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Harvest Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


Last Saturday, we were at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley for the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Day. We were there to help pick the grapes for this year’s harvest and to learn about all of the work involved at the winery during harvest time.  As we were to discover there is more to it than just picking grapes!

The Harvext Experience gift in the Rhone Valley, France

After the introductions, we walked past the winery’s olive grove and up the hillside to the vineyard where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  The vineyard is one of the winery’s best plots, and the Grenache Noir grapes are used to make the excellent AOC Massif d’Uchaux red wine.  We took a few minutes to find our adopted vines, laden with delicious ripe grapes, and take a few pictures before we started the harvest.

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Laurence, the wine-maker at Domaine de la Guicharde, then explained which grapes to pick, and which to leave, and how to cut the bunches.  Equipped with a pair of secateurs and a bucket, we then spread out among the rows and started to pick.

Grape harvest gift in the Rhone Valley

The buckets quickly filled as the grapes were generally in very good condition, and so there was little to sort.  The dry and hot weather meant that there had been no mildew, the only damage being a few vines that had been too exposed to the sun, causing the grapes to burn and dry out.  Once the buckets were full, we emptied them into a trailer and then carried on picking.

Wine-making experience gift in an organic winery in the Rhone Valley

Laurence took the time to explain how she monitors the ripening of the grapes and decides when the best time to pick them is.  She has to plan and juggle resources between the different grape varietals and vineyard plots, as the grapes don’t all ripen at the same speed.

The terroir of the Massif d’Uchaux is unique amongst the different Côtes du Rhône appellations, the principal characteristic being that millions of years ago, in the Miocène era, all of the surrounding land was covered by seawater.  You can still make out where the ancient beach used to be, and if you look hard, you can find fossils of shell fish.

Domaine de la Guicharde is both organically and biodynamically certified, and so Laurence explained the difference between the two approaches, and how they influence the work in the vineyard and cellar.

After the morning’s hard work and effort, the aperitif was very welcome!  Back in the courtyard of the winery, Laurence served us a nice cold glass of her rosé.

Organic wine tasting gift with the winemaker

We then sat down to a delicious lunch, paired with other wines from the winery.  The rich and complex 2019 Côtes du Rhône “Autour de la Chapelle” white wine perfectly accompanied the Millefeuille of aubergines, confit tomatoes with fresh goats cheese and courgette coulis.  We enjoyed the fruity 2019 Côtes du Rhône “Pur Rouge” red wine with the main course of roast veal, mushroom and épeautre risotto, finishing with the more powerful and spicy 2017 Côtes du Rhône Massif d’Uchaux red with the cheese platter and chocolate cappuccino cream dessert.

After lunch we made our way to the chai, where the grapes that we had harvested were waiting in the shade.  Our next job was to put the grapes into the vat. To do so we emptied the trailer of grapes slowly into a hopper where the grapes pass through a de-stemming machine to separate the berries from the stalks.

Learning about the work at harvest time in the chai

The grapes are then pumped through a large tube into one of the vats.  Laurence explained how the fermentation process will transform the sugar into alcohol, and how the wine will extract the colour and tannins from the grapes skins during the maceration period.

Laurence explains the work and in the chai during the harvest period and the fermentation process

It’s an exciting year, because the 2020 vintage will be the first to be made in the new chai.  Building started in February, and despite a break in work during the lockdown period, the main shell of the building was completed and the fermentation hall equipped with the essential equipment just in time for the start of the harvest.  It was touch and go for a while, but the much larger space means that Laurence and her team will be able to work in much better conditions.

We finished the day by tasting the juice from the grapes that we had picked.  It was cloudy in colour and very sweet with the sugar that is needed to make the wine.  We then compared it with the grape juice from another vat that had already started the fermentation process.

Tasting the grape juice from our harvest

We’ll be back next year for the Vinification Experience Days to see how this year’s vintage has progressed and to learn about all of the work that still remains between now and the time that the wine is ready for bottling.  Many thanks to Laurence and her team for looking after us so well during the day.

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Participating in the work in the vineyard in France’s Loire Valley


During the spring of 2020, whilst we were all in lock-down, the vines were soaking up the plentiful sun in the Loire Valley, growing rapidly and abundantly.  And so we were impatient to get back to Château de la Bonnelière for a Wine Discovery Day, to learn about all of the work that goes on in the vineyard to grow and nurture the best possible grapes for making organic wine.
Adopt an organic vine and follow how to make wine in Loire Valley

Even though the organisation of the day called for a few changes to comply with the current situation, we were still able to meet one another over the traditional welcome coffee, to start learning about the winery, the wine-maker, Marc, and the progress of the year so far.
The main tasks for the day were leaf removal and green harvesting, jobs that are more normally done in July, but the precocity of the vines has decided otherwise this year.  The 2020 winter was mild for the most part, causing the vines to start growing earlier than usual, and that, combined with the warm and sunny spring, has meant that the vines are at least 3 weeks ahead of the stage that they would normally be at.

The first task was simple. It involved removing the leaves from in front of the grapes, so that they can get more sun.  This also allows for a better airflow around the grapes to avoid rot setting in on the grapes. 
The second task to green harvest was more technical and impressed our apprentice winemakers of the day!  The sun and warmth had also meant that the vines had been very productive.  In fact too much so!  We therefore had to reduce the number of bunches, to avoid disease or rot setting in, and to improve the quality of the grapes left on the vines.
You have to be careful to only remove the grape bunches that are growing too high up the vine, or from where there are too many bunches growing on the same vine.  A detailed but decisive job!  But as usual, the mission was perfectly accomplished by our apprentice winemakers as you can see. 

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Learn winemaking with Gourmet Odysssey in Loire Valley

And what’s more, we finished just before the rain arrived!  We headed to the barn for lunch, a hearty beef and carrot stew that had been slow-cooked by Mme Plouzeau and was sure to recharge our batteries for the afternoon.

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We enjoyed some of Marc’s delicious wines over lunch, including some of the older vintages of the Clos de la Bonnelière, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.
The weather cleared in the afternoon, and so we went for a little walk to see the young sauvignon blanc vines that have been recently planted.  Along the way, we discussed the organic and biodynamic methods used to nurture the vines.  The walk finished with a quick tour of the fermentation hall and the chai used for bottling and storing the wine.  These are both places that we will spend more time in during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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We’re looking forward to returning in September for the harvest and to see whether the 2020 vintage turns out as good as it is promising to be at the moment!

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Wine-making and blending course with the wine-maker in Saint-Emilion


After this complicated lock-down period, it was great to at last be able to re-start the Wine Experience Days at Château Coutet with the Vinification Experience Day.  The masks and hand gels were compulsory, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm and fun of the day.  We met up and introduced ourselves over a coffee and croissant on the lawn in front of the chateau.  Matthieu, who represents the 13th generation of this family of winemakers, presented Château Coutet and explained the diversity of soil and grape varietals that make it such an exceptional place where the vines, trees, and people live in perfect harmony for more than 400 years.

We then visited the cellar where Matthieu explained the fermentation cycles that have happened since last year’s harvest.  His passion and love for wine-making lights up his eyes and keeps us enthralled as he speaks.

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Another room in the cellar is home to the barrels used to age the wines, as is tradition in the Bordeaux region.  At Château Coutet, the aim is to not give the wine too much of a woody taste, so the percentage of new barrels used is on the low side, older, used barrels being preferred.

We then regrouped on the lawn in front of the château for the blending workshop.  Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey oenologist, reminded us of the techniques used to taste wine, so that we could all speak the same language, and then we started to blind taste several different wines.  It’s always interesting to taste wines blind, so that we concentrate solely on the aromas and tastes that we perceive to analyse the wine, and not be influenced by the label.

We continued the blind tasting with the four different grape varietals that are grown at the winery.  Matthieu and Benoît then presented us with three different blends, giving us three completely different wines, using exactly the same ingredients, just in different proportions.  It helped us to better understand the complicated work to blend wines in Bordeaux, something that is an important skill for the wine-makers here.

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After all of this hard work, we whet our thirst with the refreshing Claret de Coutet under the sunshine that started to peak out from behind the clouds.  It’s a vibrant and fruity wine, difficult to classify, as it’s between a red and rosé wine.

Tasting wines with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion

Over lunch, we discovered the estate’s red wines.  The 2016 Belle-Cimes, the château’s second wine, perfectly accompanied the revisited Landaise foie gras salad.  We then tasted two different vintages of the Château Coutet red wine, something that is always interesting to compare.  The 2017 is still young and a bit feisty, not yet having reached its potential despite being nice and fruity.    The 2014 is now starting to taste really good and we can see that the wine has started to mature nicely even if it can still be kept for a good 10-15 years.

We then had the good fortune to the taste the 2017 Demoiselles red.  It’s a select wine made from the best merlot and cabernet franc vine plots that are located on the limestone plateau and worked by horse.  A real treat.  The depth of aromas carries us afar, and the finesse of the tannins nicely wrap around the body of the wine.  A real journey of discovery!

After lunch, we headed out to visit our adopted vines in the Peycocut vineyard that overlooks the Dordogne valley.  It’s a magnificent setting from where you can also see the bell tower of Saint-Emilion’s church just 800 m away.  We each immortalised the meeting of our adopted vines with a few pictures, some of which were entered into the annual My Vine photo competition held by Gourmet Odyssey for the most creative photo with the vines.

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The day ended with a visit of the store room where the bottles are stocked.  Matthieu explained how the wine is bottled and the labels then applied, the last stages before the wine if finally ready for release.

Huge thanks to Matthieu for welcoming us and to Gourmet Odyssey for organising these days that are always such good fun and very informative.

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Wine Discovery Experience Day in the vineyard in Alsace


It was a real pleasure to find ourselves back in the vineyard for the Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace.  Whilst we had been confined during the lockdown, the vines had been soaking up the sun and flourishing.  The past few months had been very busy for the winemakers in the vineyard as we were to find out.

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After the introductions, we headed out into the vineyard, respecting the new social distancing norms of course!  Our first stop was the Rosenberg vineyard, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  We took a few minutes to find the nameplate in front of our vines, take a few pictures, and encourage them to produce some good grapes for this year’s harvest!

Adopt a vine gift in Alsace to learn about how wine is made

 

We were accompanied by Stéphane and Céline, the brother and sister duo that have now taken over the running of the winery from their parents.  Stéphane explained the work that had been done in the vineyard over the winter to prune the vines and work the soil.

Vineyard experience gift

The relatively mild winter, and then the hot and sunny weather that has prevailed in France for most of the time since the beginning of the lockdown in mid-March, has meant that the vines have been thriving and have developed much faster than normal.  We could see that the grapes had already formed on the vines, and were at a stage that you would normally expect to see in July.  The flowering period had happened at the end of May in great climatic conditions.

Grapes appearing on the organic vines

We then headed to the neighbouring plot of vines, which had been replanted three years ago.  Stéphane explained the life cycle of the vines and how they are replanted.  This year will be the first time that the grapes will be harvested.  He explained how they have been pruned to form the desired shape.  Despite the pruning carried out in March, some of the vines had sprouted shoots from the trunk that are unwanted, so our job for the morning was to remove them, thus enabling the vines to concentrate their energy on the fruit-bearing branches, and to maintain their form.

We spread out amongst the rows and carefully removed the unwanted shoots.  The vines might be higher in Alsace than in other regions of France, but this job still involves lots of bending over!

Wine-making experience gift in Alsace

Domaine Stentz-Buecher, like all of the Gourmet Odyssey partner wineries, is organically certified, and Stéphane explained the organic methods that they use to work the soil and protect the vines from odium and mildew.

Back at the winery, we sat down to enjoy some of the wines from the winery.  The wine tasting session, guided by Céline, started with the refreshing Crémant d’Alsace pink sparkling wine.  This is the first year that the winery has made a rosé sparkling wine, and it received the thumbs up from all.  100% pinot noir, it has a good structure, whilst retaining the freshness and acidity that you expect from a sparkling wine.

 

Organic wine tasting gift and winery tour with the winemaker in Alsace, France

We then tasted the 2018 Riesling Tradition and the 2018 Muscat Rosenberg, before tasting the 2018 vintage of the Pinot Gris Rosenberg, which is the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey adopt-a-vine clients.  Céline explained how the grape yields are voluntarily kept well below the limits authorised in Alsace, which results in the very aromatic, rich, and complex wines that characterise those produced by Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  We then tasted the 2017 Pinot Noir Tradition, and concluded the wine tasting session with the delicious 2016 Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru, with a slice of the local lardon and walnut savoury Kouglof.

We continued tasting the wines and local delicacies over lunch of the typical baeckeoffe, a selection of local cheeses, and blueberry tart, accompanied by the 2018 Pinot Blanc Tradition and the 2017 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg.

In the afternoon, Stéphane explained the work left to do over the summer in the vineyard, and how the date of the harvest will be chosen for each individual vineyard plot and grape varietal.

Stéphane then took us on a tour of the cellar, starting with where the grapes will be received and pressed at harvest time.  He showed us the barrel room where the pinot noir wines are aged in oak barrels.

Organic wine cellar tour in Alsace

We ended the day in the room where the white wines are aged, either in huge old oak casks, or smaller stainless steel vats.  Stéphane’s explanations were accompanied by the intermittent gurgling sounds of some of the vats where the wines were still fermenting!

Many thanks to all of the participants and to Céline and Stéphane for sharing the passion for their profession.  We look forward to coming back in September for the Harvest Experience Day!

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Pruning and attaching the vines in Saint-Emilion


Arriving at Château Coutet for the first time is always an adventure.  Depending on the route that the satnav sends you, you can take the main entrance or the bumpy side tracks, it’s the charm of being in the countryside!

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We started the Discovery Experience Day and our Wine Experience with a coffee and croissant, whilst Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey oenologist, explained the programme for this day dedicated to learning about the work in the vineyard.  We were then introduced to Alain David Beaulieu, the owner and winemaker at Château Coutet for the last 30 years.  He is now helped by his son, Matthieu, and his nephew, Adrien.  Château Coutet has been in the same family for 400 years and Alain is proud that his son and nephew will keep the tradition going for at least another generation.

Having put on our boots, the ground being particularly wet after the very rainy winter in Bordeaux, we started to explore the estate.  Alain explained the different terroir and different grape varietals that make up the 16ha of the winery.  It’s a magnificent place, preserved from intensive farming methods, and a large part of the family still live there amongst the geese, ducks and the two dogs, Largo and Wolfy, who seem to be perpetually looking for more affection.  Wooded areas without vines are preserved to conserve the biodiversity, something that is very important in nurturing the vines organically.

We also discovered the latest invention from Alain’s brother, Xavier, the viti-rover.  This is a solar-powered grass cutting robot used to keep the grass in check in some of the vineyard plots whilst disturbing the microbial life in the soil as little as possible.  Grass is a fierce competitor for vines, and so it is vital to control its growth in order to make quality wines.  In organic winemaking, only two options are available; cutting of turning the soil over.

Learn how wine is made organically

Having seen some of the Saint-Emilion half marathon runners pass though the vineyard, including Alain’s son, Matthieu, we made our way to the Peycocut vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  It is one of the most prized spots in Saint-Emilion, lying on top of a magnificent limestone plateau.  You can see the bell tower of the village church a few hundred metres further on.  We searched for our adopted vines, in front of which Benoît had placed a name board.  Many selfies and photos were taken with the vines, the most creative of which will have a chance of winning a magnum of wine in the My Vine photo competition.

Rent-a-vine-gift in an award-winning organic vineyard

Time now for the serious business of the day as Alain explained vine pruning to us.  There’s nothing like seeing it done to fully appreciate and understand the intricacies of this most important task.  It will determine the future potential yield of the vines, and the shape that the plant will take as it grows.  It’s a long job that takes from December until March.  There is just a few hectares remaining to prune at Château Coutet, and luckily so, as the vines are starting to weep.  When we prune the vines, the sap flows from the cut, and so we say it weeps.  It’s also a sign that the sap has risen once again from the roots to the above ground part of the plant, and that the buds will soon start to appear.

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After pruning the vines, the cut branches need to be pulled away, and the remaining branch attached to the training wire.  This was our task for the rest of the morning.  From the attached branch, the future fruit-bearing canes will grow, and the grapes will appear later on in spring.  It’s a delicate job, because depending on the position of the branch, it is more or less difficult to bend enough to touch the training wire.  We were afraid to break them and thus compromise the number of grapes produced.  In pairs, we made our way down the vine rows in the plot of merlot.  It’s rewarding work, and we even found some wild leeks which would make a welcome addition to the salad at dinnertime!

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We then returned to the lawn in front of the chateau for the aperitif, just reward for our efforts!  Alain served his Claret which is a surprising wine that can be classified between a rosé and a light red wine.  It is obtained by drawing the wine off from the vat at harvest time after one day of macerating with the grape skins.

Organic wine tasting gift in Saint-Emilion

We continued the wine tasting over lunch.  The 2016 Château Belles-Cimes wine accompanied the foie gras starter.  It’s the winery’s second wine which is made mainly from the young vines on the estate.  Its lighter touch refreshes the taste buds between two bites of foie gras.  The 2016 Château Coutet, which is a blend of merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and cabernet sauvignon, is more powerful on the palate, but still with lots of elegance.  It is also a blend of the three different terroir found at the winery of sandy, clay, and limestone soils, and paired wonderfully with the duck breast to taste another local specialty.

We then discovered the amazing story of the Emery wine.  One of the oldest bottles of Bordeaux, found by Alain some 15 years ago in the earth floor of the family cellar.  A plot of vines on the limestone plateau is now dedicated to producing a wine using the ancient techniques.  No tractors roll across the vineyard, everything is done by hand or with the help of a horse to work the soil, and the very old bottle is reproduced by a master glassblower.  Alain let us taste the 2017 vintage of the delicious Demoiselles cuvée, which is the same wine, just served in a more standard bottle.  The limestone terroir and painstaking manual work bring a minerality and finesse to the tannic structure that you rarely have the chance to taste.

After lunch we set off for another walk, where Alain spoke to us about the organic methods they use to nurture the vines, and explained the different work that needs to be done on the vines during spring and summer before the harvest.

We finished the day with a visit to the family cellar which looks a little like Ali Babar’s cave with all of the old Château Coutet vintages.  “Is 1967 the oldest?”  “No, I think there are some 1953s over in that corner” replies Alain!

Winery tour and cellar visit

Many thanks for this really interesting day.  We look forward to coming back to the winery for the Harvest Experience Day to discover the work that happens during this busy period.

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A day pruning the vines in Burgundy


We gathered under a glorious blue sky at Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay on the 8th March for a Wine Discovery Experience Day to learn more about the work that the wine-maker gets up to in the vineyard.

The day got underway with an introduction in the garden, where Jean-François, the owner of the winery, told us briefly about the family history and their part in making Burgundy wines.  He explained his work philosophy, and the journey he undertook to converting the winery to being organic.

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We then made our way to the Clos des Cornières and the Crais vineyards, where we met up with our adopted vines.  It was the chance to take a few souvenir photos and participate in the “My Vine” photo competition in the hope of winning a magnum of wine.  Jean-François then started to explain the work in the vineyard, starting with pruning and covering all the main aspects up to when the grapes will be ready for harvesting in the autumn, something that is possible to participate in, during one of the Harvest Experience Days organised by Gourmet Odyssey.

Vineyard experience gift in an organic Burgundy winery

We then learnt how to prune the vines and the differences between the cordon de royat and guyot pruning methods.  The principal aim of pruning is to limit the potential yield of the grapes that each vine produces, and the winery looks to achieve yields of around 35 hl/ha.  Lowering the yield, means that the vine is more likely to be able to produce nice ripe and concentrated grapes for the harvest.  Pruning takes around three months, from January to March, and is the most highly skilled of the tasks.  Theoretically, it’s fairly easy to understand which branches to cut and which to keep.  But we quickly learnt that each vine is an exception to the rule, and so we have to adapt the approach slightly for each one, which doesn’t make the task any easier!

After pruning, the cut branches need to be pulled away from the vines.  After receiving our instructions, we spread out among the rows and started pulling!  It’s a fairly pleasant and rewarding job at first, but which we appreciate could become more difficult and repetitive day after day!

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Jean-François then finished explaining the jobs to come during spring to de-bud the vines, attach them to the training wires, remove the leaves, and treat the vines organically to protect them from fungi.

By this time, we had well-earned our aperitif, and so we headed back to the winery courtyard to taste the Santenay Village white wine, accompanied by the traditional Burgundy gougères cheese appetisers.

We enjoyed the delicious and wholesome lunch of pike-perch terrine, beef bourguignon, some of the famous local cheeses, and a pear and blackcurrant chocolate entremets.  All enjoyed of course with three of the winery’s red wines, including the Clos des Cornières Santenay red.

The stroll through the vineyards was most welcome to enjoy the lovely scenery and to help with the digestion!  We were able to talk in more depth about the different surrounding terroir that make up the Burgundy landscape, and distinguish the wines from this mythical region.

Winery tour experience gift

This lovely day ended with a quick tour of the cellar.  We’re looking forward to coming back to the winery to participate in the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days to further our learning and understanding of the wine-maker’s work.  We all left with some great memories to recall when we open our next bottle of wine from Domaine Chapelle!

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Top online birthday gift idea for wine lovers


Are you looking for a great online birthday e-gift idea that you can give to a wine lover without waiting for delivery?  Adopt some vines with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and this original birthday present will give the birthday boy or birthday girl the unique chance to follow the making of their own personalised bottles of organic wine in an award-winning vineyard in France.

Adopt a vine as best online birthday present for wine lovers

Gourmet Odyssey will send an e-gift card and certificate by email to get their Wine Experience started straight away after they receive their birthday gift.  In their customer portal, they’ll discover more about the winemaker, wine, and winery, and will learn about all of the work carried out in the vineyard and cellar to nurture the vines, harvest the grapes, ferment and age the wine before it is ready for bottling.  The Gourmet Odyssey e-birthday Wine Experience also includes one personalised bottle of organic wine for each adopted vine given. 

Online e-gift certificate to adopt organic vines

You can also choose to include one or more Wine Experience Days at the winery.  There are three courses to choose from, each day covering the three main stages of wine-making.  The Discovery Experience Day focuses on the work in the vineyard to learn how to produce the best grapes come harvest time.  The Harvest Experience Day sees you pick the grapes in the morning and follow their journey into the fermentation tank.  And the Vinification Experience Day is focused on all the decisions that the winemaker takes to ferment, blend, and prepare the wine for bottling.  Each day gets the participants involved in the work of a winemaker, is valid for two people, and lasts a full day, lunch and wine-tasting included.  The Wine Experience Days can be included in the original birthday gift, or can be added at a later stage, something that is particularly useful for those group birthday gifts for a special 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 birthday where you don’t know in advance how much the birthday kitty will reach.

Visit your organic adopted vines for an unforgettable experience

Each of the partner wineries, hand-picked by Gourmet Odyssey are organically certified, and are chosen for the quality of the wine as well as the friendliness and charm of the winemakers.  So you can rest assured that the wine included in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and the welcome at the vineyard will make for an unforgettable birthday gift that every wine lover will cherish for many years to come.

Learn more about the Gourmet Odyssey online Birthday Wine Gift Experience.

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The search for resistant grape varietals


The vine is a plant from the creeper family, and was brought to France by the Romans.  Cultural exchanges are therefore at the heart of farming this plant.  Nowadays a wine produced in one region can be drank anywhere in the world, and French grape varietals such as Pinot Noir or Merlot are grown as far afield as the United States, New Zealand or South Africa, giving a different expression of the terroir they inhabit than found in Bordeaux or Burgundy.

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The impact of some exchanges have however made life very difficult to grow vines.  The most famous example being the arrival of phylloxera in Europe, an aphid of North American origin that decimated the vineyards throughout France  in the 19th century.  French agronomists found a cure by using a North American root from vines not suitable for making wine, and then grafting cuttings from French grape varietals onto them.  The American root stock is planted in the ground, and is unaffected by the aphid, and so resolved the phylloxera problem.

Other diseases, such as mildew or odium, also hail from the American continent, being transported with the help of commercial shipping.  These two fungi also decimated the French vineyards in the 19th century.  French researchers found two products to fight against the fungi.  Sulphur for the odium and copper for the mildew.

The vines are at risk from these two fungi in spring.  They only attack the parts of the vine above ground and that are growing.  They also need a combination of heat and rain to develop.  By spraying sulphur and copper at the right time, it is possible to limit their development and save the future harvest.

In the 60s, the petro-chemical industry developed synthetic products that were much more efficient than copper and sulphur in fighting these diseases.  The only problem being that they also destroy a large share of the other living organisms present in the soil, and we still don’t fully understand the impact of the residue that is then found in the wine and on the skin of the people who work in the vineyards.  With the better understanding we have today of the development cycle of mildew and odium, we are able to effectively fight most of the time against these two diseases using sulphur and copper, the only two products that are authorised in organic farming.
These two products are said to be “contact” products as they protect the plants from the outside and do not penetrate inside the plant.  However, they are therefore easily washed off when it rains, and so the winemaker needs to regularly pass through the vineyards to keep the vines protected.  This involves lots of diesel powered tractors and so higher CO² emissions that add to the greenhouse effect.  What’s more, the products can then pollute the soil as they are washed away by the rain.  Copper in particular is a product that stays in the soil, the amount accumulating year after year.  It’s a big problem for organic winemakers, even though it has much less impact in polluting the soil than the chemical products.  The environmental challenge is to try and find solutions to reduce this pollution. Already the maximum amount of copper allowed to be used is controlled, and was lowered in 2019 to 4kg per hectare per year on average over a 7 year period.  As the amount that is needed varies year on year depending on the rainfall, the theory is that the average smooths out variances in amounts used due to wetter or drier years.

Visit french vines area with Gourmet Odyssey

Agronomic research is now turning towards producing grapes from varietals that are resistant to fungal disease.  By crossbreeding different grape varietals that have been selected for their resistance to mildew and odium, and their ability to produce quality grapes, tests are currently being carried out in France.  You will almost certainly have not yet tasted the wine that they produce because the grapes are not yet authorised to be used in the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wines, but Floréal and Voltis for white wine, and Artaban and Vidoc for red wine, will be set to arrive in your glasses before too long.  The approach is very interesting, but these new grape varietals with folkloric names raise further questions.

Learn wine tasting with Gourmet Odyssey

France prides itself on producing wines that characterise the different terroir from which they hail, the AOC system being its guardian.  For example, the Pinot Noir grape varietal has always been the only one allowed to produce AOC Santenay red wine in Burgundy, ever since the AOC was created nearly 100 years ago.  Wouldn’t a red wine produced within the geographic boundary of AOC Santenay produced with a different grape varietal distort the AOC system itself?  The same for the Merlot grape varietal in Saint-Emilion! The grape varietals authorised have always been part of the foundation of the AOC system.  By changing the grape varietals, you would have to change the AOC system itself and the taste of the different French wines.

learn winemaking with a winemaker during the Vinification Experience Day

And what if these grape varietals said to be resistant to mildew and odium, then revealed themselves to be susceptible to other, as yet unknown, diseases, we’d maybe be better off sticking with the actual situation!  But this is an avenue worth exploring, and as always with the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO), the government body charged with creating and upholding the AOC system, change is never something that is done quickly without due consideration given to the sustainability and impact of the proposed change.

The environmental challenges that we are currently facing oblige us to innovate and search for real solutions.  The example of grafting European grape varietals shows us that research can bring solutions that do not harm the environment, whilst the problems encountered with the application of synthetic products show us that they are not always the miracle cure.  The searching and questioning must go on!

Discover Bordeaux area and taste wine

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Harvesting organic grapes in the Loire Valley


Despite a cloudy sky, our adoptive vine owners were raring to go on the 5th October for the Harvest Experience Day at Château de la Bonnelière in Chinon in the Loire Valley!

Pick your own grapes from your adopted vines with the Gourmet Odyssey Experience Wine

We were warmly welcomed over coffee and croissants by Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner of the winery, who took the opportunity to give us a quick review of the 2019 season so far.

The weather hasn’t been kind to the winemakers in the region this year.  After two spells of frost in April and May, the rain fell during the flowering period, which meant that the pollination wasn’t as regular as it should have been.  Then the very hot summer caused hydric stress in the vines, where they stop growing to concentrate their energy on preserving their core.  All of these factors mean that the 2019 harvest is smaller than usual.

The team of Gourmet Odyssey harvesters were to close the harvest at Château de la Bonnelière for this year.  The harvest was spread out over three weeks, allowing each of the different vine plots that make up the winery’s 34 hectares to be picked at just the right moment.

It was now time to get stuck in after all of these explanations!  So, off we set for the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard where the organic adopted vines are to be found.

Fortunately it wasn’t the whole vineyard that had been left for us to harvest, but one end!  The grapes are picked and put into crates at the winery, so once we had filled up our buckets, we emptied them into the crates that had been placed in each of the rows.  We spread out in pairs, one either side of the vine row, and off we went.

Get involved in the French grape harvest in the Loire Valley

The group was very meticulous, and took care to just pick the good bunches of grapes, the ones that hadn’t been affected by the coulure or had been burnt by the sun.  And we also managed to escape any little injuries from the secateurs!

Discover the French lifestyle during the harvest in the Loire Valley

A couple of hours later, and after a welcome winemaker’s snack of some rillettes and wine, the job was done!  The crates were loaded into the van, the secateurs collected up, and then we headed for a well earned lunch!

Participate in the French grape harvest

Lunch was a great moment, enrichened by the explanations and answers to the many questions asked.  And of course we enjoyed the different wines produced by Marc throughout the meal!

But the day wasn’t yet over! We still had to put the grapes into the vat.  We headed to the fermentation hall, to de-stem the grapes before putting them into the vat.  Under the instructions of Marc, he explained the different jobs to be carried out. 

Adopt vines in Chinon and harvest the grapes with the winemaker

We ended the day with a tasting of the grapes juice from the Clos de la Bonnelière.  The juice is very promising and should make for a good 2019 vintage.  But first, patience is required, as there are still many stages left, as we will find out during the Vinification Experience Days next year!

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Grape Harvest Experience in Alsace


Domaine Stentz-Buecher welcomed us to Alsace last weekend to get involved in picking the grapes and learn about the work at the winery during harvest time to transform the grape juice into wine.  We were there with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients who have each adopted a micro-plot of organic vines at the winery.

Discover a French winery during the Harvest Experience gift experience day in Alsace

After the introductions, we crossed the picturesque village of Wettolsheim to visit the Rosenberg vineyard, home to our adopted vines.  A small slate had been put in front of the vines to indicate who the adopted owner was, and so we dispersed among the rows to locate our vines.

Discover the Alsace wine region with the Gourmet Experience Vine Adoption gift

Then it was time to get down to some work.  Céline, the winemaker, and her mother, Simone, supplied us with a pair of secateurs and a bucket each, and then explained which grapes to pick and how to pick them.  We were to pick the pinot noir grapes, which had reached their optimum maturity and were ready to be harvested.

Pick your own grapes from your adopted vines in Alsace with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gift

We spread out through the rows, and started to pick the grapes.   The bunches were full and plentiful, meaning that the buckets quickly filled up.  Celine’s father, Jean-Jacques, drove a small tractor and trailer down the middle row, and when the buckets were full, we passed them under the rows to be emptied and then to be passed back to us.

The grapes are sometimes difficult to get to, so the easiest way to pick them is to first remove the leaves from in front.  This makes the access much easier, and also quicker to see where to cut the stalk from the vine.  The grapes to pick grow at the bottom of the vine, in between the first two training wires.  When you taste them, they are very sweet and packed full of sugar.  The pips are also brown, another indicator that the grapes are ripe and ready to make wine.  Some grapes also grow higher up the vine, but these are not ripe enough.  Firstly, they are much harder to the touch, and the colour is not as deep a blue.  Then, when you taste them, they are much less sweet and more acidic, and the pips are yellow in colour.  These grapes are left on the vines and will not be used.

Improve your knowkedge of wine-making by adopting vines and getting involved in the harvest in Alsace

Our speed increased as the morning passed and we managed to fill the second trailer in much less time than the first! 

We then followed the grapes back to the winery.  Here we watched the grapes being emptied into the vat, and we had a go at helping the grapes out of the trailer using a long fork.  On their way into the vat the grapes pass through a de-stemming machine that separates the berries from the stalks.

Learn how make wine in Alsace with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

It was now time for a well-earned aperitif, and Céline served us a nicely chilled glass of Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine.  We then sat down for the harvester’s lunch, accompanied by a selection of the organic wines from Domaine Stenzt-Buecher: The 2018 Pinot Blanc Tradition, 2017 Pinot Noir Tradition, followed by the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the 2017 Pinot Gris Rosenberg. We then finished the tasting and meal with the 2017 Gewürztraminer Rosenberg and the 2012 Sylvaner Vielles Vignes.

Get involved in a French winery's worklife during the harvest

After lunch we descended into the cellar to pick up where we had left off.  Stéphane showed us the press that is used for the white wines.  The grapes bunches are emptied whole into the press with no need for them to pass through the de-stemming machine.  The press contains a large airbag in the middle that inflates and crushes the grapes against the stainless steel, thus releasing the juice.  The pressure and time can be controlled depending on the thickness of the skin and the density of the pulp.  It is important to not press the grapes too quickly or too hard which can decrease the aromatic qualities of the wine.

Improve your lnowledge of white wine-making in Alsace

The juice then falls out of the bottom of the press and is pumped into a holding vat.  The skin, pips and stalks are then removed from the press and as the winery is organic, it is returned to the vineyard for composting.  In the holding vat, the juice is left to rest the time necessary for the small solid particles of skin, pips and stalks that might have slipped through to settle at the bottom of the vat.  The clearer juice is then drawn off and put into the vat or cask where it will start the fermentation process.

We also learned that the process is slightly different for red wine.  Having passed through the de-stemming machines, the grapes are collected in a vat.  The press isn’t used at this stage.  After a few days the yeast cells that are naturally present in the grapes will start working on the sugar in the grapes, transforming it into alcohol.  As it does so, the temperature will rise, and carbon dioxide will be released.  This gas will rise to the top of the vat, and in doing so push the skin and pips to the top.  The colour and tannins are held in the skin, so to extract them, the juice needs to be in contact with the skin.  To do so, the solid cap is pushed back down into the juice once or twice a day using a plunger.  This is known as “pigeage”, and is the same method used in Burgundy for their Pinot Noir grapes.

Adopt vines and discover white wines in Alsace

Once the fermentation has finished, no more gas is released and the solid matter then falls to the bottom of the vat.  Having done so, the wine is then drawn off and put into barrels to continue the wine-making process.  The solid matter is then removed and put into the press to extract the rich, dark coloured wine contained within it.  This is known as press wine, and the wine-maker will then decide whether to blend it with the rest of the wine or not.

The day had now reached the end.  We’ll pick up from where we left off during the Vinification Experience Days next year and learn about the ageing process and how the wines are prepared for bottling.  We look forward to tasting the wines and seeing how they are coming along!

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Participating in the grape harvest in Saint-Emilion


The mornings had started to be a little cooler in the South West of France and the leaves had started to change colour… a sure sign that it was harvest time in Saint-Emilion.  We met up at Château Coutet to get involved in picking the grapes during the 2019 Harvest Experience Days.

Harvest experience gift for wine lovers in Saint-Emilion

We were introduced to Mathieu, one of the winemakers and a member of the David Beaulieu family that own and run the winery.  He recounted the passionate history of his family, and kept us mesmerized all day long.

Our adopted vines are located on one of the highest points in Saint-Emilion, in the Peycocut vineyard up on the limestone plateau.  From here, the Saint-Emilion church tower seems very close as the crow flies.  The dark blue grapes contrast with the surrounding landscape of green vine leaves.  The vines were as tall as us, and we could just make out a few heads bobbing up and down as we searched for our adopted vines.  

Rent-a-vine gift experience in Saint-Emilion

Harvesting seems simple, just cut all the bunches of grapes!  First of all, Mathieu gave us some safety tips to try and avoid cutting our fingers.  We were to harvest two per row, opposite each other, so we had to be careful not to cut our partners fingers!  We also learnt that the grapes that grow at the top of the vines are not mature enough and too acidic to be harvested, so these grapes were to be left alone to ensure a better quality wine.

Wine-making gift experience in Bordeaux

Having listened to our instructions, we started the harvest.  The foliage can be dense and some grapes are more difficult to find than others, and some were even forgotten altogether!

Once the baskets were full, the porters brought the grapes to the tractor.  This technique allows the grapes to arrive intact to the winery.  The atmosphere was very relaxed and convivial as we snipped away!

A fantastic wine gift. Adopt some organic vines and harvest your own grapes

Before we knew it, we had arrived at the end of the morning, and time for a well-earned aperitif of Claret on the lawn in front of the château.  The aromatic and fruity rosé was very refreshing, and sharpened our taste buds before we sat down to the winemaker’s lunch in the château’s dining room.

Organic wine tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

Lunch was accompanied with some of the wines from the estate, starting with the 2016 Belles Cimes which is made from the younger vines.  The stuffed guinea fowl was paired with the 2014 Château Coutet, which is one of the classical wines, revealing the finesse and complexity that is the signature of the winery.  Mathieu then treated us to the 2014 Demoiselle wine with cheese.  It’s a special wine made exclusively from vines that are around hundred years old and are located on the Saint-Emilion limestone plateau.  The soil is worked by horse and everything is done manually to reduce the carbon footprint as much as possible.

After lunch, we set about sorting the grapes.  To ensure the best quality, the grapes have to be sorted so that only the best ones make it into the vat.

Grape harvest experience gift in Bordeaux

The grape bunches climb into the de-stemming machine with the help of a conveyor belt.  Here the grapes are separated from the stalks, and the berries then make their way along the sorting table, where any unripe grapes or leaves are removed.  The grapes that remain are then put into the vat to start the fermentation process.

Wine-making experience gift and winery tour, Saint-Emilion

The day ended with Mathieu explaining the different fermentation processes and the work that happens in the fermentation hall.  The work at harvest time isn’t just restricted to the vineyard!

Many thanks to Mathieu for his explanations and for sharing the love he has for his work.  We look forward to returning to the chateau next year to taste the fruit of our labour during the Vinification Experience Days.

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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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