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Harvest Experience Day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


Last Saturday we were in Alsace for the Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  Our mission was to pick the pinot noir grapes located in the Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyard and learn about the work in the cellar during harvest time.

 

An original gift idea for wine lovers to get involved in harvesting the grapes

 

Domaine Stentz-Buecher is run by the brother and sister duo of Céline and Stéphane.  After a brief introduction to the day and the winery, we headed straight off out into to the vineyard, and climbed up to the Steingrubler vineyard, marvelling at the wonderful views on the way.  Céline instructed us how to pick the grapes, and how to choose which grapes to pick and which to leave behind.

We were then each given a pair of secateurs and a bucket and assigned in pairs to a row.  We started to pick the grapes, tentatively at first as we decided which grapes were worthy of putting into the buckets.  It’s been a complicated year for winemakers in Alsace, first because of the frost in spring that hit much of France’s wine-growing regions, and then due to the wet summer that saw mildew impact many of the vineyards.  These two phenomena have meant that the vines have produced far fewer grapes than normal, making the grapes we harvested all that more precious!

 

Adopt-a-vine and learn how to make wine in an award-winning organically certified winery in Alsace, France

 

Our buckets quickly filled up though, and we passed them under the rows to one of the waiting porters.  The grapes were then tipped into the basket on their back, and the empty buckets passed back for the next fill.

 

Great wine gift experience to get involved in the grape harvest

 

The porters then carried the grapes to the tractor and tipped them into the trailer.  It’s a physical job as the baskets quickly become heavy, and the Steingrubler vineyard is located on a fairly steep slope!

 

Learn how to harvest the grapes

 

Time flies by when you’re having fun, and before we knew it, we had arrived at the bottom of the vineyard and the end of the rows. 

We then headed to the Rosenberg vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  These had been harvested earlier in the week, because the grapes had reached optimum maturity and couldn’t wait any longer.  We spread out among the rows in search of the name plate designating where each of our micro-plot of vines started and took a few photos to immortalise the moment.

 

Rent-a-vine in an organic Alsace winery

 

We then followed the grapes back to the winery, where Stéphane was waiting for us to put the grapes into the vat.  We emptied the bunches of grapes into a de-stemming machine that separates the berries from the stalks.

 

Following the grapes on their journey into the cellar

 

The grapes then fall into a vat.  Stéphane explained how the fermentation process will transform the grapes into wine, and the work needed to extract the colour and tannins from the skins during the maceration process.

 

Harvest Experience Gift in Alsace

 

We then headed back into the courtyard for the wine tasting session that Céline had prepared to discover the breadth of the organic wines produced at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  After the Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine, we tasted the 2019 Pinot Gris Rosenberg, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, followed by the elegant 2016 Sylvaner Vielles Vignes, and the delicious 2018 Riesling Ortel.  Then came the intense 2018 Pinot Noir Old Oak, which is the wine made from the vines that we had picked.

 

Discovering the breadth of Alsace wines

 

Over lunch, we tasted the 2019 Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir Tradition wines, finishing with the aromatic 2018 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg.

Back down in the cool of the cellar, Stéphane then explained how the white grapes are pressed and left to clarify in the holding tanks for up to two days before being racked to separate the clear juice from the solid matter that has settled in the bottom of the vat.

 

Learn how grapes juice is fermented and tunred into wine

 

We finished the day in the room where the white wines ferment and age. Stéphane explained how he will closely monitor the wines through the fermentation stage as the sugar is transformed into alcohol.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Vinification Experience Days next year to learn about the rest of the wine-making process and to see how our wine is developing.

And so the day drew to a close.  Many thanks to Céline and Stéphane for a really enjoyable day.

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Participate in harvesting Saint-Emilion Grand Cru grapes


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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Learning how to harvest grapes

 

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

 

Grape harvest experience gift in France

 

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

 

Grape picking experience gift alongside the winemakers in Saint-Emilion

 

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

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

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

 

Enjoying lunch with organic wines from the winery

 

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

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

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

 

Selecting and de-stemming the grapes by hand

 

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

 

Learning about the work in the cellar at harvest time

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Chapelle with Jean-François


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

Harvest Experience gift in Burgundy


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

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

 

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

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


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

Wine tasting gift with the winemaker at the winery in Burgundy


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

Harvest Experience Day and lunch at the winery in Burgundy


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

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

Sorting the harvested grapes


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

Follow the grapes on their journey into the vats


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

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

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

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

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Harvest Experience Day in the Languedoc


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Grape harvest experience gift for wine enthusiasts

 

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

 

Organic harvest experience gift in the south of France

 

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

 

Participate in the grape harvest

 

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

 

The de-stemming machine in action

 

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

 

Grapes at harvest time

 

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

 

Organic wine tasting experience gift in the south of France

 

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

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

 

Organic rent-a-vine gift and harvest experience

 

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

 

The fermentation vats in the cellar

 

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

 

Analysing the grape juice at harvest time through the fermentation stage

 

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

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

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Working in an organic vineyard in the Loire Valley


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

 

Rent-a-vine gift in the Loire Valley

 

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

 

Wine-maker gift experience

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

De-budding the vines

 

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

 

Weeding in the plot of young vines

 

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

 

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

 

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

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


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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Getting involved in the work in the vineyard

 

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

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

 

Organic treatments

 

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

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

 

Taste organic wines in Burgundy with the winemaker

 

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

 

New vines need to be planted to replace old ones

 

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

 

Winery tour gift experience with the winemaker in Burgundy

 

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

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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 how to make wine in Saint-Emilion


At the end of May and beginning of June, we were finally able to meet up again for some Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Days at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion to learn more about the work of a winemaker after the harvest, right up until the wine is ready to be bottled.  Mathieu ad Adrien, the winemakers, welcomed us over a coffee and croissant to start getting to know each other.

The winery has been in the same family for over 400 years, and is full of great stories.  The Vinification Experience Day is the last in the Gourmet Odyssey cycle, and concentrates for the most part on the art of making and tasting wines.

 

Wine Experience gift at an organic winery in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux

 

We started the days with a visit of the cellar where the wine-makers picked up where they had left off during the Harvest Experience Days.  The old buildings at Château Coutet take us back in time and we learn about the artisanal wine-making methods that have been passed down the generations to make and age wines in the oak barrels.

The cellar tour had opened up our taste buds and we were ready to start tasting the wines.  Benoît, Gourmet Odyssey’s oenologist, taught us the basics to better taste wines, and then we got down to business as we discovered the wonderful aromas and tastes of the wines that are currently still in the ageing process.

We got to better understand the role of the wine-maker and tasted different blends to learn what each different grape varietal brings to a wine, and how they interact with each other to create something entirely different again.

 

Tasting organic French wines

Now that we were expert wine-taster, we moved on to the finished wines, starting with the Claret de Coutet for the aperitif.  This wine, between a red and a rosé has a lovely fresh finish and is packed with red fruit.  Delicious!

 

We then sat down to lunch in the shade of the trees.  As the different courses were served, we discovered the wines from the chateau.  The 2017 Belles Cimes, a Saint-Emilion wine made from the estate’s young vines paired wonderfully with the Landaise salad.  We stepped up a notch in strength whilst maintain the finesse with the 2017 Château Coutet, which went with the main course of steak bordelaise brochette.  We then compared the wine to the 2016 vintage Château Coutet, which is slightly more mature having had an extra year ageing in the bottle.  These wines can age for 25 years in a good cellar no problem.  Mathieu and Adrien then give us the honour of discovering the 2017 Demosielle wine, made from the old vines on the limestone plateau that are worked by hand and horse.

 

Organic rent-a-vine gift

We then set off again to visit our adopted vines, climbing the hill until we reached the limestone plateau, surrounded by grand cru classé vineyards.  The view is magnificent, and we each took a moment to admire and take a photo of our adopted vines.

The day ended in the storage room to talk about bottling, corks, and labels which are the last steps in producing a bottle of wine.  We feed off Mathieu and Adrien’s passion.

Warm thanks to the winemakers for these very informative days, and the very enjoyable time spent together.

 

 

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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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A year of climatic extremes for the 2020 vintage


2020 will be a year to remember for organic wine-makers in France!  As everywhere else, the virus impacted the human activity in terms of working conditions and sales. The vines also had an unusual year, with exceptional climatic conditions.
In the autumn of 2019, the heavy rain that fell over much of France enabled the vineyards and water tables to build up their reserves.  And thankfully so, because the vines would depend on this later on.  A very mild winter, and mainly dry for the most part of France’s wine-growing regions, followed by a hot spring. At Domaine de la Guicharde in the Côtes du Rhône wine region, we saw roses in bloom in January!
Vine adoption gift box in alsace France
As a result, the vegetative cycle started in January and February which is earlier than normal, and developed rapidly in springtime, giving the wine-makers some sleepless nights as they worried about late frosts that could be catastrophic for the young buds.  At Château de la Bonnelière, in the Loire Valley, the large candles that are used to keep the frost at bay were set up in the vineyards, but fortunately not needed.  Luckily, spring remained mild and warmer than usual, but by the end, we could sense that the vines were at risk from a lack of water.    

The south and south west of France were the only regions to have any rain during spring.  It wasn’t very heavy, but fell regularly, meaning that the organic wine-makers had to treat the vines more often to protect them from mildew, the fungus that thrives when the weather is both hot and wet.  At Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion, at Domaine Allegria in the Languedoc, and at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhône Valley, the tractor could be seen often in the vineyards treating the vines as the copper and sulphur based sprays used in organic wine-making are contact products that protect the vines from the outside and don’t penetrate into the plant, and so they are washed away and need to be replaced after each rainfall.
Vineyard discovery day in Burgundy
The vines flowered early during the warm spring, appearing as early as the 19th May at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay, Burgundy, something which usually happens around the beginning of June.  Fortunately it wasn’t too rainy, and the coulure was minimal for most of the vineyards, meaning that the flowers were for the most part able to fecundate and produce grapes normally.  The end of spring and summer was extremely hot and that was when the lack of water began to be felt with the veraison being blocked, which is the moment when the grapes start to change colour.  In some cases, the grapes were scorched by the hot sun, shrivelling and drying up.
Vine renting gift box in the Rhone Valley, France
As a result of the combination of all these factors, the grape harvest in France was on the whole very early.  The wine-makers needed to harvest before the grapes became too concentrated in sugar, which would lead to wines that are too strong in alcohol, and before the grapes started to dry up, reducing the volume of wine that would be made.  In Alsace, the vineyards around Wettolsheim and Eguisheim, including the vines at Domaine Stentz-Biecher benefited from some rain in August, allowing the grapes to finish maturing in the best conditions.
Harvest experience in an organic winery in Saint-Emilion
The first of our partner wineries to begin harvesting was Domaine Allegria in the south of France, who started on the 17th August.  It’s not unusual to start harvesting in August in the Languedoc, but it’s very rare to do so in Burgundy!  Domaine Chapelle in Santenay began on the 19th August, when they would normally do so in mid-September.  In the Loire Valley, Château de la Bonnelière started in mid-September instead of in October.
Adopt-a-vine gift box for wine lovers
The good news is that with the warm and dry weather, all of the wineries are in agreement that the quality of the grapes is excellent this year.  No infections, good levels of maturity, and apart from a few dried out grapes, nothing to sort!  For some wineries the harvest is a little smaller due to the summer drought which meant that the grapes were more concentrated, but the quality is very promising…

We’ll be following the next stages closely as all of the fermentations finish, the wines start the ageing process, and we get to taste them during the Vinification Experience Days next year!

If you’re interested in learning more about organic wine-making and want to get involved in next year’s grape harvest, adopt some organic vines and come and work with the wine-maker at one of our partner wineries with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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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.

Adopt a vine gift and personalised bottles of biodynamic wine

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.

Discover wine french area for wine lovers

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.

Adopt organic vines in Saint-Emilion and make your own personalised bottles of Grand Cru wine

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.

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.

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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.

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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The perfect gift for a wine lover

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

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