Adopt a Vine and Make Your Own Wine

with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

Visit www.gourmetodyssey.com for more information

Gifts

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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Adopt vines in the Rhone Valley with Gourmet Odyssey


Another great discovery for Gourmet Odyssey Cheli and Jérôme Busato, winemakers at Château Cohola in Sablet, have welcomed us to their boutique organic winery and made their oldest and best plot of Grenache vines available to be adopted. Their winery is nestled on the foothills below the Dentelles de Montmirail in the southern Côtes du Rhône region, and they tend to it with all of the passion and enthusiasm of the other Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience partner winemakers.

Starting today, you can adopt organic vines at Château Cohola for the 2022 vintage on the Gourmet Odyssey website, discover the work of the winemakers, and follow the making of your own organic wine.  Keep updated with the developments in the vineyard and cellar through the newsletters and photos from the wine-makers, from the skill needed to prune the vines right through to the bottling of your wine, complete with your own personalised labels.  You can also choose to add some days at the winery to meet Cheli and Jérôme, and help them nurture the vines, harvest the grapes, or work in the cellar.  Follow this link to learn more about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

Meet the winemakers in their winery and enjoy a tasting and visit

You can also learn more about Château Cohola, their wine and the region.  The winery produces a great range of red, white, and rosé Côtes du Rhône wines in Sablet, one of the 21 communes allowed to add their name to the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation.  They are regularly selected for the wine guides and produce award-winning wines.  For example, the Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience won a silver medal at the 2020 Paris Agricultural Show, won a bronze at the Millésime Bio organic wine fair, and was selected for the 2020 Bettane+Desseauve wine guide with a rating of 16.5/20.

Château Cohola in Sablet offers organic vine adoption
If you like Côtes du Rhône wines and are interested in organic wine-making, Château Cohola will be a real treat for your taste buds.  We can’t wait for the first wine experience days at the winery next year!

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Making and ageing organic vines in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


Today, we met up with the Stentz-Buecher family at their winery in Alsace to learn all about the work and skill to make and age their organic wines.  Domaine Stentz-Buecher is a family business as Céline explained to us, and she manages it with her brother, Stéphane.  They have both taken different paths to become wine-makers, and are complimentary in their work and their way of seeing wine.  They were with us to explain all of the work in the cellar to produce the best possible wines they can from when the grapes are picked right through to bottling.

Today, we met up with the Stentz-Buecher family at their winery in Alsace to learn all about the work and skill to make and age their organic wines.  It’s a family business as Céline explained to us, and she manages it with her brother, Stéphane.  They have both taken different paths to become wine-makers, and are complimentary in their work and their way of seeing wine.  They were with us to explain all of the work in the cellar to produce the best possible wines they can from when the grapes are picked right through to bottling.
We started the day in the vineyard, because that is where everything begins, and we visited one of the 74 plots that make up the winery’s 12 hectares of vines.  It’s necessary to have lots of plots to be able to express the diversity of the 7 grape varietals used to make Alsace wines.  Pinot Noir for the reds, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner, Muscat, Riesling and Gewurztraminer for the whites, all planted in different types of soil on the hillside and the plain.

 

Adopt-a-vine gift in an organic Alsace Vineyard

 

In the Rosenberg vineyard, where our Pinot Gris adopted vines are planted, we saw that the branches have been placed between the training wires, and that the flowering period has just finished.  We could see the little grains that will become grapes.  To Céline it looks like they have grown since the day before!  It’s possible, because with the heat and rain at the moment, the vines can grow 2cm a day.  We took a few moments to take some pictures with our vines, because for the 2020 vintage, this is the last time that we’ll be coming.

 

Rent-a-vine gift in Alsace

 

On the way back, we looked at the different plots, their location, their exposition to the sun, and the different soil types.  All important features that will help give the wines their taste and aromas.

 

Alsace wine region gift experience

 

Before getting down to the practical sessions, we talked about wine-tasting.  It’s all about perception, and is a unique and personal experience for all of us.  We use all of our senses when tasting, and once stimulated, they send lots of information to our brain, who has the task of filtering and treating them.  For example, our ears enable us to analyse the bubbles in a crémant.  Our eyes tell us information about the colour of a wine, its intensity and tint, its viscosity, shine, and clarity.  Our nose adds information about the aromas, and our mouth for the taste and texture.  Each person perceives this information differently, and the good news is that we can all train ourselves to improve.

We then talked in more detail about aromas and where they come from.  Are they primary aromas that come from the terroir or grapes themselves, secondary aromas that result from the fermentation phase, or tertiary and due to the choices made during the ageing process?  To help us better understand the differences, Céline had prepared a little game to blind taste different wines, in a blacked-out glass and with covers over the bottles, so that we had just our nose and mouth to rely on.

 

Organic wine tasting gift experience in Alsace

 

We tasted the wines by two in order to try and identify the difference between them and why.  For example, we first tasted a Pinot Blanc Tradition with white peach aromas, and which was well balanced and fresh on the palate.  We then tasted a wine that was completely different, its golden yellow colour being more unusual, and revealing smoky and toasted aromas.  It was dry and full bodied on the palate.  In fact it was also a Pinot Blanc, but made from a plot of old vines and aged in barrels on its fine lees, which changes the primary and tertiary aromas.  We continued our comparisons, tasting 6 wines in total.

Now that we were experts in the art of wine-tasting, we headed down into the cellar to catch up with our Pinot Gris wine from where we had left it during the harvest time.  Stéphane reminded us of the relationship between alcoholic maturity, phenolic maturity, and the aromatic potential of wine.  The higher the degree of alcohol, the better the potential for keeping wine, but that counts for nothing if there aren’t expressive aromas, something that is linked to the phenolic maturity, which is achieved around a month after the alcoholic maturity.  The difficulty lies in waiting to have sufficient phenolic maturity without the alcoholic degree rising too much, which is why when it’s too hot and the alcoholic degree is reached prematurely in August, it doesn’t bode well for a good phenolic maturity.

Stéphane then explained the fermentation and vinification processes of the white and red wines, and then we headed to the part of the cellar where the wines ferment in the casks.  Some of the wines are still in the process of fermenting, because the winery only uses indigenous yeast, and lets the wines work at their own pace.  We could still hear some of the vats and casks gurgling away as the carbon dioxide escaped through the siphons.

 

Wine cellar gift experience Alsace white wine

 

The other wines such as the Pinot Gris Rosenberg had finished fermenting, and we had the chance to taste it directly from the cask.  It will soften a bit more over the summer, before being ready for Stéphane to filter and bottle.

We finished the morning in the barrel room to see where the red and some of the vielle vignes white wines are aged.  We asked lots of questions about the role of oak barrels, the difference between old and new ones, and the varying sizes etc.  We had a very enthusiastic group and some great interactions.

 

Wine-making gift experience Alsace

 

It was then time to head up and outside for an aperitif, starting with a naturally sparkling crémant, made using the Champagne method, but without the liqueur being added, accompanied by a savoury Kouglof.  We then sat down to a delicious choucroute, cheese platter, and black forest gateau, all accompanied with delicious wines of course!

 

Organic Alsace wine gift and winery visit

 

After lunch we returned to the cool of the cellar to see the wine library where the old vintages are stored.  It’s also a reception room for tastings and family meals.  Only the most promising vintages are stocked, and each year, Stéphane and Céline uncork several dozen bottles, taste them, and re-cork them to ensure that they are still good.  The oldest wine from the winery dates back to 1969.

The day ended with the bottling and labelling machine, where the wine is held in a vat before passing through a filter on its way to being bottled and corked.  The bottles are then labelled and boxed up at the end of the line.  The wine is then ready to join the cellars and glasses of organic Alsace wine enthusiasts around the world.  We can’t wait to taste the 2020 vintage of our Pinot Gris Rosenberg!  

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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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The perfect Father’s Day wine gift


It can be difficult to find the ideal Father’s Day gift for a wine lover, when he already has all of the usual wine accessories, and a well-stocked cellar. But don’t worry, we have the perfect idea for you! Give him a wine experience gift that he’ll remember for years to come. It’s not just a normal winery visit or wine course, but the adoption of his very own organic vines in France, and the following of the winemaker through the key stages of making his wine.

 

A great Father’s Day wine present

 

Your father will end the experience with his own personalised bottles of organic wine that his adopted vines have helped to make. He’ll follow the making of his wine through newsletters and photos from the winery explaining the effort and skill that goes into making a great organic wine. He can also get involved in working at the winery alongside the winemaker and participate in one or more of the key stages, such as pruning the vines, harvesting the grapes, or learning about the blending of the wines.

For an ideal Father’s Day gift, adopt some organic vines in France

It’s a very original Father’s Day gift that also helps to support independent organic wineries. We only work with winemakers who are passionate about their profession and who love sharing their passion and know-how. Our partner wineries are located in the major wine-making regions of France. The Loire Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Languedoc, the Rhône Valley, and Alsace.

For an ideal Father’s Day gift, adopt some organic vines in France

When you place an order for one of our organic Wine Experience Father’s Day gifts, we’ll send out a welcome pack to you or directly to your father, containing some wine gifts, a personalised vine adoption certificate, the programme, and access code to activate his customer portal. For last minute gifts, we can also send you the certificate and programme by email. All your father then needs to do is let himself be guided through the different stages of the programme until his personalised bottles of wine are ready for tasting.

A great Father’s Day gift to share some great time together!

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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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An original organic Christmas wine gift, personalised and delivered to you


Are you looking for a special wine-related Christmas present this year?  Adopt some vines in France and give a unique experience for a wine lover.  With the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience you can get behind the scenes, become an apprentice organic wine-maker for a year, and discover the work that goes into making your own personalised bottles of organic wine. And by doing so, you’ll also be supporting small, independent organic winemakers.

Special Christmas gift for wine lovers: adopt a vine

What’s included in the Wine Experience Christmas gift box?

Choose from the different options available and order your adopt-a-vine Christmas gift on our website. You can choose the region, the winery (all organically certified), the number of vines to adopt, and how many wine experience days at the vineyard to include.  We’ll send the welcome gift pack to you, or directly to the recipient to open on Christmas day, containing a personalised vine adoption certificate, some wine accessories, and an access code to the private customer portal to get the adventure started straightaway.

The recipient will then receive news, photos, and updates from the wine-maker as the vines grow, the grapes are harvested, and the juice made into wine in the cellar. At the end of the wine-making year, his or her organic wine, made from the grapes in the vineyard where his or her adopted vines are located, will be bottled, complete with personalised wine labels denoting the name of the wine that your lucky recipient chooses!

It’s also possible to go to the winery, meet the wine-makers, and participate in wine experience days to learn about the key stages involved in the making of your wine. The Wine Experience Days can be included in the Christmas gift pack, or added later.

Oenology gift for Christmas: rent a vine

The Wine Experience Days take place on the weekends from 09:30 to 16:00, with wine tasting and lunch included for two people. There are three different choices. The Discovery Experience Days concentrate on the work in the vineyard before the harvest, the Harvest Experience Days get you involved in picking the grapes and teach you about the first stages of fermentation, and the Vinification Experience Days are made up of practical workshops to hone wine-tasting skills, and to learn about ageing, blending and bottling wines. You also learn how the wine-makers work organically, and what’s at stake in doing so. They are fun, informative, and moments rich in sharing that make you think a little differently when you open your next bottle of wine.

What makes the Wine Experience an extra-special Christmas gift?

Not only is it an original Christmas gift for a wine lover, it’s a present that supports independent organic wine-makers and small business, something that’s appreciated even more during these challenging times!

rganic wine gift box for Christmas

We’ve chosen to only work with organically or biodynamically certified wine-makers, all of whom have had their wines selected and awarded by the leading wine guides and press. We picked them for their friendliness, and enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge and love of their profession, essential factors needed to ensure an exceptional and unforgettable experience.

But don’t just take our word for it, read the customer feedback. For over 10 years now, we have developed and delivered a quality service, creating strong bonds and friendships with our partner winemakers and customers alike.

And it’s a no risk Christmas gift, because if you’re not sure which Wine Experience to choose, the recipient can always change the winery, type of day, or vintage by contacting us. The Wine Experience Days can also be carried over to the following year if needed.

Order your Adopt-a-Vine Christmas Gift in a few clicks

No need to go to the shops! Order your Wine Experience Christmas gift online, and we’ll take care of the rest:

  • The welcome gift pack will be sent out within 24 hours, Monday to Friday
  • The vine adoption certificate and activation code will be sent by email to the buyer
  • Gift wrapping and personalised message option available
  • Option to pay in 3 instalments
  • Flexible. The recipient can change the options or carry days over if needed

The Christmas Wine Experience welcome pack will be sent to the address of your choosing, containing a few wine accessory gifts; a DropStop, re-usable glass wine stopper, wine cooling bag, vine adoption certificate, and a personalised guide to get the present started!

Find out more about the Wine Experience Christmas present

Visit our website for more information about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience or to place an order.

Any questions? We’re available from 09:00 to 18:00, Monday to Friday by phone on 01 46 27 05 92 within France, or on +33 1 46 27 05 92 from outside France, or through our contact page.

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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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Getting invloved in the 2020 harvest in Alsace


A gorgeous sunny day welcomed us to Alsace for the Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher last week-end.  The harvest is early this year due to the warm and dry weather, and whilst we were all in lock-down, the vines were soaking up the sun and having a great time.  The vineyards around Wettolsheim received just the right amount of rainfall at the crucial moments, so the grapes were in perfect condition to be picked.  All they needed were a team of harvesters, so the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers were very welcome to give a helping hand!

Top wine lover gift to get involved in harvesting the grapes in Alsace

After the introductions we headed towards the Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyard, where the pinot noir grapes that we were to harvest were to be found.  Céline explained which grapes to pick and how to harvest them, then armed with a bucket and pair of secateurs we got down to the serious business of harvesting the grapes!

Harvest Experience gift in organic french vineyard


The Steingrubler vineyard is on quite a steep slope, so the tractor and trailer waited patiently for our grapes at the end of the rows. To avoid wasting time and energy by everyone walking to and from the trailer, a couple of brave people volunteered to be a porter, strapping a large hop on their backs.  Once we had filled our buckets, the grapes were then poured into the hop for the porter to then empty them into the trailer.  It’s a physical job at the best of times, particularly so when you have to contend with the slope of the vineyard!

Join the harvest and learn the hard work that goes into making wine


The buckets filled quickly, and as we picked, we asked questions about life at the winery to Céline, her father Jean-Jacques, and the winery harvest team who were also on hand to help with the harvest.

Once we had picked all the grapes from the plot, we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard where our Pinot Gris adopted vines are located. They had reached optimum maturity earlier in the week, so had already been harvested.  Once the grapes are ripe, they need to be picked straight away to ensure the best quality wine possible.  We took a few souvenir pictures and some for the “My Vine” photo competition with our adopted vines before heading back to the winery.

Adopt-a-vine gift in an organic French vineyard

Our next job was to put the grapes that we had harvested into the fermentation tank.  We used a long-handled rake to gently pull the grapes out of the trailer and into the de-stemming machine below.  This machine separates the berries from the stalks, and then the grapes continue their fall into the waiting vat.  The winery building has been designed to use gravity as much as possible in preference to pumps, so that the grapes arrive with their skins as intact as possible in the vat or press, helping to preserve the aromatic concentration.
Learning about the work in the cellar during the harvest


It was now time for a well-earned aperitif.  Céline had prepared an extensive wine tasting session for us, starting with the fresh and floral 2019 Pinot Blanc Tradition.  We then tasted the lovely mineral 2014 Sylvaner Vielles Vignes, followed by the complex and aromatic 2016 Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru.  Next was the intense 2015 Pinot Noir Old Oak, the wine that the grapes we had picked in the morning are used to make, and then the 100% Pinot Noir Crémant Nature Rosé sparkling wine, accompanied by a savoury Kougelopf.

Wine tasting session with teh winemaker in Alsace


We continued the tasting over lunch, starting with the 2018 Pinot Gris Rosenberg which perfectly paired with the “Bouchée à la Reine” and spatzlé.  With dessert we compared two different wines, the 2017 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg and the 2016 Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru.

We picked up after lunch where we had finished in the morning and descended into the cellar.  Stéphane described how the grapes for the white wines are treated differently, being emptied directly into the press, where the time and pressure are regulated depending on the quality of grapes ad thickness of the their skins.

Stéphane then explained the different processes and work needed for red and white wines up until the end of the first fermentation period.

Wine-making gift experience in Alsace

We visited the barrel room where the Pinot Noir wines are aged, and ended the day in the fermentation hall where the white wines were bubbling away as they start the fermentation process.  We’ll be spending more time here next year for the Vinification Experience Days to discover all of the work that is left to do between now and the time when the wine is bottled and conditioned.

Many thanks to Céline and Stéphane for a great day!

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Harvest Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


Last Saturday, we were at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley for the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Day. We were there to help pick the grapes for this year’s harvest and to learn about all of the work involved at the winery during harvest time.  As we were to discover there is more to it than just picking grapes!

The Harvest Experience gift in the Rhone Valley, France

After the introductions, we walked past the winery’s olive grove and up the hillside to the vineyard where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  The vineyard is one of the winery’s best plots, and the Grenache Noir grapes are used to make the excellent AOC Massif d’Uchaux red wine.  We took a few minutes to find our adopted vines, laden with delicious ripe grapes, and take a few pictures before we started the harvest.

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Laurence, the wine-maker at Domaine de la Guicharde, then explained which grapes to pick, and which to leave, and how to cut the bunches.  Equipped with a pair of secateurs and a bucket, we then spread out among the rows and started to pick.

Grape harvest gift in the Rhone Valley

The buckets quickly filled as the grapes were generally in very good condition, and so there was little to sort.  The dry and hot weather meant that there had been no mildew, the only damage being a few vines that had been too exposed to the sun, causing the grapes to burn and dry out.  Once the buckets were full, we emptied them into a trailer and then carried on picking.

Wine-making experience gift in an organic winery in the Rhone Valley

Laurence took the time to explain how she monitors the ripening of the grapes and decides when the best time to pick them is.  She has to plan and juggle resources between the different grape varietals and vineyard plots, as the grapes don’t all ripen at the same speed.

The terroir of the Massif d’Uchaux is unique amongst the different Côtes du Rhône appellations, the principal characteristic being that millions of years ago, in the Miocène era, all of the surrounding land was covered by seawater.  You can still make out where the ancient beach used to be, and if you look hard, you can find fossils of shell fish.

Domaine de la Guicharde is both organically and biodynamically certified, and so Laurence explained the difference between the two approaches, and how they influence the work in the vineyard and cellar.

After the morning’s hard work and effort, the aperitif was very welcome!  Back in the courtyard of the winery, Laurence served us a nice cold glass of her rosé.

Organic wine tasting gift with the winemaker

We then sat down to a delicious lunch, paired with other wines from the winery.  The rich and complex 2019 Côtes du Rhône “Autour de la Chapelle” white wine perfectly accompanied the Millefeuille of aubergines, confit tomatoes with fresh goats cheese and courgette coulis.  We enjoyed the fruity 2019 Côtes du Rhône “Pur Rouge” red wine with the main course of roast veal, mushroom and épeautre risotto, finishing with the more powerful and spicy 2017 Côtes du Rhône Massif d’Uchaux red with the cheese platter and chocolate cappuccino cream dessert.

After lunch we made our way to the chai, where the grapes that we had harvested were waiting in the shade.  Our next job was to put the grapes into the vat. To do so we emptied the trailer of grapes slowly into a hopper where the grapes pass through a de-stemming machine to separate the berries from the stalks.

Learning about the work at harvest time in the chai

The grapes are then pumped through a large tube into one of the vats.  Laurence explained how the fermentation process will transform the sugar into alcohol, and how the wine will extract the colour and tannins from the grapes skins during the maceration period.

Laurence explains the work and in the chai during the harvest period and the fermentation process

It’s an exciting year, because the 2020 vintage will be the first to be made in the new chai.  Building started in February, and despite a break in work during the lockdown period, the main shell of the building was completed and the fermentation hall equipped with the essential equipment just in time for the start of the harvest.  It was touch and go for a while, but the much larger space means that Laurence and her team will be able to work in much better conditions.

We finished the day by tasting the juice from the grapes that we had picked.  It was cloudy in colour and very sweet with the sugar that is needed to make the wine.  We then compared it with the grape juice from another vat that had already started the fermentation process.

Tasting the grape juice from our harvest

We’ll be back next year for the Vinification Experience Days to see how this year’s vintage has progressed and to learn about all of the work that still remains between now and the time that the wine is ready for bottling.  Many thanks to Laurence and her team for looking after us so well during the day.

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Participating in the work in the vineyard in France’s Loire Valley


During the spring of 2020, whilst we were all in lock-down, the vines were soaking up the plentiful sun in the Loire Valley, growing rapidly and abundantly.  And so we were impatient to get back to Château de la Bonnelière for a Wine Discovery Day, to learn about all of the work that goes on in the vineyard to grow and nurture the best possible grapes for making organic wine.
Adopt an organic vine and follow how to make wine in Loire Valley

Even though the organisation of the day called for a few changes to comply with the current situation, we were still able to meet one another over the traditional welcome coffee, to start learning about the winery, the wine-maker, Marc, and the progress of the year so far.
The main tasks for the day were leaf removal and green harvesting, jobs that are more normally done in July, but the precocity of the vines has decided otherwise this year.  The 2020 winter was mild for the most part, causing the vines to start growing earlier than usual, and that, combined with the warm and sunny spring, has meant that the vines are at least 3 weeks ahead of the stage that they would normally be at.

The first task was simple. It involved removing the leaves from in front of the grapes, so that they can get more sun.  This also allows for a better airflow around the grapes to avoid rot setting in on the grapes. 
The second task to green harvest was more technical and impressed our apprentice winemakers of the day!  The sun and warmth had also meant that the vines had been very productive.  In fact too much so!  We therefore had to reduce the number of bunches, to avoid disease or rot setting in, and to improve the quality of the grapes left on the vines.
You have to be careful to only remove the grape bunches that are growing too high up the vine, or from where there are too many bunches growing on the same vine.  A detailed but decisive job!  But as usual, the mission was perfectly accomplished by our apprentice winemakers as you can see. 

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Learn winemaking with Gourmet Odysssey in Loire Valley

And what’s more, we finished just before the rain arrived!  We headed to the barn for lunch, a hearty beef and carrot stew that had been slow-cooked by Mme Plouzeau and was sure to recharge our batteries for the afternoon.

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We enjoyed some of Marc’s delicious wines over lunch, including some of the older vintages of the Clos de la Bonnelière, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.
The weather cleared in the afternoon, and so we went for a little walk to see the young sauvignon blanc vines that have been recently planted.  Along the way, we discussed the organic and biodynamic methods used to nurture the vines.  The walk finished with a quick tour of the fermentation hall and the chai used for bottling and storing the wine.  These are both places that we will spend more time in during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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We’re looking forward to returning in September for the harvest and to see whether the 2020 vintage turns out as good as it is promising to be at the moment!

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Wine-making and blending course with the wine-maker in Saint-Emilion


After this complicated lock-down period, it was great to at last be able to re-start the Wine Experience Days at Château Coutet with the Vinification Experience Day.  The masks and hand gels were compulsory, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm and fun of the day.  We met up and introduced ourselves over a coffee and croissant on the lawn in front of the chateau.  Matthieu, who represents the 13th generation of this family of winemakers, presented Château Coutet and explained the diversity of soil and grape varietals that make it such an exceptional place where the vines, trees, and people live in perfect harmony for more than 400 years.

We then visited the cellar where Matthieu explained the fermentation cycles that have happened since last year’s harvest.  His passion and love for wine-making lights up his eyes and keeps us enthralled as he speaks.

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Another room in the cellar is home to the barrels used to age the wines, as is tradition in the Bordeaux region.  At Château Coutet, the aim is to not give the wine too much of a woody taste, so the percentage of new barrels used is on the low side, older, used barrels being preferred.

We then regrouped on the lawn in front of the château for the blending workshop.  Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey oenologist, reminded us of the techniques used to taste wine, so that we could all speak the same language, and then we started to blind taste several different wines.  It’s always interesting to taste wines blind, so that we concentrate solely on the aromas and tastes that we perceive to analyse the wine, and not be influenced by the label.

We continued the blind tasting with the four different grape varietals that are grown at the winery.  Matthieu and Benoît then presented us with three different blends, giving us three completely different wines, using exactly the same ingredients, just in different proportions.  It helped us to better understand the complicated work to blend wines in Bordeaux, something that is an important skill for the wine-makers here.

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After all of this hard work, we whet our thirst with the refreshing Claret de Coutet under the sunshine that started to peak out from behind the clouds.  It’s a vibrant and fruity wine, difficult to classify, as it’s between a red and rosé wine.

Tasting wines with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion

Over lunch, we discovered the estate’s red wines.  The 2016 Belle-Cimes, the château’s second wine, perfectly accompanied the revisited Landaise foie gras salad.  We then tasted two different vintages of the Château Coutet red wine, something that is always interesting to compare.  The 2017 is still young and a bit feisty, not yet having reached its potential despite being nice and fruity.    The 2014 is now starting to taste really good and we can see that the wine has started to mature nicely even if it can still be kept for a good 10-15 years.

We then had the good fortune to the taste the 2017 Demoiselles red.  It’s a select wine made from the best merlot and cabernet franc vine plots that are located on the limestone plateau and worked by horse.  A real treat.  The depth of aromas carries us afar, and the finesse of the tannins nicely wrap around the body of the wine.  A real journey of discovery!

After lunch, we headed out to visit our adopted vines in the Peycocut vineyard that overlooks the Dordogne valley.  It’s a magnificent setting from where you can also see the bell tower of Saint-Emilion’s church just 800 m away.  We each immortalised the meeting of our adopted vines with a few pictures, some of which were entered into the annual My Vine photo competition held by Gourmet Odyssey for the most creative photo with the vines.

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The day ended with a visit of the store room where the bottles are stocked.  Matthieu explained how the wine is bottled and the labels then applied, the last stages before the wine if finally ready for release.

Huge thanks to Matthieu for welcoming us and to Gourmet Odyssey for organising these days that are always such good fun and very informative.

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Wine Discovery Experience Day in the vineyard in Alsace


It was a real pleasure to find ourselves back in the vineyard for the Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace.  Whilst we had been confined during the lockdown, the vines had been soaking up the sun and flourishing.  The past few months had been very busy for the winemakers in the vineyard as we were to find out.

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After the introductions, we headed out into the vineyard, respecting the new social distancing norms of course!  Our first stop was the Rosenberg vineyard, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  We took a few minutes to find the nameplate in front of our vines, take a few pictures, and encourage them to produce some good grapes for this year’s harvest!

Adopt a vine gift in Alsace to learn about how wine is made

 

We were accompanied by Stéphane and Céline, the brother and sister duo that have now taken over the running of the winery from their parents.  Stéphane explained the work that had been done in the vineyard over the winter to prune the vines and work the soil.

Vineyard experience gift

The relatively mild winter, and then the hot and sunny weather that has prevailed in France for most of the time since the beginning of the lockdown in mid-March, has meant that the vines have been thriving and have developed much faster than normal.  We could see that the grapes had already formed on the vines, and were at a stage that you would normally expect to see in July.  The flowering period had happened at the end of May in great climatic conditions.

Grapes appearing on the organic vines

We then headed to the neighbouring plot of vines, which had been replanted three years ago.  Stéphane explained the life cycle of the vines and how they are replanted.  This year will be the first time that the grapes will be harvested.  He explained how they have been pruned to form the desired shape.  Despite the pruning carried out in March, some of the vines had sprouted shoots from the trunk that are unwanted, so our job for the morning was to remove them, thus enabling the vines to concentrate their energy on the fruit-bearing branches, and to maintain their form.

We spread out amongst the rows and carefully removed the unwanted shoots.  The vines might be higher in Alsace than in other regions of France, but this job still involves lots of bending over!

Wine-making experience gift in Alsace

Domaine Stentz-Buecher, like all of the Gourmet Odyssey partner wineries, is organically certified, and Stéphane explained the organic methods that they use to work the soil and protect the vines from odium and mildew.

Back at the winery, we sat down to enjoy some of the wines from the winery.  The wine tasting session, guided by Céline, started with the refreshing Crémant d’Alsace pink sparkling wine.  This is the first year that the winery has made a rosé sparkling wine, and it received the thumbs up from all.  100% pinot noir, it has a good structure, whilst retaining the freshness and acidity that you expect from a sparkling wine.

 

Organic wine tasting gift and winery tour with the winemaker in Alsace, France

We then tasted the 2018 Riesling Tradition and the 2018 Muscat Rosenberg, before tasting the 2018 vintage of the Pinot Gris Rosenberg, which is the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey adopt-a-vine clients.  Céline explained how the grape yields are voluntarily kept well below the limits authorised in Alsace, which results in the very aromatic, rich, and complex wines that characterise those produced by Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  We then tasted the 2017 Pinot Noir Tradition, and concluded the wine tasting session with the delicious 2016 Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru, with a slice of the local lardon and walnut savoury Kouglof.

We continued tasting the wines and local delicacies over lunch of the typical baeckeoffe, a selection of local cheeses, and blueberry tart, accompanied by the 2018 Pinot Blanc Tradition and the 2017 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg.

In the afternoon, Stéphane explained the work left to do over the summer in the vineyard, and how the date of the harvest will be chosen for each individual vineyard plot and grape varietal.

Stéphane then took us on a tour of the cellar, starting with where the grapes will be received and pressed at harvest time.  He showed us the barrel room where the pinot noir wines are aged in oak barrels.

Organic wine cellar tour in Alsace

We ended the day in the room where the white wines are aged, either in huge old oak casks, or smaller stainless steel vats.  Stéphane’s explanations were accompanied by the intermittent gurgling sounds of some of the vats where the wines were still fermenting!

Many thanks to all of the participants and to Céline and Stéphane for sharing the passion for their profession.  We look forward to coming back in September for the Harvest Experience Day!

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Pruning and attaching the vines in Saint-Emilion


Arriving at Château Coutet for the first time is always an adventure.  Depending on the route that the satnav sends you, you can take the main entrance or the bumpy side tracks, it’s the charm of being in the countryside!

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We started the Discovery Experience Day and our Wine Experience with a coffee and croissant, whilst Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey oenologist, explained the programme for this day dedicated to learning about the work in the vineyard.  We were then introduced to Alain David Beaulieu, the owner and winemaker at Château Coutet for the last 30 years.  He is now helped by his son, Matthieu, and his nephew, Adrien.  Château Coutet has been in the same family for 400 years and Alain is proud that his son and nephew will keep the tradition going for at least another generation.

Having put on our boots, the ground being particularly wet after the very rainy winter in Bordeaux, we started to explore the estate.  Alain explained the different terroir and different grape varietals that make up the 16ha of the winery.  It’s a magnificent place, preserved from intensive farming methods, and a large part of the family still live there amongst the geese, ducks and the two dogs, Largo and Wolfy, who seem to be perpetually looking for more affection.  Wooded areas without vines are preserved to conserve the biodiversity, something that is very important in nurturing the vines organically.

We also discovered the latest invention from Alain’s brother, Xavier, the viti-rover.  This is a solar-powered grass cutting robot used to keep the grass in check in some of the vineyard plots whilst disturbing the microbial life in the soil as little as possible.  Grass is a fierce competitor for vines, and so it is vital to control its growth in order to make quality wines.  In organic winemaking, only two options are available; cutting of turning the soil over.

Learn how wine is made organically

Having seen some of the Saint-Emilion half marathon runners pass though the vineyard, including Alain’s son, Matthieu, we made our way to the Peycocut vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  It is one of the most prized spots in Saint-Emilion, lying on top of a magnificent limestone plateau.  You can see the bell tower of the village church a few hundred metres further on.  We searched for our adopted vines, in front of which Benoît had placed a name board.  Many selfies and photos were taken with the vines, the most creative of which will have a chance of winning a magnum of wine in the My Vine photo competition.

Rent-a-vine-gift in an award-winning organic vineyard

Time now for the serious business of the day as Alain explained vine pruning to us.  There’s nothing like seeing it done to fully appreciate and understand the intricacies of this most important task.  It will determine the future potential yield of the vines, and the shape that the plant will take as it grows.  It’s a long job that takes from December until March.  There is just a few hectares remaining to prune at Château Coutet, and luckily so, as the vines are starting to weep.  When we prune the vines, the sap flows from the cut, and so we say it weeps.  It’s also a sign that the sap has risen once again from the roots to the above ground part of the plant, and that the buds will soon start to appear.

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After pruning the vines, the cut branches need to be pulled away, and the remaining branch attached to the training wire.  This was our task for the rest of the morning.  From the attached branch, the future fruit-bearing canes will grow, and the grapes will appear later on in spring.  It’s a delicate job, because depending on the position of the branch, it is more or less difficult to bend enough to touch the training wire.  We were afraid to break them and thus compromise the number of grapes produced.  In pairs, we made our way down the vine rows in the plot of merlot.  It’s rewarding work, and we even found some wild leeks which would make a welcome addition to the salad at dinnertime!

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We then returned to the lawn in front of the chateau for the aperitif, just reward for our efforts!  Alain served his Claret which is a surprising wine that can be classified between a rosé and a light red wine.  It is obtained by drawing the wine off from the vat at harvest time after one day of macerating with the grape skins.

Organic wine tasting gift in Saint-Emilion

We continued the wine tasting over lunch.  The 2016 Château Belles-Cimes wine accompanied the foie gras starter.  It’s the winery’s second wine which is made mainly from the young vines on the estate.  Its lighter touch refreshes the taste buds between two bites of foie gras.  The 2016 Château Coutet, which is a blend of merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and cabernet sauvignon, is more powerful on the palate, but still with lots of elegance.  It is also a blend of the three different terroir found at the winery of sandy, clay, and limestone soils, and paired wonderfully with the duck breast to taste another local specialty.

We then discovered the amazing story of the Emery wine.  One of the oldest bottles of Bordeaux, found by Alain some 15 years ago in the earth floor of the family cellar.  A plot of vines on the limestone plateau is now dedicated to producing a wine using the ancient techniques.  No tractors roll across the vineyard, everything is done by hand or with the help of a horse to work the soil, and the very old bottle is reproduced by a master glassblower.  Alain let us taste the 2017 vintage of the delicious Demoiselles cuvée, which is the same wine, just served in a more standard bottle.  The limestone terroir and painstaking manual work bring a minerality and finesse to the tannic structure that you rarely have the chance to taste.

After lunch we set off for another walk, where Alain spoke to us about the organic methods they use to nurture the vines, and explained the different work that needs to be done on the vines during spring and summer before the harvest.

We finished the day with a visit to the family cellar which looks a little like Ali Babar’s cave with all of the old Château Coutet vintages.  “Is 1967 the oldest?”  “No, I think there are some 1953s over in that corner” replies Alain!

Winery tour and cellar visit

Many thanks for this really interesting day.  We look forward to coming back to the winery for the Harvest Experience Day to discover the work that happens during this busy period.

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A day pruning the vines in Burgundy


We gathered under a glorious blue sky at Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay on the 8th March for a Wine Discovery Experience Day to learn more about the work that the wine-maker gets up to in the vineyard.

The day got underway with an introduction in the garden, where Jean-François, the owner of the winery, told us briefly about the family history and their part in making Burgundy wines.  He explained his work philosophy, and the journey he undertook to converting the winery to being organic.

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We then made our way to the Clos des Cornières and the Crais vineyards, where we met up with our adopted vines.  It was the chance to take a few souvenir photos and participate in the “My Vine” photo competition in the hope of winning a magnum of wine.  Jean-François then started to explain the work in the vineyard, starting with pruning and covering all the main aspects up to when the grapes will be ready for harvesting in the autumn, something that is possible to participate in, during one of the Harvest Experience Days organised by Gourmet Odyssey.

Vineyard experience gift in an organic Burgundy winery

We then learnt how to prune the vines and the differences between the cordon de royat and guyot pruning methods.  The principal aim of pruning is to limit the potential yield of the grapes that each vine produces, and the winery looks to achieve yields of around 35 hl/ha.  Lowering the yield, means that the vine is more likely to be able to produce nice ripe and concentrated grapes for the harvest.  Pruning takes around three months, from January to March, and is the most highly skilled of the tasks.  Theoretically, it’s fairly easy to understand which branches to cut and which to keep.  But we quickly learnt that each vine is an exception to the rule, and so we have to adapt the approach slightly for each one, which doesn’t make the task any easier!

After pruning, the cut branches need to be pulled away from the vines.  After receiving our instructions, we spread out among the rows and started pulling!  It’s a fairly pleasant and rewarding job at first, but which we appreciate could become more difficult and repetitive day after day!

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Jean-François then finished explaining the jobs to come during spring to de-bud the vines, attach them to the training wires, remove the leaves, and treat the vines organically to protect them from fungi.

By this time, we had well-earned our aperitif, and so we headed back to the winery courtyard to taste the Santenay Village white wine, accompanied by the traditional Burgundy gougères cheese appetisers.

We enjoyed the delicious and wholesome lunch of pike-perch terrine, beef bourguignon, some of the famous local cheeses, and a pear and blackcurrant chocolate entremets.  All enjoyed of course with three of the winery’s red wines, including the Clos des Cornières Santenay red.

The stroll through the vineyards was most welcome to enjoy the lovely scenery and to help with the digestion!  We were able to talk in more depth about the different surrounding terroir that make up the Burgundy landscape, and distinguish the wines from this mythical region.

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This lovely day ended with a quick tour of the cellar.  We’re looking forward to coming back to the winery to participate in the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days to further our learning and understanding of the wine-maker’s work.  We all left with some great memories to recall when we open our next bottle of wine from Domaine Chapelle!

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Top online birthday gift idea for wine lovers


Are you looking for a great online birthday e-gift idea that you can give to a wine lover without waiting for delivery?  Adopt some vines with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and this original birthday present will give the birthday boy or birthday girl the unique chance to follow the making of their own personalised bottles of organic wine in an award-winning vineyard in France.

Adopt a vine as best online birthday present for wine lovers

Gourmet Odyssey will send an e-gift card and certificate by email to get their Wine Experience started straight away after they receive their birthday gift.  In their customer portal, they’ll discover more about the winemaker, wine, and winery, and will learn about all of the work carried out in the vineyard and cellar to nurture the vines, harvest the grapes, ferment and age the wine before it is ready for bottling.  The Gourmet Odyssey e-birthday Wine Experience also includes one personalised bottle of organic wine for each adopted vine given. 

Online e-gift certificate to adopt organic vines

You can also choose to include one or more Wine Experience Days at the winery.  There are three courses to choose from, each day covering the three main stages of wine-making.  The Discovery Experience Day focuses on the work in the vineyard to learn how to produce the best grapes come harvest time.  The Harvest Experience Day sees you pick the grapes in the morning and follow their journey into the fermentation tank.  And the Vinification Experience Day is focused on all the decisions that the winemaker takes to ferment, blend, and prepare the wine for bottling.  Each day gets the participants involved in the work of a winemaker, is valid for two people, and lasts a full day, lunch and wine-tasting included.  The Wine Experience Days can be included in the original birthday gift, or can be added at a later stage, something that is particularly useful for those group birthday gifts for a special 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 birthday where you don’t know in advance how much the birthday kitty will reach.

Visit your organic adopted vines for an unforgettable experience

Each of the partner wineries, hand-picked by Gourmet Odyssey are organically certified, and are chosen for the quality of the wine as well as the friendliness and charm of the winemakers.  So you can rest assured that the wine included in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and the welcome at the vineyard will make for an unforgettable birthday gift that every wine lover will cherish for many years to come.

Learn more about the Gourmet Odyssey online Birthday Wine Gift Experience.

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The search for resistant grape varietals


The vine is a plant from the creeper family, and was brought to France by the Romans.  Cultural exchanges are therefore at the heart of farming this plant.  Nowadays a wine produced in one region can be drank anywhere in the world, and French grape varietals such as Pinot Noir or Merlot are grown as far afield as the United States, New Zealand or South Africa, giving a different expression of the terroir they inhabit than found in Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Adopt a vine with Gourmet Odyssey

The impact of some exchanges have however made life very difficult to grow vines.  The most famous example being the arrival of phylloxera in Europe, an aphid of North American origin that decimated the vineyards throughout France  in the 19th century.  French agronomists found a cure by using a North American root from vines not suitable for making wine, and then grafting cuttings from French grape varietals onto them.  The American root stock is planted in the ground, and is unaffected by the aphid, and so resolved the phylloxera problem.

Other diseases, such as mildew or odium, also hail from the American continent, being transported with the help of commercial shipping.  These two fungi also decimated the French vineyards in the 19th century.  French researchers found two products to fight against the fungi.  Sulphur for the odium and copper for the mildew.

The vines are at risk from these two fungi in spring.  They only attack the parts of the vine above ground and that are growing.  They also need a combination of heat and rain to develop.  By spraying sulphur and copper at the right time, it is possible to limit their development and save the future harvest.

In the 60s, the petro-chemical industry developed synthetic products that were much more efficient than copper and sulphur in fighting these diseases.  The only problem being that they also destroy a large share of the other living organisms present in the soil, and we still don’t fully understand the impact of the residue that is then found in the wine and on the skin of the people who work in the vineyards.  With the better understanding we have today of the development cycle of mildew and odium, we are able to effectively fight most of the time against these two diseases using sulphur and copper, the only two products that are authorised in organic farming.
These two products are said to be “contact” products as they protect the plants from the outside and do not penetrate inside the plant.  However, they are therefore easily washed off when it rains, and so the winemaker needs to regularly pass through the vineyards to keep the vines protected.  This involves lots of diesel powered tractors and so higher CO² emissions that add to the greenhouse effect.  What’s more, the products can then pollute the soil as they are washed away by the rain.  Copper in particular is a product that stays in the soil, the amount accumulating year after year.  It’s a big problem for organic winemakers, even though it has much less impact in polluting the soil than the chemical products.  The environmental challenge is to try and find solutions to reduce this pollution. Already the maximum amount of copper allowed to be used is controlled, and was lowered in 2019 to 4kg per hectare per year on average over a 7 year period.  As the amount that is needed varies year on year depending on the rainfall, the theory is that the average smooths out variances in amounts used due to wetter or drier years.

Visit french vines area with Gourmet Odyssey

Agronomic research is now turning towards producing grapes from varietals that are resistant to fungal disease.  By crossbreeding different grape varietals that have been selected for their resistance to mildew and odium, and their ability to produce quality grapes, tests are currently being carried out in France.  You will almost certainly have not yet tasted the wine that they produce because the grapes are not yet authorised to be used in the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wines, but Floréal and Voltis for white wine, and Artaban and Vidoc for red wine, will be set to arrive in your glasses before too long.  The approach is very interesting, but these new grape varietals with folkloric names raise further questions.

Learn wine tasting with Gourmet Odyssey

France prides itself on producing wines that characterise the different terroir from which they hail, the AOC system being its guardian.  For example, the Pinot Noir grape varietal has always been the only one allowed to produce AOC Santenay red wine in Burgundy, ever since the AOC was created nearly 100 years ago.  Wouldn’t a red wine produced within the geographic boundary of AOC Santenay produced with a different grape varietal distort the AOC system itself?  The same for the Merlot grape varietal in Saint-Emilion! The grape varietals authorised have always been part of the foundation of the AOC system.  By changing the grape varietals, you would have to change the AOC system itself and the taste of the different French wines.

learn winemaking with a winemaker during the Vinification Experience Day

And what if these grape varietals said to be resistant to mildew and odium, then revealed themselves to be susceptible to other, as yet unknown, diseases, we’d maybe be better off sticking with the actual situation!  But this is an avenue worth exploring, and as always with the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO), the government body charged with creating and upholding the AOC system, change is never something that is done quickly without due consideration given to the sustainability and impact of the proposed change.

The environmental challenges that we are currently facing oblige us to innovate and search for real solutions.  The example of grafting European grape varietals shows us that research can bring solutions that do not harm the environment, whilst the problems encountered with the application of synthetic products show us that they are not always the miracle cure.  The searching and questioning must go on!

Discover Bordeaux area and taste wine

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The Gourmet Odyssey winemaker Christmas lunch


Christmas Day is approaching and to give you a glimpse from a different angle of the life of a winemaker, we’ve put together this Christmas Tale to transport you around France and put you at the table of Gourmet Odyssey’s partner wineries this Christmas.

The snow covers the vineyards

On the 25th December, it’s cold in the middle of the vineyard.  The vines have lost their leaves a while ago now and some are even sporting their new winter cut to be in best shape for spring when nature will spur them back into life after the long winter hibernation period.  The frozen soil cracks under the feet of the winemaker who has stepped out to fetch some wood for the chimney in the dining room.  All of the family has gathered together around the big table to enjoy Christmas lunch together.

We start our journey at Domaine Chapelle in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay.  The Christmas presents have been opened and the taste buds are opening up with the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen.  A plate of Normandy oysters from Utah Beach make their entrance.

Domaine Chapelle under the snow

Jean-François Chapelle returns from the cellar with a bottle of 2015 Santenay Les Gravières Premier Cru white wine, made from the Chardonnay grapes that grow on the marly clay limestone slopes near the winery.  “What a lovely shiny pale gold colour it has.  It reveals light brioche aromas with white flower scents and a little oak.  On the palate it is rich and complex, with a long gourmand finish” Jean-François exclaims.

This Santenay white wine will perfectly accompany the “Spéciales de Claire” oysters that are plump and meaty.  The fullness of the wine will encapsulate the volume and bite of the shellfish.

We continue our meal with a black pudding variation at Domaine de la Guicharde in the southern half of the Côtes du Rhône wine-growing region.  Appetisers of potato and black pudding, black pudding toast and caramelised onions, and black pudding and apple sauce make their way around the table.  For Laurence Goudal, no doubt, the perfect match is a 2015 Terroir du Miocène to support this generous course.  The wine is made from grapes grown on an ancient beach from the Miocène era.  “The wine is ruby coloured and dark.  It has an elegant nose, full of black fruit and spices.  It is smooth on the palate.  The soft tannins accompany the mineral finish that is long and persistent,” Laurence explains.  The spiciness of the Grenache and Syrah accentuate the different aromas from the black pudding. It’s all delicious.

The cellar at Château de la Bonnelière

The next course is served at Château de la Bonnelière in Chinon, a charming town in the Loire Valley.  It’s a classic for many French Christmas lunches, foie gras.  It’s served slightly pan-fried, with a red fruit chutney and caramelised onions.  Marc Plouzeau returns from the cellar with a bottle of 2005 Chinon Chapelle red for a more original accompaniment. This wine comes from a single vineyard and is made from the region’s principal grape varietal, Cabernet Franc.  It’s one of the best vine plots, the soil being made up of a mix of sand and clay on a limestone plateau.

“The 2005 Chapelle is an exceptional vintage in the Loire valley.  It has a deep red colour that hasn’t changed much for a wine that is 14 years old.  It releases black fruit and sub-forest aromas.  On the palate, the freshness surprises you for a wine of its age.  The tannic backbone has started to soften, leaving a long and complex finish,” Marc explains.  The silky tannins pair well with the smooth foie gras, and the wonderful aromas from the Cabernet Franc prolong the pleasure.

The family cellar at Château Coutet

We then head to Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion for the main course.  Direct from the kitchen comes a piping hot capon, stuffed with truffles and cèpe mushrooms, that is placed with fanfare on the table.  Alain David-Beaulieu has kept a surprise for us.  The evening before, he had brought an old treasure in from the family cellar, a bottle from the 1982 vintage, almost 40 years old.  It’s a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, from the three distinct terroir that make up the winery.  The limestone plateau, the clay limestone slopes, and the sandy plain below.

An old bottle from Château Coutet

“This wine is a nice red with a slightly rusty tinge, and has kept a great colour for its age.  But then it’s an exceptional vintage” begins Alain.  “You can tell it’s an old wine from the aromas it gives off.  Behind the still ripe fruit, almost stewed, are subtle foresty smells.  It’s a very complex wine with great structure.  The tannins have softened and the wine is now perfectly balanced.  The minerality of the limestone plateau is still very present.  It’s a wine worthy of the vintage’s esteemed reputation.”  The complexity of the truffle and the majesty of the old Saint-Emilion wine is a privilege that you rarely get the chance to experience.

We journey still further south for the cheese dish at Domaine Allegria in the Languedoc region, where the sun always shines.  A mixture of creamy cheeses, particularly the fresh goats’ cheeses that are so typical of the region.  They are powdered with thyme or rosemary, herbs gathered from the edge of the vineyard.

Ghislain d’Aboville has chosen the 2018 Les Hautes Lumières white wine to accompany them.  “On one hand we have the fresh fruity aromas and peach from the Marsanne and on the other the honeyed notes form the Roussanne.  Its liveliness, structure and elegance make it an ideal match for the cheeses” he announces.

The Christmas tree in the sun

We finish our gargantuan meal in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher for the caramel crème Christmas log with caramelised apple and lemon centre.  Stéphane Stentz comes back with a long thin bottle, so characteristic of the region’s wines, under his arm.  It’s a 2015 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg Vendanges Tardives.  Patience is required to produce these sweet white wines.  “It’s a full and powerful wine with stewed apricot, peach and litchi aromas.  It fills the mouth with its richness, making way for a fresh finish,” Stéphane shares with us.  Perfect to match the caramelised aromas of the Christmas log.

What a wonderful treat to tour France and share this meal with our passionate winemakers, all of whom work tirelessly throughout the year to produce their excellent organic wines. Something that it’s always great to take a moment to reflect on when opening one of their bottles, surrounded by the people you love, during these end of year celebrations.

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The finalists for the 2019 My Vine Photo Competition


The My Vine photo competition will soon have the winners for the 2019 edition!  The moment when the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients meet their adopted vines during the Discovery, Harvest, and Vinification Experience Days is a great occasion to take some photos and have some fun. The winners of the competition will each win a magnum of wine from the winery where their adopted vines are located.  Many thanks for all of the great photos that we received!

We have picked 25 for the competition final, and there will eventually be two winners. One will be chosen by the Gourmet Odyssey team for the most original photo, and the other winner will be the photo that receives the most likes on our Facebook page. So it’s now up to you to vote for your preferred photo!

Take a look at the finalists and vote for your favourite photo on the Gourmet Odyssey Facebook page before 12:00 (French time) on the 10th December. Be careful to like the individual photo and not the whole album!

 

Photos selected for the 2019 final

 

The two winners will receive a magnum of wine from the winery where they have their Wine Experience.

Come back on the 10th December to see the winning pictures!

The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience days are hands-on wine courses at our partner wineries, where you learn all about the hard work that goes into making a bottle of organic wine. Depending on the type of day, you can get involved in working in the vineyard to prune the vines, participate in the harvest, or learn about the work in the cellar to ferment, age, blend and bottle the wines. Follow this link for more information about our wine experience gifts.

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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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The perfect gift for a wine lover

Adopt a vine in France and let them follow the making of their own wine !

From € 169

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