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Wine Making

De-budding, a critical task in producing good quality grapes


We met up with Mathieu, winemaker at Château Coutet, over a coffee and pain au chocolat. We were in Saint-Emilion for a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience day to learn about all of the work that the winemaker undertakes in the vineyard. Mathieu is the 14th generation of winemaker to nurture the great vines at Château Coutet.

 

Vineyard tour in Saint-Emilion, France

Château Coutet is on the right bank of the Bordeaux vineyards, the kingdom of the Merlot grape varietal. The limestone terroir of Saint-Emilion produce wines that have stood the test of time, and as we climb the hillside through the vineyards, Mathieu shows us the changing soil types.

On the way, our path crosses a little robot, invented by Mathieu’s uncle. It automatically cuts the grass in a given vineyard, allowing the grass to be kept short and avoiding it being destroyed by turning the soil. Turning the soil too much can disturb the microbial life in the soil, which is the natural habitat of worms, essential to maintaining the vitality of the soil.

Vine-adoption experience in Saint-Emilion France

We visited our adopted vines in the Peycocut vineyard situated on the limestone plateau, the best terroir in Saint-Emilion. Here we are surrounded by the prestigious wineries that have helped write the history of the Saint-Emilion wines.

Wine lover ideal gift in Bordeaux, France

De-budding is one of the most important jobs in the vineyard during spring. We have to select the shoots that we will keep on the vine. Some will produce the grape bunches for this year, and others will produce the branches for next year. This task is therefore vital in ensuring this year’s production and in safeguarding the future production.

Wine-making courses near Bordeaux, France

The difficulty lies in choosing which branches to keep. Mathieu clearly explained the theory to us, and then it all came to life as we had a go ourselves, worked with him in de-budding the vines.

Organic vine tending experience near Bordeaux, France

We then returned to the winery to enjoy tasting some of the wines, starting with the 2016 Château Belles Cimes. It’s the winery’s second wine, made from the grapes from the young vines and some of the press wine. It’s a fairly fruity wine which is ideal for the aperitif.

Lunch was served in the dining room, overlooked by the portraits of some of Mathieu’s ancestors. The 2014 Château Coutet, which is the main wine, accompanied the starter. It’s a blend of the different terroir and grape varietals, offering elegance and complexity. We then went up a notch with the 2015 Château Coutet. Blended from the same terroir and grape varietals as the 2014 vintage, the 2015 has a more evolved aromatic character, and has more power and length on the palate. Mathieu spoiled us over cheese, serving the 2014 Cuvée Demoiselle. It’s a very select wine made from the winery’s best and oldest vines that are worked using horses.

Winery visit gift box in France

After lunch Mathieu explained the family’s commitment to organic wine-making, and we visited the vinification hall and the family cellar where the old bottles are stored. We go back in time as we imagine tasting a wine from 1953.

The day at Château Coutet drew to a close. Many thanks to Mathieu for welcoming us so warmly. We left having learnt that there is much more to wine-making that you would think.

Learn more about adopting a vine in Saint-Emilion.

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De-budding the vines in Burgundy


We spent Saturday at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay for a Discovery Experience Day. The main objective was to learn about the life-cycle of the vines and how to work organically in the vineyards to bring the grapes to maturity for the 2019 harvest.

The day started with a short presentation of the winery by the owner, Jean-François Chapelle. He talked about the history of his family and the path he took to convert the winery to being organic. The viewpoint from the winery over the surrounding vineyards helped us to understand the make-up of the Burgundy terroir, and their influence on the wines.

Vine adoption in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We then made our way to the Les Crais and Clos des Cornières vineyards to meet our adopted vines, the first planted with Chardonnay, the second with Pinot Noir vines. We learnt about the vegetative life cycle of the vines and the work necessary to nurture them from when they wake up after winter to harvest time.

Organic vineyard visit in Burgundy France

We were accompanied by Jean-François, and Yannick, the Technical Director of the vines and cellar.  Between the harvest and December, the winemaker’s time is mainly taken up with the vinification of the vintage that has just been harvested.  But then from December to March, they are very busy in the vineyards, pruning each and every vine manually.  The cut branches are then pulled away from the vines and either crushed in the rows or burned, usually by a different team than those who pruned.  It’s a tough job that takes around 4 months, and must be finished by around mid-March, the time when the first buds start to burst, and the vines spring back to life.

The vines shoots and branches grow quickly at this time of the year, some 30 or more centimetres in a month.  It’s therefore important to manage the growth.  This is also done manually for the most part by de-budding or removing some of the leaves, which also improves the air flow around the vines.

Adopt-a-vine experience at Domaine Chapelle in France

It’s the de-budding that keeps the team busy at the moment.  This task enables the quantity of fruit produced by the vines to be reduced, and thus improve the concentration and aromatic qualities of the remaining grapes.  Reducing the yield helps the grapes to reach optimum maturity, and also helps to increase the life expectancy of the vine plants in the long term.

Organic vine tending in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We’ll be able to see the result of this spring work in September when we reach harvest time.

After this full morning, we returned to the winery for the aperitif and lunch, served with some of the winery’s wines.  A Santenay Saint Jean white wine to start with, followed by a red Burgundy, Santenay Clos des Cornières, and Santenay La Comme Premier Cru.  We compared the wines and enjoyed the fine Burgundy dishes.

In the afternoon, we visited the fermentation hall and cellar for a little insight into the wine-making side of things, something that we will learn more about during the Vinification Experience Days.

We hope that everyone had a good time, and we look forward to welcoming another group soon to Santenay!

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


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

An original experience gift for wine lovers.

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

Learn how to make organic wine in the Loire Valley

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

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

The wine bottling and label machine

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

Wine tasting course in the Loire Valley

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

Rent some organic vines in the Loire Valley

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

Wine tasting gift with the winemaker

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

Lunch and wine tasting in Chinon with the winemaker

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

Learning the art of wine-making in the Loire Valley

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

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

Wine cellar tour and tasting with the wine-maker

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

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

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

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

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Making and ageing wines in Alsace


Today we had travelled from Switzerland, Belgium, around Paris, and from throughout the North-East France for a Vinification Experience Day, the last in the wine-making cycle, where we would learn the choices that the winemaker takes to produce the best balanced organic wines.

 

Meet an organic winemaker in Alsace, France

We enjoyed the welcome coffee in the sunshine of the courtyard, with the temperature being unusually warm for the season. So warm that it’s as worrying for the vines as for us, as Céline explained. 30 years ago the norm was to harvest around mid-October, but the last couple of years it has been more usual to harvest in the beginning of September, and this year even saw the harvest start at the end of August.  Céline reminded us that the 2018 vintage however had been exceptional, both in terms of quality and quantity.

Vine tending experience day in Alsace, France

The vines are developing earlier than usual this year because of the warm temperatures, as we could see when we visited our adopted vines. This is worrying because the pruning and attaching of the vines to the training wires isn’t yet finished everywhere, but the sap is already flowing through the branches and the first buds are just about to start bursting. The problem is that frost is still a distinct possibility in April, and new buds are particularly sensitive. If they freeze, the quantity of the 2019 harvest will be adversely impacted.

Adopt-an-organic-vine experience in Alsace, France

But for now, under the lovely blue skies, it’s time to enjoy and take a few souvenir photos with our adopted vines, and marvel at the valleyed Alsace landscape around us.

Aromas workshop in organic wines from Alsace, France

Back at the winery, we got down to the serious matter of the day with a little test of our ability to detect the aromas that can be found in Alsace white wines. There are first of all the primary aromas that hail from the grapes themselves, and the secondary aromas that are a result of the fermentation. Most of the aromas are fruity and floral. For example Riesling wines are often noted for their citrus fruit aromas such as lemon or grapefruit, whereas litchi or rose are found in Gewurztraminer wines, and Muscat wine smells of… Muscat grapes! Then come the tertiary aromas that are to be found after the wine has been aged in oak barrels or casks. Not all Alsace wines are aged in wood, but it’s a good occasion to talk about the different aromas that barrels can bring depending on the type of wood and way that they have been toasted.

Visiting the cellar at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace, France

We then visited the cellar where Stéphane explained the choices that he makes to vinify and age the wines to extract the maximum aromatic potential of each one. We picked up where we had left off at harvest time, and talked about the alcoholic and malo-lactic fermentations, how long they take (at this time, not all of the wines have finished fermenting), the strange gurgling sounds that emit from the vats as the carbon dioxide escapes from the must, racking the wines, transferring the wines to casks or stainless steel vats… The questions flow, and Stéphane replies with humour and passion.

Vinification and tasting experience day in Alsace, France

To better understand, we tasted the 2018 Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine that is still ageing in the oak cask.  There are still a few months ageing left to go and it’s fairly closed for the moment, but we can already get a good impression of the potential to come.

Tasting organic white and red wines from Alsace, France

We returned to the courtyard for an aperitif in the form of a blind tasting of the wines. Céline served three Riesling wines from three different terroir and vintages. A 2017 Riesling tradition, a 2013 Riesling Tanenbuehl, and a 2016 Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru. We had fun describing the aromas we could identify and the difference between the wines. We then tasted two Pinot Gris Rosenberg wines, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, from the 2010 and 2017 vintages. The difference was astonishing, so much so that the majority of us thought that they were two completely different types of wine.

With all of the work our taste buds were doing, we started to get a little hungry, which was just as well, as our local caterer had prepared an excellent choucroute, followed by regional cheeses and a Black Forest gateau.  During lunch we tasted the winery’s Who Am I white wine with the choucroute, an unfiltered Pinot Noir with the cheese, and the Ambre wine with pudding, another Pinot Noir, but made like a white wine (pressed, without any maceration) and which has a little residual sugar, making it slightly sweet and perfect with dessert.

Visit a winery and help the winemaker producing the wine in Alsace, France

After the gargantuan meal, we needed some exercise to help with the digestion!  So we returned to the cellar to find out what happens at the end of the wine-making cycle once the wine is ready for bottling.  Stéphane explained how the wine is bottled, and the conundrum of choosing corks that enable the wine to age well over time whilst being protected from oxidation.  We then had a go at labelling some bottles and packaging them into boxes.  We were proud to have labelled and packed 300 bottles in about 15 minutes.  It takes just two people at the winery to label and bottle 1200 bottles an hour.

The day drew to a close and we left thinking about how we will name our wine once it is ready, and of the good time that we had spent learning about the work that goes into making a good bottle of Pinot Gris!


Interested in participating in a Vinification Experience Day at one of Gourmet Odyssey’s partner wineries?  Learn more about the Wine Experience.

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


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

Renta a vine wine experience in the Rhone Valley, France

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

Wine tasting course with the winemaker

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

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

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

Make your own organic wine experience gift in France

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

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

Tasting wines that are still in the ageing process

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

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

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

Vineyard guided tour with the winemaker

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

Visiting the rented vines

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

Putting the labelling machine to work

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

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

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Learning the art of pruning the vines


Last Sunday we were welcomed to Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay for a Wine Discovery Experience Day.  The aim of the day was to learn more about the work of the winemaker in the vineyard to cultivate the vines.

Jean-François Chapelle, the owner of the winery, recounted his family’s involvement at the winery over the generations, and introduced us to a brief history of winemaking in Burgundy and the organisational changes that happened throughout the 20th century.  We also talked about Jean-François’ philosophy of organic winemaking that he introduced to the winery in the early 2000s.

Learn about the vineyard in Burgundy with a vine adoption

We headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines and to take a few photos.  There are two plots for the Gourmet Odyssey adopt-a-vine experience at Domaine Chapelle.  The Clos des Cornières vineyard, planted with Pinot Noir used to make the red wine of the same name, and the adjacent Les Crais vineyard, planted with Chardonnay to make the Santenay Village white wine.

Simon, Jean-François’ son and successor, then started to talk about the different work that is carried out in the vineyard throughout the lifecycle from one harvest to another, with the aim of producing the optimum quality of grapes.

Gift box organic wine experience day in Burgundy

From the harvest through to December, little is done in the vineyard.  Sometimes a task known as pre-pruning can be carried out whereby the top half of the branches are cut away mechanically to make the pruning that follows easier and quicker.  The vineyard team starts to repair the trellis system where needed at this time too, a task that will be finished before spring sets in and the vines start to grow again.

Starting in December, each vine is pruned manually using one of two techniques:
- The Cordon de Royat method leaves four to five short spurs, each with two eyes on them, on the old wood that grows along the training wire.  Fruit-bearing branches will grow from each of these spurs.
- The Guyot method is a little different and more productive.  Just one branch is selected and cut to about 50-60 cm, or 5 to 6 eyes.  A spur is also left which will form the long branch to be used next year.  The long branch is then attached to the bottom training wire.

Organic vine adoption in Santenay, Burgundy, France

The Guyot method is reserved for chardonnay vines in Burgundy, as it is a vine that can support producing a little more.  The pinot noir vines are pruned using the Cordon de Royat method.  Once all of the vines have been pruned, a team passes through the vineyard again to pull the cut wood away from the vines and trellis system, burning the cut branches or crushing them to return nutrients to the soil.

It takes roughly four months to prune all of the vines which cover the 18 hectares of vineyards at Domaine Chapelle.

From around mid-April and depending on the temperature, the buds will start to burst.  Spring is an important period of growth, and many manual tasks are necessary to help nurture the vines through the cycle. De-budding, removing the leaves, raising the training wires…  All of this to help the grapes reach their optimum, and to do so means hiring a small group of 10 seasonal workers to give a helping hand to the permanent team.

During the summer period the vines will be treated using the copper sulphate treatment that is authorised in organic winemaking.  The frequency of treatments depends on how often it rains, but on average it’s every 15 days or so until one month before the harvest.

Sometime in September, depending on the maturity of the grapes, the harvest will start and the yearly cycle will come to a close once more.

Organic Burgundy wine tasting

After this very informative morning, we headed back to the winery for the aperitif, the excellent Santenay Saint Jean white from the winery.
Lunch was a typical Burgundy affair.  A fish terrine, boeuf bourguignon, regional cheeses and a chocolate, pear and blackcurrant desert. We tasted three different reds, the red Burgundy, a 2015 Santenay Clos des Cornières, and a 2011 Santenay Comme Premier Cru.

We finished this enlightening day with a visit of the cellar.

Gift box vinae adoption and cellar visit in Burgundy

The next bottle of wine that we open will be appreciated in a different light and we look forward to coming back for the harvest when the grapes have grown and become ripe!

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Understanding the wine-making process in Burgundy


We met up at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy last weekend for a Vinification Experience Day to learn about what happens to transform the grapes into wine and the subsequent ageing process of the wines in oak barrels.

After a welcome coffee and brief introduction to the day and the idea behind the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, Jean-François and Simon Chapelle recounted the history of their family and explained the structure of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

Meet an organic winemaker in Santenay, Burgundy

They told us how the vineyards had been organised, and the transition of the commercialisation of wine from merchants to the winemakers who took the step to bottle and sell their own wines.

The wines from Domaine Chapelle are organically certified, and Jean-François talked to us about his reasons for embracing organic winemaking and the challenges that it entails.

We then embarked on two different workshops:

One of the workshops taught us how to taste wines and put our noses to the test.  We tried to name the different fruity and floral aromas and the tertiary aromas that are brought through ageing in oak barrels.  It’s a much more difficult task than you at first think.  We also tasted four different solutions that were acidic, sweet, salty and bitter to explain the importance of balance in a wine.

Wine aromas workshop at the winery in Burgundy, France

We then made our way into the fermentation hall and admired the different sections that had been created by the successive generations of the family from Jean-François’ grandfather, his father and then the work that he carried out to extend the hall and re-organise the way that the grapes are worked during harvest time.  We learnt about the vinification process before heading down into the vaulted cellar below, where the wines are aged in oak barrels.

The wines are put into the barrels once the alcoholic fermentation has finished, and stay there for 9 to 12 months depending on how they evolve.

Cellar visit gift box in Burgundy, France

The choice of barrel is very important and varies from winery to winery depending on the taste and objectives of each winemaker.  Various factors come into play such as where the oak comes from, how the inside of the barrel was toasted, and the age of the barrel.  The skill of the winemaker is to choose a mix of different barrels that enable a harmonious wine to be produced.

To illustrate the impact of barrels, we compared the same wine that was in the process of ageing in different types of barrel, and marvelled at the big differences aromatically and taste-wise.

Once the ageing period is over, all of the various lots of wine from the same plots will be blended together to prepare the wines for bottling.

The bottles will then be labelled at a later date depending on the regulations of the country that they will be sold in.

After a busy morning absorbing lots of new knowledge, we enjoyed the aperitif in the vinification hall.  To quench our thirst, a Santenay Saint Jean white wine with gougères, a local cheese shoe pastry speciality. 

Wine gift idea: wine tasting and winemaer's lunch in Burgundy

For lunch we continued the regional theme with some parsley ham, Gaston Gérard chicken, Burgundy cheeses and a three chocolate dessert, accompanied by some of the winery’s red wines, including the Clos des Cornières red chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

It was difficult to get going again after lunch!  But the walk in the vineyard was good for the digestion!  We went to the Clos des Cornières vineyard and visited our adopted vines.

Organic vines adoption and day at the winery in Burgundy, France

Simon explained the different plots within the vineyard.  Originally, there were three distinct zones.  The oldest one saw the vines removed last spring, and is currently lying fallow until 2021. The two remaining plots were planted in the 70s and 90s.

Vine tending workshop in Burgundy, France

We then returned to the cellar for a final wine tasting session of the 2018 Clos des Cornières vintage that is still in the ageing process.  We tasted wines from the two different plots to better understand the impact that the age of the vines has on the characteristics of the wine.

It was then time for this day, rich in information and tasting, to draw to a close.  We left with a few bottles that we’ll appreciate differently now that we know a little more about what goes on to make wine, and having met the people responsible for making it!

We hope that everyone had a good time, and we look forward to welcoming you again soon!

 

Learn how you can adopt some chardonnay or pinot noir vines at Domaine Chapelle and participate in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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Learning to prune vines in Saint-Emilion


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

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

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

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

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

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

Vine pruning gift experience in a French organic vineyard

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

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

Vineyard Experience Gift in Saint-Emilion

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

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

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

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

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

Oragnic wine tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

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

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

Cellar tour and visit in Saint-Emilion with the winemaker

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

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

 

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

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A good quality but small harvest for 2018


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

An early harvest

Early harvest in 2018 in France for organic vineyards

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

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

An exceptional quality

High quality grapes and wine for the 2018 vintage in France

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

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

A small yield

Small quantity of the 2018 vintage for organic french wines

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

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

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

Mildew reduces the yield

Mildew attacks in the French organic vineyards in 2018

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

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


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


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

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Harvest Experience Day in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet


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

Original wine gift in Saint-Emilion for wine lovers

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

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

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

Grape harvest gift experience in Saint-Emilion, France

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

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

Adopt-a-vine organic wine gift

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

Organic wine tasting gift experience at the winery in Saint Emilion

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

Lunch with the winemaker in the vineyard, Saint-Emilion

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

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

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

Organic wine-making experience gift in Saint-Emilion

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

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

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Grape Picking Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


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

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

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

Rent-a-vine present in the Rhone Valley

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

Grape picking gift in a French biodynamic vineyard

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

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

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

Learning about the work of the winemaker during harvest time

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

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

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

Wine cellar visit in the Cotes du Rhone

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

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

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

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Grape Harvest Experience Day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


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

Grape harvest experience gift in Alsace France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personalised wine-making experience gift for wine enthusiasts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An excellent harvest of the 2018 pinot noir grapes in Burgundy


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

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

Wine making experience box in Burgundy France

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

Adopt a vin experience in Burgundy france

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

Wine gift box to meet the winemaker and harvest the grapes

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

Wine lover perfect gift for making organic wine

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

Grapes harvest experience day in Santenay, Burgundy, France

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

Harvest experience gift box

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

Unforgettable wine gift in Burgundy, France

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

Organic Burgundy wine tasting as a gift

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

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

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

Oenology course during the harvest in Burgundy, France

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

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

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Nurturing the organic vines in Saint-Emilion


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

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

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

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

Vineyard tour with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux

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

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

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

Learning the life of a winemaker

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

Protecting the vines from mildew

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

De-leafing the vines in Saint-Emilion

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

Hands-on wine course in Saint-Emilion, France

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

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

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

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

Organic wine-making course and gift in Saint-Emilion

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

Cellar tour in Saint-Emilion with the wine-maker

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

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Leaf removal to protect the vines from mildew


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

 

Wine gift box in a French vineyard in the Rhone Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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De-leafing organic vines in the Loire Valley


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

  Wine Box with vineyard visit in Chinon, France

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

Wine gift oenology course in Chinon, Loire, France

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

Oenology box vine tending experience in the Loire Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Vineyard tour and wine tasting at a French winery

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

Wine making experience as a gift for Fathers Day

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

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

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

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The role barrels play in ageing wine


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

Why age wine?


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

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

 

What role do the barrels play?


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

Bordelais barrels

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

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

How are barrels made?


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

Heating the staves at the Nadalié cooperage

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

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


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

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De-budding the pinot noir vines in Burgundy


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

 

Vine adoption in an organic French vineyard in Burgundy

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

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

Vine tending work and vineyard visit in Burgundy

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

Wine gift box and experience day in Burgundy at Domaine Chapelle

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

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

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

Wine tasting box Burgundy red wine

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

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

Gift box winery tour and vineyard visit, Burgndy, France

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

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

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Pruning the vines in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


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

Original wine gift for organic wine lovers

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

Rent-a-vine gift of some organic Alsace vines

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

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

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

Organic vineyard experience gift

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

Learning how to work organicaly in the vineyard

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

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

Vineyard experience gift in Alsace, France

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

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

Wine tasting gift of organic Alsace wines

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

Vineyard tour gift in Alsace

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

Winery tour gift in Alsace, France

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

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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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