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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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Harvest Experience Day in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet


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

Original wine gift in Saint-Emilion for wine lovers

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

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

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

Grape harvest gift experience in Saint-Emilion, France

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

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

Adopt-a-vine organic wine gift

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

Organic wine tasting gift experience at the winery in Saint Emilion

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

Lunch with the winemaker in the vineyard, Saint-Emilion

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

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

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

Organic wine-making experience gift in Saint-Emilion

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

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

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Grape Picking Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


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

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

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

Rent-a-vine present in the Rhone Valley

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

Grape picking gift in a French biodynamic vineyard

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

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

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

Learning about the work of the winemaker during harvest time

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

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

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

Wine cellar visit in the Cotes du Rhone

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

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

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

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Grape Harvest Experience Day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


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

Grape harvest experience gift in Alsace France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personalised wine-making experience gift for wine enthusiasts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An excellent harvest of the 2018 pinot noir grapes in Burgundy


We had magnificent weather for the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience weekend at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy. As for most of the summer months, it was hot and dry, and the reason why the harvest was earlier this year than normal.  We harvested the grapes from the Clos des Cornières vineyard on the 7th, 8th and 9th September.

The harvest is always a busy time for the winemakers and their teams, but Jean-François Chapelle had set aside three days to explain the work at harvest time, to recount his family’s history with the winery, and to share his organic work philosophy.

Wine making experience box in Burgundy France

After a welcome coffee in the harvesters’ refectory, we were introduced to the day ahead in the garden of the château. Jean-François also told us a little about the history of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

Adopt a vin experience in Burgundy france

We then made our way to the Clos des Cornières vineyard to catch up with our adopted vines. As usual, the cameras clicked away, as the participants tried to capture the most original photo for the annual My Vine photo competition. Don’t forget to send in your entries!

Wine gift box to meet the winemaker and harvest the grapes

It was now time to get down to the serious business of the day. Equipped with a pair of secateurs each, Jean-François briefed us in how to be the perfect harvester. We learnt that the grapes to pick are only to be found between the first two training wires, and only those bunches which are of a uniform blue colour. Anything that isn’t ripe is left on the vine.

Wine lover perfect gift for making organic wine

As the year had been particularly hot and dry, the grapes on some of the bunches had become a little withered. These we kept, as they help to give character to the wine. However, the berries that had completely dried out were removed from the bunch before being put into the tray.

Grapes harvest experience day in Santenay, Burgundy, France

And so we started to harvest in perfect conditions. About an hour and a few plasters later (being an apprentice harvester isn’t as easy as all that!), the trays were full and the vine rows perfectly harvested.

Harvest experience gift box

The harvest this year is of an exceptional quality. Beautiful, healthy grapes, uniformly ripe, and a yield that is plentiful compared to the last few years!

Unforgettable wine gift in Burgundy, France

We then followed the grapes back to the winery where they were emptied on to the sorting table for the second check of the quality before being put into the vats. Here any grapes that aren’t of a good enough quality and any leaves are removed. The remaining grapes then fall into the de-stemming machine for the berries to be separated from the stems. The grapes then make their way by trolley to a conveyor belt that carries them up into the fermentation vats.

Organic Burgundy wine tasting as a gift

By this time it was now time for the aperitif. We tasted a Santenay 1er Cru Gravières white wine, accompanied by some traditional Burgundy gougères.

Day at the winery and harvesters' lunch in a gift box

Lunch was served in the harvesters’ refectory. A Burgundy tourte for starter, followed by veal medallions and mushroom crumble, a local cheese platter, and raspberry desert. These delicious dishes were accompanied by three of the red wines produced by Domaine Chapelle, a 2016 Burgundy red, a 2015 Santenay “Clos des Cornières”, and a 2013 Chassagne Montrachet “Morgeot” Premier Cru.

Oenology course during the harvest in Burgundy, France

After lunch we returned to the fermentation hall to put the grapes into the vats, and to learn about the fermentation process that will turn the grape juice into wine, and how the vats are worked during the maceration period to extract the colour and tannins from the skins

It was a fun and informative day. We had all worked hard, and progressed from our status of apprentice harvester. We now have to wait a while before tasting this very promising 2018 vintage that will surely be one of the great vintages. We’ll be able to check when we come back for the Vinification Experience Days at the beginning of 2019.

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Nurturing the organic vines in Saint-Emilion


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

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

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

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

Vineyard tour with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux

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

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

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

Learning the life of a winemaker

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

Protecting the vines from mildew

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

De-leafing the vines in Saint-Emilion

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

Hands-on wine course in Saint-Emilion, France

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

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

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

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

Organic wine-making course and gift in Saint-Emilion

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

Cellar tour in Saint-Emilion with the wine-maker

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

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Leaf removal to protect the vines from mildew


Last weekend we had travelled from Avignon, Nancy, Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Switzerland and England to meet Isabelle and Arnaud Guichard, the winemakers at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Massif d’Uchaux region of the Rhone Valley.

 

Wine gift box in a French vineyard in the Rhone Valley

The first question to come up over a cup of coffee and croissant was who knew the Massif d’Uchaux? Nobody? But that’s not surprising because it is a very exclusive appellation that was formally recognised in 2005 for having its own distinct terroir.  We were to talk lots more about the terroir during the course of this Discovery Experience Day, a hands-on wine course at the winery, dedicated to the work in the vineyard before the harvest.

Discovery day at the winery and oenology class in the Cote du Rhone area

We then headed out into the vineyard, passing by the olive trees.  The winery has its own special biodynamic ecosystem, including 30 hectares of vines, an organic olive grove, and 20 hectares of woodland, all of which are to be found around the winery buildings, on a small hill which looks a lot like paradise on this beautifully sunny day!

The hill is what makes the Massif d’Uchaux so special compared to the Rhone Valley plain below.  Around 90 million years ago, the sea covered the valley and the hill was an island.  On our way to the adopted plot of vines, we stopped to look at the remnants of an old beach that dates back to the Miocene era, where you can still see some shell fish fossils.

Vine adoption at Domaine de la Guicharde, Mondragon, France
We then arrived on the plateau where a plot of Syrah and a plot of Grenache vines are planted on the terrace that also dates back to the Miocene era.  And yes, that’s why the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, is called the “Terroir du Miocène”, because it is a blend of the grapes that are grown here.
Wine gift box Vine tending class in the Rhone Valley
The winter pruning and biodynamic treatments had prepared the vines for the new campaign, and the vines were flourishing.  The flowering period went well in early June, and the grape berries are now starting to form.  The combination of warm weather and rain in May and June, has seen vigorous growth in the vineyard.  Perhaps even a little too much, because the work to till the soil had been delayed.  As Arnaud explained, it had been impossible to get the tractor into the vineyard because the ground had been too wet, and it had also not been possible to treat the vines after the rain, because the mistral wind had picked up as soon as the rain clouds had passed over.  Regulation stipulates that treating the vines is not allowed if the wind reaches 19 kph, which is a regular occurrence in the Rhone Valley!

Having found our adopted vines and taken a few souvenir photos, we took a closer look at the vines.  Arnaud showed us how to spot the difference between Syrah and Grenache vines.  The leaves are different as we had seen during our last visit, but now that the grapes have started to form, it is even more evident.  The grenache vines produce compact and round bunches of grapes, whereas the syrah vines have more elongated bunches and the grapes are more spaced out.  This also explains why the Syrah vines are generally less susceptible to disease than Grenache vines.
Gift box discovery day in the vineyard in Mondragon, France
The combination of rain, heat, and lack of treatment leads inevitably to an attack of mildew, and unfortunately we could see some spots on the leaves and berries on the Grenache vines.  Thankfully the Gourmet Odyssey adoptive parents had come to help out.  Today our task was to remove some of the leaves on the side facing the rising sun to help the air better circulate around the grapes and reduce the spread and impact of the mildew.    On the side facing the rising sun, the grapes are only exposed to the weaker morning sun, when the temperature isn’t yet hot enough to dry out the berries, whereas the side of the falling sun receives hotter sunshine at the end of the day, and the leaves are needed to shade the grapes and stop them from burning.
Wine box meet the winemaker in his windery in France
It’s easy to remove the leaves, as Arnaud explained.  You just remove all of the leaves from in front of the vines.  He uses quick and precise movements, and then we tried to do it as efficiently as him.  In pairs, we spread out among the vine rows, and starting plucking.  Arnaud moved between us to talk about his work, and to answer the many questions regarding the vintage, weather and the treatments used in the vineyard.
Vineyard discovery day and wine tasting in the Cote du Rhone area
We took a brief pause to quench our thirst, and then Arnaud brought us up to speed on all of the work that had been carried out in the vineyard so far.  Pruning, de-budding, raising the training wires, trimming the vines.  By this time, we were starting to get a little hungry, and so we headed back to the winery for lunch.  On the way, we spotted some of the plants, such as horse tail or yarrow, that are used in the biodynamic treatments.
Organic and biodynamic wine tasting at Domaine de la Guicharde
The nicely chilled rosé in the shade of the courtyard was most welcome.  We also tasted the “Pur rouge”, a wine for friends according to Arnaud, and which went down very well on this hot day.  We also had some grape juice, organic of course, made from merlot and cabernet grown in Isabelle’s second winery, “Les Mourgettes”.
Winery visit, vineyard tour and winmakers' lunch in France
Lunch had been prepared by Thierry Bonfante, from the restaurant Le Temps de Vivre, just 4 km away.  A lentil salad with regional caillettes, slow-cooked beef stew with carrots, cheese and tiramisu, accompanied by a selection of wines from the winery.  For the reds, we tasted the Genest and Terroir du Miocène, and enjoyed the Autour de la Chapelle white wine with the cheese.
Winemaker experience in the Cotes du rhone area
The questions abounded over lunch regarding the daily life of a winemaker, and at the end of the meal, we came back to the topic of biodynamics.  Isabelle talked to us about the book written by Jean-Michel Florin, Viticulture Biodynamique, for those who are really interested in learning more.  For the majority of us who are novices in the subject, Isabelle recounted some of the amusing anecdotes from her short book Précis à l’usage de ceux qui pensent que Demeter n’est qu’une déesse grecque. Laughter rang out around the table as she told us about her adventures with the cow horn manure…

Arnaud explained the principals of the biodynamic wine making, developed by Rudolph Steiner and organised around the lunar calendar.  To make it more easily understandable, he took us to see the tools used such as the dynamiser and the spraying machine.  He told us how he makes the treatments, and he talked about the constraints of the calendar in caring for the vines, depending on whether it’s a fruit, flower, root or leaf day.
Wine-making and vine adoptione experience in mondragon,  france
We finished the day with a visit to the chai, to understand where the grapes will go after the 2018 harvest.  But we still have a little time to go.  The date for the harvest has yet to be fixed as we need to wait a few weeks more to see how the weather influences the development of the grapes.  As we had heard throughout the day, in this calm haven where time seems to stand still, it’s the nature and the raw elements who lead the show, and then Isabelle and Arnaud work their magic to make the most of nature’s gift and to produce their excellent wines. 

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De-leafing organic vines in the Loire Valley


For the last time this Spring, Marc Plouzeau welcomed us for a Discovery Experience Day at Château de la Bonnelière to discover his winery, his vines and the Loire valley wines that he produces.  We were also to meet our adopted vines which are used to make the Clos de la Bonnelière red Chinon wine, and to learn about the work carried out in the vineyard.

  Wine Box with vineyard visit in Chinon, France

After the introductions we ventured out into the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard to meet our adopted vines and to see the grape bunches that have already started to form! 

Wine gift oenology course in Chinon, Loire, France

Marc talked about the work that has been so far to get the vines to this stage. The flowering period had gone well despite the wet spring, and we can start to hope for a good harvest, as long as the weather doesn’t have other plans between now and the moment when the grapes are picked.

Oenology box vine tending experience in the Loire Valley

The task for the day was de-leafing, which involves removing the leaves from in front of the vines. The principal reason is to allow the grapes to dry more quickly after any rain, thus limiting the spread of diseases such as mildew. A simple, but important task, expertly carried out by our adoptive vine parents!

Wine gift, vineyard tour and meeting the winemaker in Chinon France

Mission accomplished, and after a question and answer session on organic wine-making, the daily life at the winery, and the work left to do in the vineyard, we sat down to enjoy the lunch which had been prepared by Mme Plouzeau. Her great specialty, the strawberry Chantilly proved to be a big hit once again. And of course, we enjoyed a selection of wines from Château de la Bonnelière.

Wine box with winery visit, wine tasting and winemakers' lunch

After lunch, we visited some of the other vineyards to get a better idea as to the different terroir that make up the winery. We talked about how the work varies in the different plots, and discussed the organic practices used, many of which can also be used in the garden back home!

We’ll next be back for the harvest, and so have to wait patiently to see the fruit of our labour. In the meantime, we wish Marc and the vines a great summer!

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Find the perfect wine gift for Fatherís Day. Adopt some organic vines in France!


For father’s day you might have already given your wine-loving Dad some nice bottles of wine, a wine tasting course, or a guided visit to a winery. This year, take it a whole leap further by adopting some organic vines in France and giving him a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Father’s Day gift. This enlightening and original present is also great for eco-friendly and gourmet Dads. 

By adopting some vines, your Dad will follow the progress of his vines and the making of his own French organic wine for a wine-making year at one of our acclaimed organic wineries in France. Through our newsletters and photos, your Dad will learn about all of the key stages in making a great organic wine, from the work in the vineyard to the choices the winemaker takes in the cellar to ferment, age and prepare the wine before it is ready to be bottled.

Original wine gift for Fathers Day
At the end of the wine-making year, your Dad can choose the name of his wine, and will receive one personalised bottle of wine for each adopted vine.
Wine gift vine adoption and vineyard visit

To make the experience even more interactive, you can add one or more Wine Experience Days at the winery so your father can visit his adopted vines, meet the winemaker and get involved in working alongside him in the vineyard to nurture the vines or pick the grapes, or to learn about the work in the cellar.

Vineyard tour and wine tasting at a French winery

Each Wine Experience Day lasts a full day from 9:30 to 16:00 and includes a wine tasting and full lunch at the winery. These fun days are valid for two people, and are an eye-opening immersion into the real life of a wine-maker!

Wine making experience as a gift for Fathers Day

All of our partner wineries are organically or biodynamically certified and produce wines that are often awarded medals or selected by the main wine guides. They take pride and pleasure in sharing the ins and outs of their profession with you.

Our Wine Experience Father’s Day gift begins with the reception of a welcome gift box containing a wine cooler bag, a re-usable glass wine-stopper, a Drop Stop and a personalised adoption certificate. Your Dad then starts his Wine Experience as soon as he activates his customer portal using the code contained in his welcome pack!

Delivery of the welcome pack takes two working days in France, and between 3 and 6 days for the rest of Europe. For any last minute Father’s Day gifts, we can send you the certificate by email.

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The role barrels play in ageing wine


We have recently finished the en primeur season in Bordeaux when the 2017 vintage wines are tasted from the barrel and sample blends rated. The wines have only recently been put into the barrels and will spend the coming months, and in some cases, next couple of years ageing in barrels.  It’s the same too in lots of the other French wine-growing regions. So it’s a good time to ask what role the barrels play in ageing wines in the cellar.

Why age wine?


Once the grapes arrive in the chai and are put into the vats, the fermentation process begins naturally thanks to the yeast cells that are present in the grapes.  This stage finishes when all of the sugar has been transformed into alcohol.  If you taste the wine at this time, unless you are a trained professional, you will be disappointed because the wine is still very hard and closed, and therefore difficult to enjoy.

Burgundy barrels
The next stage in the wine-making cycle is to allow the wine to soften, improve its structure and develop its tertiary aromas, those that appear during the ageing process.  The aim is to obtain a wine that is mature enough to be bottled and stored, the time varies depending on the type of wine being produced.  To age a wine there are various different containers available to the winemaker.  One of which is the barrel.

 

What role do the barrels play?


A barrel is a wooden recipient, made out of staves which are bowed and held in place by metal rings.  They have been used for over 2000 years, at first to simply store and transport wine, but they are now used primarily for the ageing of wine, and other alcoholic products.  Wine is no longer stored indefinitely in barrels, as once the ageing process has finished, it is bottled for storing.

Bordelais barrels

How does a barrel bring structure to a wine? The wood from which it is made is a natural product, and allows a tiny amount of air to pass through the barrel, allowing it to breathe!  That brings oxygen to the wine and makes the wine fuller and more rounded.

And what about the aromas and tannins?  As the wine is in constant contact with the wood of the barrel, a tiny amount of particles from the wood dissolve into the wine, and transfer some aromas to the wine that vary according to the type of wood and the way in which the barrel was heated, or toasted, when being made.  Tannins are also present in wood as within wine, and when put into contact with one another, they combine to give a more delicate structure.

How are barrels made?


The foundation for a good barrel is the wood, and in most cases is made of oak.  Their trunks are first of all split and dried for several years.  Then they are split again to create the staves.  These are placed in a circle in a first metal ring, and heated so as to make the curve.  The heating can be done by burning them, by using hot water, or steam.

Heating the staves at the Nadalié cooperage

Then the staves have another belt applied and another circle is fixed at the other end. One of the staves has a hole put in it and the water and air tightness is tested.  The barrel is also heated a last time to change its chemical composition and bring the desired aromas that are wanted for the wine.

The aromas and the structure brought to the wine by ageing it in barrels can have a marked difference on the wine, as the clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience days can attest to!  Why not join us for your own Wine Experience?


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The role of vats, barrels and other types of container in making wine

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De-budding the pinot noir vines in Burgundy


We had a beautiful sunny day for the Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Chapelle in the Cote de Beaune village of Santenay.  We were there to learn all about the work of the winemaker in the vineyard to obtain the best quality grapes at harvest time.

 

Vine adoption in an organic French vineyard in Burgundy

Simon, the son of Jean-François and Yvette and who will one day take over from them in the running of the winery, was with us for the day, joined by the Technical Director, Yannick.  Simon began by explaining the history of the winery and of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

We then ventured out into the vineyard where we divided into two groups to learn about the work to nurture the vines.

Vine tending work and vineyard visit in Burgundy

We learnt how the vines had been pruned and the remaining branches attached to the training wire. This vital work had been finished in March. The first buds then burst into life in the third week of April, and we could see how the branches had started to grow, already revealing several leaves per branch and the formation of the clusters from which the flowers will appear to produce the future grapes.

Wine gift box and experience day in Burgundy at Domaine Chapelle

The principal activity in the vineyard at the moment is de-budding, and we learnt how to reduce the number of branches to limit the quantity of grapes that will be produced. This is an essential step to control the yield and produce the best possible grapes.

Gift idea for wine lovers visit at the winery and meet the winemaker

We then had a go at de-budding ourselves under the watchful eye of Simon and Yannick. We proved to be a very conscientious team of de-budders being very much aware of the impact of our actions on the future harvest, and we came away from the day as confirmed specialists!

Wine tasting box Burgundy red wine

By now, we had reached the hour for the aperitif, and we enjoyed a Santenay Saint Jean 2016 white wine in the courtyard, accompanied by some delicious Burgundy gougères.

We then sat down to lunch of a perch terrine, beef bourguignon, a selection of local cheeses, and a delicious chocolate entremets for dessert, accompanied by a 2014 Burgundy red, the 2014 vintage of the Santenay Clos des Cornières wine, chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Experience, and finishing with a  2011 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru red wine.

Gift box winery tour and vineyard visit, Burgndy, France

After lunch we had a quick tour of the fermentation hall and cellar with Yannick. We will be spending more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days to come.

Many thanks to Yannick and Simon, and to all of the participants for making it such a great day.

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Pruning the vines in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


As spring begins, so a new cycle gets ready to start in the vineyard.  There is much that the winemaker needs to do to nurture the vines and help them produce the best possible grapes for the coming harvest, as we were to learn during the Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace.

Original wine gift for organic wine lovers

After the introductions, we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard, the plot where the adopted vines of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience are to be found.  To get in some training for the Easter egg hunt to come next weekend, we spread out amongst the rows to find the nameplate that marks the exact location our micro plot of adopted vines!

Rent-a-vine gift of some organic Alsace vines

Accompanied by Céline and her father, Jean-Jacques, winemakers at Domaine Stenzt-Buecher, we listened intently as we learnt about pruning the vines, which is the most difficult but most important of the jobs in the vineyard as it limits the potential quantity of grapes that will be produced and helps controls the shape and form of the vines growth.  It is long job that takes up most of the winter months, but March marks the end of the pruning season as it has to be finished before the sap rises again.

Wine Experience gift to learn about wine making in Alsace, France

Jean-Jacques had left a few vines for us to work on.  Intellectually it is quite easy to understand the principals of pruning, but as we were to quickly find out, when you are the one standing in front of the vine and having to choose which branches to cut and which to leave, it suddenly becomes much more complicated!

Organic vineyard experience gift

The vines at Domaine Stentz-Buecher are pruned using the Double Guyot method.  This involves leaving one long branch of six to eight eyes on either side of the vine and a spur, from which the branches used for the following year’s harvest will grow.   When selecting which branches to keep, you need to take several factors into account.  The lower branches are preferred to minimise the distance that the sap needs to flow, and to keep the vines at the same height as the neighbouring plants.  Branches that grow along the same line as the training wire are favoured over ones that stick out into the middle of the passage between the rows, as these branches are more likely to get damaged by the passing tractor. The number of eyes left on the vine depends on its age and health...

Learning how to work organicaly in the vineyard

Once the branches to be kept have been selected, all of the other branches are cut away.  The next job involves pulling away the old wood from the trellis system, and putting the branches in the middle of the rows, a job that we all got stuck into with vigour!  The branches will then be crushed to return nutrients to the soil.

Jean-Jacques then showed us how to arc and attach the remaining long branches to the bottom training wire using a great little tool that twists and cuts the wire, saving lots of time from having to hand tie each branch.

Vineyard experience gift in Alsace, France

We also learnt about replacing vines, and visited a plot that had been replanted 3 years ago.  Jean-Jacques talked about working the soil, and showed us where the earth had been heaped around the vines to protect them from the cold winter months.  We finished the morning with a quick look at some of the tools and machinery that is attached to the tractor to help with the work in the vineyard.

After the full morning spent in the vineyard, we had earned our wine tasting.  Céline and Stéphane, took us through a selection of the different wines produced at the winery starting with a Muscat 2015, followed by a Riesling Ortel 2014 and the 2015 vintage of the Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.    We then tasted the Pinot Noir 2011 and Gewurztraminer Steingrubler 2015 Grand Cru, accompanied by a savoury Kouglof, a delicious Alsace specialty.

Wine tasting gift of organic Alsace wines

Over the lunch of typical Alsace dishes and cheeses, we continued the wine tasting with the Who Am I? wine, a blend of pinot blanc, pinot gris and Riesling grape varietals, and different vintages of the Pinot  Noir and Gewurztraminer wines.

Vineyard tour gift in Alsace

After lunch, we headed back out into the vineyard to learn about the work that remains to be done in the vineyard over the coming months to de-bud the vines, raise the training wires, remove some of the leaves depending on the weather, trimming the vines, and to discover how the moment the grapes are harvested is chosen.   Stéphane also explained to us how the vines are treated organically to help protect them.

Winery tour gift in Alsace, France

The day finished with a quick tour of the cellar to see where the grapes are pressed and where the wines ferment and are aged before being ready to be bottled.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.  But in the meantime, the winemakers will be busy in the vineyard over the coming weeks, as the temperature rises, and the vines burst into life.

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Pruning cabernet franc vines for making organic wine in the Loire Valley


On the 18th March we were at Château de la Bonnelière in Chinon for the first of the wine experience days for the 2018 vintage. Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker, was on hand to open the doors to his winery and for us to find out from him what is involved in making organic wine.

Marc explained the history of this family winery, which was brought back to life in the 1980’s by his father. Thanks to him, after 60 years without any production, the first Château de la Bonnelière wine was bottled in 1989.

Vineyard tour in Chinon, Loire Valley, France

Today, Marc manages the 35 hectares of vines, all of which are nurtured organically. The vineyards are all situated on the left bank of the Vienne river, and the different plots with their differing terroir enable Marc to produce a range of wines, from lighter wines that are fruity and ready for drinking to more full bodied wines that are best left to age a while.

The Clos de la Bonnelière, which is the wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey for the adopt-a-vine experience, is made from 100% cabernet franc grapes, all of which come from the same plot of vines that are planted next to the château. The way that the vines are nurtured is of the utmost importance in assuring the optimal quality of grapes for the 2018 harvest.

Pruning course as a wine gift box in France

The soil was worked over the winter period, and the pruning of the vines is finally coming to a close in March. There were still some rows left to prune in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, and so Marc showed us how to select which branches to keep and which to cut away. Secateurs in hand, we learnt that the vines are pruned using the Guyot method, and had a go at pruning some of the vines for ourselves.

Winemaking experience gift box in a French vineyard

We then pulled away the cut branches from the vines and training wires. It’s a fairly physical task as the tendrils from last year had wrapped themselves tightly around the wires.

Marc then showed us some of the other vineyard plots, explaining along the way the work that remains to be done this summer and what being organic means in the way of looking after the vines.

Wine tasting and winemaker lunch at the winery in France

The walking had given us all a good appetite, and so we headed to the cellar underneath the Chinon fortress, where Marc ages his wines.  This magical venue was to be where we were to have lunch! During the delicious meal, prepared by Marc’s mum, we tasted the different range of Chinon wines from the winery.

In the afternoon, Marc showed us the different tools and machinery used to treat the vines and to work the soil in the vineyard. We saw the tractors, different ploughs, and other equipment that has been specially adapted to working in the vine rows.

And so a busy and instructive day drew to a close, and we left having a gained an insight into what being a wine-maker entails. We’ll leave Marc to continue his work until we’re back for the next Gourmet Odyssey wine experience day!

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Learning the art of wine-making in Chablis


When you open a bottle of wine, you don’t always think about all of the work that has gone into making it.  Everyone knows that at some stage there is the harvest, but to have the best possible grapes come harvest time, there is much work and effort that has gone into nurturing the vines along the way.  But the harvest is not the end either, and marks the beginning of the wine-making side of things.  There is more that goes on in the cellar than you might think to press the grapes, ferment the grape must, age the wines and prepare them for bottling, as we were to find out during the Vinification Experience Day in Chablis at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard last Saturday.

Wine Experience Gift at an organic winery in Chablis, France

This wine experience day was split into different workshops to learn about everything that happens at the winery between the harvest and the wine being ready for bottling and labelling.  And so the day started in the loading bay where the grapes are put into the wine presses.  Odile, the head wine-maker at the winery, told us how the presses are controlled to extract the juice from the grapes.

Gift experience to learn how organic wine is made

We then learnt all about how the wines are settled and the wines  are clarified to separate the juice from the larger solid particles of pips and skin that made it through the membrane of the press.  Once this has happened the juice then continues its journey into one of the vats where it will remain during the fermentation process.

Wine-making gift experience in France

Odile explained how the sugar in the grape juice is transformed into alcohol over the following weeks.

Once the fermentation has finished, the wines are racked to separate them from the larger lee particles, and they are left to age on their finer lees to develop their depth and structure.  To better understand the process she let us taste some of the wines directly from the vats, including the wine that we will end up with at the end of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  It’s a rare opportunity to taste wines in their unfinished state.

Learn to taste wine like a professional oenologist

Before the wines are ready to be bottled, they are racked again and filtered to clarify them further, and to ensure that no impurities are left in the wine that might cause it to spoil in the bottle.  We then made our way to the production line to see where the bottling takes place, and we discussed the merits of the different options of sealing the bottles, by cork, screw-cap or other materials.

The wine bottling machine

After bottling, the wine is laid to rest again and then stored until ready for labelling.  Odile showed us the labelling machine that sticks on the front and back label and adds the capsule on top of the bottles.  The bottles are then boxed up and ready for sale or distribution.  It’s an impressive sight!

The next workshop was to learn how to taste wine and prepare us for the wine tasting session to come.  We use all of our senses when tasting wine, and we first put our noses to the test to try and identify different aromas found in white wine, either due to the different grape varietals or from having been aged in oak.  It’s not as easy as you would think!

Wine tasting gift at an organic winery in Chablis, France

We then tasted different sweet, saline, acidic, and bitter solutions to see if there was any difference in where we could feel them in our mouths.

It was then time to taste the wines.  We had three sets of wines to taste, and had to try and identify what the different factor was between the wines in each set.  The wine tasting session had been organised to show the difference between terroir, grape varietals, and the way in which the wine is aged.

Unique wine tasting and winery tour gift in Chablis

We tasted a wide range of different Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru wines, and continued the tasting over the delicious lunch which had been prepared at the winery by a local caterer.

Chardonnay adopt-a-vine gift wine-making experience

After lunch, we took in some air, and headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines.  We took a few photographs and admired the surrounding landscape of rolling Chablis vineyards.

Learnng about the terroir that makes Chablis wine so special

Back at the winery, we descended into the cellar where the far wall had been left bare, revealing the strata of limestone and marl that give the Chablis wines their character.

Winery tour gift to learn about making biodynamic wines

The final stop of the day was to visit the fermentation hall that houses the wooden casks for the wines that are aged in oak.  Here Jean-Louis explained the role of the casks, and we had ended the day with a last wine tasting to see how the oak casks influence the structure of the wine.

It had been a fascinating day to have a glimpse of the life of a wine-maker.  We’ll now have to wait patiently until our wine has finished ageing, but we’ll know that the wait has been worth it!

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Pruning the pinot noir vines in Burgundy


March always marks the change of season, and it is the last month that we can prune the vines in Burgundy before spring arrives and the vines start to grow again.  It’s also a month that has very changeable weather, and fortunately for the adoptive vine parents, the temperatures were very mild for the first Discovery Experience Day of the 2018 vintage at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay, enabling us to get out into the vineyard and learn all about the work to nurture the vines.

After a brief introduction to this day focused on pruning and attaching the vines, Simon Chapelle, the son of Jean-François and future winemaker at the winery, recounted the history of the family winery and how the different Burgundy wine appellations are defined.

Vineyard tour in Santenay, Burgundy
We then headed to the Clos des Cornières vineyard, accompanied by Simon and Yannick, the technical director at Domaine Chapelle. This is where our adopted pinot noir vines are located and we took a few minutes to take a few photos!

Split into two groups, Simon and Yannick then explained the work necessary in the vineyard during the winter and spring months to arrive at a quality harvest, and they told us how they work organically at the winery.
Wine-making and vine pruning course in France

The Clos des Cornières vineyard produces the eponymous wine, and is planted solely with pinot noir vines, as in Burgundy, there is no blending of different grape varietals. The quality of the 2018 vintage therefore relies on the quality of grapes that will be harvested this autumn, and the quality is determined for a large part on the ever so important work of the moment, the pruning of the vines.

Vine tending course gift box for a wine lover

Simon and Yannick explained which branches to keep, which to cut and how many buds to leave on each vine. This will directly impact the yield of each vine. They also enlightened us as to the many questions that have to be answered when thinking about how to prune each vine. Armed with a pair of secateurs, it was then our turn to put the theory into practice! Despite some hesitation at first, we gradually started to get the hang of this difficult job!

French vineyard and winery visit gift box

After pruning the next task is to bend the branches that haven’t been cut away. We crossed the road to the neighbouring vineyard that is planted with chardonnay vines, and is more advanced in the pruning. This is also an important step because by folding the branch and attaching it to the bottom training wire, it helps ensure that the sap will flow more evenly among all of the future fruit-bearing canes, and that they will be better spaced to avoid disease from spreading.

Organic wine tasting in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We then headed back to the winery to enjoy an aperitif outside in the courtyard whilst soaking up more of the spring sunshine! Some gougères, a typical Burgundy shoe pastry specialty, and the winery’s Santenay Saint-Jean white wine delighted our taste buds!

We continued the local specialties over a tasty lunch of other local dishes of perch terrine, boeuf bourguignon, local cheeses and a chocolate and cassis entremet. Lunch was accompanied by a Burgundy 2016 red, a Santenay Clos des Cornières 2013, and a Santenay Premier Cru “Les Gravières” 2012.

Wine gift box Cellar and winery visit in France

After lunch we had a tour of the vinification hall and labyrinth of vaulted cellars underneath the winery to see where the wines ferment and age.  

We’ll now leave it to the winemakers to continue to care for the vines, and wait for the grapes to develop and grow for the harvest. We’re looking forward to coming back already!

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Learning the art of wine-making in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet


Last Saturday, we spent an enthralling day at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion to learn all about the work and the choices the winemaker takes in the cellar to ferment, age, and blend the wine before it is ready for bottling.  As we were to learn there is much more to do than you might think and a multitude of tools and techniques that the winemaker can pick from to influence the structure, taste and aromatic depth of the wine.

Wine-making exerience gift in Saint Emilion

The day was split into several different workshops to explore different aspects of wine-making and wine tasting.  In the fermentation hall, Alain David-Beaulieu, the winemaker at Château Coutet, explained how the grapes were received at harvest time and the work carried out during the maceration and fermentation phases.

Participate in the making of your own organic Saint-Emilion Grand Cru wine

He showed us the old press that has been used at the winery for over 100 years to press the marc left in the bottom of the vats after racking the wines.  This gives the press wine that is aged separately, and held in reserve to be used if needed later on in the wine-making process.

Once the fermentation has finished, some of the lots of different grape varietals are pre-blended, and transferred into oak barrels.  A mixture of new and old barrels that have already been used to make one or two wines are used at the winery, and Alain explained the role that the oak barrels play in wine-making.  He talked about the work in the barrel room to stir the lees, top up the wine lost to the angel’s share, and the monitoring of the wines over time.

Perfect gift for a wine lover.  Make your own personalised bottles of Saint Emilion wine

Before tasting the wines, we participated in a fun workshop that put our sense of smell to the test.  We had to identify some of the aromas that can be found in wine, and learnt which ones were due to the grape varietal or terroir, and which were the result of being aged in oak.

Wine-tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

In the fermentation hall, we gathered around some barrels for the wine tasting and wine blending workshop.  First, we blind tasted three different wines, and had to identify which was the merlot, which the cabernet franc and which the malbec.  Once we had learnt what characteristics each of these grape varietals displayed, we then had a go at blending them to see how the wine changes as the percentages of each grape varietal vary.

Blend your own wine workshop in Saint-Emilion

We then blind tasted three other 2017 wines that had just finished the fermentation process.  Exactly the same wine but one which was being aged in the vat, one in an old oak barrel, and one in a new oak barrel.  The wines had only been put into the barrels a couple of weeks ago, but already it was possible to taste the difference between the wines.

Wine tasting course at the winery in Saint-Emilion

After this full morning, we had worked up a good appetite!  Before sitting down to lunch we refreshed our palates with the Clairet, a deep-coloured rosé wine that is made by drawing off some of the wine at the beginning of the maceration process.

Lunch and wine tasting at the organic winery in Saint-Emilion

Over lunch of Landaise duck confit salad, skewered steak with Bordelaise sauce, potato gratin and vegetables, cheese, and café gourmand, we tasted the 2014 and 2015 vintages of the Château Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, and the Château Belles-Cimes 2014, the winery’s second wine.

The cuvee Emeri, one of the world's oldest bottles of wine

The conversation flowed over lunch, and we listened intently to the wonderful story of the Cuvée Emeri.  When cleaning out the family cellar, Alain stumbled across an old bottle of wine buried in the earth floor.  The bottle was still full and had been closed with a glass stopper in the shape of a heart.  After having had the bottle analysed, it is estimated that it dates from around 1750, making it one of the oldest bottles of wine in the world!  Alain’s nephew, Adrien David-Beaulieu, then had the idea to try and recreate the wine as closely as possible using the oldest vines in the vineyard.  These vines are nurtured manually, the heavier work of tilling the soil done by horse.  The grapes are then hand-picked and sorted by hand, berry by berry.  The resulting wine is then put into hand-blown bottles that are made individually by one of France’s leading master glass blowers.  And the stopper is of course also made of glass in the shape of a heart, just like the original.  It took four years for the master wine blower to successfully recreate the liquid and airproof bottle!

Rent-a-vine in Saint-Emilion and make your own personalise bottles of organic wine

After lunch, we walked up onto the plateau where the vines stretch across to the village of Saint-Emilion, less than a kilometre away.  This is the most prestigious area for the Saint-Emilion vineyards and is where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are to be found.  We took a few minutes to take some pictures and enjoy the surrounding scenery.  On the way we talked about the different terroir and work currently being carried out to prune the vines and attach the remaining branches to the training wires.

Wine-making experience with personalised bottles of wine

Back at the winery, we then talked about how the wine is prepared for bottling and bottled.  We debated the use of sulphites, and talked about the choice of corks used.  We then went into the store and saw the machine in action that puts the capsules and labels on the bottles just before they are ready for consumption.

And so the day drew to a close.  We’d learnt a great deal, and saw just how varied and complex the life of a winemaker is.  We’ll now have to be patient as our wine slowly ages, but the wait for our personalised bottles will be surely worth it!  Many thanks to Alain and Juliette at Château Coutet, and to all of the participants for making this such a great day!

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Preparing the vines for the 2018 harvest


We spent Sunday in the vineyard at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion for a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience day, learning about all of the work that goes into nurturing the vines to produce the best grapes at harvest time.  At this time of year, there might not yet be any growth visible on the vines, but it is the winter work, and in particular the pruning that lays the foundation for managing the quantity and quality of grapes that will grow.

Rent-a-vine gfte experience in Saint-Emilion, France

After the introductions, we headed straight out into the vineyard, accompanied by Alain, the winemaker at Château Coutet and his son, Mathieu.  As we walked up onto the plateau, Alain explained the different terroir of the winery, as Château Coutet has the good fortune of having three distinct soil types among its different vineyard plots.

We passed a plot that is currently left as pasture.  Alain told us how the old vines had been pulled up a few years ago, and how it has since been left fallow to allow the soil to recover.

Vineyard experience gift in an organic winery

At the top of the hill, we reached the plateau, where the estate’s oldest vines are situated, including the plot that is worked manually and by horse, the grapes from which are used to make the Emeri and Demoiselle wines.  Alain explained the work that had been carried out during the winter, such as heaping the soil around the vine stocks.  He showed us how the vines had been pruned and explained the need to adapt the severity of the pruning depending on the age and health of the vines.  The older plots are pruned using the Guyot simple method to produce around 25 hectolitres of wine per hectare, compared to around 45 hectolitres for younger, more vibrant plots.

Pruning vine gift experience

The cut branches are left in the middle of the row and will be crushed to act as compost and return vital nutrients to the soil.

Original wine lover gift to discover the art of winemaking

The vines adopted by Gourmet Odyssey’s clients are in the neighbouring vineyard, and so we stopped by so that everyone could visit their micro-plot of vines, take some pictures, and encourage them to produce a good harvest this year.

Rent-a-Vine gift experience present

Once the vines have been pruned, the remaining branch needs to be bent and attached to the lower training wire.  From each of the eyes, a fruit bearing cane will grow, and by attaching the branch to the wire, this ensures that the canes will grow upright, and will be more evenly spaced, allowing a better aeration around the future grapes, which in turn will help prevent disease in wet weather.  The act of bending the branch also slows down the flow of sap, ensuring a more even distribution of the nutrients that it contains, and thus more homogenous grapes in terms of ripeness.

Participate in working in an organic French vineyard

Alain showed us how to bend and attach the branches using an ingenious tool developed specially for this task that allows you to twist the wire and cut it.  We then had a go for ourselves!  It’s a slightly scary job, as at first you are frightened of snapping the branch, but they are more flexible than you think!

Perfect gift for wine enthusiasts.  Learn what it's like to be a winemaker

We had earnt our aperitif, and enjoyed a glass of clairet rosé wine.  We then sat down to enjoy a lunch of foie gras with fig chutney, magret de canard served with crushed potato and truffle oil, cheese, and fruit tartlet, prepared on site by our fantastic local caterer. Over lunch we tasted the 2014 and 2015 vintages of the Château Coutet Grand Cru and the 2015 Château Belles-Cimes.

Wine tasting gift in an organic vineyard in France

We returned to the vineyard in the afternoon to learn about the work that will come over the following months before the grapes will be ready to be harvested.  De-budding, raising the training wires, treating the vines, de-leafing, trimming… there is still lots to be done.

Using robots to work in teh vineyard

Alain’s brother, Xavier, has developed a solar powered robot called the Vitirover that can be programmed to cut the grass automatically within a given vineyard plot using satellite positioning.  Alain showed us the robot and explained how it works.

Winery tour gift with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion

The day ended with a quick tour of the chai to see where the grapes will be received and the wine then aged in the barrel room.  We’ll learn more about these stages of the wine-making process during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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Making and ageing Santenay red Burgundy wine at Domaine Chapelle


We were warmly welcomed to Domaine Chapelle last weekend by Jean-François, Yvette and Myriam, for the first of the Vinification Experience Days for the 2017 vintage.  The aim of these interactive oenology courses is to learn about the wine-making process and the decisions that the wine-maker takes in the cellar, picking up where we left off after the harvest through to the time when the wine is ready for bottling.

After a welcome coffee, we started the day with an introduction to the winery by Jean-François. He told us about the history of his family, how the Burgundy wines are classified using the Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) system, and the geology that defines the different Burgundy vineyards. We learnt that even before the grapes are transformed into wine, the terroir enters into play, differentiating the wine that comes from different vineyard plots. 

These precious nuggets of information set us up for the rest of the day that would be dedicated to learning about the wine-making process and tasting wines.

One group stayed with Yvette for a fun sensorial workshop to identify the aromas and balance on the palate of Burgundy wines. This was an important step in preparing for the wine tasting to follow.

Oenology lesson in a French winery in Santenay Burgundy

The other group went with Jean-François to visit the fermentation hall and cellar where the wines age in oak barrels. Jean-François explained the work in the cellar during the ageing process and to better illustrate the influence that the barrels play on the aromatic and gustative characteristics of the wine, we tasted the same Santenay Gravières Premier Cru wine, the only difference being the type of barrel in which it was ageing.

Wine aageing process in Burgundy France

Surrounded by the large wooden vinification casks, we enjoyed a Santenay Saint-Jean white wine accompanied by the famous local gougères for the aperitif. 

We then sat down to lunch with other local delicacies. Jambon persillé, poulet Gaston Gérard, a selection of local cheeses and chocolate desert, accompanied by three different wines, the Santenay Clos des Cornières, Santenay Premier Cru Beaurepaire and Chassgane Montrachet Premier Cru reds.

After lunch we headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines and immortalise the moment with some photos. Jean-François pointed out the different areas of the Clos des Cornières vineyard, planted with three different ages of vines, the grapes from which are used in the making of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience. The oldest plot of vines will shortly be cleared and replaced.

Having different ages of vines in the same plot is often used to manage the longevity of a particular vineyard so as to not have to replace all of the vines at once, and thus be deprived of the wine for several years. It takes roughly 5 years before the vines will produce grapes that can start to be used to make wine.

Wine gift Box with a daay at the winery in Santenay, Burgundy, farnce

We then returned to the fermentation hall for a final wine tasting to compare the impact that the age of the vines has on the wine. We tasted the wine from the three different plots that make up the Clos des Cornières vineyard. They are each made and aged separately, until they are blended, shortly before bottling. We could taste the difference for ourselves and also noted that tasting wines that have not yet finished their ageing process is not always the easiest thing to do!

Ageing is a very important phase for softening the structure of the tannins and developing the aromatic complexity. Patience is needed, and a little imagination to try and foresee how the wine will turn out after a few more months ageing.

The time had come to end this great day learning and exchanging about wine. We’d had a privileged insight into the secrets of making wine, and we can’t wait to taste the final result of this 2017 vintage!

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Celebrate Motherís Day with a unique Wine Experience Gift


The time has come to find an original Mother’s Day gift to treat your Mum.  Instead of the usual bouquet of flowers or box of chocolates, give an unforgettable personalised wine experience gift to learn all about the art of wine-making.  You’ll adopt some organic vines in an award-winning French vineyard for her so that she can follow the making of her wine from the work in the vineyard right through to the time when the wine is ready for bottling with her personalised wine labels.

Adopt-a-vine Mother's Day gift experience in an award-winning French vineyard

This special Mother’s day gift box for wine lovers is much more than a wine course or wine tasting session.   Your Mum will receive a welcome gift pack with some wine accessories and personalised vine adoption certificate.  She’ll also gain access to her customer portal to receive newsletters and photos to learn all about the key stages of how the vines are cultivated organically to produce the best possible grapes come harvest time, and then how the grape juice is made into wine in the cellar.

Get involved in making your own organic wine in France

You can also include one or more wine experience days at the winery, each valid for two people, so your Mum can see her adopted vines, meet the winemaker and participate in the work in the vineyard or cellar.  It’s a great excuse to get away for a weekend break in France, and a fun way to discover the life of a winemaker.  Each day lasts from 9:30 to 16:00, during which time the winemaker and members of their team are by your side.  Wine tasting and winemaker’s lunch of regional specialties are included.

Personalised wine Mother's day gift.

At the end of the Wine Experience, your mother will get to choose the name of her wine and will receive one bottle of personalised wine for each adopted vine.  Each time she opens a bottle, she’ll be sure to remember this original Mother’s Day wine gift!

For last minute Mother’s Day gifts, we can send the personalised vine adoption certificate by email.

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A look at the ageing process of red wines


After the first stages of fermentation that followed on from the harvest, the red wine in most wineries is now approaching the start of the ageing phase. What happens whilst the wine is ageing and what keeps the winemaker busy in the cellar?

The start of the ageing process

The ageing process refers to the time and work carried out by the winemaker once the fermentation has finished, up until the wine is bottled. It can last for just a couple of weeks in the case of primeur wines that are made quickly to be drunk young, or up to several years for more complex wines that are crafted to be laid down and drunk in the future. It all depends on the type of wine that the winemaker wants to produce.

All begins once the fermentation has finished and the wine is racked to separate it from the larger lee particles of solid matter and dead yeast cells by transferring it to a new container where it will stay during the ageing period. This new container could be a vat, barrel, earthenware jar, or another type of recipient.

Fermentation process course in a Franche Winery

Recipients used for ageing wines

Wine is typically aged in a vat or a barrel. The choice of recipient the winemaker decides upon depends on the style of wine that the winemaker is striving for (see our article The role of vats, barrels, and other types of container in making wine).

The main tasks of the winemaker, whatever recipient is chosen, are to allow the wine to mature whilst protecting it from oxidation, to develop the taste of the wine, and to stabilise it. That means that although the wine remains in its recipient, it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening during the months of ageing.

Protecting the wine from oxidation

Air is an enemy of wine. If a wine is left in contact with the air, it will oxidise and become vinegar. When a wine is aged in wooden barrels, the winemaker has to pay particular attention to not let too much air stay in contact with the wine.

First of all, when a barrel is filled, the wood will soak up some of the wine. This is more marked when new barrels are used for the first time, and the wood can absorb as much as 5 litres of wine. In addition to this waste, whilst the wine is lying in the barrel, micro-oxygenation happens as the staves of the barrels naturally let a tiny bit of air to get inside the barrel and some of the wine evaporates in the opposite direction, often referred to as the angel’s share. Between the wine that is soaked up by the barrel and the wine that evaporates, a void is created at the top of the barrel as the level of wine decreases. To avoid this pocket of air from staying in contact with the wine, the winemaker regularly tops up the barrel to keep it full, a process known as ouillage. If the air was left inside the barrel, the bacteria that transform the ethanol in the wine to acetic acid will develop when combined with oxygen, and the wine will turn to vinegar.

Wine making course gift box

To top up the barrels, the winemaker takes out the stopper on top of the barrel, and pours in wine using an ouillette, which is a sort of watering can with a long thin spout. The same wine that was racked from the fermentation tank is used. The winemaker keeps aside some of the wine for this purpose, and it is stored in a small vat with a floating cap which adjusts to the level of wine remaining, thus keeping the air at bay.

Maturing the wine

So once the wine is no longer at risk from the oxygen, how does the winemaker develop the desired taste and character? The winemakers have many different techniques available to them that they will choose to use or discard as they taste and monitor the wines during the ageing process.

As the wines rest and age, the lees fall to the bottom of the recipient. If the winemaker wants to bring more depth and aromas to the wine, he can stir the lees to put them back into suspension in the wine. This is easiest done for wines ageing in barrels whereby the winemaker will open the stopper, put a long baton into the barrel and mix up the lees. This is known as batonnage. You can also find barrels that are fixed to a rotating support that allows the winemaker to turn the barrel, thus achieving the same objective.

Vine adoption gift box oenology course in France

Conversely, if the winemaker decides that the wine already has enough character, the wines will be racked to separate them from the lees.  This is done by pumping the wine into another recipient, leaving the lees at the bottom of the initial recipient. This action also clarifies the wine, which can still be a little cloudy at this stage.

Winemaking gift box in a Franche vineyard

Getting ready for bottling

Once the wine has matured sufficiently, there are a few steps necessary to stabilise it before it can be bottled. It first needs to be clarified further. The aim isn’t just to make the wine more visually attractive, but also to remove any particles that, if left in contact with the wine, may cause the wine to deteriorate after bottling.

The wine can be clarified by filtering or fining. Filtering consists of passing the wine through a filter to remove the particles. The winemaker needs to be careful when using this technique to not diminish the aromatic qualities or structure of the wine.

Fining works by adding a substance to the wine, traditionally egg white, but nowadays other elements are used such as bentonite or gelatine. Each of these substances work by attracting the particles held in suspension in the wine, which then stick to it as the veil slowly falls through the wine. Once it has settled at the bottom, the wine is then racked in the usual way.

At this stage, the wine is almost ready for bottling, a delicate operation for the wine which will be exposed to the air again and so the risk of oxidation rises once more. This is why most winemakers will add some sulphites to their wines just before bottling, adding it in the form of a tablet or powder.

Stabilising wine during a vinification and ageing day aat the winery

Sulphur is an anti-oxidant and an anti-septic that helps preserve the wine once it has been bottled, minimising the risk of oxidation, further fermentation in the bottle, or it being otherwise spoiled. All wines naturally contain some sulphur, because even if no SO² was added during the vinification or bottling stages, the enzymes secreted by the fermenting yeast cells produce SO² from the sulphites naturally present in the grapes.

So now the wine is ready for bottling and almost in your wine glass. Just a few more things for the winemaker to do. Choose the type of cork, cap or stopper used to seal the bottle, reserve the bottling lorry if the winemaker doesn’t own an in-house bottling line, label the bottles and pack them in the cases, or make room in the cellar for storing the unlabelled bottles of the new vintage, prepare the tasting notes for each wine, and organise the wine fairs and events to present the new wines. A winemaker’s work is never done…

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The role of vats, barrels, and other types of container in making wine

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