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Wine Making

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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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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Wine-making weekend in the Loire Valley


Last weekend saw the first Gourmet Odyssey wine-making courses of the year take place at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley. The snow that had fallen earlier in the week could still be seen in places, and was highlighted by the sun that shone down upon us.

  Organic vine adoption experience in the Lire Valley, France

Over a coffee and some croissants, our partner winemaker, Marc Plouzeau, welcomed us and explained the history of his family’s winery.

Meet the winemaker at a Chateau winery in France

The winery has some 30 hectares of vines, all of the vineyards being located on the left bank of the River Vienne, something of which Marc is very proud as he has a penchant for the unique terroir that characterises the wines from this region of the Chinon wine appellation.

A busy day awaited us which would see us meet our adopted vines, visit the chai to learn about the vinification techniques used to make wine, learn how to taste wines, enjoy lunch with the winemaker, and visit the cellar to taste the wines that are currently in the ageing process!

Wine gift adopted organic vines in France

To start, a quick visit of the adopted vines that were resplendent in their dusting of snow under the morning sun! It was also the opportunity to take a few pictures for the My Vine photo competition and to talk with Marc about the work that is currently in progress in the vineyard.

We then split into two groups. The first went to the chai with Marc and the second put their noses to the test in a workshop to help identify some of the aromas to be found in wine.

Wine-making course in a French winery in Chinon, France

With Marc, the apprentice winemakers discovered the work that takes place during the fermentation and ageing stages, starting with where we left off at harvest time. All of the wines at the winery are made and kept separate according to the plot of vines where the grapes come from, and Marc enlightened us regarding the differences between wines that are aged in a vat or a barrel.

Aromas wine course in a French organic winery

The aroma workshop helped us spot which aromas could help us identify a particular grape varietal and which could give us some pointers as to how the wine made or aged. It was a fun exercise that we could put into practice as we tasted the wines over lunch!

The morning drew to a close, and we reconvened in the Petite Bonnelière building where lunch awaited! As always, we enjoyed the tasty meal, prepared by Marc’s mum that paired perfectly with the wines.

Vineyard visit and winemaker meeting in a French Chateau

After lunch, we made our way to the Marc’s cellar, located in a vast cave underneath the Chinon fortress.

The cellar is where the wines that are aged in barrels are kept.  It’s the perfect place because the temperature and humidity are always constant. We had the privilege of tasting some of the 2017 wines that are still in the ageing process. We tasted a wine that is ageing in a vat, one in a new barrel, another in a barrel that has been used for a few wines already, finishing with a press wine. A few grimaces as the press wine bit into the cheeks, as the press wine is made from the juice that is extracted from the solid matter that is left in the bottom of the vat after the maceration period. It’s a very tannic and concentrated wine that is not meant for drinking on its own, but can add complexity and depth when blended with other wines. It was a great way to complement what we had learnt in the morning and to learn about different choices available to a winemaker!

Wine tasting and wine-making course in France

It was a fantastic weekend to start the new year, and we thank Marc for all of his passionate explanations.

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How to read wine labels


Whether your wine bottles have personalised labels, as with our adopt a vine wine experience, or not, they contain lots of information, some of it not always easy to understand! Some of the information is a legal obligation, some is useful to describe and qualify the wine, and other mentions are sometimes purely whimsical. Here’s a short guide to help you decipher a wine label.

Most French wine bottles have two labels. The main label that is on the front of the bottle and a back label. Usually the front label is used for the name of the wine, the branding and the obligatory information. The back label is often used to give more information, notably about its taste, the winery or pairing suggestions. 

It is not set in stone however on which label much of the required information should appear, and so sometimes as little information as possible will appear on the front label, to keep it as uncluttered as possible, leaving more space for the name of the wine and graphics.

The legally required information

Some of the information has to appear on a label. In France there are 8 required mentions for still wines, and for sparkling wines a ninth is added to state the level of sugar.

Obligatory mentions on a French organic wine label

First of all the name of the appellation (AOC / AOP) or the protected geographical indications (PGI), both of which serve to guarantee where a wine was made and the methods used in working in the vineyard and cellar.

Then comes the volume of wine. A classic French wine bottle holds 0.75 l of wine, 1.5 l for a magnum, 3 l for a jeroboam etc. There are however some special cases such as 0.62 l for bottles of “vin jaune” that are put into a distinctive bottle, called a “Clavelin”. (0.62 l represents the amount of wine that is left of 1 l of wine at the end of the 6 year ageing period. The rest is lost to the angels share!).

The alcoholic degree gives an indication to the maturity of the grapes when they were harvested. A ripe grape has more sugar in it, giving a wine with a higher alcoholic degree.

The country where the wine comes from, the name and legal entity of the bottler. The bottler is not necessarily the winemaker, and can be a wine merchant.

A batch number is also attributed to the wine to identify where exactly it came from and how the wine was made. Sometimes this number is printed directly onto the bottle instead of the label.

For health warnings, in addition to the pregnant woman graphic which has been required since 2005, the label is also obliged to say if the wine contains sulphites, and since 2012 if it contains any allergens such as egg or dairy based products which can sometimes be used to clarify or filter the wines. If you’re worried about sulphites, please note that a wine that is completely free of sulphites does not exist. It’s naturally present in the grape, and is indeed needed to help stabilise and keep the wine a minimum amount of time.  Natural wines are wines that have no added sulphites, but there is no certification and hence logo to look out for. Natural wines tend not to travel or keep as long as wines that have had some sulphites added, so it’s good to take into consideration when and where you will likely drink the wine if you see a mention like “sans sulphites ajoutés”, “no added sulphites”, “vin nature”, “natural wine”.

Obligatory mentions on a French organic wine label

In addition to these legal mentions for all wines, some AOP regions impose other requirements for the labels. For example in Burgundy, the name of the wine should not be larger than the name of the appellation. The name of the appellation has to be the tallest and widest in font size of all of the information printed on the labels.

Other information: optional, but regulated

Even if the majority of the remaining information is mainly commercial, the winemaker still has rules to follow. On most bottles, the name of the wine will appear along with the type of wine and obligatory information as decided by the appellation. The winemaker may also include the name of the village or the vineyard where the grapes were picked. In a wide spread and well-known wine growing region such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, this helps to identify different styles of wine.

Pay attention to some specific words such as “Clos”, “Château” and “Cru”, which are reserved for use by AOP or PGI wines that have been made exclusively from grapes coming from the named winery or vineyard.

The vintage, which is always the year that the grapes were harvested, is an important piece of information, because some years are better than others, some wines are better drunk sooner rather than later, and some have a better potential for storing than others. To use the vintage, at least 85 % of the grapes have to have been picked from the mentioned year.

The winemaker may also choose to mention that the wine was estate bottled or “mis en bouteille au domaine / château”. This is reassuring to some customers that the wine was made by the winemaker, and the grapes or wine weren’t bought and made by a wine merchant.

In France, the grape varietal used in making the wine is not always mentioned, and is done so much less frequently than New World wines. This requires some basic knowledge on the part of the customer, for example to know that a Burgundy red wine is made from pinot noir grapes and a Burgundy white wine from Chardonnay. It can be very useful to state the grape varietal to help consumers with little wine knowledge, or to help people when it comes to blended wines. For example if you know that you prefer fruitier wines when choosing a Bordeaux wine, it would be helpful to look for a wine that has a high percentage of Merlot over Cabernet Sauvignon, and vice versa if you prefer a wine that is more robust and has a longer finish.

You will sometime see a phrase similar to “elevé en fût de chêne” or “aged in oak barrels”. This is an optional mention, but is regulated. At least 50% of the wine has had to have spent at least 6 months in an oak barrel. Ageing in oak changes the structure, taste and aromatic characteristics of a wine, so this mention can help you depending on the style of wine that you are looking for.

Other information: optional, but unregulated

This where you have to be a little more careful not to be led astray. Although some of the information may be very helpful in helping you to choose a wine and learn a little more how it tastes, sometimes the information can be a little subjective.

For example, our partner winemaker in Alsace, the Domaine Stentz-Buecher, puts a scale on the back label to show how dry or sweet their different wines are. This is very helpful to the consumer as the different grape varietals of Alsace wines can vary greatly in how dry or sweet they are, and even the same grape varietals from different winemakers or vineyards can vary.

An example of a mention that is much more subjective and can be misleading is “Vielles vignes” or old vines. As vines get older, their roots dig deeper, and they produce better quality grapes. So “vielles vigne” should be a term that indicates a higher quality wine. The problem is at what age does a vine become old? There is no regulation as to the age, and so it is up to the winemaker. For one winemaker a plot of 30 year old vines might be considered vielles vignes, however another winemaker who has 80 year old vines might consider them to be still relatively youthful. It can be helpful when choosing among different wines from the same producer, but should be taken with more caution when comparing wines from different winemakers.

Regarding the graphics of the label, there are no rules, and so the winemaker has more freedom to be creative, which can sometimes lead to some very surprising results! When choosing the design, the winemaker is trying to create an identity for the wine, and to make it visually attractive to the target consumer. But the winemaker has to be careful because what might attract one person, might not be to the taste of someone else, and sometimes the visual identity can make finding and reading the rest of the information more difficult.

How to read a label on a French wine bottle

And organic wine labels?

Until 2012, the organic certification for wines only concerned itself with the grapes were grown, and not how the wine was made once the grapes had been picked. French wine labels stated “wine made from organically grown grapes” or “vin issu de raisins de l’agriculture biologique”.

Since then, the winemakers work in the cellar to age and bottle the wine is also controlled to meet organic standards. For example organic wine has to have a level of sulphites less than 100 mg/l for red wines, and 15 mg/l for white wines. Wine can now be called “organic wine”, and this mention now appears of the labels.

There are two logos used in France to identify that a wine is organically certified. Firstly there is the AB logo (Agriculture biologique) and secondly the green leaf European organic logo. On older bottles prior to 2010, you’ll most likely see just the AB logo, but since then, you’ll either see the AB logo together with the European logo, or just the European logo.

French Organic Farming logo
European Orgnaic Farming logo

Biodynamically certified wines can be identified by either the Demeter or Biodyvin logos. Read our article on organic, biodynamic and natural wines for more information.

Biodyvin biodynamic farming label
 
Demeter biodynamic farming label
  

Don’t judge a book by its cover

It’s therefore worth spending a bit of time reading the wine labels when choosing a bottle. But as with reading, it’s best to look inside, and so the surest way to judge the quality of a wine is to open the bottle and taste it!

 

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Original St Valentineís gift for wine lovers. Adopt some organic vines!


Your other half loves wine? For the perfect Saint Valentine’s present, adopt some organic vines in an award-winning French winery and follow the making of your own personalised bottles of wine. It’s a fantastic way to learn about the art of wine-making and gives you a great excuse to get away and share a weekend break together in one of France’s beautiful wine-growing regions.

Your valentine will love following the progress of his or her adopted vines from the work in the vineyard at one of our organically certified vineyards to the bottling of the personalised wine bottles. The apprentice winemakers will receive newsletters, articles and photos to keep them updated and to learn about all of the hard work and skill that goes into make a quality wine. When you get to taste this unique St Valentine’s wine at the end of the experience, it sure to have a very special taste!

Personnalised bottles of wine for the Valentines Day

And if you’re looking for an original weekend break idea, visit the winery, meet the winemaker and see your adopted vines! You can add one or more wine experience days at the winery. Each day is valid for two, and you have the choice of three themes. The Discovery Experience Day teaches you about all of the work and care that goes into nurturing the vines, and gets you involved in working in the vineyard alongside the winemaker. The Harvest Experience Day enables you to participate in picking the grapes, and to learn about the work in the chai at harvest time. The Vinification Experience Day explores the choices the winemaker takes in the cellar to ferment, age, blend and bottle the wine through a series of interactive workshops.

Wine course in a French vineyard for wine lovers

Each of the wine experience days enable you to learn directly from the winemakers and their teams, and last the whole day from 09:30 to 16:00, the time necessary to get to the know the winemakers more and learn about the complexities of wine-making. You will also taste the wines from the winery and share lunch to sample other local delicacies.

Adopt-a-vine Valentine gift in a French winery

We are very particular when it comes to choosing our partner winemakers. They are selected not only for the high quality of their wine, but also for their warmth and hospitality in welcoming you to their winery and in explaining their profession. We have also chosen to work exclusively with organically certified wineries, and it’s fascinating to learn about all they do to enhance the quality of the environment around them, and protect the health of their family, employees, neighbours and customers.

We promise you a fun, enlightening, and thought provoking experience to learn more about the world of wine.

More information about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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A recap of the 2017 wine vintage so far


Now that the 2017 harvest is well behind us, we took a little tour of the French wine growing regions to ask each of our Wine Experience winery partners to give us their first impressions of this vintage. Not all is finished of course as there is still lots of work to do in the cellar, but we can already take stock of where we are, now that the work in the vineyard has ended.

The frost in the beginning of the year

The beginning of 2017 was fairly cold with regular rainfall to build up good levels of water reserves in the vineyards. Spring however was much harsher on the winemakers, with many of France’s wine-growing regions hit by frost at the end of April.

Our partner wineries in the Languedoc, Bordeaux, Loire Valley, Burgundy and Alsace reported alarming news about vines that had been damaged by frost in their regions, but fortunately they were spared or only lightly impacted thanks to different ways that they work to protect against the frost.

Christmas gift box wine making experience

The end of spring and the beginning of summer were then sunny in most of the regions, allowing the vines to flower without too much coulure and for the vegetation to grow well. By the end of June, most winemakers were already predicting an early harvest such as at Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhone Valley or at Domaine Chapelle in the Côte de Beaune.

The summer drought

The following summer months were generally very hot and dry, with virtually no rain in most of the regions. A few showers in July in the Loire Valley and in Burgundy, and in the beginning of September in Saint-Emilion enabled the vines to grow and the grapes to mature nicely.

Elsewhere, not only were the days extremely hot, but the nights too, causing hydric stress in the vines from August onwards. This meant that the grapes were small and they quickly saw the sugar concentration levels rise in the south and east of France, indicating an early and small harvest.

Oenology course in France gift idea

The advantage of the hot and dry weather was the very small amount of fungal disease in the vineyards. No mildew or odium of any significance, and so much fewer treatments were needed. Alsace reported some fruit fly, but by picking the grapes earlier, they didn’t have time to affect the quality of the grapes.

The 2017 harvest

The high level of sugar concentration and the small amount of juice, combined with the early véraison when the grapes change colour, meant that the start of the harvest was exceptionally early this year.

Our partners at Domaine Allegria in the Languedoc and at Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône wine-growing regions opened the harvest on the 16th and 25th August respectively.  Just behind them, and much rarer for these regions, were Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace on the 29th August, almost a month earlier than usual, and Burgundy on the 1st and 4th September at Domaine Brocard and Domaine Chapelle. The Loire Valley followed in mid-September, again almost a month earlier, and in Bordeaux where the final ripening of the grapes had slowed down to delay the start of the harvest.

Harvest Experience Day at the winery

We noticed something else at most of our partners. The harvest was also very short, lasting just 3-4 weeks compared to 6 in a more normal year.  Due to the lack of juice and the hot weather which lasted into September, most of the winemakers were worried about there not being enough juice, and therefore not enough wine. They therefore chose to pick the grapes as early as possible to try and make the most of what little juice there was before the grapes dried out further.

In the vineyards that were impacted by the frost earlier in the year, the grape skins were noticeably thicker, which meant that the winemakers had to adapt in a couple of ways. In the vineyard, they had to wait as long as possible to wait for the optimum maturity to be reached, and in the cellar they had to avoid extracting too much tannin and colour from the skins during the maceration period for the red wines.

In the cellar

Generally the winemakers are in agreement that the quality of this year’s vintage is very good due to the near perfect condition of the grapes at harvest time. Their good health and maturity also helped the fermentation to start well, meaning that the musts needed little work. The first tastings seem promising, even if there is still a long way to go.

Vinification experience in France gift idea

So despite a problematic year weather wise throughout France, we can rejoice in the overall quality of the 2017 harvest. Even if there wasn’t as much as we would have liked everywhere, the quality should shine through once the vinification and ageing have finished.  We can’t wait to taste the 2017 wines!

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Adopt a vine this Christmas for the perfect gift experience to put under the tree


Looking to spoil a wine lover with a great Christmas wine gift this year? Adopt some vines with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience for a present that is sure to please. Your adopted vine owner will get behind the scenes at an organic winery in one of France’s beautiful wine growing regions and follow the making of their own personalised wine vintage. It’s a great way to discover what it’s like to be a winemaker and all of the work and passion that goes into making a good bottle of wine.

Who is this Christmas wine gift good for?

For all wine lovers, enthusiasts and people who enjoy wine, whether a novice or an experienced wine connoisseur, this is a great Christmas gift idea. Through the articles and photos posted in the personalised customer portal and sent by newsletter, your recipient will follow the evolution of their vines and the harvest, and then the work in the cellar. At the end of the Wine Experience, they will end up with one personalised bottle of wine for each adopted vine. The recipient can choose the name that will be used to personalise the wine label for the bottles.

Wine gift box for wine lovers at Christmas

Which Wine Experience gift pack to choose?

There are numerous options for this unique Christmas wine experience gift. First choose between red or white wine, then the wine-growing region and winery. Then select the number of vines to adopt, and so the number of personalised bottles of wine produced.

You can also add to the gift pack by including one to three wine experience days at the winery, each lasting from 09:30 – 16:00 with wine tasting and lunch included, to get away for a weekend break for two, meet the winemaker and get involved in the work at the winery. We offer three different wine courses. The Discovery Experience Day teaches you about the work in the vineyard and your adoptive parent will get the chance to have a go at tasks such as pruning, de-budding or raising the training wires. Or have a go at picking the grapes by getting involved in a Harvest Experience Day and learning about the first stages of fermentation. And finally there is the option of a Vinification Experience Day to discover the work in the cellar to age and blend the wines by participating in wine tasting sessions and practical workshops.

Organic Vineyard tour and oenology courses in France

All of our partner wineries are organically certified and some are also biodynamic. The winemakers are chosen for the quality of their wine and the passion they have for their profession. They are delighted to share their knowledge of wine-making, guaranteeing an unforgettable time and enlightening wine tasting sessions!

So what’s included in the Christmas Wine Experience gift box?

You’ll receive a personalised welcome gift pack at your chosen address that you can slip under the Christmas tree. It contains a few goodies such as a Drop Stop wine pourer, a re-usable glass wine stopper, a wine cooler bag, a personalised vine adoption certificate and guide to explain the gift.

Adopt-a-vine gift box for Christmas

The activation code contained in the gift box will enable the recipient to connect to the customer portal and begin their wine adventure online. There they will find all the information needed about the wine, winemakers and the winery, and they will also receive newsletters to follow the evolution of their vines and wine throughout their vintage.

To learn more about adopting vines for a Christmas gift

Take a look at some of the customer comments that our adoptive vine owners have sent us, and you can also read some of the press articles that have been written about us.

If you would like to order a Wine Experience or to consult our Christmas delivery schedule, please visit our website.

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Harvest Experience Days in Saint-Emilion


The 2017 grape harvest took us to Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion last weekend as we joined up with some of the 2017 vintage Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients.  The purpose of the Harvest Experience Days was to get involved in the harvest and to learn about what happens to the grapes once they have been picked and they get back to the winery.  As we were to learn, there is much more to harvesting than just picking grapes!

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

After the brief introductions, we were each equipped with a basket and pair of secateurs and we walked through the vineyards up onto the plateau to enjoy the fantastic view over rolling vineyards to Saint-Emilion and the surrounding world renowned Grand Cru Classé vineyards.

It is here that the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located, and we took a few minutes to visit our vines and take some photos.

Adopt-a-vine gift experience in Saint-Emilion

It was then time to get down to the serious business of the day, and so we headed to one of the neighbouring vine plots where the vines are around 90 years old.  Here we received our instructions as to what grapes to pick and which to leave behind.  Then in twos, we spread out among the rows and started picking the grapes.

Grape picking experience gift in an organic vineyard in France

The grapes are very healthy this year, and of a good quality, so there was very little to leave behind and the baskets filled up quickly.  A few of us had a go at being porter too, carrying the crates of grapes between the harvesters and the trailer.

Harvest my own grapes and participate in making my own personalised bottles of organic wine

As we picked, the questions and discussions were varied, covering topics such as what it means to be organic, what wildlife can be found in the vineyard, the work that had already been carried out to nurture the vines, and the classification system of the Saint-Emilion wines.

When we had finished picking, we admired our harvest and then followed the tractor back to the winery.

Rent-a-vine in Saint Emilion and get involved in the harvest

On the way, we said hello to the horses that work in the vineyard where we had picked the grapes.

Adopt an organic vine and learn about making organic wine

Back at the winery, we enjoyed a nicely chilled Claret rosé wine, before sitting down to the harvesters lunch where we continued the tasting with the winery’s Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2013, 2015 and 2014 vintages, and a tasting of their second wine.

Winery tour and wine tasting at an organic winery in Saint-Emilion

After lunch, it was time to sort the grapes, and we were to do it the traditional way, by hand!  Any dried grapes or ones that had some mould on them, were picked off and put into a waste bin, and we then removed the rest of the berries by hand into a big white bucket, and discarded the stem into the waste bin.  It was a slow job, but little by little, the buckets started to fill with the perfect grapes.

Wine-making experience gift and harvest in Saint-Emilion

We then went into the chai to see where the grapes are put into the vats.  Here they will stay during the fermentation period.  We learnt how the grape juice ferments and tasted two different juices directly from the vats to compare one that had just started to ferment and one that had been fermenting for a week.  There was a marked difference in the two.

Organic wine-making gift in Bordeaux

We learnt all about pumping over the wines to extract the colour and tannins from the skins that are pushed to the top of the vats by the carbon dioxide that is released during the fermentation process, and how the wine will then be racked to draw off the clearer wine, and the remaining marc pressed to give the press wine that will be blended in with the final wine.

Winery tour and cellar visit in Saint-Emilion

We finished the day with a quick tour of the cellar where the old vintage bottles are stored, and to see the barrel room where the wines will slowly age before being ready for bottling.  We’ll be spending more time here next year during the Vinification Experience Days to learn all about the choices that the winemakers take and the work involved as the wines age, are blended and made ready for bottling.

It was a great weekend.  We learnt more about what it’s really like to be a winemaker and had fun in the process.  Many thanks to all who participated!

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The 2017 harvest in Chablis


Last weekend saw us travel to Chablis to participate in the Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.  We weren’t there just to pick grapes, but to also learn about all of the work in the cellar at harvest time to press the grapes, put them into the vats, and to follow their progress through the first stages of fermentation.

Original wine lover gift. Adopt vines in Chablis and make your own personalised bottles of wine

After a welcome coffee and brief introduction, we made our way through the rolling vineyards to the Butteaux vineyard, a Premier Cru plot where the winery’s team of harvesters were already hard at work.  Emilie and Cécile distributed the secateurs and buckets, and we had a few volunteers to be porters.

Emilie and Cécile explained which grapes to cut and which to leave behind.  To make the job easier, the first task is to remove the leaves from in front of the grape bunches so that you can see them and get to the stalk more easily with the secateurs.   In twos we spread out among the rows and started to harvest the grapes.

Participate in the harvest and learn about the art of winemaking

Once the buckets were full we called out to the porters to come.  We then emptied the buckets into the hops carried on their backs.  Their role was to then carry the grapes to the truck, climb a ladder and then tip the grapes out.  It’s not as easy as you would think to throw the grapes over your shoulder whilst at the top of a ladder, but after the first couple of attempts, the porters soon found their individual styles!  We rotated roles, so that all of those who wanted to have a go being porter could see what it was like to carry a load of grapes on their back.

Biodynamic wine gift in France to get involved in the grape harvest

Time flies when you’re concentrated on harvesting, and before we knew it, we met up with the team of professional harvesters.  Emilie and Cécile walked through the rows to see how we had got on, and announced that we had done a great job, leaving behind very few of the precious grapes.

We then followed the grapes journey through the delightful scenery back to the winery.  Here the grapes were weighed, and then wait for a press to become free.  When we arrived, Julien Brocard was busy emptying the marc of skins, pips and stalks that had been left behind from the previous load.  He explained what he was doing and how he had been battling with a blown fuse that had slowed progress down during the morning.

Wine-making experience gift in Chablis

Our harvest was then emptied into the press and we watched as it started working to extract the juice from the grapes.  We learnt about how the juice is held in a vat until the solid particles that manage to get through the press filters have settled in the bottom of the vat, a process known as débourbage.  The clear juice is then drawn off and put into another vat or wooden cask to begin the fermentation process, transforming the sugar into alcohol.

Adopt a vine and get involved in making your own personalised bottles of biodynamic wine

It had been a busy morning, and our aperitif well deserved!  On the terrace overlooking the Sainte Claire vineyard, we tasted a Petit Chablis, Chablis Sainte Claire and Chablis Premier Cru, all from the 2015 vintage to see how the wine differs between the three appellations.  We then sat down to lunch and continued the wine tasting with some older vintages.

Wine tasting gift at the winery in Chablis

In the afternoon, we walked out into the Sainte Claire vineyard to find our adopted vines.  Having taken a few souvenir photos, we learnt more about the challenges of planning for the harvest and the differences between harvesting grapes manually and by machine.

Rent-a-vine in a French biodynamic vineyard

We then made our way back to the winery for a final tasting of the day.  We first tasted the grape juice from our harvest.  It was very sweet, a good sign of the maturity of the grapes.  We then tasted some juice from grapes that had been harvested five days previously.  The fermentation had already begun, and we could taste that it was less sweet and could feel the fizz in our mouths of the carbon dioxide that is released during the fermentation process.

Original wine gift for wine lovers

We look forward to coming back early next year for the Vinification Experience Days to see how our wine has developed and to learn about the work that remains between now and the wine being ready to be bottled.  Many thanks to all who participated for a great day!

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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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Harvesting the grapes in the Rhone Valley


As we were setting up on Saturday for the Harvest Experience Day with Marie-Pierre and Eric, the winemakers at Domaine la Cabotte, we looked out at the surrounding vineyards and noted how dry the soil was and how warm it was despite the early hour. The team of harvesters were already at work. With the heat of the summer, the harvest started earlier than usual, and the winery is trying to get the grapes in more quickly to try and keep as much juice as possible for this harvest that will be small in quantity. The Gourmet Odyssey apprentice harvesters were therefore very welcome to lend a helping hand!

Over a coffee and croissant, we listened to Eric quickly introduce us to the winery. We then headed into the vineyard just below the winery building to harvest the clairette grapes before the rain arrived, which was forecast for the end of the morning.

harvest wine box in the rhone valley france

As Eric explained, normally that white grapes such as the viognier and clairette are picked first, then the red grapes such as the syrah, moruvèdre or grenache. This year, the high temperatures in July and August meant that the harvest started on the 25th August, some 2 weeks earlier than a typical year, and with the red grapes.

The night time temperatures have also not been cooling as much as they would normally in September, meaning that the maturity is progressing very quickly. The harvest usually spans over almost a month, but all will be finished by Monday the 11th September, meaning that the whole harvest will have taken just two and a half weeks. If we wait any longer, the heat will have dried the grapes out, meaning less juice, and therefore less wine.

All of the red grapes have now been harvested and there is just the clairette left, which has been allotted to us. The clairette that we picked is not used for the usual white wine, but for a wine that will be made and aged in a large clay amphora, something that the winery has been experimenting with for a couple of years now. For making wine this way, we’re looking for a more ripe grape that has less acidity than for a classic white wine where you need more freshness. That’s why these grapes had been left to the end.

meet the winemaker at a harvest experience day in france

It was therefore up to us to pick a good harvest for Marie-Pierre and Eric, both of whom are particularly passionate about this wine. The secateurs were distributed, and then we split up among the vine rows.

harvest experience day at the winery in the cotes du rhone france

The grapes were of a very good quality, making our work that much easier. We didn’t need to sort the grapes whilst picking, as all the grape bunches were in good condition. However we had to take our time as the colour of the grapes were camouflaged with the leaves.  We therefore first stripped away the leaves to make it easier to see the grapes and cut the stems.

oenology course in the rhone valley vineyard france

The buckets quickly filled up, and as Eric and a few courageous volunteers emptied them into the trailer, the conversations abounded regarding the grape varietals, weather and the early harvest. Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the row, and just in time, as the rain started to fall. Along with the team of harvesters next to us, we had enough grapes to fill the press.

harvest experience wine box gift in france

We followed the tractor and trailer full of the precious harvest back to the shelter of the chai. Here we saw how the grapes were emptied into the press. Eric then gently rotated the press to ensure that the grapes were evenly spread in the press and to make place for the rest of the grapes. Once it was full, Eric set a gentle programme during an hour and a half to extract the juice as gently as possible which helps preserve the aromas.

winery tasting and vineyard visit in france

We had earned our aperitif and enjoyed it with the hum of the press in the background. Marie-Pierre brought out some homemade savoury cake to accompany the Colline, a very lively white wine. We also tasted a previous vintage of the white wine that is made in the amphora to see how the grapes that we had harvested in the morning might end up.

harvester meal and wine tasting for the harvest in a french vineyard

We tasted the red wines from the winery over lunch, prepared by a local restaurant, Au Temps de Vivre in Uchaux. We talked with Eric, Marie-Pierre and Jacqueline about the 2017 vintage which will be small, but should be of a good quality. We’ll be able to see for ourselves during the Vinification Experience Days early next year!

By the time we had finished our meal, the press had finished, and so we saw how the pressed juice is pumped into the vat. It will stay there for a couple of days to allow the solid particles to settle in the bottom of the vats, before the clarified wine is pumped into another vat where it will start the two week fermentation process. The skin, pips and stalks that remained in the press were removed and will be sent to the distillery to make liqueur.

wine-making and grapes picking course in france

While the press was being cleaned, we made the most of a dry patch, and went to the vineyard where our adopted vines are located to see how they had fared since the last Discovery Experience Day. After taking a few photos, we returned to see if the vat had been filled with the juice from our harvest.

Eric explained what happens during the first days of fermentation and how the grape juice transforms into wine. We then finished the day answering many questions about biodynamics, a way of making wine that Marie-Pierre and Eric are expert in and passionate about.

wine-making experience in a biodynamic vineyard in france

We could stay listening to Eric talk about his terroir and vines for hours, but all good things must come to an end.  At least a few bottles, taken home in the boot of the car, will allow the pleasure to last a little longer!

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The 2017 harvest gets underway in Burgundy


Last weekend saw the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients give the first snips of the secateurs to get the 2017 harvest underway at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy.  We were there to participate in the harvest, and to follow the grapes journey into the fermentation tanks.  As were to learn, there is much more to the harvest than just picking grapes!

Wine lover gift experience in Burgundy.  Rent-a-Vine and get involved in the harvest of your grapes

After the introductions in the garden of the château and some coffee and croissants to give us strength, secateurs in hand, we made our way to the Clos des Cornières vineyard.  This is where our adopted vines are located, and so before getting down to the serious business of harvesting, we took a few minutes to locate our vines and take a few pictures of them laden with grapes.  For those that had already joined us for a Discovery Experience Day, we could see the fruit of our labour in helping the vines produce the best possible grapes!

Adopt-a-Vine gift in an organic vineyard in France

Jean-François explained how to harvest the grapes, which ones to cut and which to leave behind.  In pairs, we were assigned a row and given a crate to put the picked grapes in.  To make it easier to see the grapes (and to lower the risk of cutting our fingers!), we started by removing the leaves in front of the grapes, and then snip snip, we started picking!

Weekend break in France to get involved in the grape harvest

This year there are many more grapes than the very meagre 2016, and the grapes were in very good condition, so the crates soon filled up with our harvest. Once we had filled a crate, we brought it back to the beginning of the row, and took a new one.

Great wine gift idea. Harvest your own vines in a French organic vineyard

We then followed the grapes back to the winery to see how they are received.  First we emptied the grapes onto the sorting table to remove any unripe ones or leaves that might have made their way into the crates.

Wine-making experience weekend in Burgundy, France

The sorted grapes then slide down a shoot into the cuverie below.  The grapes that we had picked were not separated from their stems, and so the whole bunches were put into the vats.  The stems contain tannins and help add structure to the wine.  Over the past couple of years, part of the harvest is left with the stems and part of it goes through the destemming machine so that just the berries go into the vats.  This is yet another decision that the winemaker takes depending on the year and the wine that he or she is trying to make.

Rent-a-Vine and make your own personalised organic French wine

Down below, the grapes fall into a trolley, which is then wheeled to the vat and emptied onto a conveyor belt that carries the grapes up and into the vat.  The aim is to get as many whole grapes as possible into the vat to help preserve the fruitiness and aromatic qualities of the wine.

Learning about the work in the cellar at harvest time.  A unique wine lover gift.

By this time, we had earned our aperitif!  In the garden overlooking the vines, we enjoyed a glass of Santenay Saint Jean 2015 white wine and a few gougères, the local delicacy!

Wine tasting gift experience with the winemaker in Burgundy

We then sat down to lunch in the harvesters’ refectory, prepared by the excellent local caterer, Olivier Huez in Meursault.  During the meal we tasted some of the winery’s red wines; the Santenay Clos des Cornières 2013, the Santenay “Les Gravières” Premier Cru 2012 and the Santenay “Comme” Premier Cru 2006.

After lunch, we returned to the cuverie, where Jean-François explained how the grapes will ferment over the coming couple of weeks, and the work that will be necessary before the wine is ready to be racked and put into barrels to start the long process of malo-lactic fermentation and ageing.  He also told us about the different process used to make white wine.

Original wine gift to learn about all about wine-making

At the end of the day, hopefully we had all learned a little more about all of the effort, care and dedication that goes into making wine.  We look forward to coming back next year to see how our harvest is developing during the Vinification Experience Days, and to learn more about the remaining work until the wine is ready for bottling.

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What to get the person that has everything ?

Adopt a Vine in France and Let Them Follow the Making of Their Own Wine !

From € 159

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