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

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

Wine-making exerience gift in Saint Emilion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine-tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

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

Blend your own wine workshop in Saint-Emilion

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

Wine tasting course at the winery in Saint-Emilion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine-making experience with personalised bottles of wine

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

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

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Making and ageing Santenay red Burgundy wine at Domaine Chapelle

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

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

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

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

Oenology lesson in a French winery in Santenay Burgundy

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

Wine aageing process in Burgundy France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Celebrate Mother’s Day with a unique Wine Experience Gift

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

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

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

Get involved in making your own organic wine in France

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

Personalised wine Mother's day gift.

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

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

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A look at the ageing process of red wines

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

The start of the ageing process

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

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

Fermentation process course in a Franche Winery

Recipients used for ageing wines

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

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

Protecting the wine from oxidation

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

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

Wine making course gift box

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

Maturing the wine

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

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

Vine adoption gift box oenology course in France

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

Winemaking gift box in a Franche vineyard

Getting ready for bottling

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

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

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

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

Stabilising wine during a vinification and ageing day aat the winery

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

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

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Wine-making weekend in the Loire Valley

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

  Organic vine adoption experience in the Lire Valley, France

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

Meet the winemaker at a Chateau winery in France

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

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

Wine gift adopted organic vines in France

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

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

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

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

Aromas wine course in a French organic winery

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

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

Vineyard visit and winemaker meeting in a French Chateau

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

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

Wine tasting and wine-making course in France

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

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How to read wine labels

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

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

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

The legally required information

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

Obligatory mentions on a French organic wine label

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obligatory mentions on a French organic wine label

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

Other information: optional, but regulated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other information: optional, but unregulated

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

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

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

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

How to read a label on a French wine bottle

And organic wine labels?

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

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

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

French Organic Farming logo
European Orgnaic Farming logo

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

Biodyvin biodynamic farming label
Demeter biodynamic farming label

Don’t judge a book by its cover

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


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Original St Valentine’s gift for wine lovers. Adopt some organic vines!

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

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

Personnalised bottles of wine for the Valentines Day

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

Wine course in a French vineyard for wine lovers

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

Adopt-a-vine Valentine gift in a French winery

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

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

More information about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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A recap of the 2017 wine vintage so far

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

The frost in the beginning of the year

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

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

Christmas gift box wine making experience

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

The summer drought

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

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

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

The 2017 harvest

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

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

Harvest Experience Day at the winery

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

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

In the cellar

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

Vinification experience in France gift idea

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

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

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

Who is this Christmas wine gift good for?

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

Wine gift box for wine lovers at Christmas

Which Wine Experience gift pack to choose?

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

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

Organic Vineyard tour and oenology courses in France

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

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

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

Adopt-a-vine gift box for Christmas

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

To learn more about adopting vines for a Christmas gift

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

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

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Harvest Experience Days in Saint-Emilion

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

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

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

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

Adopt-a-vine gift experience in Saint-Emilion

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

Grape picking experience gift in an organic vineyard in France

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adopt an organic vine and learn about making organic wine

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

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

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

Wine-making experience gift and harvest in Saint-Emilion

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

Organic wine-making gift in Bordeaux

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

Winery tour and cellar visit in Saint-Emilion

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

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

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The 2017 harvest in Chablis

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

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

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

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

Participate in the harvest and learn about the art of winemaking

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

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

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

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

Wine-making experience gift in Chablis

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

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

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

Wine tasting gift at the winery in Chablis

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

Rent-a-vine in a French biodynamic vineyard

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

Original wine gift for wine lovers

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

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The work in the cellar during harvest time

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

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

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

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

Harvest Experience Day in the Laanguedoc wine area South of France

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

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

Winery tour and harvester meaal in Languedoc, France

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

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

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

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

Vine adoption and harvest experience day in the South of France

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

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Harvesting the grapes in the Rhone Valley

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

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

harvest wine box in the rhone valley france

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

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

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

meet the winemaker at a harvest experience day in france

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

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

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

oenology course in the rhone valley vineyard france

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

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

winery tasting and vineyard visit in france

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

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

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

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

wine-making and grapes picking course in france

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

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

wine-making experience in a biodynamic vineyard in france

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

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The 2017 harvest gets underway in Burgundy

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend break in France to get involved in the grape harvest

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

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

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

Wine-making experience weekend in Burgundy, France

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

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

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

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

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

Wine tasting gift experience with the winemaker in Burgundy

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

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

Original wine gift to learn about all about wine-making

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

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Raising the training wires in Burgundy

Last weekend we welcomed the participants of the Discovery Experience Days to Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy for a couple of hands on wine courses focused on learning more about the work in the vineyard.

Perfect gift for wine enthusiasts.  Adopt-a-vine in a French organic vineyard

After a welcome coffee and a brief introduction to the day, Jean-François, the owner and winemaker, recounted his family history and that of the Burgundy wine-growing region: how it was formed, the geology, and the birth of the different appellations.  From the garden in front of the chateau we could see the different terroir and how they determine the hierarchy of wines in Burgundy.

Winery tour gift expereince in the Cotes de Beaune, Burgundy, France

We then headed to the vineyard where our adopted vines are to be found.  They were in fine fettle and we took a few minutes to pamper them and take a few photos!

Adopt-a-Vine gift in France with personalised bottles of your own organic wine

Simon, the son of Jean-François who will one day take over from him, then started to explain the different stages of work that happen in the vineyard.

We also learnt about what it means and takes to be organic before getting involved ourselves in some of the work.  We raised the training wires and ensured that all of the branches were supported between them, at the same time separating the branches and trying to space them out as best as possible to improve the airflow around them.  This is an important task to help the grapes mature and to keep them healthy.  If it rains, it’s vital that the air can circulate around the grape bunches to quickly dry them, reducing the risk of rot.

Wine experience gift to participate in working in the vineyard

Back at the winery our hard work was rewarded with a glass of Santenay white wine, accompanied by some gougères, a famous Burgundy hors d’oeuvre.

Wine tasting experience gift in an organic Burgundy vineyard

We enjoyed lunch in the harvester’s refectory.  A sandre terrine, beef bourguignon, local cheeses, and a pear, chocolate and blackcurrant desert, each course served with a different wine from Domaine Chapelle.

Make your own wine gift in an organic French winery

In the afternoon, we visited the fermentation hall and cellar with Jean-François to see where the wines are made and age.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days in September and the beginning of next year.  We look forward to seeing you again soon.

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Wine Experience day in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet

We spent a fantastic week-end learning what it’s like to be a winemaker in Saint-Emilion during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Days at Château Coutet.  The vines are growing at a frantic pace at the moment, and as we were to find out, there is much to be done in the vineyard to try and produce the best possible grapes for the harvest.

Original goft for wine lovers in organic Saint-Emilion vineyard

On Saturday, we were accompanied by Alain and Juliette, and by Adrien on Sunday.  All three of them are incredibly passionate about their work and the winery, and the days started with a brief introduction to the winery’s 400 year history, during which time the winery has always been organic.

We then headed into the vineyard to be brought up to speed on the work carried out in the vineyard since last year’s harvest to prune, de-bud and attach the vines to the training wires, as well as the way the soil is worked.

Vineyard experience gift in France

As we made our way up towards the Saint-Emilion plateau, we saw the change in the soil, and the identified the different grape varietals by the different shaped leaves.  We passed a plot that had been planted with sunflowers and has now been left fallow to regenerate the nutrients in the soil before it will be planted with vines.  As with everything, the winery looks to nature to maintain the equilibrium of the biodiversity.

We stopped at a terrace of cabernet franc vines just below the plateau.  The grapes have now formed on the vines and will reach their full size in the next couple of weeks.  The flowering went particularly well this year, so the vines are well laden with fruit.  The grapes will mature over the next couple of months as the sugar levels increase.  One of the risks that the vines face is rot, especially so if the conditions are hot and humid.  To help protect the vines, some of the leaves are removed from around the grapes to improve the air flow around them, making it quicker for the air to dry them after any rainfall.

Wine experience gift in an organic French vineyard

To get a better idea of just what is involved in removing the leaves, after receiving our instructions, we had a go ourselves.  The vines we were working on were planted North to South.  We removed the leaves just from the East facing side of the rows, keeping the leaves on the West facing side in place to protect the grapes from being burnt by the stronger afternoon sun.

On the plateau we passed the plot of vines that are worked by horse and used in the making of the winery’s famous Emeri and Les Desmoiselles wines, before arriving at the Peycocut vineyard where our adopted vines are to be found.

As we admired the wonderful views across to Saint-Emilion and the neighbouring Grand Cru Classé vineyards, we took a few minutes to visit our adopted vines and immortalise the moment with a few photos!

Rent-a-vine gift in Saint-Emilion

After this full morning, we returned to the garden in front of the château for a well-earned aperitif.  A nicely chilled clairet rosé wine was awaiting us before we sat down to a lunch that was prepared in the château by a local caterer.  During the different courses, we tasted 4 different vintages of the winery’s Saint Emilion Grand Cru wine, learning about the four different years, and seeing how the wine changes over time.

Wine tasting gift experience of organic Saint-Emilion wines

We started the afternoon with a look at the Vitirover robot that has been developed at the winery.  This solar powered buggy linked to GPS and equipped with cutters roams in a pre-defined area of vines, cutting the difficult to reach grass and weeds that grow around the vine trunks!

Vineyard robot

The harvest is fast approaching, and so we learnt about what is left to do in the vineyard and how the winemakers will choose the moment of the harvest.

We then entered the fermentation hall where the grapes will be received at harvest time, and where they will then macerate and ferment in the vats.

Winery tour gift experience in Saint-Emilion

We marvelled at the cellar containing the old vintage bottles, everyone trying to see if there were any bottles left from their birth year or other notable vintages.

Wine experience gift with personalised bottles of Saint-Emilion GRand Cru wine

The day then finished in the barrel room where the wines are aged for around 18 months before being ready for bottling.  We’ll be spending more time in here during the Vinification Experience Days at the start of next year.  Before then we’ll be back in September to participate in the harvest and see how our grapes have matured over the summer!

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Removing the unwanted vines branches in the Loire Valley vineyard

Following the few days of heatwave conditions, we were glad to have slightly cooler weather to host our new adoptive vine parents for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Discovery Experience Days at Château de la Bonnelière.  We had perfect conditions to work in the vineyard, the main activity for the weekend being de-budding to remove the unwanted shoots that have started to grow.

Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner of Château de la Bonnelière introduced us to the winery over a coffee, outlining how the 2017 is shaping up so far, and then we headed straight out into the vineyard to get to the heart of the matter!

Wine box day at the winery in the Loire Valley

The recent good weather, interspersed with a few showers had meant that the vines had rapidly grown during the past couple of weeks. They are currently so far ahead that they are already at the stage where they would normally be in mid-July, some 3 weeks ahead of usual, and as a result the work in the vineyard is a bit behind schedule.

Marc was therefore even more excited than usual to welcome the participants to have a few extra hands to help out! But before getting down to work, we started with an introduction to the adopted vines and a few photos for the “My Vine” photo competition. Judging by some of the ideas for posing in front of the wines, Château de la Bonnelière will perhaps see one of the winners at the end of the year!

Vine adoption wine gift in the Loire Valley France

After this fun moment, it was time to get involved with the de-budding. The aim of this job is to remove the shoots and branches that have grown from the trunks of the vines. These branches won’t produce any fruit and will just sap the energy from the vine.

The Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard is particularly susceptible to the growth of these shoots, and each year the plot needs many hours of attention from Marc’s team.

Vineyard tending gift box in France

Our participants, some also armed with spades and hoes, spread out among the rows and got stuck in. The work was interspersed with conversations on how Marc organises the work, the decisions taken in the vineyard, the work carried out so far, and even what goes on in the cellar. The work progressed well, and Marc was very appreciative of our help.

Wine Experience Day in the Loire Valley France

After the effort, the reward!  Lunch was awaiting us, prepared by Mme Plouzeau, accompanied by a good range of the wines from the chateau!

Winemakers' lunch in a French castle in the Loire Valley

The programme for the afternoon was a little less sporty thankfully as the idea of having a siesta in the shade of the vines was a very appealing idea! We walked a little in the vineyard to see a young plot of vines, recently planted with Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc.

Wine box gift vineyard visit in France

We also saw the oldest plot of vines in Chinon that was planted in 1929, the grapes from which are used in the Vindoux wine.

The day drew to a close and we each headed our separate ways, a few bottles in the car to remember the day by, and to share with friends at a later date!

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Supporting the vines in the Rhone Valley

We welcomed some of the 2017 vintage adopt-a-vine parents of the 2017 vintage last Saturday at Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhone Valley.  There was a little wind and a few clouds, which we were all pleased to see following the heatwave that the region had endured in the preceding days with the temperature in the high 30s.

Great gift for a wine lover.  Rent some vines in France in the Rhone Valley

Eric Plumet, the winemaker, led us down through the vineyard to a plot that we were to work in.  The vines have been growing lots recently and our task was to raise the training wires and clip them together ensuring that the vine branches were held between them.
On the way, Eric showed us the different grape varietals grown in the vineyard.  We passed plots of syrah and clairette, and in a plot of Grenache, branch in hand, he showed us some shot berry which was the result of the late frost in spring.  Some of the flowers had been harmed, and so the number of grapes produced will be less.

Wine-making experience gift in a biodynamic vineyard

After a few technical explanations, we got down to work to place the vine branches between the training wires.  Eric explained the important role of the very tip of the vine branches which forms a Y shape, and absorbs the nutritive elements from the air to feed the plant.

Organic gift idea.  Adopt a vine in France, and participate in making your own wine

As the winery is worked biodynamically, Eric only starts to trim the tops of the vines when the apex dries.  The vine then stops growing to concentrate on ripening the grapes.

Marie-Pierre arrived to quench our thirst.  Water at first, but she had also brought a rosé wine produced at the winery, a fresh and very aromatic wine that gave us a glimpse of the tasting to come.

We returned to the winery at lunchtime and sat down at the wooden tables under the shade of the trees.  With the light breeze, it was the perfect place to relax.

Organic wine-tasting experience gift

We compared a clairette aged in oak barrels with a clairette aged in an amphora.  Same grape varietal but very different wines!  We each had our own preference for one or the other.

Over lunch, we tasted the Côtes du Rhône, Massif d’Uchaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines which paired perfectly with the tourte, pâtés, quail and fruit tart, all home-made by Marie-Pierre.  Our palates revelled in the different tastes and we in the good company!

After coffee, we went on a hunt to find our adopted vines, to say hello to them, and take a few photos.  With all that we had learnt during the day, we were more appreciative of all the effort that our bottles of wine will contain once our grapes have reached maturity!

Rent-a-Vine gift and personalised bottles of wine

The day finished in the chai to see the vats and take in the smells of the wines that are finishing ageing.  We’ll be back again in September to participate in the Harvest Experience Days.

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Raising the training wires in Chablis

The vines have also been enjoying the glorious weather that we have been having for the past few weeks and have been growing rapidly.  There’s much work to be done to keep on top as we were to discover during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis last Saturday.

Original wine gift for wine lovers.  Adopt a vine in Chablis, France

After the introductions we set out into the vineyard.  Here we learnt about all of the work that has been carried out in the vineyard since the last harvest.  Arnaud showed us how the vines had been pruned and de-budded, and also explained how the soil has been worked.  The winery is the largest organic and biodynamic winery in Chablis, so we also spent quite a lot of time discussing the differences between organic, biodynamic and conventional wine-growing.

Learning about winemaking and the work in the vineyard

With the recent growth spurt of the vines, there are currently two main tasks to do.  One is to trim the branches on the sides and tops of the vines.  This is done using a special cutter that is attached to the front of the tractor .  We watched a tractor in action on the adjacent vine plot, and the driver then stopped to give us a demonstration of the versatility of this tractor, which can be fitted with different tools to plough, treat the vines, or even harvest the grapes.

Vineyard Experience gift to participate in making your own personalised organic wine

The other task of the moment is more manual, and involves raising the training wires to support the weight of the foliage and future grapes, and to better space out the vines.  Arnaud had left us a plot to work on, and after receiving our instructions, we rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in!  In twos, one either side of the vine row, we unclipped the two top training wires, raised them up to the final level, and then re-clipped them together.

Rent-a-vine gift in an organic vineyard

On our way back, we made sure that each of the branches were in between the training wires.  This will prevent them from being damaged by the passing tractors and becoming entangled with the opposite vines.

We then returned to the winery for a well-earned wine tasting.  Anne-Laure served us a Petit Chablis 2015, Chablis Sainte-Claire 2015, and a Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 2014.  Over lunch, prepared on-site by Julie, a great local caterer, we enjoyed a Chablis Vielles Vignes 2015 and a Chablis Saint-Anne 2004 from a magnum to see how the Sainte Claire wine that is chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience can age over time.

In the afternoon we visited the Sainte-Claire vineyard to meet our adopted vines, and take a few pictures with them!  They too were in fine fettle, and looking great.  They have just finished flowering, and are said to be at the peppercorn stage  where the grapes are starting to take shape, and we can see the bunches forming.  The grapes will increase in size over the next few weeks, before the vines will concentrate their energy on ripening them and producing the sugar needed to ferment and create the wine.

Adopt-a-vine in France in an organic vineyard and make your personalised bottles of wine

The day ended with a visit of the fermentation hall where the wines from last year are ageing.  They have finished their fermentation and are now resting on their fine lees, until they will be ready for bottling.

Original personalised organic wine gift

And so we leave the vines to bring the grapes to maturity over the coming weeks.  We’ll next be back for the harvest, which although still too early to say when, looks like to be slightly earlier than usual.  But that depends on the weather to come.  We hope for dry, sunny weather, interspersed with a few rain showers that are followed by sun and wind.  That would be perfect! 

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De-budding the vines in Saint-Emilion

After much excited anticipation, the first Discovery Experience Days got underway last week-end at Château Coutet, our new partner wine-maker in Saint-Emilion.  The warm welcome and passion of the winemakers lived up to expectation and we had a fantastic time learning about the work in the vineyard and the fascinating history of the winery.

Original wine-making gift in Saint Emilion.

The day started in the vineyard, where we learnt about how the vines had been pruned during the winter months to control their growth and ensure that they produce less grapes, but of a higher quality come harvest time.

Vineyard experience gift for wine lovers

We slowly made our way up the hill as we learnt about the different grape varietals and the geology of the Saint-Emilion region.  Château Coutet is one of the few wineries that has vines planted in each of the three different types of soil to be found in Saint-Emilion.

Just before we reached the plateau, we stopped in front of a plot of vines that had been left for us to work on.  With the rain that had fallen in the past few days, and the rising temperatures, the vines are growing rapidly at the moment.  Our first task was to de-bud the vines by removing any branches that had sprouted from the trunk of the vines, and any double shoots growing from the same node.


Simple enough you would think, but a little more complicated when you have to decide for yourself which shoots to remove.  This is especially so for the shoots around the head of the vine, that might be useful to leave to help rejuvenate the vine next year or the following year.

The next job was to raise the training wires to help support the weight of the growth, and to ensure that the branches grow upwards, and don’t fall into the middle of the rows, where they could get damaged by the tractor or transport unwanted fungi up from the ground.   In pairs, we walked down the rows, first to detach the training wires, and then back a second time raising the wires and clipping them together at each stake.

Original vineyard visit to participate in working on the vines

We then continued our journey up onto the plateau where the most renowned Saint-Emilion vineyards are located, including our adopted vines!   Here we had a wonderful view of the surrounding Grand Cru Classé vineyards and the church spire of Saint-Emilion.
Château Coutet have their oldest vines on the plateau, the oldest being between 80 and 95 years old.  The vines from this plot are cultivated organically as with the rest of the estate’s vineyards, but here horses are used to work the soil, no electrical tools are used, so pruning is done by traditional secatuers, and the organic treatments are administered by hand.  The grapes that are produced are used for the wineries prestigious Emeri and Les Demoiselles wines.

The neighbouring plot of vines are home to our adopted vines.  We took a few minutes to meet them and take a few photos to immortalise the moment!

Rent-a-vine gift experience in an organic Saint Emilion vineyard

We returned to the winery via the old Roman path that linked Libourne to Saint-Emilion, passing a plot of vines that had been replanted a couple of years ago.  The vines have taken root nicely and work had begun to put in place the training wire structure.

Back at the winery, we enjoyed an aperitif of Chateau Coutet’s clairet, a deep pink rosé wine that is traditional to the Bordeaux region.   We then tasted the Saint Emilion 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages over lunch, learning about the different characteristics of each of these years, enabling us to see how the wine develops over time.

Tasting the estate's wines in front of the château

In the afternoon, we returned to the vineyard next to the winery buildings to learn about the work that remains in the vineyard between now and the harvest.  Removing some of the leaves, raising the training wires, trimming the branches, treating the vines against mildew and black rot as necessary.  There is still much to do before the grapes will be fully ripe and ready to be harvested.

Guided tour of the vineyards to learn the different work

We then had a quick tour of the fermentation hall and visited the cellar where the old vintages are stored. A real treasure trove!

Cellar tour in Saint-Emilion to see the old bottles of wine

The day finished with a visit of the barrel room to see where the wines slowly age before being ready to be bottled.  We’ll learn more about this stage of wine-making during the Vinification Experience Days next year.

Visiting the oak wine barrels

So much to learn about wine-making and the fascinating history of the winery.  Our first week-end at the winery was all that we could have hoped for, and we can’t wait to return, as there is so much more to discover! Many thanks to our fantastic hosts, and to all of our participants for making it so memorable!

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

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