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



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

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

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

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

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

Getting involved in picking the grapes

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

We emptied our grapes into the trailer

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

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

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

Cleaning the buckets

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

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

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

Charlotte explains the work in the chai during the harvest.

 

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

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

Our adopted organic vines

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

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

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

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Harvest Experience Day in Alsace


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

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

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

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

Harvest Experience Day in Alsace to picj the organic grapes

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

Harvest gift experience in France to pick grapes

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

Grape harvest gift experience in an organic vineyard

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

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

50th birthday gift experience for wine lovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine tasting gift experience with the organic winemaker in Alsace

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

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

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

Wine-making experience gift in Alsace, France

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

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

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

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

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

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Learning about the work in the cellar to make wine


We enjoyed hosting the Vinification Experience Days at Château de la Bonnelière in the charming Loire Valley town of Chinon.  It’s the last of three types of day proposed in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the theme being to discover the work of the wine-maker in the cellar to make, age and prepare the wines for bottling.

 

Wine Experience Days in the Loire Valley to discover the work in the cellar

 

The days started at the entrance to the winery’s cellar, located in the centre of Chinon, directly beneath the fortress.  It’s a breathtaking place, and we enjoyed a coffee and croissant outside in the warm sunshine.

Marc explained his family’s history and that of the winery, and then talked to us about the Chinon wine appellation and the vintage that is currently ageing in the cellar, bringing us all up to speed, ready to start the day!  The aim was to understand all that happens after the harvest, and the choices that the wine-maker takes to shape the taste, structure and aroma of the wine.

The cellar is used to age the wines in the barrels until they are ready for bottling and drinking.  Marc uses French oak barrels between 400l and 600l, which are larger than standard barrels so that the wine isn’t as marked by the wood.

The wines are made according to the vineyard plot and type of soil.  In Chinon, there are three principal soil types: sand, clay limestone, and flint.  Each type of soil gives a different style of wine, and so Marc adapts the choices he makes accordingly.  The wines from the sandy soil are aged in vats, the majority of the clay limestone wines are aged in oak barrels for 12 months, and the flint wines are aged in oak barrels for between 24 and 30 months.

 

Tasting wines from the barrel

 

We had the privilege of tasting some of the wines that are still undergoing the ageing process, which is something that is very rare to do.  As the wines weren’t yet finished, they held a few surprises for us!

It had been a full morning, and Louise added a few additional explanations on the history of the cellar and the Chinon Fortress.  We then made our way to Château de la Bonnelière, where Claudine, Marc’s wife, and the sun were waiting for us, along with a nice fresh glass of sparkling wine, in the château’s courtyard.

 

Tasting wines in the château’s courtyard

 

We then sat down to lunch in the barn, and revelled in the different courses and locally produced asparagus, goat’s cheese and strawberries, accompanied by Marc’s delicious wines.

Difficult afterwards to get up from the table, and as much as some of us would have liked to settle down to a nice siesta, we headed out to meet our adopted vines in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard.  This is the historical plot of the winery and was planted in the 1980’s by Marc’s dad.

The fermentation hall was the next stop to see where the grapes are received at harvest time, and how they are transformed into wine during the fermentation and maceration stages.

 

The vats and barrels used in the fermentation hall

 

Marc explained his secrets for making good wine : Time, care, and love of what you are doing...

The day finished with a visit of the room used to bottle and label the wines, bringing to a close a great time spent exchanging knowledge, ideas, laughs and opinions.  We love spending these moments with you, and look forward to seeing you again in Chinon or at another of our partner wineries soon. 

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A Wine Experience day with the winemaker to discover the art of blending wines


We spent a fantastic Vinification Experience Day in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet.  This hands-on wine course is the last of the days that Gourmet Odyssey offer and is focused on the work in the cellar to ferment, age, blend and bottle the wines.

 

A Vinification Experience Day in Saint-Emilion to discover the art of making wine

 

Our hosts for the day were Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey wine expert, and Alain, the winemaker and owner at Château Coutet.  We shared a coffee and croissant to get to know each other, whilst Benoît explained the order of the day.  Alain then started to recount the family’s relationship with the winery.  It’s a magical place and full of history as Alain represents the 13th generation of winemaker there from his family.  The tradition is set to continue as his son and nephew joined him a few years ago.

We were then led into the fermentation hall to pick up where we left off during the Harvest Experience Day.  We learnt about the work during the fermentation and maceration phases, Alain replying to the many questions that arose.  We then went through to the barrel room where the 2021 vintage is currently in the ageing process.  Alain explained how he monitors the wines, and keeps the barrels topped up to replace the angle’s share that is lost to evaporation.

 

Learning about the fermentation of wine

 

To better understand the role of a winemaker, Benoît had organised a wine tasting session for us.  He taught us the basic principles to ensure that we had a common language to describe the wines, and then we set about tasting several different series of wines.  We honed our senses and gained in confidence to describe the sensations that we were experiencing.

 

The wine tasting workshop

 

We finished the morning with a wine blending workshop to better appreciate the characteristics that each grape varietal brings to a wine.  We then had a go at making our own blends and tasted our different wines!

 

Wine blending workshop

 

Our taste buds were fully awake for the tasting of the winery’s finished wines, and we started with the Claret de Coutet, a wine that is mid-way between a red and rosé, and refreshed our palate after tasting all those red wines that are still in the ageing process.

 

The organic Saint-Emilion wines tasted during lunch

 

We then sat down to lunch, where Benoît served us a glass of the 2019 Château Belles-Cimes with the Landaise salad.  It’s the second wine, made using the grapes from the young vines.  It’s not made every year and is a wine that can be drunk a little earlier than the winery’s first wine.  We tasted the 2017 and 2019 vintages of the Château Coutet wine with the magret de canard main course.  It was very interesting to compare the two vintages and see the difference that two extra years ageing in the bottle brings.    We finished lunch with the 2018 Demoiselles wine, which is a blend of two different plots on the limestone plateau that are worked by hand and with the help of a horse. The meticulous work, combined with the great terroir, gives a magnificently deep wine. 

In the afternoon, we returned to the vineyard to visit our adopted vines that are located in one of the winery’s lest plots up on the limestone plateau, just a few hundred metres from the bell tower in Saint-Emilion.  It’s a fantastic place, and we each took a few minutes to immortalise the moment and take some photographs. 

 

Visiting our adopted merlot vines

 

We finished the day in the storage cellar, where Alain explained the last steps involved before the wine is ready to leave to the winery, covering the bottling and labelling processes.

 

Visiting the cellar where the wine is labelled and stored

 

Many thanks to Alain for his warm welcome and for having given us such a deep and frank insight into his job as a winemaker.

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


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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Meeting our adopted vines

 

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

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

 

Raising the training wires

 

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

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

 

Visiting the private cellar containing the old vintage bottles.

 

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

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

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Discovering the work in an organic Burgundy vineyard


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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Meeting our adopted vines

 

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

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

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

 

Simon explains how to de-bud the vines

 

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

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

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

 

Organic wine tastings at Domaine Chapelle

 

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

 

Simon showed us a newly planted vineyard

 

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Clément explains the work in the vineyard

 

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

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

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

 

We all had a go at de-budding the vines

 

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

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

 

Planting new vines in the vineyard

 

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

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

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

 

Visiting our organic adopted vines

 

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

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

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A wine-making gift experience in Burgundy to discover the work in the cellar to make a great organic wine


We welcomed some of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients to the stunning Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy for a Vinification Experience Day.  This wine-making gift explains all the work in the cellar to make, age, and prepare wines to be ready for bottling.  We get to taste wines that are still in the ageing process, something that winemakers don’t normally share with people outside of the winery.  It’s a real treat to get behind the scenes and learn first-hand.

 

A winemaking experience day at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy to learn about making organic wines

 

After having introduced us to the day Jean-François, the owner of the winery, recounted his family’s history at the winery and the evolution of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

Then in smaller groups, we visited the cellar where Jean-François explained all of the work involved between the harvest and bottling during the fermentation, maceration, and ageing stages to mature the wines in oak barrels.

 

Visiting the cellar

 

Myriam, Gourmet Odyssey’s wine expert, then explained how to taste wines using our different senses, and the difficulty in analysing the sensations that we encounter.  She gave us a few tips to better train our nose, and we now know that to do so, we have to poke our nose everywhere!

This theoretical step prepared us for the tasting of wines that are still in the ageing process.  We compared the changes that two different types of barrel can have on the same wine, and noted that there was indeed a big difference!  The new barrels have a bigger impact on the tannins and bring more woody aromas than the barrel that had already aged two wines.

 

Tasting wines in the ageing process

 

We also tasted the difference that the age of the vines has on the characteristic of the wine.  The Clos des Cornières vineyard, where the vines for the Gourmet Odyssey red wine grow, has different plots within with different aged vines.  The wine form each of these plots is aged separately before being blended, and so were able to compare two ages.  The younger vines which are stronger, give a more structured and concentrated wine, but the older vines bring more finesse.  When blended together they make a more complex wine than either of the two wines alone.

We noted that the wines that are still in their ageing process have not yet reached their optimum balance, hence the importance of maturing the wines to fully develop their expressive qualities.

We ended the morning with an aperitif of Santenay Blanc, accompanied with the famous Burgundy gougères!

We continued the Burgundy specialities with a lunch of parsley ham, Gaston Gérard chicken, and trio chocolate dessert.  We enjoyed the dishes with a 2020 Ladoix, 2019 Santenay Clos des Cornières, and a 2016 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru.

 

Wine tasting over lunch

 

After lunch, we went for a little walk in the vineyard to meet up with our adopted vines and take photos from all angles for the My Vine photo competition.

 

Meeting up with our adopted vines

 

Before ending this lovely day, we returned to the winery to discover the stages involved to prepare the wines for bottling and how they are then commercialised.  We discussed a little more with Simon and Jean-François and asked many more questions covering topics such as the choice of corks and labels for the bottles.

 

Simon explains the bottling process

 

Many thanks to all of the participants for their good cheer and enthusiasm which helped make the day so special.  We hope that you had a great day with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and that we’ll see you again for another day in Burgundy or at one of our other partner vineyards!

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Learning to prune the vines in Burgundy


We welcomed some of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience apprentice wine-makers to Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay.  The objective of the day was to learn about all of the work in the vineyard to produce the best grapes come harvest time.
After a short introduction to the history of the family and the Burgundy wines from Jean-François, the owner of the winery, his son, Simon, led us out into the vineyard.  Simon is in the process of taking over the reins at the winery as Jean-François approaches retirement.

 

Visiting our adopted vines in Burgundy

 

The first contact with our adopted vines brought many smiles, laughter, and some great photos to be entered into the “My Vine” photo competition!
It was then time to get down to more serious matters, and Simon began to explain the work carried out during the various vegetative phases of the vines growth.

 

work in the vineyard with Gourmet Odyssey

 

At this time of year, we are busy with the last of the pruning and pulling away the cut branches that have remained stuck between the training wires.
Simon showed us the two different pruning methods used in the vineyards.  The cordon de royat used for the pinot noir vines involves keeping three or four spurs, each with two nodes, from one of last year’s branches.

 

Adopt a vine in burgundy with Gourmet odyssey

 

And the Guyot pruning method is used for the chardonnay vines, leaving just one long branch with 5 to 6 nodes, that will then be folded and attached to the lower training wire.
In both cases, this year’s fruit-bearing branches will grow vertically from the nodes, and will be supported between the training wires once the growth is sufficient around May time.
Pruning is a very technically demanding task, and is only carried out by the winery’s permanent staff.  A team of seasonal workers will then pass through the vineyards, pulling away the cut branches caught between the wires and burning them as they go.
We had a go at pulling away the old branches ourselves, and quickly understood the difficulty of this manual job.  As the vine is from the creeper family, it has lots of tendrils that wrap around the training wires, making it hard to pull them free.  The not so clement weather added to the difficulty, as we found out!
We were happy to return to the shelter of the cellar after our vineyard experience, and enjoyed a typical Burgundy aperitif with a glass of Santenay Village white and some delicious gougères!

 

Tasting the Santenay white wine with Gourmet Odyssey

 

A typical Burgundy lunch of boeuf bourguignon followed, paired with Ladoix, Santeany Clos des Cornières, and Santenay Gravières Premier Cru wines
Lunch is always a very convivial moment, and it’s always a little complicated to get going again in the afternoon!  We altered the programme slightly due to the weather, to visit the cellar where Simon explained the different vinification and ageing phases.  We also visited the magnificent vaulted cellar underneath the winery that is typical of the Burgundy region.

 

Participate our experiences days Gourmet Odyssey

 

It was a good introduction to the Vinification Experience Day that some of the clients will be following up with.  And for those who wish to, it’s also possible to add the day.

We had a great day, and hope to see you again soon for another wine experience day.

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Learning about planting vines and the work in the vineyard in Saint-Emilion


We met up last weekend at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion for a Discovery Experience Day with Gourmet Odyssey, the aim being to better understand all the work necessary in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes, because to make good wine, you need good grapes!

Adopt a vine in Bordeaux and get involved in making your own personalised bottles of organic wine

We started to get to know each other over a coffee and croissant with Adrien David-Beaulieu, one of the owners and winemakers of the winery.  His family have been running the estate for over 400 years, something that is very rare for this famous Bordeaux wine region that has attracted many investors who buy up family-run wineries to promote their brands. One of the peculiarities of Château Coutet is that it has always been organic.  We were privileged to be in a place that has been preserved from intensive farming techniques, and where each action is carried out with the respect of nature and the biodiversity in mind.

Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey wine expert, introduced us to the programme and our task for the day, the planting of new vines.

After distributing the tools, we walked through the vines, admiring the rare wild tulips that thrive here.  The radii tulip, bright red in colour, and the yellow sylvestris tulip were both brought to the area by the Romans many years ago and are now extremely rare.  They have been preserved at the winery because no chemical weedkillers have ever been used in the vineyards. Instead, the grass is either mowed or ploughed to keep it in check.

 

adopt a vines in Bordeaux with Gourmet Odyssey

 

At the top of the limestone slope, Adrien stopped to show us the view and explain the different terroir that make up the Saint-Emilion wine region.  Merlot is the king grape varietal here, and thrives on the limestone plateau, accompanied by some cabernet franc, malbec, and cabernet sauvignon vines.

In front of our adopted vines, we understood a little better the life of our vines, and what work lies ahead in nurturing them up until the harvest.

Our adopted vines are located in the Peycocut vineyard up on the limestone plateau, just a few hundred metres away from the village and surrounded by the most famous Grand Cru Classé names of the Saint-Emilion appellation.  The view is fantastic, particularly on this nice day that heralded the beginning of spring.

 

Participate Discovery Experience days at Gourmet Odyssey

 

Our job for the day was to replace some of the missing vines.  When tilling the soil, sometimes the metal plough can damage the vines which then subsequently wither and die.  At the end of winter, they need to be replaced, before the buds start to burst.

In pairs, one person prepared the baby vines by trimming the roots to enable them to better take hold in the soil.

 

Prepare the vines for planting with Gourmet Odyssey

 

The other person dug the holes for the vines in the places that Adrien had pointed out.  Everyone then got their hands dirty by planting the vines and pressing down the earth around them.

 

Planting the vines with Gourmet Odyssey in Bordeaux

 

By the time we’d finished, it was the end of the morning and time for the aperitif!  We enjoyed a nice glass of the Claret de Coutet, a refreshing wine that is somewhere between a red and a rosé wine.

The Gourmet Odyssey caterer had prepared a delicious lunch for us, starting with some foie gras and port jelly, that had been paired with the 2019 Château Belles-Cimes, the second wine that is made using the younger vines and grapes from lighter terroir.

 

Participate to wine tasting with Gourmet Odyssey

 

The 2017 Château Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru was the next wine to be tasted, and is made up from the three different types of terroir at the winery; the limestone plateau, the clay hillside, and the more sandy plain, and the four grape varietals.  It’s longer finish and more pronounced aromatic intensity was perfect with the duck breast.  Our tasting ended with the fantastic 2018 Demoiselles wine, made from the oldest plots of vines that are worked by horse up on the limestone plateau.  A deep wine with lots of finesse, it went very well with the caramel desert.

After lunch, Adrien explained some of the advantages and challenges of working organically, and we then visited the chai and private cellar where the family keeps their old vintage wines dating back to the 1950’s.

 

Visiting the family cellar Château Coutet in Bordeaux

 

We’d spent a very enjoyable afternoon in Adrien’s company, and we look forward to coming back to this magical place for other Discovery Experience Days later in the season, and for the Harvest Experience Days in September time.

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Give an original wine gift to your Valentine!


Saint Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.  Here is the perfect St Valentine’s gift for wine lovers.  Adopt some organic vines in France with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and follow the making of your own bottles of personalised wine!  It’s an original way to discover how wine is made and to share a fun time together for a wine-making year.

 

Adopt some vines for your St Valentine’s present

Receive a welcome gift pack to give on St Valentine’s Day, containing a personalised vine adoption certificate in the name of your loved one, an access code to their customer portal, and a few surprise gifts.  For last minute St Valentine’s prsents, we’ll send you the certificate by email.

Your Valentine will follow all the key steps in making their wine through the newsletters, articles and photos published in the customer portal, explaining all of the work involved to nurture the vines, pick the grapes, make the wine, and age it before being ready to be bottled with your personalised labels.At the end of the experience, you’ll get to taste and savour your special St Valentine’s wine with your loved one!

Add a Wine Experience Day at the winery and head off for a weekend break for two in France. 

You’ll get to spend the day with the winemaker and participate in one or more of the wine-making days at the winery.  The Discovery Experience Day teaches you the care taken in the vineyard to nurture the vines and you’ll get to help the winemaker work with the vines.  The Harvest Experience Day gets you involved in picking the grapes and following their journey into the fermentation hall.  And the Vinification Experience Day reveals the winemaker’s secrets in making your wine, ageing, blending, and bottling it.

Each day is spent working alongside the winemaker and the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Expert, and lasts from 9:30 to 16:00 to give you the time to discuss with the wine-maker, get involved in the work, share a meal of regional delicacies and taste the organic wines from the winery.

Gourmet Odyssey chooses their partner wineries with care.  They are all organically certified with winemakers that are passionate about their profession.  They’ll welcome you warmly for the day and share their knowledge and love of wine.  You can select where to adopt your organic vines from Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Languedoc, Loire or Rhone valleys!

The Wine Experience is sure to me a unique and memorable St Valentine’s present!

More information on our St Valentine’s gift for wine lovers

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Harvest Experience Days in the Loire Valley


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

 

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

 

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

 

Secateurs in hand, we participated in the harvest

 

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

 

We emptied the grapes into crates

 

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

 

Enjoying the aperitif before the harvesters lunch

 

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

 

Sorting the grapes

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Participate in harvesting Saint-Emilion Grand Cru grapes


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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Learning how to harvest grapes

 

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

 

Grape harvest experience gift in France

 

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

 

Grape picking experience gift alongside the winemakers in Saint-Emilion

 

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

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

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

 

Enjoying lunch with organic wines from the winery

 

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

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

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

 

Selecting and de-stemming the grapes by hand

 

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

 

Learning about the work in the cellar at harvest time

 

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

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Adopt-a-Vine and participate in the grape harvest in Burgundy


We welcomed our apprentice winemakers to Domaine Chapelle in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay on the 18, 19 and 20th September for the Harvest Experience Days.  The aim of this fun gift for wine lovers is to discover the work of the winemaker, and the agenda for the day to roll up our sleeves, get involved in harvesting the grapes and follow their journey through the sorting table and into the fermentation vat.  We also learn about the work in the cellar during harvest time during the maceration and first fermentation stages.  The weather wasn’t always fair, but for the rain didn’t dampen our spirit!

Adopt organic vines in Burgundy and get involved in the garpes harvest

After an introduction to the day, Jean-François Chapelle spoke with passion about his profession, winery, and winemaking in Burgundy.  We then got kitted up for the harvest in the Clos des Cornières vineyard, a plot of vines in front of the chateau where the adopted vines of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience are located.

Jean-François explained how the work at harvest time is organised and the importance of selecting which grapes to pick to ensure only the good ones are picked.  2021 has been a particularly difficult year.  In April, a huge frost across the Burgundy winegrowing region meant significantly less yields in many areas.  Then the heavy and frequent rainfall meant that it as impossible to treat and protect all the remaining grapes in time.  Mildew and odium set in, further reducing the quantity of grapes, so it’s a very small harvest this year.

Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Chapelle with Jean-François


It was then time to start harvesting!  We had to be careful when choosing which grapes to cut and put into the crates, having to remove any berries that weren’t up to standard.

Harvest Experience gift in Burgundy


It’s a long and hard job, as we soon learnt.  Once we’d removed the imperfect grapes, sometimes there weren’t many remaining on the bunch!

A great gift for all wine lovers.  Adopt-a-vine in Burgundy and harvest the grapes

 

Once we had filled a crate, we brought it back to the beginning of the row, but with the small bunches, we managed to fill far fewer crates than normal!

A great gift idea for two.  Harvest graes from your own vines in Burgundy


After a couple of hours of harvesting, the aperitif served in the garden or cellar depending on the weather of the day, was very welcome! To start, the 2018 Santenay Village chosen for the white Wine Experience clients, accompanied by the delicious cheese gougères.

Wine tasting gift with the winemaker at the winery in Burgundy


We then sat down to a lovely lunch, prepared by a local caterer in Meursault, accompanied by three other wines, the 2019 Burgundy Chardonnay, the 2018 Santenay Clos des Cornières (the wine chosen for the red Wine Experience clients), and the 2016 Santenay Gravières Premier Cru.

Harvest Experience Day and lunch at the winery in Burgundy


After lunch, we headed to the cellar to put the grapes we had harvested in the morning into the vats.

The grape bunches are first emptied onto a vibrating table that removes any grapes that had been shrivelled up by the sun, or water droplets if the grapes have been picked when raining.  They then move along sorting table on a conveyor belt for a final sort to remove any unwanted grapes or leaves that might have made their way into the crates.  At the end of the sorting table, the bunches fall into a de-stemming machine where the grapes are separated from the stalks, and then fall into a trolley, a floor below in the vinification hall.

Sorting the harvested grapes


The trolley is then pushed to another conveyor belt, that climbs up and lets the grapes fall into the vat.  After a year’s work, it very satisfying to be able to at last start the wine production side of things!

Follow the grapes on their journey into the vats


The grapes that are in the vat will be left to slowly macerate at a low temperature to keep the aromatic potential of the wine.  The fermentation will take around 15 days, at the same time as the colour and tannins are extracted from the skins during the maceration phase. Each vat will have the cap or skin and pips pushed down into the juice twice a day to help the maceration, which will last for about three weeks.

Then the wine will be racked to obtain the free-run wine, and the remaining solid matter of skin and pips will be pressed to obtain the press wine.  Then the ageing phase will start that will go on for the next 12 to 18 months!

There’s lots of work to produce a quality wine, but the effort will be well worth it once the bottles are ready to be tasted!  We’ll learn more about the work in the cellar during the ageing and bottling processes during the Vinification Experience Days.

And so the day, full of great exchanges and rewarding work, drew to a close.  We hope to see you back at Domaine Chapelle soon, or at one of the other Gourmet Odyssey partner wineries!

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Harvest Experience Day in the Languedoc


Harvest season is once again upon us, and last weekend we headed to the Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region in the Languedoc for a Harvest Experience Day at Château de Jonquières.  The sun was shining and the grapes in perfect condition, so all was set for a great day.

 

Adopt-a-vine in the south of France and get involved in harvesting your grapes

 

After a quick introduction to the winery, region, and family history by Charlotte and Clément, the 32nd generation of winemakers at the winery, we made our way to the plot of Syrah vines that we were to harvest.  Charlotte explained which grapes to pick and how to pick them, and also showed us which grapes to leave behind so as to ensure that only the grapes that were fully ripe are used to make the wine.

 

A great present for wine lovers.  Get involved in the harvest of the grapes in the Languedoc

 

Clément then equipped us each with a bucket and pair of secateurs, and assigned us our rows.  We then started to pick the grapes, slowly at first as we checked that we had indeed understood Charlotte’s instructions.  But we soon got the hang of it, and the buckets started to quickly fill up.

 

Adopt-a-vine and pick grapes in the Terrasses du Larzac

 

The task was made that much easier thanks to the quality of grapes, which were in very good condition, and so needed very little sorting.  When in doubt whether any grapes were ripe enough, the best way to tell is to taste them, and we needed no encouragement to do so!  You can taste straight away whether the grapes are ripe, because they are deliciously sweet.  The unripe ones, even though they may at first look ripe, are too sharp.

 

Grape harvest experience gift for wine enthusiasts

 

Once we had filled our buckets we emptied them into some crates, which we then loaded onto the trailer behind the tractor.  We then took another crate and headed back to the rows to continue our harvest.

 

Organic harvest experience gift in the south of France

 

Having picked all the grapes in the plot of Syrah, we then followed their journey back to the chai.  We then emptied the crates into the de-stemming machine to separate the grapes from the stalks.

 

Participate in the grape harvest

 

The stalks are jettisoned from the machine and will be spread in the vineyards to return some nutrients to the soil.

 

The de-stemming machine in action

 

The grapes fall into the pump which transports them to the vat where they will start the transformation process into wine.

 

Grapes at harvest time

 

After the full morning’s programme, we made our way into the courtyard of the chateau, where Charlotte served us a lovely fresh glass of the 2020 Lansade white wine, a mineral wine that is a blend of 70% Chenin Blanc, and 30% Grenache Blanc.

 

Organic wine tasting experience gift in the south of France

 

We then sat down to a delicious lunch, prepared by a local caterer, starting with a starter of terrine de porc aveyronnais and taboulé, accompanied by the 2020 Lansade red, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.   We enjoyed the richer 2019 Baronnie red with the duck main course, the 2020 Baronnie white with the cheese platter, and finished with the 2020 White Label wine with the strawberry macaron dessert.

After lunch, we strolled through the village and vineyards to visit the plot where our adopted vines are located.  They were heavily laden with grapes, but they weren’t quite ripe enough for picking yet.  We each took a few minutes to locate our micro-plot of vines and take some souvenir photos!

 

Organic rent-a-vine gift and harvest experience

 

Harvesting isn’t just about picking grapes though!  Back in the chai, there is much to do, and that is where Clément spends most of his time during the harvest.  He explained the fermentation process and how he keeps the wine must in contact with the skins during the maceration process to extract the colour and tannins from the grape skin and pips.

 

The fermentation vats in the cellar

 

He showed us the mustimeter that he uses to analyse the sugar content of the juice that reduces during the fermentation process as the sugar is turned into alcohol.  He also explained the differences between making red, white, and rosé wines.

 

Analysing the grape juice at harvest time through the fermentation stage

 

We finished the day with a final tasting, first of the juice from the grapes we had picked that morning.  It was deliciously sweet and very enjoyable.  We then compared it to the juice from another vat of Syrah that had been picked earlier in the week and had already started to ferment, noting the difference in colour, smell and taste.

Many thanks to Charlotte and Clément for their warm hospitality, and to all of the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice wine-makers for their hard work and jovial humour throughout the day!  We’ll be back at Château de Jonquières next year for the Vinification Experience Days to discover the work that lies ahead to age, blend and bottle the wines.

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Working in an organic vineyard in the Loire Valley


Throughout June, we had the pleasure of organising the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Days again at Château de la Bonnelière and to get to meet our adopted vines once more!  After this chaotic year, we were very happy to enjoy and share these fun times!

 

Rent-a-vine gift in the Loire Valley

 

The welcome coffee, taken in the château’s barn, enabled us to get to know the winery and its owner, Marc Pouzeau.  Château de la Bonnelière is a family run winery which Marc has been running since taking over from his father in 1999.

 

Wine-maker gift experience

 

To help get us acquainted, Marc explained the Chinon appellation system, and the location of the winery’s different vineyard plots, all of which are to be found on the left bank of the River Vienne.  He also explained his philosophy for working organically, and how he strives to produce wines that express the uniqueness of each plot of vines.

We then headed into the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, where our adopted vines are located. We started by taking a few photos to remember the moment by!

 

Organic adopt-a-vine gift experience in the Loire Valley

 

The aim of the day was to learn about all the different stages of work in the vineyard.  Marc brought us up to speed on what his team had been busy doing since the last harvest, with particular emphasis on the most crucial task of pruning which kept everyone busy at the start of the year.

 

Get invovled in working in the vineyard alongside the wine-maker

 

Marc then showed us our task for the day to remove some of the leaves from the vines, and to de-bud them.  De-budding is necessary to remove the small unwanted shoots that have grown, and won’t produce any grapes.  And to help the grapes ripen better, we take away some of the leaves east-facing leaves in front of the grapes on the side facing the rising sun.

 

De-budding the vines

 

One of the groups also had the pleasure of weeding a plot of young sauvignon blanc vines.  In May, Marc planted one hectare of vines opposite the winery.  Young vines demand much attention to water them and weed around them.  With the rain of the previous weeks, watering wasn’t a problem, but the weeds had grown rapidly and were starting to suffocate some of the vines.

 

Weeding in the plot of young vines

 

The morning finished, it was now time to taste the organic wines produced at Château de la Bonnelière, and sit down for lunch, which we enjoyed outside whilst continuing our conversation with Marc.

 

Wine-tasting gift experience with the wine-maker in the Loire Valley

 

As is often the case in Chinon, after a big wholesome meal, the urge for a siesta was strong!  But we still had some more to see and discover!  We made our way to the cellar for an introduction into the wine-making side of things, something that we will cover in more in depth during the Vinification Experience Days.  But before then, we’ll be back to harvest the grapes in October. Many thanks to Marc for these really interesting and informative days.

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An original gift to discover the work of an organic wine-maker in the vineyard in Burgundy


It was a pleasure to welcome our apprentice wine-makers for the Discovery Experience Days at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy in June and July.  The aim of these days is to learn all about the work in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes at harvest time, and to participate in some of the work alongside the wine-maker.

 

Adopt-a-vine in an award-winning organic winery in Burgundy and learn about all of the work that goes into making wine

 

After the introductions, Jean-François Chapelle, the owner at the winery, explained the history of wine-making in Burgundy, that of his family, and his journey that led him to transform the winery to being organically certified.

We then headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines, give them some warm words of encouragement, and take a few souvenir photos before learning about the vegetative life cycle of the vines and the work carried out during the different seasons.

 

Adopt your own vines and follow the making of your own personalised bottles of wine

 

Pruning takes place between December and March and is the most important job in controlling the maximum number of grapes that each vine produces, directly impacting the quality of the wine.  It also gives the shape to the vines to help facilitate the work needed to be done.

With the arrival of spring, the buds start to burst on the vines, forming the first branches which grow rapidly in May, keeping the wine-makers busy in the vineyard to ensure that all of the branches are supported by the training wires and don’t fall to the ground or become entangled with the branches from the neighbouring rows.

 

Learn about all the work that happens in the vineyard to nurture the vines organically

 

Training the vines has to be done with care so as to not damage the fruit-bearing branches.  The wires are then clipped together to hold the branches more tightly in place.  This is one of the jobs which our apprentice wine-makers helped out with, even doing so on one occasion with a little rain that gave us a good insight into what it’s like when the weather isn’t at its best!

 

Getting involved in the work in the vineyard

 

The vines are trimmed just above the training wires to limit the growth of unnecessary vegetation, keeping the grapes better exposed to the sun and ventilated which will help them grow and ripen in the best conditions through the summer months.

The vines are treated organically throughout the spring and summer depending on the weather and amount of rainfall.  This year has been particularly difficult due to the frequent rainfall, and has meant that the wine-makers have had to adapt how they work.   We were able to notice the difficulty and delays due to being unable to get the tractor in the vineyard with so much rain.

 

Organic treatments

 

After our mornings spent in the fresh air, the aperitif and tasting of the Santenay white wine made from the adopted chardonnay vines at Domaine Chapelle, accompanied by some gougères, was most welcome!

The delicious lunch, prepared by a local chef, was the occasion to learn more about wine-making in Burgundy, and to taste three other wines from Domaine Chapelle, including the Clos des Cornières red wine made from the pinot noir vines that other clients had adopted.  It was a very enjoyable moment, full of interesting discussions.

 

Taste organic wines in Burgundy with the winemaker

 

In the afternoon, Jean-François took us to see the new plot in the Clos des Cornières that had been recently replanted.  He explained the work done to remove the old vines and replace them with young vines and the economic implications involved.  Following the harvest, the old vines were pulled up and then the plot was left fallow for three years to regenerate the nutrients in the soil, then after the vines were replanted you have three years without a harvest, and then you have a low quality harvest for the following three years.  In total it will be at least 10 years before the winery will start to enjoy a quality harvest from the plot!

 

New vines need to be planted to replace old ones

 

We then returned to the winery for a quick tour of the vinification hall and cellar to see where the grapes will journey to at harvest time, and where they will be transformed into wine, and aged before being ready to be bottled.  We’ll learn more about the stages in the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

 

Winery tour gift experience with the winemaker in Burgundy

 

Thank you to all the participants of the Discovery Experience Days.  As always we spent some really interesting days with you, and we hope to see you again soon for the harvest.

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Learning to de-bud and train the vines in Saint-Emilion


We were very happy to return to Saint-Emilion for the opening of the 2021 vintage Wine Discovery Days at Château Coutet at the end of May and beginning of June.  The aim of these days spent with the winemakers, is to learn about all of the work necessary in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes for the coming harvest. And as we found out, it’s a mammoth task!  Even more so, as we discovered the challenges of doing so organically!

 

Top gift idea for wine lovers.  Adopt vines in an organic Bordeaux winery

 

We got introduced to each other over a welcome coffee and croissant on the lawn in front of the chateau.  It’s a place steeped in history, and Adrien has a natural talent to recount it.

We started by wandering through the different vineyard plots to learn more about the various grape varietals and soil structures of the estate.  We were now experts in identifying the differences between merlot and cabernet franc, sandy and clayey soils!

On the top of the limestone plateau, we stopped in the plot were our adopted vines are located.  This is the best terroir at Château Coutet, and the vineyard is surrounded by some of Saint-Emilion’s most prestigious wineries such as Château Angélus and Beauséjour Bécot.  We each immortalised the moment and took a few pictures with our adopted vines.

 

Adopt-a-vine gift in a French organic winery

 

On one of the days, we watched a donkey tilling the soil, a method that respects this exceptional terroir as much as possible.

 

Organic wine experience gift in Saint-Emilion

 

There is always some participative work to do during the experience days, and we discovered how to de-bud the vines and raise the training wires, the two main tasks during spring.

The aim of de-budding is to select the branches best adapted to producing grapes on the vine.  It seems a little complicated at first, but Adrien’s explanations enabled us to quickly come to grips with it.  We each got stuck into the real work of a winemaker.

 

Wine-maker experience gift in an organic winery in France

 

Raising the training wires is an important job for several reasons, and is done by raising a wire either side of the row of vines, at the same time ensuring that the branches are spaced out and caught between the two wires.  Firstly, it helps to protect the vines from the wind by supporting the weight of the vegetation and grapes.  It also helps manage the shape and structure of the vines, making it easier for the tractor to pass through the vineyard, increasing the efficiency of the treatments, and improving the airflow around the leaves to reduce the risk of mildew.  After having listened to the instructions on how to do so, we spread out among the rows and started to raise the training wires.

 

Wine gift to learn about the work of an organic wine-maker

 

There isn’t much shade in the vineyard, and so the aperitif under the trees was very welcome.  After a few large glasses of water, we tasted the very refreshing Claret de Coutet, and its fresh fruit aromas awakened our taste buds for lunch.

The 2017 Château Belles Cimes, the winery’s second wine, is made principally from young vines, and is a Saint-Emilion wine with red and black fruit aromas that paired wonderfully with the foie gras terrine.

Food and wine pairings generally work best when matching a dish and wine from the same region.  The traditional south western French main course of magret de canard was enhanced by the 2017 Château Coutet, a blend of merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, with a touch of Malbec.  We then compared the wine with the 2016 vintage, which was a little more refined thanks to the extra year ageing in the bottle.

The Demoiselle red wine concluded the tasting over cheese.  The wine is made from the oldest vines that are worked by horse, and are pampered at each stage.  It’s a wonderful wine that captured the relaxed moment enjoyed in the shade of the trees in front of the winery’s old chapel.

After the excellent lunch, Adrien and Alain explained the advantages and challenges of cultivating the vines organically.  It’s something that is very important to them, as the vineyards of Château Coutet have always been organic.

 

Organic winery tour gift in Saint-Emilion

 

We finished the day with a visit of the fermentation hall and the family cellar where the old bottles are stored.

We look forward to coming back for the Harvest Experience days in September to learn more about the next stage in the work of a winemaker, and to share other great moments with the David Beaulieu family.

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De-budding the vines in the Languedoc at Château de Jonquières


We spent last week-end in the sunny Languedoc for a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Discovery Experience Day at the magnificent Château de Jonquières.  This winery, in the heart of the Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region, is the latest addition to the adopt-a-vine partner wineries of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, and the wine-makers Charlotte and Clément gave us a very warm welcome.

 

Rent a vine and discover how to make organic wine in the south of France

 

Charlotte got the day underway with a brief introduction to the region and the winery, which has been in her family for over 900 years.  Together with her husband, Clément, they represent the 32nd generation!

The aim of the Discovery Experience Day is to learn about all of the work in the vineyard to produce the best possible quality of grapes for the harvest.  As we were to learn, there is lots to do that keep the winemakers busy.

The first plot we came to was planted with Syrah.  Here Clément explained how they had been pruned using the cordon de royat method.  Pruning is the most important of the tasks in the vineyard as it gives structure to the vines to make them easier to manage, and it improves the quality of grapes by limiting the number of bunches that each vine produces.

 

Original gift experience for wine lover to learn about making wine

 

Clément also showed us another plot, planted with chenin, a grape varietal used to make the white wines, and Charlotte explained how they had cleared a plot of old cinsault vines and had planted cereal to replenish the soil before they will plant new vines next year.  They have also planted a hedge of different types of trees to improve the biodiversity of the vineyard, and to act as a natural barrier to frost.

All of the wines at Château de Jonquières are organically certified.  We learnt the differences between conventional, organic, and biodynamic farming techniques.

The vines were at the start of the rapid growth phase when we visited.  Despite the hard work to prune the vines and limit their growth, there are always a few extra buds and shoots that appear, and so need to be removed to concentrate the plants energy on the fruit-bearing branches.  This is known as de-budding, and was the job we were tasked with for the morning.  Clément explained which ones to remove, those that grow low down on the trunk, from the roots, or the spurs that have more than two shoots.

 

Work alongside the wine-maker to help create your own organic wine

 

So we then spread out among the rows, and had a go ourselves.  At first a little nervously, but with the coaching of Charlotte and Clément, we gained in confidence.  It’s more difficult than you think because there are always a few exceptions to the rule, notably for shoots that are interesting to keep not for this year, but for next year’s pruning to help keep the balance of the vines.

We then visited two other plots that have recently been replanted to better understand the importance of planning for the future.

 

Wine Tasting gift experience in an organic French château, Terrassed du Larzac, Languedoc

 

Back in the courtyard of the château, we gathered for a well-earned aperitif.  Charlotte treated us to the 2019 Lansade white wine, followed by the deliciously pale 2020 Lansade rosé.  We continued the tasting of the wines over lunch, starting with the 2019 Terrasses du Larzac Lansade red, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, which we enjoyed with the trio of starters, a terrine de délices de porc aveyronnais, taboulé, and gazpacho.  The main course was a succulent royal de bœuf, which had been slowly cooked for 72 hours at a low temperature, which paired fantastically with the 2018 Terrasses du Larzac Baronnie red.  Charlotte and Clément served the 2019 Baronnie white with the cantal, chèvre, and bleu d'auvergne cheeses, and we ended lunch with the 2020 white label red wine which accompanied the dessert.

After lunch we walked through the village to the vineyard that is home to the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines, a vineyard of 80 year old carignan vines that were planted by Charlotte’s great grandmother.  We took a few minutes to find our adopted vines and admire the works of art that they each are.  Some even started to de-bud them with our new found skills learned in the morning!

 

Adopt a row of oragnic vines in the south of France and make your own personalised bottles of wine

 

Clément then explained all of the work that will be done between now and the time of the harvest.  The next stage will be the flowering that should happen in the next couple of weeks.

Back at the winery, we finished the day with a quick look at the chai to see where the grapes will be put into the vats and be transformed into wine.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Harvest Experience Days after the summer and the Vinification Experience Days next year.

 

Organic winery tour with the winemaker, Terrasses du Larzac, Languedoc, southern France

 

Many thanks to Charlotte and Clément for making it such an interesting and informative day.  We can’t wait to come back again!

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Apprentice harvester for a day in Saint-Emilion


The vines had a particularly warm and dry summer for the 2020 vintage in the southwest of France.  The grapes reached perfect maturity and so we had a harvest of top quality grapes.  We met up at Château Coutet with Mathieu, Adrien, and Alain, all members of the David-Beaulieu family who have been the owners of the winery in Saint-Emilion for 400 years.  After a coffee and croissant, we got the Harvest Experience Day underway.

Origiinal wine gift. Get involved in the harvest in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey wine expert, presented the programme of the day, and reminded us of the social distancing and protective measures put in place in light of the current epidemic.

We started the day by visiting our adopted vines which are located on the limestone plateau above Saint-Emilion, where the winery’s best plots are to be found, surrounded by the most prestigious of Saint Emilion’s Grand Cru Classé vineyards.

Adopt-a-vine gift at a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru winery

We each took some souvenir photographs of this magnificent setting, and some entered some pictures for the “My Vine” competition to reward the most original photo of their vines.

Walking through the vineyards gave us a good warm up before starting the harvest of the grapes.  After the safety reminder that we make better wine with grapes rather than finger tips, the sound of the secateurs snipping away resonated throughout the vineyard.

Harvest Experience Gift in Bordeaux

We put the bunches of grapes into a bucket which we then emptied into a crate which was carried to the awaiting tractor by some porters.  The grapes were in perfect condition, the first and most important indicator of a good potential vintage to come.

Wine picking experience gift in Bordeaux France

After our morning’s hard work, we returned to the lawn in front of the chateau for the aperitif, tasting the Clairet wine, which is either a very light red wine, or a strong rosé wine depending on your viewpoint.  During the vinification stage, the grape juice only remains in contact with the skins for a short time to extract less colour than for a red wine, giving the wine its light and fruity character.  It’s a very refreshing drink.

We then sat down to a delicious lunch prepared onsite by the caterer and accompanied by some other wines from Château Coutet.  The first wine was the 2017 Château Belles-Cimes made from the young vines which has a delicate tannic structure and paired perfectly with the winemaker’s salad.  We went up a grade with the 2017 Château Coutet Grand Cru, the winery’s signature wine.  Made using the grapes from the estate’s three different types of terroir and the four grape varietals, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is more powerful with a longer finish, making it a great match for the guinea-fowl farcie with morille and foie-gras sauce.

We discovered an exceptional Saint-Emilion wine with the 2017 Desmosielles, a limited edition wine made using the best vine plots that are worked by horse, without the intervention of the tractor and electricity.  It’s a real treat to taste this wine that has such depth and voluptuous soft tannins on the palate.  We finished the wonderful meal with a cheese platter and chocolate praline dessert.

In the afternoon we turned our attention to the work in the cellar to de-stem and sort the grapes.  We separate the grapes form the stalks and take away any grapes that aren’t ripe enough, which weren’t very many this year.

Sorting the grapes

We ended the day with a visit of the cellar to learn about the first stage of fermentation.  We’ll learn more about what happens next during the Vinification Experience Days.

Winery tour and experience day with the winemaker

Many thanks to the David-Beaulieu family for welcoming us so warmly during the harvest which is a particularly busy and stressful time for the winemakers.

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