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Discovering the work in the vineyard to nurture the grapes in Alsace


To make a great wine, you need to make sure that you produce the best possible grapes, and that involves lots of hard work and dedication in the vineyard throughout the year.  We spent a very enjoyable and informative day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace to learn about the different tasks involved, and by the end of the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day we left with a much deeper appreciation of just how much there is to do to make organic wine.

 

A Discovery Experience day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher

 

After the introductions to the day, we headed out into the vineyard with Céline and Stéphane, the brother and sister duo who run the winery.  Our first stop was to visit the Rosenberg vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  We took a few minutes to find our vines, give them some words of encouragement and to take a few photographs.

 

Visiting our adopted vines in the Rosenberg vineyard

 

Stéphane then led us to a plot a little further along the track and explained the work that has already been carried out in the vineyard during the winter months to prune the vines and work the soil.  Pruning is one of the most essential jobs, as it helps the winemaker to control how many grapes each vine can potentially produce.  By reducing the quantity, you can increase the quality of the grapes and thus the wine that they will make. 

Stéphane explained how the branches left on the vine were then bent and attached to the training wire to slow the flow of sap and help the vines to produce more uniformly ripe grapes.
The buds had already appeared, and the shoots had started to grow from each of the nodes.  Each shoot will grow to form the fruit bearing branches for this year.  We could even see the first signs of the grapes to come.

 

The first signs of the future grapes on the vines

 

As always during a Gourmet Odyssey Experience Day, Stephane had left us some work to do.  Despite their endeavours during pruning, there are always some extra unwanted shoots that appear, whether from a double bud, or from lower down on the vine trunk.  The vines that Stéphane had brought us to were fairly young and vigorous, so they had lots of shoots that had sprouted on the trunks.  If left, they will take energy away from the vines and have a negative impact on the quality of the grapes, so our job was to remove them.  A simple job by hand when they have just appeared, so it’s important to do so before the shoots grow too much and become thicker. 

 

Removing the unwanted shoots form the vine trunks

 

We then returned to the winery, where Céline had prepared a tasting of some of the different wines that the winery produces, starting with the 2019 Muscat wine from the Rosenberg vineyard.  We then tasted the citrus and aromatic 2018 Riesling Ortel, followed by the 2019 vintage of the Pinot Gris Rosenberg that is the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience. 

 

Tasting the organic wines in the courtyard

 

The tasting continued over lunch of a delicious baeckeoffe, local cheeses, and blueberry tart, which were paired with the 2018 Who Am I?, a blend of Pinot blanc, Pinot Gris  and Riesling, the 2020 Pinot Noir Tradition, and the 2019 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg. 

After lunch Stéphane explained the work that is left to do in the vineyard between now and the harvest, and how to know when the right time is to pick the grapes.  We also talked about working organically and the importance of respecting the surrounding environment.

 

Visiting the wine cellar

 

We ended the day with a tour of the cellar.  Stéphane showed us where the grapes will be received during the harvest and gave us an overview of the fermentation and ageing process.  We’ll learn more about these two stages during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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A wine-making gift experience in Burgundy to discover the work in the cellar to make a great organic wine


We welcomed some of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients to the stunning Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy for a Vinification Experience Day.  This wine-making gift explains all the work in the cellar to make, age, and prepare wines to be ready for bottling.  We get to taste wines that are still in the ageing process, something that winemakers don’t normally share with people outside of the winery.  It’s a real treat to get behind the scenes and learn first-hand.

 

A winemaking experience day at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy to learn about making organic wines

 

After having introduced us to the day Jean-François, the owner of the winery, recounted his family’s history at the winery and the evolution of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

Then in smaller groups, we visited the cellar where Jean-François explained all of the work involved between the harvest and bottling during the fermentation, maceration, and ageing stages to mature the wines in oak barrels.

 

Visiting the cellar

 

Myriam, Gourmet Odyssey’s wine expert, then explained how to taste wines using our different senses, and the difficulty in analysing the sensations that we encounter.  She gave us a few tips to better train our nose, and we now know that to do so, we have to poke our nose everywhere!

This theoretical step prepared us for the tasting of wines that are still in the ageing process.  We compared the changes that two different types of barrel can have on the same wine, and noted that there was indeed a big difference!  The new barrels have a bigger impact on the tannins and bring more woody aromas than the barrel that had already aged two wines.

 

Tasting wines in the ageing process

 

We also tasted the difference that the age of the vines has on the characteristic of the wine.  The Clos des Cornières vineyard, where the vines for the Gourmet Odyssey red wine grow, has different plots within with different aged vines.  The wine form each of these plots is aged separately before being blended, and so were able to compare two ages.  The younger vines which are stronger, give a more structured and concentrated wine, but the older vines bring more finesse.  When blended together they make a more complex wine than either of the two wines alone.

We noted that the wines that are still in their ageing process have not yet reached their optimum balance, hence the importance of maturing the wines to fully develop their expressive qualities.

We ended the morning with an aperitif of Santenay Blanc, accompanied with the famous Burgundy gougères!

We continued the Burgundy specialities with a lunch of parsley ham, Gaston Gérard chicken, and trio chocolate dessert.  We enjoyed the dishes with a 2020 Ladoix, 2019 Santenay Clos des Cornières, and a 2016 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru.

 

Wine tasting over lunch

 

After lunch, we went for a little walk in the vineyard to meet up with our adopted vines and take photos from all angles for the My Vine photo competition.

 

Meeting up with our adopted vines

 

Before ending this lovely day, we returned to the winery to discover the stages involved to prepare the wines for bottling and how they are then commercialised.  We discussed a little more with Simon and Jean-François and asked many more questions covering topics such as the choice of corks and labels for the bottles.

 

Simon explains the bottling process

 

Many thanks to all of the participants for their good cheer and enthusiasm which helped make the day so special.  We hope that you had a great day with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and that we’ll see you again for another day in Burgundy or at one of our other partner vineyards!

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Wine-making experience gift in the Terrasses du Larzac


We spent a fantastic week-end at Château de Jonquières in the Terrasses du Larzac wine-making region for a couple of Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Days.  The aim of these interactive wine-making courses is to learn about all the work in the cellar to ferment, age, blend, and prepare the wines for bottling.  There is a lot of work to be done, and many decisions that the winemakers must make along the way, as we were to learn.

 

Learning the art of wine-making during the Vinification Experience Day at Château de Jonquières

 

We were accompanied for the day by Charlotte and Clément de Béarn, who represent the 32nd generation of winemakers at Château de Jonquières.  Amazingly, the château has been in the same family for 900 years, and has always been a working château with vines, and in the past, other fruit and cereal crops. Charlotte introduced us to her family history at the winery, and the surrounding terroir that makes up the Terrasses du Larzac wine region. 

We then headed across the courtyard and down into the cellar.  Here we learned how the grapes are received at harvest time, and the different processes involved for the red, white and rosé wines, which grapes are pressed, and which are put directly into the vats having been separated from their stems.

 

Clément explains the work during the fermentation and maceration stages

 

Clément then explained in length the fermentation process that transforms the sugar in the grapes into alcohol, and the work needed during the maceration stage to extract the colour and tannins for the red wines.  We discovered the different types of vats that exist and how Clément uses hot and cold water in jackets or immersion heaters to warm or cool the wine, and so control the speed of fermentation.  During this phase each grape varietal from each vineyard is kept separately in different vats.

Once the wines have finished fermenting, they are transferred to the other end of the cellar to begin the ageing process.  Clément explained the virtues of the different containers used for ageing the wines.  Some are aged in vats, others in oak barrels of differing sizes, and this year they are testing an egg-shaped vat that keeps the lees in continual suspension with the aim of bringing more depth to some of the wines.

 

Clément explains the different types of barrels and vats used for ageing the wines

 

We then sat down to the wine tasting workshop to better understand first hand the structure and make up of a wine.  
Clément had organised a series of blind wine tastings so that we could better appreciate the distinct characteristics of different grape varietals and the change in aroma and taste brought about due to the choice of container used to age the wine.

 

Blind tasting different wines

 

We then started to blend the wines.  Our first blend was made up of 80% Grenache aged in a vat, 10% Carignan aged in an oak barrel, and 10 % Carignan aged in an egg-shaped vat.  We then changed the Grenache for Syrah and compared the two blended wines.  We learnt that the Grenache brings a fruity and soft tannic structure to the wine with some slightly floral aromas, whereas the Syrah dominated blend had a deeper colour, was spicier, and had a longer finish.  Interestingly, the Carignan, which hadn’t been so popular in the first round of tasting, was noted for bringing more freshness through its acidity to both the Grenache and the Syrah blends.  Blending wines is all about finding the right balance to enhance each of the individual grape varietals. 

 

Clément blends wines with us

 

The wine blending workshop ended with a tasting of a pre-assembled wine that will be used in the final blend of the 2021 Lansade vintage, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience. It was a made up in equal measure of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, and gave us a sneak preview of our wine to come!

It was then time for lunch and to taste the range of the wines that Château de Jonquières produces, starting with the 2020 Lansade white wine for the aperitif, and tasting the 2021 Lansade rosé and 2020 White Label N°5  red with the selection of starters.  We savoured the 2020 Lansade red with the coq au vin main course.  Cheese was paired with the gastronomic 2020 Baronnie white wine, and lunch ended with the 2020 Baronnie red, accompanying the chocolate mousse.

 

Enjoying lunch and wine tasting

 

After lunch, we headed out into the vineyard to visit our adopted vines, which are the pride and joy of the winery, and were planted over 80 years ago by Charlotte’s great grandmother.  We took a few minutes to take some photos of our vines and admire their majestically gnarled trunks.

 

Visiting our adopted vines

 

Back at the winery, we returned to the cellar to learn all about bottling.  Clément showed us the machine that fills the wine bottles and puts the corks in.  We spent some time discussing the different options to cork and their advantages and disadvantages.

 

The bottling machine

 

Clément then showed us the labelling machine that will be used to apply our personalised labels once our wine is ready.
Many thanks to Clément and Charlotte for welcoming us so warmly, and for giving us such a comprehensive insight into the art of wine-making.

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Learning the art of organic wine-making in Alsace


Céline and Stéphane warmly welcomed us to Domaine Stentz-Buecher to learn about all the work in the cellar after the harvest right up until the moment when the wine is bottled, labelled, packaged and ready to be enjoyed!   This organic winery in Alsace is run by the brother and sister duo, and as we would learn from them, there is much more to making wine that you might at first imagine!

 

A Vinification Experience Day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher

 

After the introductions and welcome coffee, we made a quick visit to our adopted vines that are located in the Rosenberg vineyard, as it is after all here that the wine starts out.  Without the best quality grapes, it’s very difficult to make a good wine!  We took a few photos of our vines, and Céline explained the different terroir of the surrounding vineyards, a great foundation for some of the wines we would taste later in the day.

 

Visiting our adopted vines in the Rosenberg vineyard

 

Back at the winery, we followed the journey that the grapes take during harvest time.  Stéphane explained how the grapes are pressed for the white wines, and how the pinot noir grapes are separated from their stems and put directly into the vats for the maceration to take place during the alcoholic fermentation phase.
We visited the barrel room to see where the red and white wines that are aged in oak barrels rest.  Stéphane explained the benefits the barrels bring through the micro-oxygenation process, and how it’s important to keep the barrels topped up to replace the angel’s share that is lost to evaporation.

 

Pinot noir wines ageing in oak barrels

 

We then made our way into the fermentation hall where the vast majority of the winery’s white wines are stored.  Stéphane talked us through the fermentation phases and explained the differences between the ancient oak casks and the more recent stainless-steel vats.   
He gave us a taste of the 2021 Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine that is still in the ageing process and won’t be ready until later in the year.  It was very interesting to taste, as it’s very unusual to get the chance to taste a wine that hasn’t yet finished.  We then compared it to a wine that is still in the malo-lactic fermentation phase.  Straight away we could see that the second wine was cloudier, had a slightly yeasty smell, and fizzed a little in the mouth.

 

Tasting wine direct from the vat

 

Stéphane explained how the wines will change during the ageing process, and he passionately explained his vision of wine-making, and drummed home the importance to him of deliberately reducing the quantity of grapes produced to be able to make more concentrated and aromatic wines.  
We then headed out into the courtyard to make the most of the sun, and to start tasting some of the finished wines.   Céline had prepared a blind tasting for us to highlight the difference between grape varietals and the impact that different terroir can have. 

 

A blind tasting session of the range of Alsace wines

 

We then sat down to a traditional Alsace lunch of choucroute, local cheeses, and Black Forest gateau, all accompanied with more wines.  By the end of the meal, we had tasted three different Riesling wines including a Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru, the 2019 vintage of the Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the 2017 Pinot Gris Pfersigberg Grand Cru, a Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine, two Gewurztraminer wines including the 2019 Hengst Grand Cru, and the Who Am I? wine that is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling.   The variety and range of wines was extraordinary.
In the afternoon, we headed back down into the cellar to learn all about the final stages of the wine-making process to bottle the wines.  Stéphane explained how the wines are filtered to remove any remaining lee particles and showed us the bottling machine that fills and corks the bottles. 

 

The labelling mchine

 

We then moved onto the machine used to label and put the capsules over the tops of the bottles, and the final machine that tapes us the boxes.

 

The wine library

 

The day ended in the wine library where Stéphane and Céline have an impressive collection of their old vintage wines.  Many thanks to all of the participants for helping make it such a fun day, and to the winemakers for opening their doors and talking about their job in such a no-nonsense and frank way.

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Learning to prune the vines in Burgundy


We welcomed some of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience apprentice wine-makers to Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay.  The objective of the day was to learn about all of the work in the vineyard to produce the best grapes come harvest time.
After a short introduction to the history of the family and the Burgundy wines from Jean-François, the owner of the winery, his son, Simon, led us out into the vineyard.  Simon is in the process of taking over the reins at the winery as Jean-François approaches retirement.

 

Visiting our adopted vines in Burgundy

 

The first contact with our adopted vines brought many smiles, laughter, and some great photos to be entered into the “My Vine” photo competition!
It was then time to get down to more serious matters, and Simon began to explain the work carried out during the various vegetative phases of the vines growth.

 

work in the vineyard with Gourmet Odyssey

 

At this time of year, we are busy with the last of the pruning and pulling away the cut branches that have remained stuck between the training wires.
Simon showed us the two different pruning methods used in the vineyards.  The cordon de royat used for the pinot noir vines involves keeping three or four spurs, each with two nodes, from one of last year’s branches.

 

Adopt a vine in burgundy with Gourmet odyssey

 

And the Guyot pruning method is used for the chardonnay vines, leaving just one long branch with 5 to 6 nodes, that will then be folded and attached to the lower training wire.
In both cases, this year’s fruit-bearing branches will grow vertically from the nodes, and will be supported between the training wires once the growth is sufficient around May time.
Pruning is a very technically demanding task, and is only carried out by the winery’s permanent staff.  A team of seasonal workers will then pass through the vineyards, pulling away the cut branches caught between the wires and burning them as they go.
We had a go at pulling away the old branches ourselves, and quickly understood the difficulty of this manual job.  As the vine is from the creeper family, it has lots of tendrils that wrap around the training wires, making it hard to pull them free.  The not so clement weather added to the difficulty, as we found out!
We were happy to return to the shelter of the cellar after our vineyard experience, and enjoyed a typical Burgundy aperitif with a glass of Santenay Village white and some delicious gougères!

 

Tasting the Santenay white wine with Gourmet Odyssey

 

A typical Burgundy lunch of boeuf bourguignon followed, paired with Ladoix, Santeany Clos des Cornières, and Santenay Gravières Premier Cru wines
Lunch is always a very convivial moment, and it’s always a little complicated to get going again in the afternoon!  We altered the programme slightly due to the weather, to visit the cellar where Simon explained the different vinification and ageing phases.  We also visited the magnificent vaulted cellar underneath the winery that is typical of the Burgundy region.

 

Participate our experiences days Gourmet Odyssey

 

It was a good introduction to the Vinification Experience Day that some of the clients will be following up with.  And for those who wish to, it’s also possible to add the day.

We had a great day, and hope to see you again soon for another wine experience day.

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Give an original wine gift to your Valentine!


Saint Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.  Here is the perfect St Valentine’s gift for wine lovers.  Adopt some organic vines in France with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and follow the making of your own bottles of personalised wine!  It’s an original way to discover how wine is made and to share a fun time together for a wine-making year.

 

Adopt some vines for your St Valentine’s present

Receive a welcome gift pack to give on St Valentine’s Day, containing a personalised vine adoption certificate in the name of your loved one, an access code to their customer portal, and a few surprise gifts.  For last minute St Valentine’s prsents, we’ll send you the certificate by email.

Your Valentine will follow all the key steps in making their wine through the newsletters, articles and photos published in the customer portal, explaining all of the work involved to nurture the vines, pick the grapes, make the wine, and age it before being ready to be bottled with your personalised labels.At the end of the experience, you’ll get to taste and savour your special St Valentine’s wine with your loved one!

Add a Wine Experience Day at the winery and head off for a weekend break for two in France. 

You’ll get to spend the day with the winemaker and participate in one or more of the wine-making days at the winery.  The Discovery Experience Day teaches you the care taken in the vineyard to nurture the vines and you’ll get to help the winemaker work with the vines.  The Harvest Experience Day gets you involved in picking the grapes and following their journey into the fermentation hall.  And the Vinification Experience Day reveals the winemaker’s secrets in making your wine, ageing, blending, and bottling it.

Each day is spent working alongside the winemaker and the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Expert, and lasts from 9:30 to 16:00 to give you the time to discuss with the wine-maker, get involved in the work, share a meal of regional delicacies and taste the organic wines from the winery.

Gourmet Odyssey chooses their partner wineries with care.  They are all organically certified with winemakers that are passionate about their profession.  They’ll welcome you warmly for the day and share their knowledge and love of wine.  You can select where to adopt your organic vines from Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Languedoc, Loire or Rhone valleys!

The Wine Experience is sure to me a unique and memorable St Valentine’s present!

More information on our St Valentine’s gift for wine lovers

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Wine making course in Burgundy to discover the work in the cellar


In October we welcomed some of the apprentice winemakers to Domaine Chapelle in the charming Burgundy village of Santenay for a couple of Vinification Experience Days. These wine courses are dedicated to the work in the cellar to learn about the fermentation and maceration stages, how the wines are aged, and then prepared for bottling.

 

Learning how to make wine during the Vinification Experience Days at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy

 

François Chapelle, the winemaker at the winery, explained the history of his family, his journey as a winemaker, and his philosophy behind making organic wine.  We were then ready to immerse ourselves into the intriguing world of all that goes on in the cellar.
The first workshop with Jean-François enlightened us about the fermentation and maceration stages, and the subsequent ageing process of the wine in oak barrels.

We learnt that making wine requires a lot of technical skill, coupled with experience.  The choice of barrels, where they come from, their age, and how they were toasted can have very different impacts on the characteristics of the final wine.

The ageing stage is very important to produce a well-balanced wine on the palate, and to harness the aromatic potential.

 

Visiting the cellar to learn the impact that oak barrels have on wine

 

The second workshop with Myriam, the Gourmet Odyssey wine expert, enabled us to better understand the sensorial characteristics that are so important to enjoying wine, and to find the equilibrium between acidity and soft tannins.  
We also spent time exploring our perceptions of different aromas, classifying them into primary, secondary, and tertiary depending on the grape varietal, terroir, fermentation techniques, and ageing methods used.  The aroma of a wine is in constant evolution.
It was time to put our newly honed theoretical knowledge to the test, and so the next workshop centred around the tasting of various wines at different stages of the vinification and ageing process.  We were able to identify the impact that different types of barrels have on the wine.

 

Tasting wines to better understand the decisions taken by the winemaker

 

We continued tasting some of the winery’s finished wines during the aperitif and meal of traditional Burgundy dishes, comparing the Santenay Villages and Burgundy Chardonnay white wines, and the Santenay Clos des Cornières and Santenay La Comme Premier Cru red wines.

After the excellent lunch, we headed out to meet our adopted vines in the Clos des Cornières vineyard for the red wine clients and Les Craies vineyard for the white. It’s always a fun moment and lots of photos are taken to immortalise the moment!

 

Visiting our organic adopted vines

 

Before ending the day, Jean-François explained the work that is done to prepare the wines for bottling, the process of doing so, and how the bottles are corked and labelled. So after a great day, full of information, we now knew a lot more about what goes on in the cellar and the process of wine-making.

We thoroughly enjoyed the day and hope to see you again soon for one of the Discovery Experience Days next year, when we’ll learn about all that goes on in the vineyard to nurture the vines and grow the best possible grapes for next year’s harvest.

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Harvest Experience Days in the Loire Valley


We had beautiful sunny days last weekend to welcome the participants of the Harvest Experience Days at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley.  We were there to discover the work of the winemaker during the harvest, and we learnt that there is much more to do than just pick the grapes!

 

Lovely blue skies for the Harvest Experience Days at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley.

 

For many, it was their first day with Gourmet Odyssey.  Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner of the winery, welcomed us with a coffee and croissant, introduced us to the history of his winery, and brought us up to speed with the 2021 vintage so far, one that has been far from easy.
The late frosts and wet summer have meant that it’s been a nervous time for Marc leading up to the harvest.  Fortunately, the old saying that “September makes the wine” has indeed come into effect this year!  The good weather in September allowed the grapes to ripen and be ready in time for the harvest, even if it is slightly later than usual.
On the Saturday, Marc had kept one of his most special vineyard plots for us, one with an exceptional history.
Hidden in a small village on the left bank of the River Vienne, lies a small chateau which even Rabelais talks about in his writings!  Behind the chateau is a tiny walled vineyard, less than half a hectare in size.  This vineyard has the amazing peculiarity of being spared from the phylloxera disease that destroyed almost 80% of the French vineyards around 1890.  The vines are not grafted and are reproduced by taking cuttings from the old vines.
It’s a treasure and demands particular care throughout the year to nurture the vines and grapes, involving lots of manual work and the use of horses instead of tractors.
On Sunday we harvested a section of the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard which is home to the adopted vines of the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers.

 

Secateurs in hand, we participated in the harvest

 

After receiving our instructions as to which grape bunches to select and how to cut them, we accepted our mission and started to harvest the grapes.  There were less grapes than usual, making those that we picked that much more precious!
We filled our buckets with the grapes, and then tipped them into the crates.  Thanks to the good cheer and motivation of our teams each day, we successfully accomplished our missions!

 

We emptied the grapes into crates

 

Back at the winery, it was already time for the aperitif and lunch!  The work in the chai would wait.  The meal was the ideal time to taste the wines that Marc makes, covering a range of sparkling, white, rosé, and of course red wines, for which Chinon is most well-known.  It’s always a much-appreciated time for the guests and it was difficult to get up from the table afterwards.  But our day wasn’t finished, and we had to put the grapes into the vat.

 

Enjoying the aperitif before the harvesters lunch

 

Marc makes different wines from each of the different vineyard plots, not blending grapes from different terroir together.  We therefore did the same for our respective harvests.
We sorted the grapes by hand to remove any leaves or unripe grapes that had inadvertently found themselves in the crates, before putting the grapes into the vats by gravity.  Marc uses a forklift truck to lift a trolley which he can then open the bottom of to let the grapes fall into the vat below.  It avoids damaging the grapes as much as possible.

 

Sorting the grapes

 

Marc then explained the work of the winemaker in the chai during the harvest over the maceration and fermentation phases.  It’s important to closely follow the transformation of sugar in the grape juice into alcohol to regulate the speed, in order to keep the maximum taste and aromatic qualities.  Through the pumping over and piegeage, Marc and his team extract the tannins and colour from the grape skins to give the wine more body and structure.

 

Explaining the winemaker’s work in the chai during harvest time

 

The day finally drew to a close after a thorough cleaning of all the equipment that we had used!  Our fantastic harvesters for a day had participated in all the stages with much professionalism and enthusiasm.  Many thanks to all and we hope to see you again soon!  The next step in this wine-making adventure will be the Vinification Experience Days next year, when we’ll learn about all the work in the cellar after the harvest up until the time that the wine is ready for bottling.

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An original gift to discover the work of an organic wine-maker in the vineyard in Burgundy


It was a pleasure to welcome our apprentice wine-makers for the Discovery Experience Days at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy in June and July.  The aim of these days is to learn all about the work in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes at harvest time, and to participate in some of the work alongside the wine-maker.

 

Adopt-a-vine in an award-winning organic winery in Burgundy and learn about all of the work that goes into making wine

 

After the introductions, Jean-François Chapelle, the owner at the winery, explained the history of wine-making in Burgundy, that of his family, and his journey that led him to transform the winery to being organically certified.

We then headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines, give them some warm words of encouragement, and take a few souvenir photos before learning about the vegetative life cycle of the vines and the work carried out during the different seasons.

 

Adopt your own vines and follow the making of your own personalised bottles of wine

 

Pruning takes place between December and March and is the most important job in controlling the maximum number of grapes that each vine produces, directly impacting the quality of the wine.  It also gives the shape to the vines to help facilitate the work needed to be done.

With the arrival of spring, the buds start to burst on the vines, forming the first branches which grow rapidly in May, keeping the wine-makers busy in the vineyard to ensure that all of the branches are supported by the training wires and don’t fall to the ground or become entangled with the branches from the neighbouring rows.

 

Learn about all the work that happens in the vineyard to nurture the vines organically

 

Training the vines has to be done with care so as to not damage the fruit-bearing branches.  The wires are then clipped together to hold the branches more tightly in place.  This is one of the jobs which our apprentice wine-makers helped out with, even doing so on one occasion with a little rain that gave us a good insight into what it’s like when the weather isn’t at its best!

 

Getting involved in the work in the vineyard

 

The vines are trimmed just above the training wires to limit the growth of unnecessary vegetation, keeping the grapes better exposed to the sun and ventilated which will help them grow and ripen in the best conditions through the summer months.

The vines are treated organically throughout the spring and summer depending on the weather and amount of rainfall.  This year has been particularly difficult due to the frequent rainfall, and has meant that the wine-makers have had to adapt how they work.   We were able to notice the difficulty and delays due to being unable to get the tractor in the vineyard with so much rain.

 

Organic treatments

 

After our mornings spent in the fresh air, the aperitif and tasting of the Santenay white wine made from the adopted chardonnay vines at Domaine Chapelle, accompanied by some gougères, was most welcome!

The delicious lunch, prepared by a local chef, was the occasion to learn more about wine-making in Burgundy, and to taste three other wines from Domaine Chapelle, including the Clos des Cornières red wine made from the pinot noir vines that other clients had adopted.  It was a very enjoyable moment, full of interesting discussions.

 

Taste organic wines in Burgundy with the winemaker

 

In the afternoon, Jean-François took us to see the new plot in the Clos des Cornières that had been recently replanted.  He explained the work done to remove the old vines and replace them with young vines and the economic implications involved.  Following the harvest, the old vines were pulled up and then the plot was left fallow for three years to regenerate the nutrients in the soil, then after the vines were replanted you have three years without a harvest, and then you have a low quality harvest for the following three years.  In total it will be at least 10 years before the winery will start to enjoy a quality harvest from the plot!

 

New vines need to be planted to replace old ones

 

We then returned to the winery for a quick tour of the vinification hall and cellar to see where the grapes will journey to at harvest time, and where they will be transformed into wine, and aged before being ready to be bottled.  We’ll learn more about the stages in the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

 

Winery tour gift experience with the winemaker in Burgundy

 

Thank you to all the participants of the Discovery Experience Days.  As always we spent some really interesting days with you, and we hope to see you again soon for the harvest.

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Making and ageing organic vines in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


Today, we met up with the Stentz-Buecher family at their winery in Alsace to learn all about the work and skill to make and age their organic wines.  Domaine Stentz-Buecher is a family business as Céline explained to us, and she manages it with her brother, Stéphane.  They have both taken different paths to become wine-makers, and are complimentary in their work and their way of seeing wine.  They were with us to explain all of the work in the cellar to produce the best possible wines they can from when the grapes are picked right through to bottling.

Today, we met up with the Stentz-Buecher family at their winery in Alsace to learn all about the work and skill to make and age their organic wines.  It’s a family business as Céline explained to us, and she manages it with her brother, Stéphane.  They have both taken different paths to become wine-makers, and are complimentary in their work and their way of seeing wine.  They were with us to explain all of the work in the cellar to produce the best possible wines they can from when the grapes are picked right through to bottling.
We started the day in the vineyard, because that is where everything begins, and we visited one of the 74 plots that make up the winery’s 12 hectares of vines.  It’s necessary to have lots of plots to be able to express the diversity of the 7 grape varietals used to make Alsace wines.  Pinot Noir for the reds, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner, Muscat, Riesling and Gewurztraminer for the whites, all planted in different types of soil on the hillside and the plain.

 

Adopt-a-vine gift in an organic Alsace Vineyard

 

In the Rosenberg vineyard, where our Pinot Gris adopted vines are planted, we saw that the branches have been placed between the training wires, and that the flowering period has just finished.  We could see the little grains that will become grapes.  To Céline it looks like they have grown since the day before!  It’s possible, because with the heat and rain at the moment, the vines can grow 2cm a day.  We took a few moments to take some pictures with our vines, because for the 2020 vintage, this is the last time that we’ll be coming.

 

Rent-a-vine gift in Alsace

 

On the way back, we looked at the different plots, their location, their exposition to the sun, and the different soil types.  All important features that will help give the wines their taste and aromas.

 

Alsace wine region gift experience

 

Before getting down to the practical sessions, we talked about wine-tasting.  It’s all about perception, and is a unique and personal experience for all of us.  We use all of our senses when tasting, and once stimulated, they send lots of information to our brain, who has the task of filtering and treating them.  For example, our ears enable us to analyse the bubbles in a crémant.  Our eyes tell us information about the colour of a wine, its intensity and tint, its viscosity, shine, and clarity.  Our nose adds information about the aromas, and our mouth for the taste and texture.  Each person perceives this information differently, and the good news is that we can all train ourselves to improve.

We then talked in more detail about aromas and where they come from.  Are they primary aromas that come from the terroir or grapes themselves, secondary aromas that result from the fermentation phase, or tertiary and due to the choices made during the ageing process?  To help us better understand the differences, Céline had prepared a little game to blind taste different wines, in a blacked-out glass and with covers over the bottles, so that we had just our nose and mouth to rely on.

 

Organic wine tasting gift experience in Alsace

 

We tasted the wines by two in order to try and identify the difference between them and why.  For example, we first tasted a Pinot Blanc Tradition with white peach aromas, and which was well balanced and fresh on the palate.  We then tasted a wine that was completely different, its golden yellow colour being more unusual, and revealing smoky and toasted aromas.  It was dry and full bodied on the palate.  In fact it was also a Pinot Blanc, but made from a plot of old vines and aged in barrels on its fine lees, which changes the primary and tertiary aromas.  We continued our comparisons, tasting 6 wines in total.

Now that we were experts in the art of wine-tasting, we headed down into the cellar to catch up with our Pinot Gris wine from where we had left it during the harvest time.  Stéphane reminded us of the relationship between alcoholic maturity, phenolic maturity, and the aromatic potential of wine.  The higher the degree of alcohol, the better the potential for keeping wine, but that counts for nothing if there aren’t expressive aromas, something that is linked to the phenolic maturity, which is achieved around a month after the alcoholic maturity.  The difficulty lies in waiting to have sufficient phenolic maturity without the alcoholic degree rising too much, which is why when it’s too hot and the alcoholic degree is reached prematurely in August, it doesn’t bode well for a good phenolic maturity.

Stéphane then explained the fermentation and vinification processes of the white and red wines, and then we headed to the part of the cellar where the wines ferment in the casks.  Some of the wines are still in the process of fermenting, because the winery only uses indigenous yeast, and lets the wines work at their own pace.  We could still hear some of the vats and casks gurgling away as the carbon dioxide escaped through the siphons.

 

Wine cellar gift experience Alsace white wine

 

The other wines such as the Pinot Gris Rosenberg had finished fermenting, and we had the chance to taste it directly from the cask.  It will soften a bit more over the summer, before being ready for Stéphane to filter and bottle.

We finished the morning in the barrel room to see where the red and some of the vielle vignes white wines are aged.  We asked lots of questions about the role of oak barrels, the difference between old and new ones, and the varying sizes etc.  We had a very enthusiastic group and some great interactions.

 

Wine-making gift experience Alsace

 

It was then time to head up and outside for an aperitif, starting with a naturally sparkling crémant, made using the Champagne method, but without the liqueur being added, accompanied by a savoury Kouglof.  We then sat down to a delicious choucroute, cheese platter, and black forest gateau, all accompanied with delicious wines of course!

 

Organic Alsace wine gift and winery visit

 

After lunch we returned to the cool of the cellar to see the wine library where the old vintages are stored.  It’s also a reception room for tastings and family meals.  Only the most promising vintages are stocked, and each year, Stéphane and Céline uncork several dozen bottles, taste them, and re-cork them to ensure that they are still good.  The oldest wine from the winery dates back to 1969.

The day ended with the bottling and labelling machine, where the wine is held in a vat before passing through a filter on its way to being bottled and corked.  The bottles are then labelled and boxed up at the end of the line.  The wine is then ready to join the cellars and glasses of organic Alsace wine enthusiasts around the world.  We can’t wait to taste the 2020 vintage of our Pinot Gris Rosenberg!  

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A year of climatic extremes for the 2020 vintage


2020 will be a year to remember for organic wine-makers in France!  As everywhere else, the virus impacted the human activity in terms of working conditions and sales. The vines also had an unusual year, with exceptional climatic conditions.
In the autumn of 2019, the heavy rain that fell over much of France enabled the vineyards and water tables to build up their reserves.  And thankfully so, because the vines would depend on this later on.  A very mild winter, and mainly dry for the most part of France’s wine-growing regions, followed by a hot spring. At Domaine de la Guicharde in the Côtes du Rhône wine region, we saw roses in bloom in January!
Vine adoption gift box in alsace France
As a result, the vegetative cycle started in January and February which is earlier than normal, and developed rapidly in springtime, giving the wine-makers some sleepless nights as they worried about late frosts that could be catastrophic for the young buds.  At Château de la Bonnelière, in the Loire Valley, the large candles that are used to keep the frost at bay were set up in the vineyards, but fortunately not needed.  Luckily, spring remained mild and warmer than usual, but by the end, we could sense that the vines were at risk from a lack of water.    

The south and south west of France were the only regions to have any rain during spring.  It wasn’t very heavy, but fell regularly, meaning that the organic wine-makers had to treat the vines more often to protect them from mildew, the fungus that thrives when the weather is both hot and wet.  At Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion, at Domaine Allegria in the Languedoc, and at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhône Valley, the tractor could be seen often in the vineyards treating the vines as the copper and sulphur based sprays used in organic wine-making are contact products that protect the vines from the outside and don’t penetrate into the plant, and so they are washed away and need to be replaced after each rainfall.
Vineyard discovery day in Burgundy
The vines flowered early during the warm spring, appearing as early as the 19th May at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay, Burgundy, something which usually happens around the beginning of June.  Fortunately it wasn’t too rainy, and the coulure was minimal for most of the vineyards, meaning that the flowers were for the most part able to fecundate and produce grapes normally.  The end of spring and summer was extremely hot and that was when the lack of water began to be felt with the veraison being blocked, which is the moment when the grapes start to change colour.  In some cases, the grapes were scorched by the hot sun, shrivelling and drying up.
Vine renting gift box in the Rhone Valley, France
As a result of the combination of all these factors, the grape harvest in France was on the whole very early.  The wine-makers needed to harvest before the grapes became too concentrated in sugar, which would lead to wines that are too strong in alcohol, and before the grapes started to dry up, reducing the volume of wine that would be made.  In Alsace, the vineyards around Wettolsheim and Eguisheim, including the vines at Domaine Stentz-Biecher benefited from some rain in August, allowing the grapes to finish maturing in the best conditions.
Harvest experience in an organic winery in Saint-Emilion
The first of our partner wineries to begin harvesting was Domaine Allegria in the south of France, who started on the 17th August.  It’s not unusual to start harvesting in August in the Languedoc, but it’s very rare to do so in Burgundy!  Domaine Chapelle in Santenay began on the 19th August, when they would normally do so in mid-September.  In the Loire Valley, Château de la Bonnelière started in mid-September instead of in October.
Adopt-a-vine gift box for wine lovers
The good news is that with the warm and dry weather, all of the wineries are in agreement that the quality of the grapes is excellent this year.  No infections, good levels of maturity, and apart from a few dried out grapes, nothing to sort!  For some wineries the harvest is a little smaller due to the summer drought which meant that the grapes were more concentrated, but the quality is very promising…

We’ll be following the next stages closely as all of the fermentations finish, the wines start the ageing process, and we get to taste them during the Vinification Experience Days next year!

If you’re interested in learning more about organic wine-making and want to get involved in next year’s grape harvest, adopt some organic vines and come and work with the wine-maker at one of our partner wineries with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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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 Harvest 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.

Adopt a vine gift and personalised bottles of biodynamic wine

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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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.

Adopt a vine with Gourmet Odyssey

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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Working in the vineyard in the Cotes du Rhone


Last weekend we were at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley for the very first wine experience day at Gourmet Odyssey’s new partner winery.  The topic for the day was to learn about all of the work that happens in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes at harvest time.  As we were to learn there is much more to do than you might think, and with the winery being both organically and biodynamically certified, particular attention is paid to the well-being of the estate as a whole.

Rent some biodynamic vines in the Rhone valley and participate in making your own biodynamic wine

After the introductions to the day by Mark, the founder of Gourmet Odyssey and to the winery by Arnaud, the winemaker at Domaine de la Guicharde, we set off out into the vineyard.  On the way we passed the olive grove which Arnaud nurtures to produce biodynamic olive oil.  Arnaud had started working at 5:30 to prepare and dynamise a biodynamic silica treatment used to strengthen and invigorate the leaves.  The vines had already been treated and as we walked by, we watched the olive trees being sprayed with the same dynamised water.

Vineyard and Olive grove tour Rhone Valley

Arnaud explained the geological history of the Massif d’Uchaux wine-growing region, and how the surrounding area was covered in water during the Miocène era.  He showed us the remnants of the ancient beach where shell fish can still be seen in the soil.  Difficult to believe when you are looking out over the vines and garrigue towards the pre-Alps and the Mont Ventoux.

We then arrived in the vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  The grapes picked in this plot are used to make the Terroir du Miocène red that is the wine chosen for the personalised wine bottles included in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  A name plate had been put in front of each micro-plot of vines and we took a few minutes to find our vines, take a few photos and encourage them to produce a good harvest this year!

Adopt a vine wine experience in the Rhone Valley vineyard

Arnaud then explained the work that had been carried out in the vineyard during the winter to work the soil, prune the vines using the cordon de royat method, and repair the trellis system used to train the vines.

With the hot weather of the past couple of weeks, the buds on the vines had burst into life, and were starting their growth phase when the branches can grow several centimetres per day.  Sometimes the vines get a little over excited with all this growth, and stems grow from lower down on the vine stock, two branches grow from the same bud, or there are simply too many branches appearing on the vine.  To limit the number of grapes that the vine will produce and improve the quality, it is necessary to remove the unwanted branches.  This is known as de-budding, and Arnaud explained how to select which branches to remove.

Working in the vineyard

We then spread out in the vineyard, two to a row, and had a go at de-budding ourselves.  As with pruning, it is very easy to understand in practice, but more difficult when you have to make the decision yourself!  Each vine is unique, and sometimes you need to leave a branch that in theory you would remove, but that might be useful in the future to reshape the vine or bring the fruit-bearing branches back close to the vine stock.

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

Arnaud then took us on a short walk through the vineyard to show the different grape varietals and how to identify them just by looking at their leaves.  The Grenache vines that we had been working on were a lot greener and had a shiny coat, compared to the adjacent plot of Syrah that was slightly yellower, and had a soft velvet duvet on the underside.

Recognising different grape varietals

It wasn’t just the vines that were enjoying the good weather.  The grass and wild flowers were also flourishing in the vineyard, and we admired the beauty of the poppies dancing in the breeze.

 

Biodynmaic vineyard tour in the Rhone Valley, France

After the morning’s activities, we made our way back to the winery, and convened in the shade of the courtyard for an aperitif and lunch, which had been prepared by the excellent local restaurant, Le Temps de Vivre.  The first wine that we tasted was the Cotes du Rhone white, Au tour de la Chapelle 2017.  During the starter, main course, cheese and desert courses,  we then tasted Le 17 rosé 2017 wine, the Cotes du Rhone Pur Rouge 2017 red, followed by two Cotes du Rhone Villages Massif d’Uchaux red wines, the Genest 2016 and the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the Terroir du Miocène 2015.

Wine tasting experience and lunch at a biodynamic Cotes du Rhone winery

In the afternoon, we ventured back into the vineyard.  Arnaud explained the work to come between now and the harvest to raise the training wires, treat the vines, control the growth of the grass and wild flowers, potentially remove some of the leaves from the vines depending on the weather, and how to choose the date for the harvest.

Sponsor some vines and learn about biodynamic wine making

We then spent a while talking about what is involved in organic and biodynamic wine-making.  Arnaud is a passionate advocate of biodynamics and explained how he converted the winery and his reasons for doing so.  He told us about the different preparations that are used to treat the vines and how the work in the vineyard is managed in coordination with the lunar calendar.  We stopped to have a look at the dynamiser used to prepare the biodynamic tisanes.

Winery tour Rhone Valley

We ended the day with a quick visit of the chai to see where the wine is made once the grapes have been picked.  We’ll spend more time here during the Harvest Experience Day in September and the Vinification Experience Days next year.

Many thanks to Arnaud and all of the participants for making this such a great first wine experience day at Domaine de la Guicharde!

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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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Gourmet Odyssey partner winemakers win medals at the Challenge Millésime Bio 2018 organic wine competition



The Challenge Millésime Bio wine competition organised by the Millésime Bio professional organic wine fair took place this week. Once again, the Gourmet Odyssey partner winemakers saw their wines win medals at this prestigious organic wine competition.

 

Gourmet Odyssey's wines are awarded medals at Challenge Millésime Bio

Challenge Millésime Bio is an international wine competition that receives over 1500 organic wines each year to judge.  The jury is made up of wine professionals, and this year the president was Klaus Hermann, Director of the German wine magazine, WEIN+MARKT.

International wine fair and challenge in France

Of the 1516 wine samples presented for tasting during this year’s competion, the jury awarded medals to 434 wines:

  • 136 gold medals
  • 201 silver medals
  • 97 bronze medals
The selection is harsh with just over 400 medals awarded 

Among our partner wineries, four of our winemakers had the pleasure of receiving a medal:

  • Domaine la Cabotte in the Cotes du Rhone wine-growing region received a gold medal for their 2015 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape Vieilles Vignes
  • Château Beau Rivage in Macau-en-Médoc was also awarded a gold medal for their 2015 Clos la Bohème
  • Domaine Chapelle, our partner vineyard in Burgundy, won silver for their 2015 Santenay Premier Cru Beaurepaire
  • Domaine Allegria was also awarded a silver medal for their 2014 Languedoc Mendel Malbec

Congratulations for these well-deserved awards. We look forward to the tasting them at the Millésime Bio organic wine fair!

 

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The organic wines of our partner winemakers selected by the 2018 wine guides


The 2018 wine guides and reviews have once again selected and awarded medals to the organic wines from the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience wineries. Our adopt-a-vine partners were rewarded for their hard work in the vineyard and cellar to produce another great vintage of their excellent wines.

Domaine de la Guicharde

Our new partner saw 3 of their wines selected by the Bettane+Desseauve 2018 wine guide (internet version), the Genest 2015, Pur Rouge 2016 and the Terroir du Miocène 2015. The Terroir du Miocène is the wine chosen by Gourmet Odyssey for the vine adoption wine experience. It received a rating of 13.5/20, and was described as being “a little shy at first, but opens up once aired. It’s a no-nonsense fruity wine that is very drinkable.”

Château de la Bonnelière

The Bettane+Desseauve 2018 wine guide chose 5 wines from Château de la Bonnelière, including the 2015 vintage of the Clos de la Bonnelière wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey for the Wine Experience, which received a 15/20 rating. “A full and gourmand wine, this bottle opens it arms to you.” Other wines selected include the 2015 Roches Saint-Paul and 2015 Rive Gauche.

The 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins Bios organic wine guide gave a star to the 2015 Chapelle wine, which it recommends pairing with a lamb confite.

Domaine Chapelle

The 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins 2018 selected 6 of Domaine Chapelle’s wines, the 2014 Morgeot Premier Cru, the 2014 Petites Lolières, as well as the 2015 Santenay Saint-Jean white wine, the 2015 Beaurepaire Premier Cru, and the 2015 Gravières Premier Cru which each received a star. For the Santenay Saint-Jean wine they noted that it is “an elegant wine with aromas of white fruit, citrus fruits, fresh butter and white flowers, aromas which are amplified in the mouth with this smooth wine with good levels of acidity”.

These wines were also included in the 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins Bios organic wine guide.

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

The internet version of the Bettane+Desseauve guide chose three 2015 wines, the Gewurztraminer Hengst scored 16/20, the Pinot Gris Pfersigberg 14/20 and the Muscat Rosenberg was noted 14/20.

Domaine Allegria

The 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins and the organic wine version, praised both the 2015 and the 2016 vintages of the Dolce Vota with 2 and 3 stars respectively.  It’s a real darling of the guide with its “powdery pink colour…  refined, complex, the nose reveals roses, then citrus fruits, before showing more acidic notes of redcurrant and red fruits. Gentle on the palate, smooth and deep, it remains lively thanks to the acidity. It’s a gourmand and elegant wine.”

Domaine la Cabotte

The 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins and Guide Hachette des Vins Bios organic wine guide awarded 2 stars for the 2015 Gabriel wine.  “Once opened up, this wine reveals hints of blackcurrant jam and blueberries, with some smoky notes. Velvety on the palate, with elegant black cherry and spicy aromas, supported by perfectly matured tannins. A wine that will please everyone.”

The 2018 Bettane+Desseauve web guide rated the 2016 Colline white wine 13/20, and the 2015 Gabriel 15/20. For this last one, they wrote that “on the nose it reminds you of fresh green pepper, and in the mouth it is juicy and floral, packed with red and black fruit. The tight tannins give it body and a rustic style that suits it well.”

Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard

The Revue du Vin de France picked 3 wines from the Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard for the 2018 Guide des Meilleurs Vins de France wine guide. The 2016 Chablis, 2015 Chablis Premier Cru Vau de Vey, and its top pick, the 2015 Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume, which it noted as being “expressive, rich and well structured, it sets itself apart by the depth of flavour and its saline finish. Well balanced, it is an excellent Chablis that can be enjoyed by all.”

The 2018 Guide Bettane+Desseauve 2018 selected no less than 14 wines from the winery, including Grand and Premier Crus, and the 2015 Chablis Sainte-Claire, the wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey for the 2016 and 2017 vintages, which was rated 14/20. 

The 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins 2018 and the Guide Hachette des Vins Bios wine guides selected 2 wines ; the 2015 Domaine Brocard obtaining 2 stars, and the 2014 Côte de Lechet, 1 star.

Château Beau Rivage

The 2015 Benjamin, red wine was hailed in the 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins, who recommend serving it with roast guinea fowl. “The nose is floral and fresh, whilst being full and lasting on the palate, revealing juicy ripe fruits and silky tannins.”

So another good year for the Wine Experience partner winemakers, who were rewarded for their talent and hard work in the cellar and vineyards to produce another great range of 2015 and 2016 organic wines!

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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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How can you protect vines from frost?


Vines are very hardy plants and can withstand much adversity; drought, wind, storms, and cold for the most part. But with the latest cold spell and frosts that recently touched most of France’s wine-growing regions, we are once again reminded that the winemaker remains at nature’s mercy. Why does frost harm the vines and what can a winemaker do to protect their vines from it?

Conditions for frost to damage the vines

The most sensitive part of the vine is the bud which, when newly exposed, can’t survive at temperatures less than -2/-3°C. The bud is also the most important part of the vine as it from where the fruit and harvest for the new year will grow. That’s why the frosts that cause the most damage are the late spring ones, because it is at this stage that the buds have started to flourish and are more vulnerable.

The vineyards most at risk from frost are those situated at the bottom of the hillsides, in hollows, or on the valley plains, because that is where the cold air gathers. Plots that have grass between the rows are also more at risk because the vegetation holds humidity and cold. And if the vine varietal or the year is early in exposing the buds, the risk of damage from spring frosts is greater.

Oenology course on vine tending in a French vineyard

It’s worth noting that an early autumn frost before the leaves have fallen, or a prolonged winter freeze below -15°C can also harm the vines.

How does the vine freeze in spring?

As the temperature rises in spring, the sap starts to rise in the vine, and we can see the “vine tears” form from the wood exposed during pruning. The buds appear, burst and then the first leaves unfurl. The buds and the first leaves are rich in water.

When it freezes, this water cools so much that it destroys or burns the cells in the bud or the leaves. There are two types of frost. The white frost burns the moist vegetative matter through the sun rays, and the black frost which occurs when the temperature drops below -7°C in dry and windy conditions.

What is the impact from frost?

Damage caused by spring frosts is more frequent but less serious for the longevity of the vines compared to the autumn and winter frosts. Even if there is a direct result on the year’s harvest, they don’t cause the vine to completely die.

Frost damage at a winemaker experience day in the Loire Valley, France

If the primary buds are burnt, there is always the hope that the secondary buds will appear after the frost has passed. These buds burst later, but are also fruit-bearing. Months of working and caring for the vines can be ruined in just a few hours due to frost.

Protecting the vines from frost?

The most common solution is to light candles or torches to protect the vines using smoke. The winegrowers place them every few metres in the vineyard, which is enough to rise the temperature by 2-3°C, and often avoid frost from forming. In the past they also burned wood or fuel in old oil drums, but that gave off lots of carbon dioxide, so now large blocks of paraffin are preferred. The smoke that they emit stops the early morning sun rays burning the buds that have been thinly covered in frost.

Wine-making Experience Vineyard tour in Chinon France

Another solution, but more costly, is to spray the vines with water. An ice cocoon forms around the buds which stops the water inside the buds from freezing. The vines are sprayed frequently until the temperature rises above freezing to avoid the ice from melting too fast, thus protecting the buds from the sun rays. This method is generally reserved for vine plots that are most at risk because the installation of the water pipes and sprinklers is very expensive.

Wine course in Burgundy, France as a gift box

More and more often now, you can also find wind turbines being used nowadays in the vineyards. These small turbines cause the air to circulate and the warm air to come back down and warm up the vines. A few degrees gained can often be enough to avoid the buds from freezing.

Heated wires which run along the training wires have also started to appear in the past few years. Of course, this can only be used in vineyards where the vines are trellised. Apparently this system has proved to be very effective in the plots that it has been tested in, and can be set to automatically activate below a set temperature. Running costs are fairly reasonable, but the purchase and installation costs are high given the kilometres of vine rows that have to be equipped, so explaining the small take-up for the moment.

Some winemakers even call in helicopters to fly low level over the vines and circulate the air as the turbines do. It’s fairly dangerous as the pilot must fly very low, most of the time at dawn when the light is not necessarily the best, and the pilot perhaps not the most awake!  It’s fairly expensive, but is worth the cost for some of the better quality vineyard plots.

Vine protection course in a French Vineyard in Chablis, Burgundy

And then sometimes, as our partner winemakers at Château Coutet reminded us, it’s simply nature that offers protection. Having dense vegetation or trees around the vineyards can help stop the temperature form dropping too far and can protect the vines from wind and the morning sun rays which can be so fatal for the frost covered buds.

Vine tending course in Saint-Emilion, France
The winegrowers are becoming better equipped at protecting the vines from frost, and the weather forecasts are becoming more refined, but over the past couple of years the frost attacks and other sources of weather damage are seeming to become more and more frequent, reminding us that winegrowing is still at the mercy of nature’s whim!

  

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Adopt a Vine in France and Follow the Making of Your Own Wine !

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