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Languedoc-Roussillon

A good quality but small harvest for 2018


The grape harvest and first fermentations have now finished for 2018, and so now is the time to take a look back at this year full of surprises. We asked the organic partner winemakers of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience for their first impressions of this vintage.

An early harvest

Early harvest in 2018 in France for organic vineyards

In almost all of France’s wine growing regions, 2018 was a very early year due to the glorious sunny and warm summer that we enjoyed.  In the east of the country, such as in Burgundy or Alsace, they were as much as one month early for the start of the grape harvest.  At Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Wettolsheim, we harvested the pinot noir grapes on the 8th September, where normally we would do so in October.

In some regions, such as for Château de la Bonnelière, near Chinon in the Loire Valley, the summer was so dry and hot, that the maturity of the grapes slowed down at the end of summer, putting back the harvest slightly compared to the forecasts at the start of the summer.

An exceptional quality

High quality grapes and wine for the 2018 vintage in France

All of our partner winemakers agree in saying that the 2018 vintage is an exceptional one in terms of quality, with lovely healthy grapes that had ripened evenly.  The sugar levels needed to produce the alcohol were good with a nice concentration due to the summer heat.

Of course there still remains lots of work to do in the cellar, but all the early signs point to a great year.

A small yield

Small quantity of the 2018 vintage for organic french wines

If the quality is high, the same cannot be said for the yields, the quantity being less than usual in some of the regions.  Alsace had a bumper crop of a great quality, Burgundy and the Loire better yields than the previous few years, but the south and west of France suffered.

The drought during the summer and beginning of autumn caused some of the grapes to dry out.  If it happens just a little, it’s not a big problem, and can even bring some added structure to the wine, but where the grapes dry out too much, they become as hard a pepper corns and have to be removed when harvesting, thus reducing the quantity.

Another problem was caused by the very wet spring which led to mildew attacking many of the wine growing regions, in some places having a significant impact on the yield, such as at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion, where some of the merlot plots lost as much as 95% of the grapes.

Mildew reduces the yield

Mildew attacks in the French organic vineyards in 2018

This year the fight against mildew was one of the principal preoccupations of our organic partner winemakers.  With such a rainy autumn, it was often impossible to treat the vines, or when they were able to be treated, the next rain shower would fall quickly afterwards and wash the protection away, as organic treatments remain on the surface of the leaves and don’t penetrate inside the plant.

For example, in Saint-Emilion, more than 30mm of rain fell continuously for 10 consecutive days.  The mildew set in on the leaves, and then developed on the grapes during the summer, causing them to become dry and hard.  In the Côtes du Rhône region, Domaine de la Guicharde, was also affected in their Grenache plots, and Domaine Allegria noted the same for their Carignan vines.


But a smaller yield generally means that the remaining grapes are of a higher quality.  Now the role of the winemaker in the cellar to vinify, age and blend the wines will come into effect, and will play a crucial role in developing and defining the quality of the 2018 vintage.  We look forward to tasting the wines in the cellar as they evolve during our Vinification Experience Days next year.


Interested in learning more and getting involved in harvesting the grapes in an award-winning French organic winery?  You can do so with a Harvest Experience Day with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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Green harvesting the vines in the south of France


For our last wine Discovery Experience Day of the summer at the winery, we were welcomed warmly by the winemakers and we had glorious sunshine beaming down in us.  After the introductions and coffee outside, we made our way into the vineyard.

 

Organic Vine adoption in Pézenas, Languedoc, France

As we walked through the vineyard, we learnt about how the year has been shaping up so far.  With the alternating rain and hot weather in May and June, the vines have seen some mildew form on them, and we could see the tell tale spots on the leaves, and noticed that some of the grapes had also been touched.  Mildew loves hot and damp conditions.

We arrived in the Mazet vineyard, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  The Syrah vines are less susceptible to the mildew and fortunately there was hardly any trace of it on the leaves.  After taking a few photos, we learnt about the work that has already been done to prune, de-bud and support the vines using the training wires as we continued our walk through the vineyard.

Adopt-a-vine experience in an organic French vineyard as a gift
Opposite the winery buildings, there is a plot of young Grenache vines that had been planted last year, and that will not come into production until the 2019 harvest.  Lots of grapes have already started to form on these small vines, but the priority for now is to help them develop their root system.


So armed with a pair of harvesting secateurs, we cut the bunches of un-ripened grapes from the vines.  Sacrificing this tiny harvest this year will help the plants become stronger in anticipation of better harvests later.

After the effort, the reward.  During lunch prepared by Delphine, we tasted different wines from the winery.

Wine gift box tastig and visit at Domaine Allegria, Languedoc, france

We visited the cellar after lunch to discover the vinification hall where the grapes are received at harvest time, and the barrel room where the wines age before being ready for bottling, but we’ll talk more about these aspects during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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Learning about organic wine-making in the south of France


On the 7th April, we were in the south of France for the first of the wine experience days of the year at Domaine Allegria. The agenda for the day was to learn all about the art of making wines, ageing them, and blending the syrah and mourvèdre grape varietals that make up the Tribu d’A red wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

At this time of year, the buds start to unfurl to reveal the first young leaves on the vines.

Vine adoption at Domaien Allegria, Languedoc, France

After the introduction to the winery by Ghislain, the winemaker, we headed out into the vineyard to visit our adopted vines, which are now getting ready for the 2018 growth.

Vine renting and day at the winery in Languedoc,France

We made a little detour to visit a new plot of vines that has been planted with carignan blanc, a new grape varietal for the winery. We’ll be able to taste the first wine from this plot in 3 years time.

WIne gift box day at the winery in Languedoc france

After meeting our adopted vines, we returned to the cellar to discuss the vinification process. We picked up where we had left off after the harvest and talked about what goes on during the first fermentation phase. There is much more to do than you would think to prepare the wine for the ageing period., and Ghislain answered many questions regarding the use of sulphites and other technical matters.

We then visited the barrel room, where the wine is aged, and talked about the purpose of ageing, and the choice of the different containers used, and their influence on the taste and structure of the wine.

Wine box oeonology class in France

To prepare us for the wine tasting and blending sessions to come, we gathered around some wine barrels for a fun game to try and identify 12 aromas found in red wine. They were all scents that we knew well, being everyday aromas, but when you smell them blind, it’s much more difficult to put a name to each one!

Vineyard visit and winemakers' lunch in France

During the morning, Delphine, the winemaker and wife of Ghislain, had prepared a tasty lunch, made from local produce, of great winemaker salads, the first asparagus of the season, and some exceptional bread that had been cooked that morning by the local baker, Jean-Marie.  We also enjoyed some goats cheese from the local Mas Roland, and finished with a delicious home-made chocolate cake and coffee.

Organic wine tasting and winery tour in Languedoc, France

Lunch was accompanied by a tasting of the wines from Domaine Allegria; the new vintage of the Dolce Vita rosé wine, the 2015 Carignan Gourmand, the 2015 Tribu d’A white wine and 2016 Tribu d’A red.  We finished with the 2016 Cousu Main and 2015 La Belle Histoire.

After lunch, we participated in the much awaited wine blending workshop, where we discovered and had a go at blending three 2017 wines of differing grape varietals. It’s not a good exercise for mathematicians, as you learn that 1+1 should equal 3, the idea being that a successful blend should be better than each of the wines used individually. It takes trial and error to learn what works, but by adjusting the percentages used, tasting and re-tasting, we refined our blends. 

The day ended with us gaining a good idea of how the 2017 vintage will be, but we must still wait a few more months until the wine has finished the ageing process and is ready to be bottled. We can’t wait to taste it!

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The work in the cellar during harvest time


Last Saturday we welcomed the Gourmet Odyssey adoptive parents of our Syrah vines to learn all about the work during harvest time.  However there were no grapes to harvest as 2017 has been a highly unusual year, and we had had to start the harvest on the 16th August, some two weeks ahead of normal. The hot and dry summer, with no rain since the 15th April meant that the grapes had ripened much quicker than usual.

And on top of that, our harvest lasted just three weeks as opposed to a month and a half, because we had to pick the grapes before what juice there was had dried up in order to have enough juice to make wine.

But don’t worry, there was still lots to do.  As we were to learn, the harvest isn’t just about picking grapes. There is also much to be done in the cellar at this time too, and so with the participants, we learnt all about the first stages of fermentation and the work in the fermentation hall at this crucial time of the year.

We started the day with a délestage and a remontage, or pumping over, of our two vats of mourvèdre. We measured the density of the must (grape juice that is fermenting and in the process of becoming wine) to track the rate of fermentation. Both vats were losing between 10-15 points a day. As the sugar is transformed into alcohol during the fermentation period, so the density of the must decreases.  It’s best when this happens regularly. During the fermentation, carbon dioxide is released and pushes the solid matter of pips and skins to the top of the vat.

Harvest Experience Day in the Laanguedoc wine area South of France

This solid matter contain the molecules that give the colour and tannins necessary for the wine. Therefore the wine that is at the bottom of the vat needs to be in contact with the solid matter that forms the cap of the vat. One technique used is known as pumping over whereby the juice from the bottom of the vat is pumped back into the top, where it will extract the colour and tannins from the cap as it filters through it. Délestage is another technique used whereby the juice is pumped into a second vat, and the cap allowed to settle on the bottom of the first vat.  The weight of all of the solid matter presses itself for a couple of hours before the juice is then returned to the original vat. We pass the majority of the morning performing these two tasks to ensure a good extraction of colour and tannins.

We then headed to the barrel room where the large 600 litre demi-muid barrel of roussanne were in full fermentation mode. Ghislain explained why he chose to ferment this wine in the barrels as opposed to the stainless steel vats for the mourvèdre, and the different impact they each have on the wine.

Winery tour and harvester meaal in Languedoc, France

With all of the nice wine aromas, our appetites were whetted. Delphine had prepared an explosion of tastes with a fresh tomato soup from the old varieties grown in the garden, then a colourful Crimée, Green Zebra and Marmande tomato salad, Puy lentil salad, cured meats, and local goats cheese from the Mas Roland. We finished the meal with coffee and home-made chocolate fondant.

The meal was accompanied by a range of wines from Allegria, starting with the Dolce Vita 2016, followed by the Cinsault Abuelo 2016, Carignan Gourmand 2015, Tribu d’A 2015 red, and finishing with the Poivre de Mourvèdre 2014 and our La Belle Histoire 2015.

Adopt-a-vine-experience at Domaine Allegria in Languedoc, France

After the full lunch, a walk was most welcome, and we headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines. We took a few souvenir photos, and saw how they had grown since the Discovery Experience Days. Ghislain explained the work that had been done in the vineyard and talked about the peculiarities of this 2017 vintage.

Vine adoption and harvest experience day in the South of France

The day drew to a close under the hot sun, and we’re looking forward to coming back for the Vinification Experience Days to see how the wines are shaping up and to learn what happens between now and the time when the wine is ready to be bottled.

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Vinification and blending of wines in the Languedoc


The sun was awaiting the participants at Domaine Allegria for the Vinification Experience Day, the last of the wine experience days for the adoptive vine parents of the 2016 vintage.  The aim of the day was to discover what happens in the cellar after the grapes have been picked at harvest time up until the wine is ready for being bottled.

  Wine gift box to adopt vines in a Languedoc vineyard, France

We started the day with a quick visit to the vineyard to see our adopted vines, where we took a few souvenir photos.  We also learnt about what has been happening in the vineyard at the moment, what work has been done since last year’s harvest, and how the vines have come back to life in the spring.

Vineyard tour at Domaine Allegria Languedoc France

We learnt how the vines had been pruned, a long task that had finished three weeks earlier. The cut branches had then been pulled from the vines and left between the rows to be crushed.

Vine-adoption as a wine gift box in France

When we returned from the vineyard, we visited the cellar from top to bottom.  The questions flowed.  What is a wine without sulphites, why do you use selected yeasts, and many more such topics.  We talked in detail about the different processes between making red and white wine.

We then tested our sense of smell with the help of 12 bottles containing different aromas.  This exercise would help us find some of the words to describe the wines that we were to taste later. 

Lunch was served in the sun on the terrace.  The winery’s rosé Dolce Vita 2016 wine was served in a jeroboam for the aperitif.  We tasted different wines, paired with local charcuterie and a lentil salad; the Cinsault Abuelo 2015, a Carignan Gourmand 2015, and the Cousu Main 2013 in a magnum.  With the goat’s cheese from the nearby Mas Roland, we tasted the Tribu d’A white 2015, which goes perfectly with cheese.  We finished the meal with the Grande Cuvée La Belle Histoire 2015, a great vintage for Languedoc wines.  With the delicious almond cake and profiteroles, we enjoyed a coffee.

Wine-tasting at the winery, Pézenas, Languedoc, France

After lunch, we returned to the cellar to taste three of the wines from the 2016 vintage that are still in the ageing process.  Each of the wines was of a different grape varietal, enabling us to learn the different characteristics of Cinsalut, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  The wines are still young, and full of carbon dioxide following the fermentation.  But they were also very soft considering the stage that they are at, and already enjoyable to drink.

Having tasted these different wines, the next exercise was to have a go at blending them together.  We learnt that blending the different grape varietals together gives a deeper and more complex final wine.
By the end of the day, we had learnt many new things about wine, and will have a few stories to recount when we open the next bottle!

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Winemaker profiles. Delphine, Ghislain d’Aboville and their tribe at Domaine Allegria


We continue our series of partner winemaker profiles, and this time we head to the Languedoc region in the south of France with our list of questions for Delphine & Ghislain d’Aboville at Domaine Allegria.  This young winemaking couple and their tribe were thrilled to share their joie de vivre and love of their work with us!

Adopt-a-vine experience in a French Languedoc vineyard

How long have you been winemakers?

We have been winemakers since 2008.  Domaine Allegria is the fruit of a Franco-Argentine friendship between the d’Aboville and de la Mota families.  Roberto de la Mota is one of the most respected Argentine oenologists, and he has accompanied us in realising our dream.

 

What is your best memory in the vineyard or cellar?

For Ghislain
A micro-vinification in 2011 of two rows of Muscat.  We harvested the grapes late and produced 50 litres of pure nectar that we never bottled because there was too little.  We keep this wine in a tiny little vat, and serve it to our friends and guests who come and visit.
For Delphine
It’s racking the vat of the last plot of red vines, which is always the mourvèdre.  Being in the vat and removing the marc of skin and pips that has been left behind with a shovel is a unique experience.  You’re in close contact with the grapes and it also signals the end of the vinification period.  I’m the one who always racks the mourvèdre, and so I am the one who marks the end of the vinfication.

 

For the 2015 vintage, what is at present your favourite wine and why?

For Ghislain
The Carignan Gourmand because since 2013 we’ve been reducing the percentage of this wine that is aged in barrels year on year.  In 2012, 100% was aged in oak and in 2015, 0%.  And I think that I’ve at last found the true style of this generous wine.  It’s got heaps of freshness, and at the same time has a magnificent length with a great potential for keeping.
For Delphine
Cinsault Abuelo because I love the roundness of this wine for the 2015 vintage, and because it is very thirst quenching!

 

What are your upcoming projects or challenges?

In 2017 we’re going to plant a lovely 1 hectare plot with Grenache. The peculiarity is that we’ll be using vines that from very old Grenache vines using massal selection.  We’ll prune the vines using the Goblet method as our ancient Languedoc ancestors did.  Our aim for this vineyard plot is to add some nice Grenache grapes to our blends from 2020!  We’ll have to be patient until then!

 

A question that our clients often ask.  What do winemakers do when they have a little time to themselves?

Our favourite way to take a break and relax is to leave the winery on foot, and wander through the scrub and garrigue until we reach our favourite restaurant, the Auberge du Presbytère, nestled in the small mountain village of Vailhan.  The food is as breath-taking as the scenery!

 

Interviews of our orther partners

Marc Plouzeau from Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley

Eric, Etienne and Marie-Pierre Plumet from Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhône Valley

Jean-François Chapelle from Domaine Chapelle in Burgudy

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A sunny harvest in the south of France at Domaine Allegria


On Saturday 3rd September we welcomed the Gourmet Odyssey adoptive vine parents to the winery to help harvest the plot of cinsault vines.

 

Harvest experience day at the winery, Domaien Allegria Languedoc

We were blessed with a beautifully sunny day to harvest this plot of vines that was planted in 1984. After explaining which grapes to pick and how to do so, the first snip of the secateurs got underway at about 10:00.

Wine gift box adopt-a-vine experience

The bunches of grapes were carefully picked and then transported in their crates to the shade of the vinification hall. The outside temperature rose quickly, and so it was important to keep the grapes as fresh as possible to help the start of the vinification process.

Harvest experience day in a French vineyard

Our harvesters were very enthusiastic, and by 11h30, the plot had been picked. It was a relatively small harvest, with a hundred or so crates picked. The dryness of the preceding weeks has meant that the grape berries that were formed were fairly small.

We then headed to another plot in the vineyard to discover where our adopted Syrah vines were to be found. The Tribu d'A red wine that we produce for the Gourmet Odyssey clients is made up of two grape varietals, syrah and mourvèdre.

Oenology course in a French winery in Languedoc

We then enjoyed a well-earned lunch in front of the winery, with home-made dishes from Delphine, accompanied by wines from the winery.

After lunch, we retreated to the cool of the cellar to put our harvest into the vat and learn about the first stages of fermentation that will start in a few days time.

We'll then pick up the next stages of the wine's evolution during the Vinification Experience Days. Many thanks to all of our apprentice harvesters!

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The art of vinifying and ageing wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon


Last Saturday, a beautiful Spring day awaited the participants of the Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Day at Domaine Allegria.
Vineyard experience, Languedoc, France

To get the day started, we headed off into the vineyard with the winemaker, Ghislain to find our adopted vines. It gave us the opportunity to take a few photos of our vines and to learn a little about the vines growth cycle and the work that is carried out in the vineyard. It is after all the work here that has a big impact on the quality of the wine at the other end of the cycle!

Rent a vin, Languedoc, France

Upon our return from the vineyard, we visited the chai from top to bottom, and covered a whole host of questions regarding the fermentation and vinification of wines. We also talked about the differences in making red and white wine.

Next on the programme was an aromatic workshop. We had to try and identify 12 of the most commonly found aromas in red wine. It puts both your nose and memory to the test as you try and put a name to the smell contained in the small glass bottle. Not as easy as it would seem!

Wine gift packs, Languedoc, France

We ate lunch outside on the terrace to enjoy the spring sunshine. For the aperitif, we tasted a magnum of the Dolce Vita 2015 rosé wine that had been bottled just a few weeks previously. During the meal, we tasted several of the estate’s wines, the 2014 Cinsault Abuelo, the Carignan Gourmand from the 2013 vintage, and a Cousu Main 2011 in magnum. To accompany the goat’s cheese from the neighbouring Mas Roland, we tasted the 2014 Tribu d’A white wine which pairs perfectly. We finished the meal with La Belle Histoire 2013, a great vintage for Languedoc wines.

Wine tasting gift, Languedoc, France

After lunch, we returned to the chai to taste three different wines from the 2015 vintage that are still in the process of ageing. A great opportunity to get a sneak preview of this promising year and to talk about the different characteristics of each grape varietal. We tasted a Cinsault, a Syrah and a Mourvèdre. The wines are still very young, and fizzy from the caron dioxide released during the fermentation period, but they are also astonishingly soft and enjoyable to drink at this early stage in their evolution!

At the end of the day, we hope that everyone had learnt a little more about the art of making wine, and will have a few more wine stories to recount. Many thanks to all of the participants for sharing this day.

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Wine-making day in the south of France at Domaine Allegria


We had a great first Vinification Experience Day of the 2015 vintage last weekend, and the wet weather that was announced by the weather forecasters did nothing to dampen the spirits. The winemaker is of course happy to receive some rain from time to time, especially as the winter has been far too dry this year, and if it’s good for the vines, it’s for a good cause!
Vineyard experience, Languedoc, France

We enjoyed a coffee in the warmth of the wine boutique whilst waiting for everyone to arrive, and then we ventured out into the vineyard to get the day started.

On the way, we explained the work that has been keeping us busy in the vineyard. We finished pruning 3 weeks ago. We’ve pulled the cut branches free, and put them in bundles between the vine rows to be crushed. This will help us return some nutrients to the soil. The day before, some organic animal manure had been spread amongst the vines, again to help nourish the earth.

Rent a vine, Languedoc, France

In the vineyard plot where the adopted vines are located, we took the time to take a few photos with our vines, and to check up on the loving care that Ghislain and Delphine had given them since the last Harvest and Discovery Experience Days.

Back from the vineyard, we visited the winery and cellar from top to bottom. The questions rattled off; what is a wine without sulphites, why used selected yeast, and many others. We learnt all about the vinification process and how it differs in making white and red wine.

Wine tasting gift, Languedoc, France

We then participated in a session to put our sense of smell to the test. In the first series we had to identify the primary aromas of fruit and flowers, and the second series contained aromas that are more associated with ageing of wine in oak barrels. We had a very talented group of participants who were able to correctly identify the different fragrances.

We had lunch in the warmth of the wine boutique. We tasted the Tribu d’A 2014 white wine with some dried sausage for the aperitif, followed by some warm pumpkin soup served with the Cinsault Abuelo 2013 and Tribu d’A 2010 red wines. To accompany the homemade quiche, we tasted the Carignan Gourmand 2012, and Cousu Main 2011 red wine from a magnum. We then finished the meal with La Belle Histoire 2013, a very good vintage in the Languedoc. And then just enough space was left for some coffee and profiteroles!

Original wine gift, Languedoc, France

After the meal, we returned to the cellar to taste 3 wines from the 2015 vintage. It was the first opportunity to see what this great vintage has in store for us, and to take the time to analyse its characteristics. We tasted the Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre wines that are still in the long process of ageing. We then had a go at blending them together to see how the wines interact with one another. It’s still way too soon to know what the final blend will be as the wines are too young, and full of carbon dioxide from the fermentation.

So the end of the day arrived, and our heads were spinning from the mass of new information we had learnt about wine, and we hopefully have a thing or two more to say about how it’s made now. Many thanks to all for coming!

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Taste the wines from our partners in the 2016 wine fairs


Now that last year’s harvest is now over and the first of stages of the vinification are completed, it’s time for our partner winemakers to present their latest wines during the 2016 wine fairs. Come and meet our winemakers and taste their organic wines at one of the following events.

Château Beau Rivage - Bordeaux

 

Salon Vinidome

Salon Vinidome - Grande Halle d'Auvergne in Clermont-Ferrand
5–7 February 2016

Salon des Vignerons Indépendants in Strasbourg

Salon des Vignerons Indépendants in Strasbourg – Stand A 15
19-22 February 2016

Salon des Vins de France

Salon des Vins de France – Nantes La Trocadière – Rezé – Stand 15
18-20 March 2016

 

Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard – Burgundy

Salon des Vins de Mâcon – Spot, Parc des Expositions
17-19 April 2016

 

Domaine Allegria

Salons des Vignerons de Liège

Salons des Vignerons de Liège, Belgium - Caserne Fonck, Outremeuse
2-3 April 2016

Salons des Vignerons Indépendants « Nature et Vin

Salons des Vignerons Indépendants « Nature et Vin » in Paris – Espace Champerret
27-29 May 2016

 

Domaine Chapelle - Burgundy

Salon du Vin et de la Gastronomie in Neuville de Poitou - Salle des Fêtes
Saturday 13 February, 10:00-19:00 and Sunday 14 February, 10:00-18:00

Salon Vivre Autrement Bio in Paris - Parc Floral (12e)
11-14 March 2016

Salon des vins et produits régionaux de Paray-le-Monial - Centre Associatif Parodien, rue Pierre Lathuilière
Saturday 19 March, 10:00-19:30 and Sunday 20 March, 10:00-19:00

Journées Gourmandes du Grand Morvan à Saulieu - Hall des Expositions

Foire gastronomique de Mailly Champagne
13 au 15 May 2016

 

You can also meet the winemakers during one of the upcoming Gourmet Odyssey Discovery or Vinification Experience Days.

More information

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A unique Saint Valentine gift for a wine lover


Here’s an original gift idea for St Valentine’s – Adopt some vines with your loved one and make your own personalised bottles of wine together. From the vine to the bottle, get behind the scenes in an organic French winery and follow the work of the winemaker as he shares with you the keys steps in making your own wine.

Personalised wine gift, France

It’ an imaginative gift for Valentine’s Day for any wine affecionado. You can choose to adopt some vines in one of our 7 organic partner wineries, and for a wine-making year, you’ll follow their evolution via newsletters, blog articles and photos. At the end of the experience you’ll get to personalise the wine labels and you’ll have a great time whilst you taste your own wine!

If your better half loves wine, then this personalised gift pack is sure to please. The welcome pack includes a sommelier’s apron, a Drop Stop, personalised certificate and further details of the chosen wine experience.

Wine experience gift, France

And to make the gift even more hands-on, you can add a wine experience day at the winery. You can choose a Discovery Experience Day to learn about the work in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes, or you could go for a Harvest Experience Day and get involved in picking the grapes and following their journey into the fermentation tanks. And then there is also the Vinification Experience Day to learn about the work in the cellar to transform the grape juice into wine. Each lasts a full day from 9:30 to 16:00, and gives you the unique opportunity to follow and help the winemaker in his work, to share a meal, and to taste the wines from the winery.

Vineyard experience, France

All of our partner winemakers are organically certified, and are passionate about their work. They’ll welcome you with open arms, and you’ll get to share a unique and authentic moment in a French vineyard. It’s also the perfect excuse to get away for a romantic break in France!

More information on the Wine Experience.

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The harvest in a few words


Every year, around this time, we read or watch a number of reports that talk about the customs, quality and trends regarding the grape harvest. Sometimes the terms used can be a bit obscure, so here are a few definitions to help you decipher what actually goes on during this key moment in wine making.

The harvest banns or "ban des vendanges"

Traditionally, this was the document that gave permission to start the harvest, and also to get the harvest celebrations under way. Today, some regions in France still fix the earliest possible date to start the harvest. From the set date, the winemakers can begin to harvest the grapes, but they are also free to start harvesting later if they feel that their grapes would benefit from maturing more before being picked. In other regions, the winemakers themselves have complete autonomy over when to harvest their grapes.

Harvest period

So it's no longer just the official decree that marks the start of the harvest, but it's also the choice of the winemaker. For each grape varietal and vineyard plot, the right equilibrium has to be found between the grapes being sufficiently mature and waiting too long if there are any climatic risks such as rain, storms, or drought. The winemaker has to be able to deal with the stress of uncertainty!

Vineyard experience in France

The state of the grapes

The winemakers decisions are therefore based on the state of the grapes in each individual vine plot. As the grapes mature, the sugar level rises and the acidity decreases. If the winemaker waits too long, the sugar level will be too high and the grapes will be overripe. The water in the berries will start to evaporate and the grapes will start to dry out. For some types of wine, such as vendanges tardives, this is the stage that the winemaker will wait for before picking the grapes.

Late harvest or "vendanges tardives"

Outside of the usual harvest period, some grape varietals and wine appellations have been granted specific authorisation to enable a late harvest. In these cases, we're looking for a high concentration of sugar and so choose to harvest later. The mention of  "vendanges tardives" on a label is regulated, and in France it is allowed in Alsace, and in the Gaillac and Jurançon appellations, each having their own specific charters.

Green harvest

So you can harvest later, but you can also pick your grapes earlier with a green harvest. But note that a green harvest is never intended to pick grapes for making wine. It's simply to remove excess grapes from the vines during the ripening or véraison" period. By decreasing the yield, the winemaker can increase the quality of the remaining grapes.

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Harvesting machine

Once the grapes have ripened, it's time to pick them. To do so the winemaker can use a harvesting machine or lots of pairs of secateurs! The harvesting machine has the advantage of being quick and of being able to be used more flexibly in terms of time. The proponents of manual harvesting argue that the quality of the harvest is better by hand, as a first sort can be done of the grapes before they are transported to the chai.

Sorting table

Talking of sorting the grapes, this can be done at two stages, at the moment the grapes are picked, or on a sorting table at the chai, where the unwanted grapes and foliage are removed, and often the stems are removed at the same time for red wine grapes. The winemaker chooses one or the other method, or sometimes both for the very best quality harvest. For some appellations, you have to sort when picking the grapes, or to harvest in phases by making multiple passes, as is the case for some of the sweet wines.

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Destemming

Once the grapes have been sorted, the winemaker might decide to separate the berries from the stems, particularly for red wines, before the grapes are pressed or left to macerate in the fermentation tanks. Removing the stalk avoids too much contact with the grape must that can give a bitter vegetal taste. If the stalk is mature enough, the winemaker might decide to leave some of the stalk to add some tannin to the wine, and make a wine that will keep longer.

Wine press

To make white wine or some rosé wines, the grapes are pressed. Pressing can be done in a number of different types of wine press; vertically, horizontally, pneumatic or hydraulic. Each has their own advantages, but the pneumatic presses are most often used nowadays because you can regulate the pressure applied to the grapes to obtain a better quality juice. For the red wines, there is no pressing done before the fermentation, but afterwards to separate the solid marc of stems, skin and pips from the wine.

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Crushing the grapes

For many wines, the grapes aren't crushed before being pressed or macerated. They are either left to break down naturally, or can be crushed mechanically or by foot. The days of crushing grapes by foot are very rare now as it takes a lot of time and energy! So these are some of the principal steps that will keep the winemaker busy up to and during the harvest. But it doesn't stop there! Once the grapes and juice are safely in the vats, the vinification process starts. We then hear talk of fermentation, racking, chaptilisation, yeast, sulphites... but we'll talk more about that after the harvest!

Other articles relating to the harvest

- A brief history of grape harvesting

- The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries

- A review of the work in the vineyard for the 2015 vintage

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Harvesting the Syrah grapes in the Languedoc


On the 12th September there was a weather warning for the Hérault region, where our partner winery, Domaine Allegria, is situated. The participants of the Harvest Experience Day arrived under a dark sky, and Ghislain and Delphine, the winemakers, were wondering of it would be possible to harvest.

Vineyard experience in France, Languedoc

After a warm coffee and an introduction to the day, we decided to head quickly out into the vineyard to start harvesting as soon as possible, and try to avoid the rain as best we could. The forecast was for the weather to deteriorate towards the end of the morning.

Adop a vine in France, Languedoc

We set about picking the grapes in the small plot of Syrah vines, situated just above the ancient volcano. The grapes were in excellent condition, and the Syrah are truly magnificent this year! In an hour and a half we picked about 350kg of grapes, and put them into small crates, each weighing about 12-13 kg.

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Before lunch, we went to the part of the vineyard where the Carignan grapes grow. We spent some time removing the leaves which cover the grapes, in order to increase the air flow around the grapes, and decrease the chance of rot setting in after the forecast rain arrived.

Original wine gift in France, Languedoc

The lunch that Delphine had prepared was most welcome, warm lentil salad, hot quiche, and local cheese from Mas Rolland to help replenish our energy. 

Rent a vine in Languedoc, France

At the end of lunch, the downpour started. We took refuge in the cellar and put our harvest into a vat for a special type of fermentation, which consists of putting the whole grapes into the vat without crushing them at all for the whole of the fermentation process. The fermentation will take place inside each individual berry, giving the wine a greater aromatic richness.

The rain continued to pour down, so we were unfortunately not able to visit our adopted vines... Once we had finished putting the grapes into the vats, we said our goodbyes, hoping that the roads wouldn't be blocked by the rain.

So our apprentice winemakers learnt the principle rule at harvest time - it's the weather that decides and dictates the dayss programme! Many thanks to all the participants who helped get the Syrah safely into the cellar before the rain arrived, and to Ghislain and Delphine for welcoming us during the busy and stressful harvest period.

 

Other articles relating to the 2015 harvest

The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries

The 2015 harvest. What happens next in the cellar?

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The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries


Whilst the first Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience days of 2015 got underway last weekend, all of our partner winemakers have either started the harvest or are busy with the final preparations. A quick round robin of our wineries as the first clip of secateurs get under way...

2015 is a year of early harvests

As usual, the harvest season got underway at the Allegria and Domaine la Cabotte wineries, as they are situated in the south of France, in the Languedoc and Côtes du Rhône regions respectively, where the high temperatures and long hours of sunlight have enabled the grapes to reach a good level of maturity, as explained in our review of the work in the vineyard post. Domaine Allegria started the harvest on the 20th August, 2 days earlier than 2014 and 20 days earlier than 2013!

Rent a vine in France, Languedoc

The early start to the harvest is the case for all our partner winemakers in France, such as at Domaine Chapelle where the staff returned from the summer holidays on the 24th August to be ready in time. The winemakers are quietly confident that the quality will be very good this year, but there are a few worries that the quantity will be less due to the lack of water in some regions that limited the growth of the grapes.

Vineyard experience for wine lover in France, Burgundy

In Chablis, the date of the harvest has been brought forward at the last minute. On the 31st August, a hail storm damaged some of the vineyards in Chablis, and so the grapes have to be picked as quickly as possible, as the risk of the grapes being affected by mould dramatically increases. The harvest has started one week earlier than initially planned.

Lots of work in the cellar to welcome the 2015 harvest

In the cellar, the 2014 and some of the 2013 vintages are still being pampered. However, space needs to made for the arrival of the new vintage. In some wineries, such as Château de la Bonnelière, some of the wines have therefore been bottled to free up some of the vats and barrels. The winery has also had to adapt the organisation of the chai to be able to receive the harvest of the 10 additional hectares that they have acquired this year.

Wine making experience in France

At Château Beau Rivage, the 2015 harvest will be worked in a newly renovated chai, and everywhere, such as at Domaine Allegria, all of the equipment has been cleaned and organised to best receive the grapes. At Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard, all of the materiel is tested, the conveyor belts, presses, sorting table etc, before being called into action for real.

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And the other big task is to get ready to welcome the teams of harvesters who will arrive at the wineries to pick the grapes from anywhere between 10 days and a month depending on the winery. So the pressure is mounting as the harvests get under way, but our winemakers are keeping their smiles as they think of the great wines that will hopefully result!

Like to know more or to participate in the harvest? It's not too late to join us for one of the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Days. Don't hesitate to get in touch to know more.

 

Other articles linked to the harvest

A review of the work in the vineyard for the 2015 vintage

 

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Training the vines at Domaine Allegria


Last Saturday, we had a magnificent and very hot day for the Discovery Experience Day. When the guests arrived it was already 27°C, and the thermometer would pass the 35°C level in the afternoon! We were at Domaine Allegria in the Languedoc region of Southern France to discover the profession of being a winemaker, and in particular, the work in the vineyard to produce the best possible quality of grapes

Vineyard experience in Languedoc, France

So, off we headed into the vineyard, in the direction of our adopted vines. We stopped for a quick photo shoot of our adopted vines, and spent some time learning about the terroir of the vineyard, and the work that has been carried out so far this year, including the organic treatments.

Rent a vine in Languedoc, biodynamic, France

We then had a free sunbathing session as we trained the Syrah vines in the Mazet vineyard. Training the vines is important work at this time of year, as the vines are growing very quickly, and we need to help them support the weight of the leaves and grape bunches that are starting to form well now. It was getting very hot in the vineyard!

Unique wine gift in Languedoc, France

Luckily, lunchtime quickly arrived, and we returned to the winery to enjoy the meal prepared by Delphine. Over lunch we tasted the wines made at Domaine Allegria; Dolce Vita, Tribu d'A, Carignan Gourmand, Cousu Main and La Belle Histoire.

Wine experience gift in Languedoc, red wine, France

After lunch, we had a tour of the fermentation hall and barrel room to have an introduction into the vinification side of things, before filling the cars with a few cases of wine and leaving the winery with lots of memories.

Many thanks to all those who shared the day with us!

Other articles relating to the work in the vineyard

A review of the work in the vineyard for the 2015 vintage

Harvesting the Syrah grapes in the Languedoc

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Wine blending in the Languedoc


Last weekend we welcomed the parents of the adopted vines to Domaine Allegria for a Vinification Experience Day. And with them, a light drizzle for the first day of Spring, but that didn't dampen the good cheer and enthusiasm of our participants in any way!

Wine experience gifts in Languedoc

Once everyone had arrived and had a cup of coffee, we booted up, and headed out into the vineyard to find our adopted vines.

Rent a vine in Languedoc

On the way, Ghilsain, the winemaker at Allegria, explained the different work in progress in the vineyard. The pruning has now finished and the first tilling of the soil has started.

This allows the rain to better penetrate the earth. We then returned to the winery building, and we spent quite a while in the chai to better see and understand the different ways that the wines are worked during the vinification phase.

The questions abounded, covering topics as varied as sulphites, racking the wines and ageing them.

Unique wine gift in Languedoc

Before lunch, we participated in a workshop which the winemakers children had help to devise. We had to guess which aromas the 37 different cups contained!

These weren't synthetic aromas, but natural ones that were hidden from view with a tin foil cover over the cup with some holes in.

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And so we set about identifying smells as diverse as burnt cork, rosemary, blackcurrant and truffle.

To spice things up a little, we organised a competition and the winner left with a bottle of Dolce Vita 2014 rosé wine!

We then sat down for the meal and wine tasting, which Delphine had lovingly prepared.

Wine tasting gift in Languedoc

To start, a warm chickpea salad with slices of black pudding, which pairs delightfully with the Cinsaut Abuelo 2013.

We then enjoyed a home-made lasagne, and some local goats cheese from the Mas Roland.

wine making experience in Languedoc

After lunch we set about the serious business of blending wines. We blind tasted different grape varietals of Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah to learn what characteristics each brings to a blend, and then had a go at blending some wines to learn how they combine with each other!

Many thanks to all our participants and to the winemakers for a great Vinification Experience Day.

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Holidaying in France? A good excuse to make a few gastronomic pit stops


With just a few weeks to go before the holidays, the Gourmet Odyssey team has toured France to put together a few suggestions of gastronomic and wine addresses to keep spirits up!

For those who are headed to the warmer climes in the south of France, the Bordeaux region is famed the world over for its wine-making prowess. In between visiting the numerous château, take the time to meander along the routes des vins. If you pass Macau-en-Médoc, stop off at the Tonellerie Nadalié, the cooperage owned by the family of Christine Nadalié, our partner winemaker at Château Beau Rivage. Making barrels is a truly fascinating sight, and a real art form. Whilst you're there enjoy a meal at the excellent 1902 restaurant.

Cooperage visit Bordeaux France Nadalié

Further south again, and you'll find yourself in the Languedoc-Rousillon region, steeped in history with its medieval villages and monuments, and vast mountainous landscapes. Surprise yourself by the depth and variety of its cuisine and wine, and if you're passing Pézenas, stop off for some wine tasting at Domaine Allegria, and admire the chai, which is a striking example of contemporary and environmentally friendly architecture.

Contemporary and environmentally friendly chai Languedoc France

Coming back up the Rhone Valley on the east side of France, you'll be seduced by the Provencal specialties such as truffles, olive oil, walnuts, and chestnuts, which perfectly match the wines of the region. And if you're looking for a relaxing place in the middle of nature, then Eric and Marie-Pierre, the winemakers at Domaine la Cabotte, have mapped out some trails through their vineyards to take in views of the Dentelles de Montmirail ridge, the Mont Ventoux and to discover the terroir of the Massif d'Uchaux.

Rhone Valley relaxing place and trails through the vineyard

You can't talk about gastronomy without mentioning Burgundy! The region is a must for all food and wine aficionados. If you are in the Cote de Beaune wine region, don't hesitate to visit Domaine Chapelle, situated in the picturesque village of Santenay. Further north, Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard will welcome you for a winemaker meal, wine tastings or can put you up in one of their gites.

Wine tasting Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis France

For history buffs, the Loire Valley is the perfect destination, but it's also highly recommended for its cuisine. Stop off in Chinon, and visit the caves dug in the 12th century to extract the stone used to build the fortress above. One of these caves is now home to the cellar of Château de la Bonnelière, who will be delighted to let you taste their latest wines.

Chinon fortress caves visit Loire Valley France

And lastly, for those you are looking for an early taster of the Christmas markets in Alsace, you won't be disappointed by the numerous local specialties. On the wine route from Eguisheim, one of France's prettiest villages, stop off at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Wettolsheim, where Céline and Stéphane, the owners, will be sure to let you know of all the best local events happening and of course to taste their wines!

For all of the proposed activities or if you would like to visit one of our partner vineyards, don't forget to contact them in advance to make an appointment and to check on opening times.

 

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The 2014 harvest starts in the Languedoc


The first of the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Days for the 2014 vintage took place on the 6th September at Domaine Allegria, and we were blessed with a magnificent summer?s day. This year we decided to start a little earlier so as to avoid the strong midday sun.

Vineyard experience in Languedoc

At 8:30, we headed out into the vineyard where we grow our Cinsault grapes. Cinsault is one of the oldest grape varietals found in the Languedoc, and our small plot is 35 years old. We had a half hectare of vines for our apprentice harvesters to pick.

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We started relatively early because the temperature soon climbed to 30°C. For the grapes, and for the harvesters, it's better to pick when the temperatures are as low as possible. If the grapes get too hot, we then have to cool them down before putting them into the vat. It's always best to manipulate the grapes as little as possible.

wine making experience in France

The grapes are in great shape this year, but it's a smaller yield due to the very dry winter and spring. Around 11:00, we finished the harvest, and headed to the Mazet vineyard where the Syrah vines are adopted by the Gourmet Odyssey clients.

Wine tasting gift in Languedoc

Delphine had prepared lunch for us, a local recipe of mussels cooked on a plancha, called brasoucade. After lunch and a tasting of some wine, we helped put the grapes into the vats. We emptied the crates into the de-stemming machine to remove the stalks, and then we pumped the whole berries into the top of a vat.

At Domaine Allegria, we don't add any sulphur at this stage, the wines are vinified without adding any, and it is only when it comes to bottling that we add some. And finally we ended by cleaning all of the material.

It's what takes us the most time during the harvest. To make one litre of wine, it takes three litres of water to keep all of the material clean!

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In the vineyard. De-budding and training the vines


With the arrival of Spring, the vines are emerging from their winter rest. In March we could see the tears of sap appearing on the tips of the pruned branches, and the first buds burst into life a few weeks later. These are all signs that the vines are starting their growth for the new season. And for the winemaker, it's the signal that a whole series of jobs will soon need to be done in the vineyard to ensure the best quality grapes come harvest time.
bud burst in the vineyard Burgundy France

The first of the tasks is the de-budding to remove all the excess buds and any unwanted shoots. De-budding generally takes place a few weeks after the bud burst. During pruning, a certain number of eyes are left on the branch, which represents the number of buds and branches that will form (see our post of pruning). However, sometimes more buds appear than were bargained for during pruning, which can increase the load on the vines and reduce the quality of the harvest. Studies have shown that de-budding improves the maturity of raisins at harvest time by increasing the sugar levels, and thus the potential alcoholic volume. De-budding is a purely manual task. There is no machine capable of removing the buds without harming the plant.

de-budding vines in Burgundy

We also remove the buds and shoots from the base and trunk of the vines. This is known as "epamprage" and can be done manually or mechanically using a tractor with rotating axels that brush the vines and remove the unwanted growth. Epamprage can also be conducted chemically with contact products or by using heat to burn the new shoots. Empamprage is often conducted at the same time as the soil is turned to remove grass and weeds.

training wires for vine Rhône Valley

The remaining shoots on the vines will then continue to grow, and from May to July comes the moment to raise the training wires in the vineyards. As the vines grow, the wires are raised and fixed to the posts, a task that usually requires several passes. We make sure that all of the branches grow between the two training wires so that the weight of the leaves and fruit are better supported. To help avoid the branches falling back down, the wires are clipped together. The branches are spaced apart to let the air better circulate and the sun to reach the leaves. This also helps the tractors to pass freely in the vineyard without damaging the vines and to improve the efficiency of any treatments.

At the same time as working on the vines, the winemaker also works the soil from April onwards to air the soil, let in more warmth, and to keep the growth of grass and weeds in check.

The next tasks for the winemaker in the vineyard will be to control the growth between the leaves, branches and fruit, jobs that we will explain in more detail soon.

More articles on the work in the vineyard :

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2013 Vintage. Vinification and ageing of wine


At this time of year, the vines are nearing the end of their winter rest. The winemakers are finishing preparing the vineyards for the 2014 vintage, and are busy attending wine fairs to showcase their 2011 and 2012 wines. But what's happening in the cellar with the 2013 vintage?
harvest chai grapes Bordeaux

 

As soon as the grapes are harvested, they start the vinification process to extract the different compounds from the grapes and to optimise the quality of the wine produced. Once the grapes are brought to the chai from the vineyard, the grape must starts to ferment to transform the sugar into alcohol with the help of yeast. The juice then becomes wine. Often a second fermentation then takes place to turn the malic acid into lactic acid, making the wine rounder and softer. The wine then enters the ageing period in vats or oak barrels.

winery tank red wine Burgundy

The general principle seems fairly straightforward, but there are different processes according to grape varietal, colour and wine producing regions. And at each step, the winemaker takes decisions that are crucial in influencing the aroma and taste of the wine. These choices are personal and so there are as many different ways of vinifying and ageing wine as there are winemakers!

Without going into specific vinification details for rosé, sparkling or sweet wines, there are two principal details for vinifying white and red wines.

wine press white wine Alsace

First the white wines. Once the grapes have been picked and sorted, and have arrived in the chai, they are put into a wine press to extract the juice from the grapes. The time that the pulp and grape skins are in contact with each other is very short for white wine, explaining why the wine is lightly coloured. Next the juice is clarified by removing the solid particles present in the must, such as skin, pip or stalk particles. This is done by letting the particles settle or by centrifuge. The juice then ferments to become wine and enters the ageing phase which can be just a few weeks or a few years for wines that are made for keeping. Ageing can be in barrels or vats.

For the red wines, the process is slightly different. Once the grapes have been picked and sorted, they are put into a vat, either whole or having been separated from the stems. Sometimes the grapes are lightly crushed to set free some of the must. In the vat the grapes are left to macerate so that the juice can extract the tannins and colour from the skin and pips.

wine bottles cellar Burgundy

The alcoholic fermentation starts at the same time and generally lasts between one and three weeks. Once it has finished we draw off the liquid. The remaining solid matter is known as marc and is then pressed to extract the wine that has been soaked into it. This is known as press wine, and the winemaker can choose whether or not to blend it with the rest of the wine. The wine is then left to finish the fermentation, alcoholic and malo-lactic, before being aged in barrels or vats.

wine ageing in cellar Loire Valley

At each step of the way, the winemaker tastes the grapes and wines, analyses them, and then makes a multitude of decisions such as how strong to press, whether to de-stem the bunches, how long to let the wine macerate, how long to age the wine, whether to use vats or barrels... As many important choices as there are different wines!

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