, and we first put our noses to the test to try and identify different aromas found in white wine, either due to the different grape varietals or from having been aged in oak.  It’s not as easy as you would think!

Wine tasting gift at an organic winery in Chablis, France

We then tasted different sweet, saline, acidic, and bitter solutions to see if there was any difference in where we could feel them in our mouths.

It was then time to taste the wines.  We had three sets of wines to taste, and had to try and identify what the different factor was between the wines in each set.  The wine tasting session had been organised to show the difference between terroir, grape varietals, and the way in which the wine is aged.

Unique wine tasting and winery tour gift in Chablis

We tasted a wide range of different Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru wines, and continued the tasting over the delicious lunch which had been prepared at the winery by a local caterer.

Chardonnay adopt-a-vine gift wine-making experience

After lunch, we took in some air, and headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines.  We took a few photographs and admired the surrounding landscape of rolling Chablis vineyards.

Learnng about the terroir that makes Chablis wine so special

Back at the winery, we descended into the cellar where the far wall had been left bare, revealing the strata of limestone and marl that give the Chablis wines their character.

Winery tour gift to learn about making biodynamic wines

The final stop of the day was to visit the fermentation hall that houses the wooden casks for the wines that are aged in oak.  Here Jean-Louis explained the role of the casks, and we had ended the day with a last wine tasting to see how the oak casks influence the structure of the wine.

It had been a fascinating day to have a glimpse of the life of a wine-maker.  We’ll now have to wait patiently until our wine has finished ageing, but we’ll know that the wait has been worth it!

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Learning the art of wine-making in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet


Last Saturday, we spent an enthralling day at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion to learn all about the work and the choices the winemaker takes in the cellar to ferment, age, and blend the wine before it is ready for bottling.  As we were to learn there is much more to do than you might think and a multitude of tools and techniques that the winemaker can pick from to influence the structure, taste and aromatic depth of the wine.

Wine-making exerience gift in Saint Emilion

The day was split into several different workshops to explore different aspects of wine-making and wine tasting.  In the fermentation hall, Alain David-Beaulieu, the winemaker at Château Coutet, explained how the grapes were received at harvest time and the work carried out during the maceration and fermentation phases.

Participate in the making of your own organic Saint-Emilion Grand Cru wine

He showed us the old press that has been used at the winery for over 100 years to press the marc left in the bottom of the vats after racking the wines.  This gives the press wine that is aged separately, and held in reserve to be used if needed later on in the wine-making process.

Once the fermentation has finished, some of the lots of different grape varietals are pre-blended, and transferred into oak barrels.  A mixture of new and old barrels that have already been used to make one or two wines are used at the winery, and Alain explained the role that the oak barrels play in wine-making.  He talked about the work in the barrel room to stir the lees, top up the wine lost to the angel’s share, and the monitoring of the wines over time.

Perfect gift for a wine lover.  Make your own personalised bottles of Saint Emilion wine

Before tasting the wines, we participated in a fun workshop that put our sense of smell to the test.  We had to identify some of the aromas that can be found in wine, and learnt which ones were due to the grape varietal or terroir, and which were the result of being aged in oak.

Wine-tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

In the fermentation hall, we gathered around some barrels for the wine tasting and wine blending workshop.  First, we blind tasted three different wines, and had to identify which was the merlot, which the cabernet franc and which the malbec.  Once we had learnt what characteristics each of these grape varietals displayed, we then had a go at blending them to see how the wine changes as the percentages of each grape varietal vary.

Blend your own wine workshop in Saint-Emilion

We then blind tasted three other 2017 wines that had just finished the fermentation process.  Exactly the same wine but one which was being aged in the vat, one in an old oak barrel, and one in a new oak barrel.  The wines had only been put into the barrels a couple of weeks ago, but already it was possible to taste the difference between the wines.

Wine tasting course at the winery in Saint-Emilion

After this full morning, we had worked up a good appetite!  Before sitting down to lunch we refreshed our palates with the Clairet, a deep-coloured rosé wine that is made by drawing off some of the wine at the beginning of the maceration process.

Lunch and wine tasting at the organic winery in Saint-Emilion

Over lunch of Landaise duck confit salad, skewered steak with Bordelaise sauce, potato gratin and vegetables, cheese, and café gourmand, we tasted the 2014 and 2015 vintages of the Château Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, and the Château Belles-Cimes 2014, the winery’s second wine.

The cuvee Emeri, one of the world's oldest bottles of wine

The conversation flowed over lunch, and we listened intently to the wonderful story of the Cuvée Emeri.  When cleaning out the family cellar, Alain stumbled across an old bottle of wine buried in the earth floor.  The bottle was still full and had been closed with a glass stopper in the shape of a heart.  After having had the bottle analysed, it is estimated that it dates from around 1750, making it one of the oldest bottles of wine in the world!  Alain’s nephew, Adrien David-Beaulieu, then had the idea to try and recreate the wine as closely as possible using the oldest vines in the vineyard.  These vines are nurtured manually, the heavier work of tilling the soil done by horse.  The grapes are then hand-picked and sorted by hand, berry by berry.  The resulting wine is then put into hand-blown bottles that are made individually by one of France’s leading master glass blowers.  And the stopper is of course also made of glass in the shape of a heart, just like the original.  It took four years for the master wine blower to successfully recreate the liquid and airproof bottle!

Rent-a-vine in Saint-Emilion and make your own personalise bottles of organic wine

After lunch, we walked up onto the plateau where the vines stretch across to the village of Saint-Emilion, less than a kilometre away.  This is the most prestigious area for the Saint-Emilion vineyards and is where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are to be found.  We took a few minutes to take some pictures and enjoy the surrounding scenery.  On the way we talked about the different terroir and work currently being carried out to prune the vines and attach the remaining branches to the training wires.

Wine-making experience with personalised bottles of wine

Back at the winery, we then talked about how the wine is prepared for bottling and bottled.  We debated the use of sulphites, and talked about the choice of corks used.  We then went into the store and saw the machine in action that puts the capsules and labels on the bottles just before they are ready for consumption.

And so the day drew to a close.  We’d learnt a great deal, and saw just how varied and complex the life of a winemaker is.  We’ll now have to be patient as our wine slowly ages, but the wait for our personalised bottles will be surely worth it!  Many thanks to Alain and Juliette at Château Coutet, and to all of the participants for making this such a great day!

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