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Picking the grapes in the Rhone Valley for the 2019 harvest


The 2019 grape harvest season continues, and last weekend, it was the turn of Domaine de la Guicharde, in the Côtes du Rhone region, to welcome the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients to participate in the harvest.  As we were to learn, there is much more work at harvest time than just picking grapes!
After the introductions to the winery and day, we headed out past the olive grove into the vineyard.  Our first stop was the Miocène vineyard, home to our adopted vines. We took a few minutes to find our micro-plot of vines and immortalise the moment with a few photos.
Organic vine adoption in the Cotes du Rhone vine growing area
It was then time to get down to the serious business of the day. We listened intently to the instructions of how to pick the grapes, which ones to pick, and which to leave. But as we could see, the quality of the grapes this year was excellent and the vines were laden with full bunches, so there were hardly any grapes that needed to be sorted.  
Equipped with a bucket and pair of harvesting secateurs, we split into twos, each pair taking a different row of vines.  To make picking the grapes easier, the first task was to remove the leaves from in front and around the grape bunches.  We then cut the stem just above the bunch, letting the grapes fall into our hand, before being put into the bucket.  
Harvest Experience in the Rhone Valley region
With the nice large bunches, the buckets soon filled up, and we then passed them from row to row to be emptied into the trailer.  We were harvesting Grenache Noir, the grapes that are the last to mature at the winery.  The harvest had started on the 31st August with the white grapes, and the harvest of the Syrah grapes had started two week ago.  The winery is nearing the end of the harvest, and all the grapes should be picked in the next couple of days.
Grape picking Experience in the Rhone Valley region
Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the morning, and we had managed to fill three trailers, which was a great effort from our team of apprentice winemakers!  Having washed hands and cleaned up, we enjoyed a nice refreshing glass of the winery’s 2018 white wine, “Au tour de la Chapelle”, in the courtyard.
We continued the tasting over lunch, the rosé 18 accompanying the millefeuille of aubergine, goats cheese, sundried tomato and courgette coulis starter.  The fruity 2018 Pur Rouge Côtes du Rhône red went well with the roast veal and mushroom risotto, before we tasted the 2015 Terroir de Miocène Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, with cheese.  Our tasting ended with the 2016 Genest  Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux, served with the chocolate mousse.
Harvesters' lunch in a French Orgnic winery
After lunch we followed the journey that the grapes take to the fermentation hall.  We watched as our trailers were emptied and the grapes fell into the de-stemming machine.  Here the berries are separated from the stems, and the grapes then continue their journey into the vat.
Chai visit during the haarvest in the Cotes du Rhone area
Inside the fermentation hall, Laurence explained the process that will take place over the coming weeks to transform the grape juice into wine.  Laurence showed us the mustimeter that she uses daily to monitor the sugar density and temperature of each of the vats.  We also learned about the important role of pumping over the wines throughout the maceration period to extract the colour and tannins from the grape skins.
Wine and grape juice tasting during the harvest
We ended the day by tasting the juice from the grapes we had picked, and compared this to the juice from grapes that had been harvested a week earlier, and was now in its fifth day of fermentation.  It was impressive to see the difference that just a few days make.
We’ll be back at Domaine de la Guicharde next year for the Vinification Experience Days, where we’ll pick up from where we left off, and learn more about the rest of the fermentation process, blending, ageing, and bottling.  There’s still lots to be done, but for now the winemakers can sleep a little more soundly knowing that the harvest is safely in the fermentation hall!

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The 2019 harvest of Pinot Noir grapes in Burgundy


We were welcomed to Domaine Chapelle in Santenay on a gloriously sunny weekend for the Harvest Experience Days of the Clos des Cornières vineyard, the grapes from which will be used to make the personalised organic red wine for the clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

 

Meet the winemaker of an organic winery in Santenay, France

In the garden in front of the chateau, Jean-François, the owner briefly recounted the history of Burgundy wines, and explained the evolution of the production and commercialisation of the wines over the last 100 years, focusing on the decisions that he had taken, notably in converting the winery to becoming organically certified.

Vine adoption in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We the made our way to the Clos des Cornières vineyard and the Crais plot opposite to meet our adopted vines that will make the red and white wines. Having taken a few photos and whispered some sweet words to them, we met up again in front of the vine rows that we were to harvest. We were to harvest the pinot noir grapes from the Clos des Cornières plot, the chardonnay grapes from the Crais having already reached optimum maturity and so having already been picked a few days earlier.

2019 Harvest quality in Santenay Burgundy

As with the team of professional harvesters, we listened intently to the briefing for the day, and the instructions of how and what to harvest.  Jean-François explained which bunches to pick, those that are found between the training wires near the bottom of the vines.  The smaller bunches higher up are not sufficiently mature to produce good quality wine. We were also to leave the bunches that had been attacked by mould, and those that had dried out and had no pulp inside them. With the extremely hot weather this summer, quite a few of the bunches unfortunately contained little or no juice.

Harvest Experience Day in Burgundy, France

Armed with a pair of secateurs and a harvesting crate, we started to pick the grapes.  In pairs facing each other we each took a side of the vine row to make sure that we didn’t leave any good grapes behind.  By the end of the morning we had finished our work and filled a fair few crates, some with a little plaster on their cut finger!  The work of a harvester isn’t always as easy as all that!

Grapes picking experience in Burgundy, France

The time for the aperitif beckoned, and well deserved it was too!  Back in the garden, we enjoyed the Saint-Jean Santenay white wine, accompanied by the famous Burgundy gougères.

Organic Burgundy wine tasting, France

We then savoured the regional lunch, accompanied by three red wines, the Burgundy, Santenay Clos des Cornières, and Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières.

Grape sorting Experience in Burgundy

After lunch we went to see how the grapes are sorted and put into the vats. The sorting table is a crucial step in ensuring the quality of the grape juice that will then start fermenting. At the beginning of the table, the crates are emptied one by one onto the conveyor belt.  Either side of the table, 6 to 8 sorters remove any grapes that aren’t of a good enough quality and any leaves that might be present.  At the end of the table the grapes are separated from the stems mechanically and then fall into the fermentation hall below, where a trolley catches them, before being trundled to a another conveyer belt that lifts them up and into the vat.

Chai visit and wine tasting in Burgundy

There is no pumping at this stage so that the grapes arrive in the vat intact, helping to keep a higher degree of freshness to the future wine.
The day ended with an explanation of the fermentation process which will start in the next few days, and the work involved during this time.  It will be the first stage in the vinification and ageing process, more of which will be explained at the start of next year.
So the time to leave arrived, Jean-François and Myriam thanking us and looking forward already to our next visit!

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The effects of climate change on the harvest


There’s no longer any need to prove it, the climate is changing and the temperature is rising, and that of course includes the vineyards, as we already talked about back in 2016. What are the consequences of climate change for the vines and what solutions are there for the winemakers to combat them?

The heat has brought the harvest earlier and earlier

A recent study by the European Geosciences Union successfully demonstrated a correlation between the rise in average temperatures and the earlier harvests. They did so by using the recorded data collected from the Burgundy wine region since 1354. The study calculated that between 1354 and 1988, the average start date for the harvest was around the 28th September. Since 1988, the year when the inflexion of the temperature curve took place and the temperatures started to increase by more than the average, the average start date for the harvest is now 13 days earlier, on the 15th September.

It’s not just the hot summer temperatures and heatwaves which cause the grapes to ripen faster (sometimes the heat can have the opposite effect and block the maturity), it’s the average temperature throughout the year that is making each stage of the vine’s development earlier.  The bud burst, flowering, and veraison are all happening earlier, as a study by INRA France Agrimer showed in 2017 (donwload the chart – in French).

The debudding happens earlier

The harvest being earlier makes the organisation of the teams and the harvest more difficult for the winemakers, but it’s not the only consequence, nor the most worrying.

The impact of the heat on the harvest

As we just mentioned, the winemakers must reorganise the way they work in the face of climate change, not just for the harvest, but in the methods and techniques used in the vineyard throughout the year. All of the green work is challenged. For example, when the summer is forecast to be hot, the winemakers remove much less leaves than before, so as to not burn the grapes by leaving more shade. The tops of the vines are trimmed more severely to reduce the surface area of foliage, thus limiting the photosynthesis that causes the grapes to ripen too quickly. 

Less leaves are removed

And even before this stage, some winemakers opt to spread mulch in the vineyard as opposed to mowing the grass.This creates a vegetative layer that limits the evaporation of water when it is hot. Research is also under way in some regions to evaluate the planting of grape varietals that mature later and are less sensitive to the heat.

We can also note that other climatic conditions are also impacting the vines.  When the winters are warmer, the bud burst happens earlier, and so any late frosts are more likely to cause significant damage to the buds.  Hail falling from thunderstorms, and droughts are becoming more frequent and intense, increasing the risk of reducing the yield. And then there are new diseases and parasites that are appearing with the warming, as well as shortening the reproductive cycles and the number of generations of insects each year.  The eudemis grape berry moth and leaf hoppers are good examples.

The heat has burn the grapes

Even without all of the above, a summer drought can drastically reduce the yield because, without water, the grapes don’t swell enough and produce less juice to ferment.

The quality of the wine evolves and the characteristics change.  With heat, the level of sugar in the grape must increases, and can give wines with a higher alcoholic degree and less acidity.  For red wines, sometimes it is a characteristic that is sought after, allowing the wine to have stewed fruit aromas rather that fresh fruit.  But it is generally much less desirable for white wines because you need a certain freshness and equilibrium with the acidity.

A few avenues to explore in the face of rising temperatures

In terms of the work in the vineyard, we have already touched on some of the techniques that can be used to fight against the heat and lack of water.  As well as research into new types of grape varietal, studies are underway to produce rootstocks that are more resistant to drought.

On the winemaking side, you can also compensate for the lack of acidity by choosing yeast that is able to produce less alcohol from the same amount of sugar, or by using tartaric acid, although these methods are of course less naturel.  You can also remove some of the alcohol by filtering it through a membrane, but this can also alter the taste of the wine.  Filtering is also possible before the fermentation to remove some of the sugar in the juice.

These procedures are just avenues to explore for the moment, and are not completely satisfactory in that they act in response to the initial problem, that of rising temperatures and global warming.  But they are worth exploring given the acceleration of the rise in temperature over the past few years, as the winemakers are likely to face bigger and bigger threats to their harvest over the coming years.

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The 2019 harvest of cinsault grapes in the Languedoc


We spent a very enjoyable day harvesting the grapes under the bue sky in Domaine Allegria’s plot of cinsault vines.  It was a plot that had unfortunately suffered from the heatwave on the 28th June, so the quantity was reduced, but there were still enough grapes to keep us busy!

 

Meet an organic winemaker in teh Languedoc area France

After the introductions and instructions on how to harvest, we were each given a pair of harvesting secateurs, and we started to pick the grapes and put them in the crates.

Grape picking experience in Languedoc, France

We quickly got into the routine, and by midday we had finished the plot. We had picked 1200 kg, compared to 2500 kg in 2017 for the same plot, less than half the quantity.

Harvest Day experience in Languedoc, France

We then headed back to the winery, where Delphine, the winemaker had prepared a delicious lunch, centred around the old variety tomatoes that had been grow in the winery’s garden, and of course tasted the different wines throughout the meal.

harvesters' lunch at domaine Allegria in Languedoc, France

After lunch, we headed to the fermentation hall to put our harvest into a stainless steel vat. We first emptied the crates into the de-stemming machine to separate the grape berries from the stems.

Wine-making experience in Languedoc, France

The grapes then continued their journey into the vat, and we then washed the emptied crates. In 30 minutes we had put all of the grapes into the vat and all of the materiel was cleaned, thanks to our enthusiastic and efficient team of apprentice winemakers that we would like to have with us every day in the cellar!

Harvest experience in the chai in Languedoc, France

The day ended with a walk in the vineyard and a visit to see our adopted syrah vines. The grapes from this plot will be blended with the neighbouring mourvèdre grapes to make the Tribu d’A wine. The grapes had already been harvested because they had reached optimum maturity, and once that has happened, you can’t wait any longer!

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Nurturing the pinot noir vines to prepare them for the harvest


The quality of wine is determined largely by the quality of grapes that are picked at harvest time. And to ensure the best possible grapes, the winemaker is kept busy in the vineyard, especially at this time of year, when the vines are growing rapidly. We spent a fascinating Discovery Experience Day at the stunning Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy to find out more.

 

Vienyard Discover Experience Gift
In the winery garden, surrounded by vines, Jean-François, the owner of Domaine Chapelle, briefly introduced us to his winery.  The temperature was already beginning to rise with the very hot end of June that all of France has been enduring, so we quickly headed out to the vineyard just below the chateau, and home to our adopted vines.  We spent a few minutes to locate our micro-plot of vines, and encourage them as the grapes start to grow.
Adopt-an-organic-vine in Burgundy, France

Jean-François and Yannick, the Technical Director, then explained the work that has already been carried out in the vineyard during winter and spring to prune and de-bud the vines.  These are both critical tasks to control the quantity and quality of grapes that will be produced. Decreasing the number of grapes and branches, helps the vines to concentrate their energy on the fruit bearing branches.

The short flowering season has recently finished, and we could see the first grapes starting to form.   This is known as fruit set.  For the next few weeks the grapes will gradually get bigger.  This combined with the growth of shoots and leaves, causes the branches to fall into the middle of the rows which isn’t good for a number of reasons.

Vine-tending course in Burgundy, France
Firstly, it makes it very difficult to walk down the rows, let alone drive the tractor.  To do so would damage the branches, and so makes it impossible to treat the vines.  This is particularly important in organic wine-making, as the treatments used to protect the vines from mildew and odium get washed away when it rains, so they need to be re-administered.  Secondly the branches that touch the ground would act as highways for fungi spores to spread from the soil to the vines, again putting the vines and grapes at risk.  Thirdly the weight of the foliage and fruit might cause the branches to break.  For all these reasons, and to ensure more sunlight gets to the vines and that there is a better airflow around the grapes, the vines need to be trained using a trellis system.
Meet a French organic wine producer in Burgundy

Having watched Yannick and Jean-François show us how to train the vines, we spread out among the rows and had a go ourselves.  First we raised the training wires on either side of the row, and then clipped them together using a small bio-degradable clip.  We then ensured that all of the branches were growing between the wires, and were supported as best as possible.  Rewarding work, because when you looked back down the rows where we had been, everything was much more orderly than before!

Wine-making experience in Burgundy, France

We then headed back to the shade of the garden where we learnt more about the jobs that need to be done in the vineyard between now and the harvest.  The conversation then turned to other topics as diverse as the history of the winery and the introduction of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system in Burgundy, something that Jean-François’ ancestors were involved in lobbying for.

All of the work and talk had made us thirsty, so to quench it, Jean-François served us a nice chilled 2017 Santenay Saint Jean organic white wine, accompanied by some gougères, a delicious local cheese shoe pastry delicacy.  

Organic wine tasting at Domaine Chapelle, France

Lunch was enjoyed in the relative cool of the harvester’s refectory.  We tasted three of the wineries red wines, starting with the 2017 Burgundy, then the 2015 Santenay Clos des Cornières, and ending with the 2013 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru.

Cellar tour at Domaine Chapelle, France

After lunch, Yannick took us on a tour of the fermentation hall and cellar.  Here we were introduced to the wine-making side of the profession, and we marvelled at the site of all the barrels and bottles resting in the vaulted underground cellar.  We’ll be spending more time in the fermentation hall during the Harvest Experience Days in September as we put the grapes into the vats, and we’ll get to taste some of the wines that are in the ageing process during the Vinification Experience Days early next year.

Many thanks to Jean-François and Yannick for giving us a fascinating glimpse into the life of a winemaker.  We’ll appreciate the next bottle of wine we open that little bit more!

Learn more about how to adopt a vin in Burgundy

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Summer work in the vineyard in the Loire Valley


The beginning of summer is a hectic time in the vineyard. Everything grows quickly and the winemaker has lots of work to do to keep everything under control and safeguard the quality of the future harvest as we were to find out during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley.
Adopt-a-vine experience in Chinon, France
We started the day in Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, next to the château.  This is where our adopted vines are located, and we took a few minutes to find our vines, encourage them to produce a good harvest, and immortalise the moment with a few photos!
Rent-a-vine experience in the Loire Valley, France
The winemaker, Marc Plouzeau, then explained all of the work that has been carried out in the vineyard so far this year, and in particular the vital task of pruning, so important in controlling the yield and improving the potential quality of the grapes.
The wet end to spring, followed by the warmth and sun of the past couple of weeks has meant that the vegetation has thrived and everything is growing really quickly.  There is way more than enough to keep the winemaker busy, and so Marc was very welcome of our help for the day!  He had set aside three different jobs for us to do.
Meet-the-winemaker experience in the Loire Valley, France
At this time of the year, the vines can grow more than 10 centimetres in a week.  To protect the branches and future grapes, they need to be trained behind the training wires.  This helps the vine support the weight of the branches, leaves, and future grapes, and keeps them out of the way of the tractor when it drives up and down the rows.  First we had to raise the training wire on each side of the row, being careful not damage the floral caps of the vine flowers, and then we clipped the wires together.  Finally we ensured that all of the branches were contained between the wires and as evenly spaced as possible to help improve the air flow around the leaves, something that is important to help the foliage dry more quickly following any rain, thus reducing the risk of disease.
Wine-making course in the Loire Valley, France
Despite the best efforts to prune the vines, there are always unwanted shoots that grow, either as double buds or from low down on the vine trunk.  These shoots drain energy from the vines to the detriment of the quality of the grapes.  By hand or with the help of a small spade, we removed any shoots that grew from the trunk.  Marc also explained the way that vines are grafted onto root stocks that are resistant to phyloxera, and showed us the difference in the shoots that grow from the grafted vine or directly from the root, shoots that are known as Americans in reference to the origin of the roots.
Wine-making course in Chinon, France
It’s not just the vines that are growing quickly.  The grass and wild flowers are also thriving.  The tractor had recently been put to work in the vineyard, lightly ploughing every other row to remove the grass and flowers.  The unploughed rows had been mowed to keep the grass short and stop fungi from spreading to the vines.  When ploughing, the tractor carries a special mechanical plough that does a fairly good job of ploughing around the vine stocks.  It however struggles if the gap between two vines or between a vine and a training post is too small.  In such instances, the only way to remove the grass and flowers is by hand with the help of a hoe.  This was the third task Marc had reserved for us, and so hoe in hand, we got stuck in!
Vine tending course in Chinon, France
After our busy morning, we had earned our aperitif!  Marc served us a nice fresh glass of “Perle Sauvage”, his naturally sparkling wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes, accompanied by local rillettes, and homemade goats’ cheese cake and gougères.  We continued the tasting of wine over lunch, the crisp 2018 Touraine Sauvignon “Bonnelière” pairing well with the fish terrine starter.  We then tasted the reds with the Tagine main course, cheese and desert, starting with the fruity 2018 Chinon “La Roche”, then the more complex 2017 Chinon “Clos de la Bonnelière”, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, and finishing with the full-bodied 2016 Chinon “Chapelle”.
Organic wine tasting in the Loire Valley, France
In the afternoon, we went for a short walk through the vineyards to a plot that Marc had recently planted.  He explained how the vines are planted and the implications on production quantities involved.  Before planting a new plot, another crop is planted to replenish the soil with lost nutrients. The new vines won’t produce any grapes for making wine in the first three years, followed by several years of low quality grapes.  Replanting is something that it takes time to reap the rewards from!
Organic vine tending lessons in the Loire Valley, France
Marc also took time to explain how the vines are cared for organically and the implications that it entails.  
Organic Winery visit in Chinon, Loire Valley, France
We ended the day in the cool of the vinification hall.  Here Marc gave us an introduction to what happens when the grapes are received at harvest time, and how the juice is turned into wine.  We’ll be spending much more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.
Many thanks to all for a great day.  We look forward to coming back for the harvest at the end of September or beginning of October.

Find out more about how you too can adopt vines and get involved in making your own bottles of personalised organic wine.

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Flowering vines in the Côtes du Rhône


Early June is a critical time in the vineyard as we were to find out during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Domaine de la Guicharde in the southern Côtes du Rhône region. We joined the winemakers, Arnaud and David, to learn first-hand about the care and effort that is needed to nurture the vines to enable them to produce the best quality grapes, and to understand the principals and challenges of organic and biodynamic wine-making.

  Wine-making expeirece in the Rhone Valley in France

After the introductions, we walked past the olive grove and up into the vineyards.  From the top of the hill, Arnaud told us about the unique terroir of the Massif d’Uchaux, the land having never been covered by the sea which brings a freshness to the wines not usually found in southern Côtes du Rhône wines.

Meet teh winemaker in a French biodynamic winery in the Rhone Valley
Arnaud and David explained the work that has been undertaken so far to prepare the vines for this year’s campaign, showing us the pruning methods used, the need to de-bud the vines, and how the soil is tilled to remove the grass and weeds.
We then continued our walk into the next vineyard on top of the hill.  Arnaud pointed out the two different grape varietals grown here.  On the left, the Syrah vines, and on the right Grenache.  The leaves of the Syrah were more silvery and were slightly furry on the underside compared to the more lush green and smoothness of the Grenache.
The plot of Grenache is where our adopted vines are to be found, and so we took a few minutes to visit our micro plot of vines, and encourage them to produce a great harvest this year!
Vine rental in the Rhone Valley, France
A wonderfully delicate fragrance filled the air.  On closer inspection, we could see that there were lots of tiny white flowers on each of the vines.  This happens for a short period each year, lasting just a week, and is one of the most critical periods in determining the quantity of grapes that we will pick at harvest time.  Vines are self-pollinating plants, the pollen falling directly from the anthers of the stamen to the stigma.  The weather is crucial for this to happen properly.  If it is rainy, then the pollen sticks and cannot fertilize the ovaries, and if there is too much wind, pollen is carried away from the vines.  Fortunately, the conditions were perfect the day that we were at the winery.  Sun, a little wind, and not too hot.
Organic vine tending class in the Rhone Valley, France
The vines grow very quickly at this time of year, and there had been around 30-50cm of growth from the last time we were at the winery a month ago.  To help maintain order in the vineyard and to help the vines support the weight of the foliage and grapes to come, we train the vines using a trellis system.  This was our task for the day!
After receiving a quick lesson in how to train the vines, we split into twos and raised the training wires, being careful to not damage the flowers, and ensuring that the branches were supported between the wires.  To keep the wires in place, we used a biodegradable clip.
Vineyard visit gift box for organic wine lovers
By this stage we had built up an appetite and a thirst, so we headed back to the winery and the shade of the courtyard.  As an aperitif we tasted Le 18 rosé and Autour de la Chapelle white wines, and over the delicious lunch prepared by a local restaurant, we tasted some of the red wines, the 2016 Pur Rouge Côtes du Rhône, the 2015 Terroir du Miocène and the 2018 Genest Massif d’Uchaux wines.
After lunch we headed back into the vineyard to learn about the work that will be carried out between now and the harvest.  We also took the time to listen to Arnaud explain how the vineyards are managed organically and biodynamically, a topic which generated lots of questions and gave rise to much reflection as to how it is possible to work in harmony with nature.
Vine adoption gift box for French organic wine lovers
The day finished with a quick tour of the vinification hall to see where the wine is made and aged.  We’ll be spending much more time here when we come back for the harvest in September, and during the Vinification Experience Days next year.

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

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