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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!

Top wine gfit idea for organic wine lover

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.

Learn how to prune vines with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

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!

Get inolved in working in the vineyard to help make your own bottles of personalised wine

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.

Original wine lover gift. Adopt organic vines in France and get involved in making your own personalised bottles of wine

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!

Best Francophile wine lover gift. Adopt vines in Burgundy

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.

Winery tour experience gift

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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Grape Harvest Experience in Alsace


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improve your lnowledge of white wine-making in Alsace

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

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

Adopt vines and discover white wines in Alsace

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

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

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Participating in the grape harvest in Saint-Emilion


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

Harvest experience gift for wine lovers in Saint-Emilion

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

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

Rent-a-vine gift experience in Saint-Emilion

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

Wine-making gift experience in Bordeaux

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

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

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

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

Organic wine tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

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

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

Grape harvest experience gift in Bordeaux

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

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

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

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

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De-budding the vines in Alsace


We spent last Saturday in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher for a Discovery Experience Day.  The objective of the day was to learn about all of the work in the vineyard needed to produce the best possible grapes come harvest time, and as we were to find out, there is lots to do!

Original wine gift for organic wine lovers.  Adopt a vine in Alsace and get involved in making your own wine

After the introductions to the winery and family history by Céline, we made our way through the vineyards.  On the way, Céline showed us the different terroir, and pointed out the Hengst and Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyards slightly further up the hillside.

We arrived at the Rosenberg vineyard, home to our Pinot Gris adopted wines.  We took a few minutes to take a few pictures of our vines and to say a few words of encouragement for this year’s harvest.

Rent-a-vine gift experience in an organic vineyard in Alsace

Jean-Jacques, Céline’s father and founder of the winery, joined us and brought us up to speed on the work that has been carried out in the vineyard during the winter.  He explained the importance of pruning the vines and how it is done, the need to protect the vines during the colder winter months from the frost by heaping soil around the vine stocks, and the laborious task of repairing the training posts and wires.  He also showed us the plot next to our vines which was replanted 4 years ago, and will produce the first grapes this year.

Learn how to de-bud vines alongside the wine-maker

The buds burst on the vines at the end of March, and since then the shoots have sprung to life.  A little slower than the last couple of years when the harvest was very early, but in line with a more normal year.  This time of year is principally taken up with de-budding, and after pruning, it is probably the most important task in controlling the yield and improving the quality of the grapes.

Jean-Jacques demonstrated how to select which shoots to keep and which to remove.  Remove any shoots that have sprout from below the head on the trunk, and remove the weaker branch from any double shoots.

Hands-on vineyard experience gift

Sounds easy in theory, but once we had spread out among the rows and started having a go ourselves, we quickly learnt that there are many exceptions to the rule!   To keep the growth at the same height among the vines, we are always trying to keep the growth as low as possible.  This means that sometimes we leave a shoot lower than this year’s branch, so that we can use it next year.  As with pruning you always have to think at least one year ahead!  After a few tentative tries, and clarifying questions, we gradually gained in confidence!
We then headed back to the winery, where Céline gave us a wine tasting session, starting with the delicious 2015 Riesling Ortel. We then tasted the 2017 vintage of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Experience, the Pinot Gris Rosenberg, followed by the 2012 Pinot Noir.  Next up, a 2015 Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru, followed by a surprisingly full bodied 2015 Pinot Blanc Vielles Vignes white wine.

A local caterer had prepared a delicious baeckeofe for us, and we continued the wine tasting with the  2017 Who Am I?, a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Céline served a 2016 Gewürztraminer Rosenberg with cheese, and the meal ended with a tasty blueberry tart.

Organic wine tasting with the winemaker in Alsace

After lunch we had a tour of the cellar where we were introduced to what happens to the grapes once they have been harvested.  We’ll be learning more during the Harvest and Vinificiation Experience Days.

Cellar tour with the winemaker near Colmar in Alsace

The day ended back in the vineyard, where Jean-Jacques explained the work yet to come in the vineyard between now and harvest time, and how they will monitor the grapes to choose when is the best time to start harvesting.  The next critical phase should happen within the next couple of weeks, when the vines flower.  How well this goes will set out the potential yield of the harvest, and will give the first indication of when the harvest is likely to start.  The old adage says that the harvest will be 110 days after flowering. We will be closely monitoring the vines over the coming days.

Many thanks to the Stentz-Buecher family for sharing their passion for wine-making with us.  We’ll be back again at the end of June for the next Discovery Experience Day.

Find out more about adopting vines in Alsace.

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The work of the winemaker in the cellar to make and age the wines


We spent an excellent week-end in Chinon for a Vinification Experience Day where we would learn about all of the work and skill that enables the winemaker to transform the grape juice collected at harvest time into wine, and then age it until it is ready for bottling.

An original experience gift for wine lovers.

After a welcome over coffee and croissants, Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner of Château de la Bonnelière, took us to the fermentation hall.  Here he explained how the grapes are received at harvest time and put into the vats.  At Château de la Bonnelière, the grapes from each vineyard are kept separate for the most part to make a range of wines that express the different terroir.

Learn how to make organic wine in the Loire Valley

We discussed how the grape juice ferments to produce wine, and how Marc monitors and controls the process to try and produce the best quality wines.

Marc then took us to the hall next door where we saw the bottling and labelling machine that is used at the end of the process, once the wines are finally ready.

The wine bottling and label machine

The Vinification Experience Day is a fascinating day when we get the chance to taste wines that are still in the ageing process.  To help prepare us, we participated in a workshop to develop our wine tasting skills, which included a fun game to try and identify different aromas that can be found in wine.

Wine tasting course in the Loire Valley

We then headed outside to the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard that surrounds the château.  This is where our adopted vines are to be found, and so we took a few minutes to find them and take some photos!

Rent some organic vines in the Loire Valley

The wines at Château de la Bonnelière are aged in the cellar that is located directly underneath the Chinon Fortress in one of the galleries where the stone had been extracted to build the castle above.  So we transferred to the cellar, where a glass of the winery’s Perle Sauvage naturally sparkling white wine was awaiting us.

Wine tasting gift with the winemaker

We then sat down to a delicious lunch prepared by a local caterer and friend of Marc’s, during which we tasted the 2017 Silice Chinon white wine, and the 2018 La Roche, 2017 Clos de la Bonnelière and 2016 Chapelle Chinon red wines.

Lunch and wine tasting in Chinon with the winemaker

After lunch Marc explained the role of the barrels in ageing wine, and the perfect conditions that his cellar provides.  He also explained a brief history of the cellar, and how it was excavated, entirely by hand.

Learning the art of wine-making in the Loire Valley

We ended the day with a tasting of different wines to better understand the work of the winemaker in ageing and preparing the wines for bottling.  The first wine was the same La Roche 2018 wine that we had tasted over lunch, the only difference being that it had been drawn from a vat, and had not yet been prepared for bottling.  We could taste that it wasn’t quite as polished, and still had some residual gas in it that Marc will remove before it is bottled.

We then tasted a second wine that was richer and more complex.  The second wine was the 2018 Clos de la Bonnelière, which is the wine that the 2018 vintage Gourmet Odyssey clients will receive next year.  The main difference between the first two wines was the way in which they are aged.  The former in stainless steel vats, and the second in oak barrels.

Wine cellar tour and tasting with the wine-maker

The third wine, the Chapelle, is aged in the same way as the Clos de la Bonnelière, but was darker in colour and more intense, the difference arising from the terroir where the grapes used for the Chapelle wine are grown.

The fourth and final wine was different again which a much more tannic structure.  This wine was the Vindoux Intégrale, a wine that Marc makes whereby the grapes are put directly into a large barrel at harvest time, the wine staying in the barrel throughout the fermentation and ageing phases.

All of the wines were made using the same grape varietal, Cabernet Franc, but it’s amazing the range of tastes and aromas that can be found depending on the different terroir or choices that the winemaker takes when making and ageing his wines.  A fascinating day and a great insight into the life of a winemaker.  Many thanks to Marc for sharing his passion with us.

Follow this link to find out more about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

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Learning what goes on in the cellar to make wine in the Côtes du Rhône region


Wine-making can be summed up as the art of producing the best quality grapes from the terroir and climate for a given year, and then taking the necessary decisions and actions to transform the juice from those grapes into wine.  We spent last Saturday at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley for a Vinification Experience Day to learn all about the work in the cellar from harvest time through to when the wine is ready for bottling and labelling before being sent to customers and restaurants all over the world.

Renta a vine wine experience in the Rhone Valley, France

After the introductions, we sat down for a workshop to better understand the different senses that we call upon when wine tasting, especially the importance of our nose.  We had to identify different aromas that can be found in red and white wines, and we learnt the ones that are most typical for different grape varietals, and some of the aromas that can be attributed to ageing in oak barrels.

Wine tasting course with the winemaker

We then headed to the fermentation hall, where the wine-maker, Arnaud, described how the grapes had been received at harvest time and explained their different journeys into the vats depending on whether they were destined to make white or red wine.

The grapes for red wine are separated from their stalks, and then put whole into the vats.  Côtes du Rhône wines are generally a blend of at least two different grape varietals, the ratios varying depending on the different appellations.  The Massif d’Uchaux appellation selected for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience at Domaine de la Guicharde has to have at least 50% Grenache and can be blended with other regional grape varietals such as Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan or Cinsault.

There are two main schools of thought for blending.  You either blend as soon as possible after the harvest or you wait until the just before bottling.  Arnaud is a proponent of the former, and the grapes from different plots and grape varietals are selected and mixed together at harvest time or shortly afterwards.  This, he argues, gives a more harmonious wine because the wine has fermented and aged together for the whole of the wine-making process.

Make your own organic wine experience gift in France

The human aspect and skill of the wine-maker is important and as Arnaud reminded us, if left on its own, grape juice will naturally transform itself into vinegar!  Arnaud talked about how the grape juice is turned into wine during the fermentation process and showed us the analysis that is carried out for each vat to track measurements such as the sugar density, alcoholic volume, and temperature.  He also explained how the carbon dioxide that is released during fermentation, pushes the solid matter of pips and skin to the top of the vats.  The skins contain the pigment and tannins necessary to give the wine structure and colour, and so we learnt how the wine is drawn from the bottom of the vat and pumped back into the top to extract more of the tannins and colour.

The grapes made for making white wine are treated differently.  The whole bunches are put into the press, where the juice is separated from the skin and pips, placed into a vat, and left to settle.  Once the remaining solid particles have fallen to the bottom of the vat, the juice is drawn off and put into another vat to go through the fermentation phase.

Tasting wines that are still in the ageing process

Arnaud then drew off some of the wines from the vats, and we tasted them to better understand how they change during the ageing process.  It’s a really interesting experience as we don’t normally get the chance to taste unfinished wines.

Lunch and wine tasting at the winery with the winemaker in the Rhone Valley

After this full morning, it was time for lunch, so we headed to the courtyard and sat down to an excellent lunch of chicken terrine, 7 hour cooked lamb shank, cheese, and chocolate tart, which had been prepared for us by a local restaurant.  We tasted the range of white, red and rosé wines over lunch, including the Terroir du Miocène Côtes du Rhône Massif d’Uchaux Village red wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

Vineyard guided tour with the winemaker

Arnaud took us on a walk through the vineyards after lunch, describing the different soil types and showing us the remnants of a beach on the way.  At the top of the hill, we arrived at the vineyard where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  We took a few minutes to take some pictures with our vines, before making our way back to the winery.

Visiting the rented vines

We ended the day back in the chai, where Arnaud explained how the wine is prepared for bottling, and we then saw the labelling machine in action and learnt about the different regulations for labels depending on where the wine is to be sold.

Putting the labelling machine to work

Many thanks to Arnaud for a very informative day.  We’ll think a little bit differently the next bottle of wine we open!

Interested in participating in a Vinification Experience day in the Rhone Valley or giving an adopt-a-vine gift?  More information on the Wine Experience.

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Learning to prune vines in Saint-Emilion


A new year starts and so the work in the vineyard for the new vintage gets underway.  We met up at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion to learn more about the work of the winemaker in the vineyard during a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience day.

Original wine present for wine lovers.  Adopt a vine and participate in making your own wine

We made our introductions over a coffee and croissant.  Mark, Gourmet Odyssey’s founder, and Benoît explained the programme in store and presented the winery that we would roam through during the day.

The passion of the winemaker, Adrien, was plain to see from the outset as he recounted the long history of his family that have cultivated the vineyards organically ever since their arrival at Château Coutet several hundred years ago.

We made our way through the vines up to the limestone plateau, the terroir that is home to all of the greatest wines from this legendary appellation.  On the way, Adrien showed us the three types of soil that the winery’s vineyards cover.

The weather has been glorious since the beginning of February in the Bordeaux region, the temperatures rising to 20°c at times.  We can feel spring itching to get started, and the flight of cranes coming back from Africa can once again be seen in the sky.  These are signs that the winemaker must hurry to finish pruning the vines before the buds start to burst and the vegetative cycle begins again.

Vine pruning gift experience in a French organic vineyard

Pruning is the starting point of what we will find a few years later in our glasses, and particular care needs to be taken during this crucial phase.  The choice of which branches we keep will determine the amount of grapes that are produced this year, and you also have to carefully choose the branches to make spurs that will prepare the pruning for next year.  We quickly learnt that pruning isn’t as easy as it would at first appear!

Once the vines have been pruned, the cut branches need to be removed.  This is a task that is much more physical and enabled everyone to warm up, as the sun was being a little shy in the morning.  The tendrils in the plot of Cabernet Franc were particularly tough, and we had to use all our strength sometimes to prise them away from the training wires and leave the vineyard tidy for this years’ growth.

Vineyard Experience Gift in Saint-Emilion

We placed the branches that we had pulled away from the vines in the middle of every other row.  They will then be crushed to return nutrients to the soil.

Our adopted vines are located in the Peycocut vineyard, surrounded by the Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé vineyards.  The view is magnificent in this picture postcard landscape, and the photos that we each took in front of our adopted vines will be a nice reminder of our day.

Rent a vine gift.  Visit the winery, meet the winemaker and make your own personalised bottles of wine

Some of the vineyard plots at the winery are worked by horse to produce the grapes that are used to make a very special wine at Château Coutet.  As Adrien talked about this wine, everyone listened attentively and the taste buds started to salivate in anticipation of tasting it.

The sun finally broke through, and so we enjoyed our first wine tasting on the lawn in front of the château.  A nice fresh Claret de Coutet rosé wine to set us up for lunch.

Oragnic wine tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

We started the meal with a foie gras starter, accompanied by the Belles Cimes 2015 wine, which is the winery’s lighter second wine, produced from the younger vines.  We then climbed the grades with the 2014 vintage and the excellent 2015 vintage of the Château Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, which paired very well with the duck.  With cheese, we rejoiced with the 2014 Demoiselles wine which hails from the limestone vineyard on the plateau that is worked by horse.  The extremely delicate and velvety tannins swirled around our mouths as we gave our taste buds to a real treat!

After lunch, we returned to the vineyard to learn about the different steps that will be taken to nurture the vines between now and the harvest.  We also took the time to discuss what is involved in working organically, and the problems that that causes in a region such as Bordeaux where the relatively wet climate is heavily influenced by its proximity to the Atlantic ocean.

Cellar tour and visit in Saint-Emilion with the winemaker

We ended the day with a visit of the fermentation hall, barrel room, and family cellar, to gain an insight into the work that is in store for us once the grapes are harvested at the end of the summer.

Many thanks to Adrien for this great day.  We look forward to coming back soon.

 

Discover the range of wine-making courses organised by Gourmet Odyssey.

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Top 10 Saint Valentine’s Gift Experiences


For St Valentine’s Day this year, why not give an experience to ensure that you get to share a great moment that you will both cherish for a long time to come?  Here are a few original St Valentine’s gift ideas to give and to live!

For lovers of all things gourmet

Rather than giving a box of chocolates, it’s possible to make your own chocolates, perfectly suited to your own taste. For those that love the heat of the action, join the kitchen staff for a night in a top restaurant in France and book a backstage cooking course.

Original St Valentine's gift experience to share.  Adopt your own organic vines in France

If you’re starting to think of your future together as a couple, adopt your own vines and get involved in making your own personalised bottles of organic wine in an award-winning winery in France. And for those who love a nice cup of tea, create your own tea blend with an expert mixologist!

For nature lovers

Nothing better than a nice walk to spend some quality time together, so set off for a night-time walk and let yourselves be led by the moon and stars, or venture to Norway and marvel at the magic of the Northern Lights.

Top St Valentine's gift ideas.  Fall for the charm of the Northern Lights

For city lovers

Head off for a romantic weekend city break in Europe, soak up the culture, take the time to watch the world go by, and immerse yourself in the local culinary scene.

For thrill-seekers

Take the controls and fly a Boeing 737 simulator and your loved one to your chosen destination!  Or for those who like the feeling of a bit more wind in your hair, there’s always a tandem skydive!

For the more chilled

Pamper yourselves with a spa weekend or couples massage to relax and unwind.  Or you could make your own perfume together, and create your own special fragrance.

Whatever gift you choose this St Valentine’s make sure that it gives you some quality time together and creates some unforgettable memories for you to cherish!  Happy Saint Valentine’s!

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Last minute Christmas presents for wine fans


Just a few days left for your Christmas gifts! If you haven’t yet finished your Christmas shopping and you’re looking for an original wine related Christmas gift idea, here’s some good news. The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gifts can be ordered right up until the last minute

The welcome packs will arrive in time for Christmas if they are ordered before 12:30 on the 21st December for France.  For the rest of Europe, the deadline is 12:30 on the 19th December.

And for the really last minute Christmas gifts, we can send an email containing the vine adoption certificate for orders received up until 17:30 on the 24th December.

Last minute Christmas wine gift.
The welcome gift packs to put under the Christmas tree contain a wine cooling bag, a DropStop, re-usable glass wine stopper, a personalised vine adoption certificate, and an activation code to access the customer portal and begin the wine adventure.

More information on the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience
More information on the Christmas delivery deadlines

 

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Wine Tasting. How to choose the perfect wine glass


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

The diversity of wine glasses

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

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

Adopt-avine and tasting experience in Burgundy

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

Wine tasting gift box experience in France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harvest Experience Day in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet


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

Original wine gift in Saint-Emilion for wine lovers

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

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

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

Grape harvest gift experience in Saint-Emilion, France

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

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

Adopt-a-vine organic wine gift

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

Organic wine tasting gift experience at the winery in Saint Emilion

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

Lunch with the winemaker in the vineyard, Saint-Emilion

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

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

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

Organic wine-making experience gift in Saint-Emilion

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

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

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Grape Picking Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


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

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

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

Rent-a-vine present in the Rhone Valley

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

Grape picking gift in a French biodynamic vineyard

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

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

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

Learning about the work of the winemaker during harvest time

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

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

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

Wine cellar visit in the Cotes du Rhone

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

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

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

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Grape Harvest Experience Day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


The harvest season is underway in most of France’s wine growing regions.  The hot and sunny summer has meant that the grapes have ripened quicker than normal, and so the harvest has started earlier.  This is notably so in Alsace which is a month ahead of what would normally be expected.  We joined the winemakers at Domaine Stentz-Buecher last weekend for a Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Day to get involved in picking the grapes and to learn about what else goes on at the winery during harvest time.

Grape harvest experience gift in Alsace France

As always we were warmly welcomed by the Stentz family, before heading out into the vineyard.  Our first stop was to visit the Rosenberg vineyard, where our adopted vines are located.  We spent a few minutes to find the name plate that designated our individual micro-plots of adopted vines.

Rent-a-vine gift in France and get involved in the harvest of the grapes

Then it was time to get equipped.  Céline and her father, Jean-Jacques, handed out a pair of secateurs and a bucket each, and then explained how to harvest the grapes.  The instructions were somewhat simpler than usual due to the exceptionally high quality of the grapes.  The warm and dry weather had meant that there had been no mould or fungi that had developed, and so the grapes were in perfect shape.  We were picking the Pinot Noir grapes that will be used to make the Pinot Noir Tradition wine.  Packed with sugar, we bit into them to see for ourselves how ripe they were.  We could also see that the pips had turned brown, another sign that they were ready for picking.

Perfect gift for a winey lover. Get involved in harvesting your own plot of vines

And so we spread out among the vine rows, and started to pick the grapes, placing one hand under the bunch and using the other to cut the stem above, the best way to avoid any little accidents!  Not only were the grapes in good health, each bunch was also very full.

The buckets quickly filled up, and once full we shouted out “Videz” and passed them underneath the vines to be passed on to the row in the middle where the tractor and trailer were waiting.  Once the grapes had been emptied into the trailer, the empty basket then made its way back under the vines to be filled again.  At times it was difficult to keep up with the flow of full buckets being passed along!

Original gift for 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th birthday. A wine lover's dream.  Havest your own grapes in France

The trailer filled up more quickly than anticipated, and as we waited for the replacement one, we refreshed ourselves with some water and a taste of the 2017 Pinot Blanc that Jean-Jacques had kept chilled in the ice chest. Then back to work to finish the plot.

Adopt a vine and pick grapes during the harvest with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gift

Once that last grapes had been picked, we followed their journey back to the winery.  Here the trailer was slowly emptied into the de-stemming machine which separates the berries from the stems.  Because the grapes were so compact and dense, the machine had to work harder than normal, and so it took a little longer.

Personalised wine-making experience gift for wine enthusiasts

Stéphane took a sample of the juice from the grapes and measured the sugar density using a mustimeter.  The reading predicts that the wine will be somewhere between 14° and 14.5° in alcoholic volume.

Learn about the work in the vineyard at harvest time with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience present

By this time, we had earned our aperitif!  A nice cold fresh glass of Crémant d’Alsace before, sitting down to lunch outside in the winery courtyard.  During lunch, we tasted a range of wines from the winery including the Pinot Blanc Tradition 2016, the Pinot Gris Rosenberg 2016, and the Pinot Noir Tradition 2016 made using last year’s harvest from the same vineyard where we had picked the grapes.  We then tasted a delicious Sylvaner Veilles Vignes 2012 and a Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru 2009, before ending with a Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru 2009.  A great tasting that showed the depth and variety of the Alsace wines.

After lunch, Stephane led us down into the cellar, where we could see where the grapes start the fermentation process.  He explained the difference between how the grapes are received for making white and red wine, and then talked us through the two different processes.

Winery visit gift to learn about the work of a winemaker during harvest time

We ended the day in the cellar where the white wines ferment and age.  A chorus of gurgles from the fermenting wines accompanied Stéphane’s explanations.  We’ll be spending much more time in this room at the beginning of next year for the Vinification Experience Days, where we’ll learn all about the fermentation and ageing processes, as well as the work involved in bottling and labelling the wine.

Interested in participating in the grape harvest or giving an adopt-a-vine gift?  More information on the Wine Experience.

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Nurturing the organic vines in Saint-Emilion


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

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

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

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

Vineyard tour with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux

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

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

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

Learning the life of a winemaker

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

Protecting the vines from mildew

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

De-leafing the vines in Saint-Emilion

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

Hands-on wine course in Saint-Emilion, France

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

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

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

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

Organic wine-making course and gift in Saint-Emilion

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

Cellar tour in Saint-Emilion with the wine-maker

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

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