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Wine News

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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A lesson in pruning vines at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis


Pruning is probably the most complicated and hardest of all the work that is carried out in the vineyard. It is probably the most important too, as it helps determine not just the yield of this year’s harvest, but also lays the foundation for the following year. It might sound simple in theory, but as the participants in last Sunday’s Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard were to find out, it’s not quite as simple!
Vineyard experience, Chablis

The aim of this hands on wine course is to learn about all of the work that the winemaker has to do in the vineyard to ensure the best possible grapes at harvest time, so after the brief introductions, overview of the Chablis region and the history of the winery, we headed out into the vineyard.

We made our way to the Boissonneuse vineyard, which is where our adopted vines are located, and which was also the first of the winery’s vineyards to be organically and biodynamically certified. Here you have a great view of the rolling Chablis hills, planted with vines as far as the eye can see, and so we took a few minutes to take some photos of our vines in this wonderful setting.

Adopt a vine, Chablis, France

It was then time to get down to some serious business! We were accompanied by Fred, one of the key members of the vineyard team. He told us about what had been keeping him busy since the last harvest, most of the time which had been spent so far pruning the vines. The pruning at the winery has finished, but Fred had kept a few vines back so that we could have a go for ourselves. He showed us how to choose which branches to cut, and which to select to produce this year’s harvest. Easy!

Wine experience, Chablis, France

Secateurs in hand, we then had a go for ourselves. Hang on a minute. What did Fred say? Is this the right branch to keep? This vine doesn’t look anything like the ones he used for the demonstration... The first thing we learnt is that the theory is all well and good, but each vine has its own exceptions! However, after the first couple of vines, it starts to get a little easier, but we have a much better understanding of the complexity of what appears to be a simple task. And when you look at the hundreds of thousands of vines growing on the surrounding hills, you realise what a mammoth task pruning is.

Wine lover gift, Chablis,France

Fred then showed us how the branches are bent and attached to the training wire using a fantastic tool that ties and cuts some string at the press of a button, considerably speeding up the job.

Unique wine gifts, Chablis, France

We also had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics as varied as working the soil, grafting and planting new vines, as well as the differences between conventional, organic and biodynamic farming.

We then made our way back to the winery for a well earned tasting of some of the Chablis wines produced on the estate. We tasted a Petit Chablis 2014 and Chablis Sainte Claire 2015, produced from the vineyard immediately around us. We then tried a Chablis Premier Cru “Butteaux” 2011, followed by a Chablis Grand Cru “Valmur” 2011. Over lunch we continued the tasting with a Chablis Boissonneuse 2013 and one of the few red wines produced at the winery, the Irancy “Les Mazelots” 2014.

Original wine gift, Chablis, France

After lunch and all those wines, it was good to get some fresh air! We headed out into the Sainte Claire vineyard, where we could see the notable difference in terroir from the Boissonneuse vineyard. Here we talked about the different tasks that lay ahead in the vineyard between now and the harvest, and how the winemakers will choose when the time is right to pick the grapes.

Adopt a vine france, Chablis

The day ended with a quick visit to the fermentation hall that is home to all of the wooden casks at the winery. It’s an impressive room, and is where part of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey cuvée is aged.

Personalised wine gifts, France, Chablis

We’ll go into more detail about the winemaking side of things during one of the Vinification Experience Days. For now the attention swings back to the vineyard, as the next couple of weeks will be crucial as we hope that the last of the frosts are behind us, and that the buds continue to flourish unhindered.

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Start your retirement by learning to be a winemaker


Retirement is a big milestone, and some embrace it better than others! We received this message from Daniel, a client who received a Wine Experience at Château de la Bonnelière. His colleagues gave it to him for his retirement present, and we’re delighted to see that this original gift pleased him. Here is what Daniel told us:

No chance of me sitting in a chair, twiddling my thumbs for my retirement. That’s what I told my former colleagues, and they held me to my word. With the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gift they gave me, I became an apprentice winemaker and had to roll up my sleeves to help make my personalised bottles of wine!

When they gave me the retirement gift, they told me that I would follow the making of my wine from the year that I retired at Château de la Bonnelière in France’s Loire Valley, from the work in the vineyard through to the bottling, which of course they hope to share with me! What they didn’t say straight away is that I would get to go to the winery and spend a day working alongside the winemaker in the vineyard.

I participated in the Discovery Experience Day last year in the spring, where I met Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker. He showed us the vineyard where my adopted vines grow and produce the grapes used in the making of my wine, and also put us to work to de-bud the vines and lower the training wires. We also had a very nice lunch and of course got to taste the different wines that the winery produces.

It was a great day and very hands-on, so when I got the chance to come back, this time to learn more about the work in the cellar, I signed up straight away. I’ll participate in this day this winter, and I’m looking forward to seeing, and most of all tasting how my wine is coming along!

Many thanks to my colleagues for this great idea for a retirement present. It’s been almost a year since our paths separated, but I’m not missing them too much! We’ve agreed to meet up once I’ve collected by wine so that we can share a glass or two!

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


With all of the different Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Days taking place at the moment in our different partner wineries, we’ve been struck by the multitude of different methods and techniques used in the cellar to make and age wine depending on the different regions and partners. In this article we wanted to take a closer look at just one of these differences, that difference being the type of container used to produce wines. Here’s a quick overview of some of the different containers used to make wines.

After the harvest, the winemakers have to make a whole raft of crucial decisions in the cellar that will directly impact the quality, taste, and characteristics of their wines. Among them is the choice of container to age the wine once the fermentation has finished. Generally speaking, once the second fermentation has finished the wines are racked, and they are transferred from their fermentation tank to another container to continue their ageing process. There are lots of different types of container, but the most popular by far are either vats or barrels.

Vats

Vats come in all shapes and sizes, and can be made from different materials. The largest capacity vats can hold up to 1 000 200 litres, which is the colossal amount that the world’s largest oak vat holds at the Caves Byrhh. Vats of this size are far from the norm as there are very few wineries that would have the space to house them!

Unique wine gift, Alsace, France

The most common materials used to make vats are stainless steel, concrete and wood. Each has its own advantages. Wood and concrete vats are more porous and allow a micro-oxygenation of the wine which can be something favourable that the winemaker is looking for to make the wines softer and rounder. Wooden vats can also bring some extra tertiary aromas to the wine, particularly when they are new, to add to those present from the fruit and terroir. Stainless steel vats don’t allow these aromas to develop, but they can have the advantage of concentrating the aromas on the primary and secondary ones found in the must. All depends on what type of wine the winemaker wants to develop!

Wine making experience, Burgundy, France

When it comes to the shape, we often imagine that they are all more or less cylindrical, and that is indeed the case in the majority of wineries, but there are also less common forms such as cubic, ovoid, pyramidal, or rectangular. Each shape has its advantages. For example, an ovoid vat allows the wine to perpetually move, keeping the lees in suspension, without having to stir the lees at all. This results in fuller, more concentrated wines.

Original wine gift, Chablis, Burgundy, France

Barrels

When you think of wine ageing at the winery, more often than not you will think of it doing so in an oak barrel. The volume that a barrel holds varies from region to region, and in French, there are also different names for them depending on the region and the size of the barrel. For example, in Bordeaux, the typical Bordelaise barrel, a “barrique,” can hold 225 litres (300 standard sized bottles of wine). A Bordelaise “tonneau” is four times bigger, containing 900 litres, and it is this size of barrel that is used for pricing the wines. In Burgundy, the standard measure for a barrel of wine is called the “pièce” and has a capacity of 228 litres (304 standard sized bottles of wine). For much larger quantities there also the “foudres”.

Wine experience gifts, Loire Valley, France

There are two main reasons why the winemaker might choose to use oak barrels. The first is the micro-oxygenation that takes place as we mentioned in the section before on vats. The second is the impact that the interaction between the wine and the oak has on the aroma and taste of the wine. The majority of tertiary aromas found in wine are developed thanks to prolonged contact with the oak. Vanilla, cinnamon, hazelnut, toast, leather, etc – different aromas depending on the type of wood, its origin, and the way in which it was toasted during the manufacture of the barrels. Choosing the right barrel that will enhance the characteristics of a wine without overpowering it can be a difficult decision for the winemaker.

Vineyard experience, Bordeaux, France

Choosing the right container

Each type of container has its qualities and its supporters, the choice resting with the winemaker to help produce the desired wine. At our partner winemakers, we often taste the same wine that has been aged in different types of container. For example at Domaine la Cabotte, they have started to test using clay amphorae like the Romans used. They are trying to benefit from the porosity of the clay jar for the micro-oxygenation that is similar to a barrel, but without the exchange of tannins and development of tertiary aromas.

Wine lover gift, Rhone Valley, France

Whatever the choice of the container to be used, its impact will diminish as the volume increases, as the surface area becomes smaller relative to the volume of wine contained. The larger the container, the slower the ageing process will be. Controlling the temperature is also important, not just during the fermentation process, but during ageing as well to regulate the ability of the oxygen to dissolve into the liquid. Yet more choices for the winemaker!

 

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The art of vinifying and ageing wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon


Last Saturday, a beautiful Spring day awaited the participants of the Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Day at Domaine Allegria.
Vineyard experience, Languedoc, France

To get the day started, we headed off into the vineyard with the winemaker, Ghislain to find our adopted vines. It gave us the opportunity to take a few photos of our vines and to learn a little about the vines growth cycle and the work that is carried out in the vineyard. It is after all the work here that has a big impact on the quality of the wine at the other end of the cycle!

Rent a vin, Languedoc, France

Upon our return from the vineyard, we visited the chai from top to bottom, and covered a whole host of questions regarding the fermentation and vinification of wines. We also talked about the differences in making red and white wine.

Next on the programme was an aromatic workshop. We had to try and identify 12 of the most commonly found aromas in red wine. It puts both your nose and memory to the test as you try and put a name to the smell contained in the small glass bottle. Not as easy as it would seem!

Wine gift packs, Languedoc, France

We ate lunch outside on the terrace to enjoy the spring sunshine. For the aperitif, we tasted a magnum of the Dolce Vita 2015 rosé wine that had been bottled just a few weeks previously. During the meal, we tasted several of the estate’s wines, the 2014 Cinsault Abuelo, the Carignan Gourmand from the 2013 vintage, and a Cousu Main 2011 in magnum. To accompany the goat’s cheese from the neighbouring Mas Roland, we tasted the 2014 Tribu d’A white wine which pairs perfectly. We finished the meal with La Belle Histoire 2013, a great vintage for Languedoc wines.

Wine tasting gift, Languedoc, France

After lunch, we returned to the chai to taste three different wines from the 2015 vintage that are still in the process of ageing. A great opportunity to get a sneak preview of this promising year and to talk about the different characteristics of each grape varietal. We tasted a Cinsault, a Syrah and a Mourvèdre. The wines are still very young, and fizzy from the caron dioxide released during the fermentation period, but they are also astonishingly soft and enjoyable to drink at this early stage in their evolution!

At the end of the day, we hope that everyone had learnt a little more about the art of making wine, and will have a few more wine stories to recount. Many thanks to all of the participants for sharing this day.

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The vines come back to life in Spring


As our adopted parents for the 2016 vintage will have noticed during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Days that are currently under way, the vines are slowly waking up from their winter rest. The winemakers have been busy finishing the last pruning, bending and tying the remaining vine branches to the training wires before the first buds peek through, so it’s now time to take a look at what happens during spring in the vineyard.

Once the harvest has finished and the first cold winter weather sets in, the sap descends into the roots and foot of the vine stock. The vines are further protected from the frosts by heaping earth around the trunks, and last year’s branches are cut away so that the plant can concentrate its energy on producing the growth necessary for the coming year’s harvest. Even if this winter was uncharacteristically mild, the vines still passed through this hibernation mode, the length of which varied depending on the region of France.

Waking up

With the warming of the weather towards the end of March, the sap starts to climb back up the plant into the branches. Sometimes you can even see tears of sap form and drop from the where the branches have been cut.

Adopt a vine, Alsace, France

The tears herald the arrival of the first buds breaking through on the vines. This is a much awaited moment in the vineyard, but one that causes lots of worry for the winemakers. At this stage the vines are very vulnerable, and next year’s harvest is at the peril of frosts or wild animals that love to feast on the fresh, succulent buds. It’s time to watch and protect the vines as best as possible.

Vineyard experience, Burgundy, France

When it comes to buds, there are various different types. There are those that we leave on the main branches at the time of pruning, which are also sometimes referred to as eyes, and from these buds will grow the first shoots.

On these shoots, another type of bud, terminal buds, will form at the end of the new branch. These buds are responsible for the growth of the branch, and so once the vine has sufficiently grown and the winemaker wants the plant to turn its attention to ripening the grapes, the ends of the branches are cut off, and the growth is then stopped.

Adopt a vine france, Bordeaux

Then there are auxiliary buds, found under the leaf axils. These are latent, and won’t develop this year, but will burst next year. Vines have a two year vegetative cycle, and it is these buds that we leave when we prune for the following year’s campaign.

The growth of the vines

Once the bud burst period has finished, the vines enter a growth phase for the rest of spring and summer until the temperatures start to fall again in September or October.

Leaves also develop on the branches and they have a double role. They enable photosynthesis to take place, and they help the vine to regulate its temperature through releasing water. The leaves from each vine varietal haven their own distinct morphology, making it much easier to name a particular type of vine in springtime than in the depths of winter!

Original wine gift, Loire Valley

At the same time as the growth of the leaves, tendrils also develop to help the vine support itself. The green and supple tendrils reach out and wrap themselves around whatever they can find, the training wires being ideal. As time goes by, the green tendrils turn brown and into wood, which is why it’s so much harder to pull the branches away at pruning time.

Spring work in the vineyard

Ren a vine, Rhone Valley, France

From Spring onwards, a large part of the winemakers work in the vineyard is to control and manage the growth of the vines in such a way as to help the grapes reach optimal maturity at harvest time. De-budding and removing any unwanted shoots, and training the vines are the first tasks to be undertaken as the growth gets under way. Read our post on the spring work in the vineyard for more information.

 

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Wine-making Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


The Vinification Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte got started as always with one eye turned towards the weather. We’d had lots of wind from the mistral for the previous few days in the Rhone Valley, but everything had calmed down by Saturday. The sun was shining and the vibrant green of the first vine leaves were gleaming. Everything was in place to share a great day.

Our guests arrived from as far afield as Belgium and the Reunion Island, as well as from closer to home such as Marseille, Avignon and Courthezon.

Rent a vine, Rhone Valley, France

After the introductions and a welcome croissant, we set off to greet our adopted vines. For some it was their first meeting, for others a warm reunion and the pleasure of taking a photo with the first buds peeking through.

Under the spring sunshine, Eric, the winemaker, took us to the highest vineyard plot behind the chai to start talking about the vinification process. It was a good way to remind us that everything starts in the vineyard and results from the earth under our feet. We briefly touch on topics as varied as pruning, biodynamics and the influence of the terroir on the taste of the wines.

Vineyard experience, Rhone Valley, France

The questions flow and the time flies by. We return to the wine boutique to start getting down to some practical work.

Marie-Pierre had prepared some pens and paper, and some small bottles containing the aromas to be found in red and white wines. It was a workshop designed to try and help us identify different aromas. It can be a very frustrating experience as you know you know the aroma, but you just can’t put a name to it... “I know that smell. What is it? Lemon. No, wait, grapefruit?... Ah that one I know for sure. Lime tree! I’ve got one in my garden.”

Wine making experience, Rhone Valley, France

One of our participants managed to correctly name all of the aromas!

We then hurried to the chai to put our new found nasal skills to the test, this time with real wines!

Eric spoke passionately and expertly about what happens in the vat, how the work of the yeast is measured daily, how the temperatures rise and fall as the fermentation starts and then slows down. A good wine doesn’t just happen by itself, and we had the honour of tasting some of the wines that are still in the ageing process in the chai.

Wine lover gift,Rhone Valley, France

À table ! Marie-Pierre had put a bench out in the sun for the aperitif of the delicious Colline rosé wine. Over lunch, freshly prepared by Marie-Pierre, we continued the tasting with the Colline white and red wines, and then the Massif d’Uchaux red wines.

Wine experience, Rhone Valley, France

To honour the Chateauneuf-du-Pape made at Domaine la Cabotte, Jacqueline, the sommelier, enchanted us with a little poem that had been written by a friend of Pétrarque who was familiar with the Vaucluse region:

 

« Je veux vous chanter mes amis
ce vieux Châteauneuf que j'ai mis
pour vous seuls en bouteille 
il va faire merveille... 
Il est fils des côteaux pierreux
Que Phoebus brûle de ses feux
C'est un divin dictame 
qui enchantent nos âmes ».

 

The day ended back in the chai where there still remained much to talk about. Blending wines, the different types of container to store the wines – stainless steel, wood, or amphorae. We also talked about how the chai itself had been designed to work using natural gravity as much as possible, about bottling, and the different demands of clients in different countries.

Unique wine gift, Rhone Valley, France

Having stocked up with a few bottles to take home, it was time to end the day, hoping that the wine will continue to tell its story when it is poured into a glass.

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Vinification and ageing of Burgundy wines at Domaine Chapelle


We visited Domaine Chapelle last Sunday in the charming Burgundy village of Santenay, where we were welcomed by the winemakers, Jean-François and Yvette, for a Vinification Experience Day. The aim of the day was to learn all about the work in the cellar from harvest time right up until the wine is ready to be bottled once it has sufficiently aged.
Vineyard Experience, France

After a welcome coffee, Jean-François, explained the family history of the winery and the way that the Burgundy wine region is structured. We then split into two groups. The first group stayed with Yvette for a workshop to hone our wine-tasting skills with a couple of exercises to put our noses and taste buds to the test. It was very difficult to name the different aromas, but it was a fun moment nonetheless!

Wine lover gift, Burgundy, France

The second group, accompanied by the Technical Director, Yannnick, started the immersion into the world of vinification and ageing of wines. After an explanation of the fermentation process, we descended into the magical cellar and tasted some wines directly from the barrel to appreciate the impact that different types of barrel can have on the sensorial characteristics of wine.

Wine experience, Burgundy, France

We spent a great moment admiring the beauty of the typically Bourguignon vaulted cellar and tasting the treasures that is holds! The groups then switched before being reunited in the cuverie for the aperitif and time to match a Santenay white wine with some gougères, a local cheese shoe pastry delicacy from the village baker.

Original wine gift, Burgundy, France

We continued the wine tasting over lunch of parsley ham, chicken gaston Gerard, local cheeses and a chocolate desert with a Ladoix “Les Vries” 2013, a Santenay “Clos des Cornières” 2012 and a Chassagne Montrachet 1er cru “Morgeot” 2014. After lunch, the weather had improved, and we headed off to the Clos des Cornières vineyard where our adopted vines are to be found. Here Jean-François pointed out the geology of the surrounding hills and explained how that relates to the hierarchy of Burgundy wines. He also showed us the three different zones of the Clos des Cornières vineyard that had been planted at different times. Each of the resulting wines from these different zones is vinified separately before being blended just before bottling.

Wine making experience, Burgundy, France

We then took a few minutes to visit our adopted vines, and to immortalise the moment by taking a few photos!

Rent a vine, France, Burgundy

It was then time to return to the winery to end the day by tasting the wines produced from these three different zones in the Clos des Cornières vineyard. Many thanks to Jean-François, Yvette and Yannick for their passionate explanations, and thanks to all who came for sharing a great day!

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Winemaking in the Rhone Valley


For this second Vinification Experience Day of the year at Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône wine making region of France, we were blessed with magnificent sunny weather all day long.
Wine making experience, Rhone Valley; France

After the initial introductions, Eric started to tell us about his work as a winemaker. He told us about the important choices that have to be taken in the vineyard, how to choose when to harvest, and about the steps taken to transform the grapes into quality wine.

The winery is both organically and biodynamically certified, and Eric explained the impact that this has had on the estate’s wines over the years. There is a big difference not just in the working techniques used, but also in the quality of the wine that is produced.

Wine lover gift, Rhone Valley, France

We then gathered outside for a workshop to awaken our senses. We had to try and identify the aromas that can be found in wine through the fruit or the way that it has been made.

Wine tasting gift, Rhone Valley, France

Eric then told us all about how to blend wine, and we tasted different wine blends from the 2015 vintage that are still in the ageing process to see for ourselves.

Unique wine gift, Rhone Valley, Mondragon

We then enjoyed an aperitif before sitting down to a meal prepared by Marie-Pierre. An endive, lentil end turmeric salad, beef stew, local goat’s cheese, and some almond cake to finish. During the lunch, we tasted several of the estate’s wines starting with the Colline rosé 2015, then proceeding with the Garance 2014 Massif d’Uchaux red wine, the Gabriel 2014 Massif d’Uchaux red, and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 red.

In the afternoon, we took a short stroll to visit our adopted vines and take some photos. Eric talked some more about the specificity of the different soil structures found in the Uchaux area, and the impact of biodynamics.

Adopt a vine france, Mondragon , Rhone Valley

We now have to wait patiently until the 2015 vintage of our Garance wine has finished ageing. Many thanks to Eric and Marie-Pierre for their warm welcome, and to all of the participants for making it such a good day.

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Learning how to prune and attach the vines at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace


Our first Discovery Experience Day of the 2016 vintage got under way last Sunday at Domaine Stentz-Buecher. The aim was to learn all about the work necessary in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes come harvest time.

After a welcome coffee, the day started with a visit to the Rosenberg vineyard where our adopted pinot gris vines are to be found. Rosenberg means pink hill, perhaps due to the rose bushes planted in front of the vine rows which used to serve as a warning of the risk of disease affecting the vines, roses being more sensitive than vines.

Adopt a vine france, Alsace

Having said hello to our vines and taken a few shots for the annual My Vine photo competition, we made our way to a second plot of vines, the Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyard. Here Jean-Jacques started to talk about the different steps taken to care for the vines, and showed us how to prune them using the Guyot method, leaving two branches and a spur that will be used to produce next year’s growth. Then, secateurs in hand, we had a go for ourselves. It’s not as easy as it seems to decide which branches to cut, and which to leave behind!

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

Thanks to Jean-Jacques’ guidance, the result wasn’t too bad! Once the unwanted branches had been cut, we then had to pull them away from the vines to leave the two chosen branches unhindered. The cut branches were then placed in the middle of the rows to be crushed, enabling some of the nutrients to be returned to the soil.

Original wine gift, Alsace, France

We then had a go at bending the remaining branches and attaching them to the lower training wire. Naturally they point straight upwards, but bending the branches helps to reduce the yield and increase the aromatic concentration in the grapes. To attach the bent branches to the training wire, we used a funny little tool that ties and cuts the string in one motion. For beginners, a knot that is too tight or too loose will cause the branch to flex like a spring, so watch out for your nose!

Rent a vine, Alsace, France

It was then time to return to the winery to taste some of the wines, accompanied by some savoury Kougloff. We continued the wine tasting over lunch of traditional Roïgebrageldi, cheese and blueberry tart.

Wine tasting gift, Alsace, France

In the afternoon, we descended into the cellar for a quick tour of the press, barrel room and fermentation hall. We’ll spend more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days. Many thanks to the Stentz-Buecher family for welcoming us to the winery, and to all the participants for their good cheer and stream of questions!

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The art of vinifying white wines in Alsace


We were talking about all things vinification and what goes on in the cellar last Saturday at Domaine Stentz-Buecher as we met up with some of the adoptive parents of the 2015 vintage to see how their wine is coming along during fermentation and ageing process.

Céline, who runs the winery with her brother Stéphane, kicked the day off with an introduction into the family history and the production of Alsace wines. And then we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are to be found. On the way we talked about the surrounding terroir and the different soil, vegetation and methods used from one plot to another, notably the differences between organic and conventional farming.

Adopt a vine, Alsace, France

Jean-Jacques, Céline and Stéphane’s father, briefly explained what had happened since the last harvest to prepare the vines for this year’s campaign. Then, back at the winery we picked up where we had left off at harvest time. We saw where the harvested grapes had been put into the press, and where the first fermentation had taken place. Stéphane told us about the work during the fermentation process and the decisions that the winemaker must take. We had a pre-tasting of the 2015 vintage of our Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine, which is still in the ageing process. We compared this to a wine that has yet to finish fermenting to better understand the changes that the wine goes through as it slowly matures.

Wine experience, Alsace, France

In parallel, we put our noses to the test during a workshop to help us develop our wine tasting skills. We had to identify different aromas found in wine that result from the grape varietals or the way that the wine has been worked. A few of them sparked some lively debate about what they evoked!

Unique wine gift, Alsace, France

We then descended into the cellar to visit the “oénothèque”, where the oldest wines at the winery are stored. Here, we tasted a series of different wines, accompanied by a traditional savoury Kouglof. The first wine to be tasted was the Who Am I blended wine, followed by the Riesling Tradition, the Pinot Gris Flavien 2010, the Pinot Gris Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2004, and the Pinot Noir Old Oak 2011 red wine.

Wine lover gift, Alsace, France

Lunch was a very local affair of choucroute, local cheeses and blackforest gateau, accompanied by some more of the domaine’s wines, finishing with a Crémant d’Alsace. There was some very animated discussion as to whether the base of traditional Alsace tartes flambées is made of bread or not, and what topping to put on it!

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

In the afternoon, we finished the cycle of work in the cellar, learning how the wine is bottled, and the choice of the winemaker in the different quality grades of cork used. The 2015 vintage will continue ageing until at least August in the cellar, so we need to patiently wait a little longer until it is ready!

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A few questions we recently asked Marc Plouzeau


At the start of the new campaign for the 2016 vintage, we asked a couple of quick questions to Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker at Château de la Bonnelière, about his history, the 2015 vintage and his projects for 2016...
Winemaker in Chinon, Loire Valley, France

How long have you been a winemaker ?

I took over the running of the family winery in 1999, and immediately started on the path to organic conversion. I’ve been managing it alone since 2003, my first year of making the wines myself.

 

What is your best memory in the vineyard or cellar ?

It has to be 2003. My first proper vintage!

It was a very unusual year and I had very little experience in the cellar. I just had to roll up my sleeves and make the wine how I felt it should be done and not take too much notice of external opinions.

I presented my wine to all of the main wine competitions to try and get myself known, and then to my great surprise:

Gold medal in Chinon

Gold medal in Angers

Silver medal in Paris

Gold medal in Macon!

For the 2015 vintage, what is at present your favourite wine and why ?

It’s still too soon to tell, but I think that the Chapelle 2015 wine will be really successful. It’s produced from a lovely vineyard plot which shows its true colours in the great vintage years.

 

What are your projects for 2016?

We launched two new prestige wines in 2014 and 2015 which will soon be put on sale:

- Chinon Vindoux l'Intégrale

- Chinon Clos des Roches St Paul

We will also launch a new pure, fresh and simple range of wines for 2016:

- Le Croquant

- Le Bouquet

- La Fine'S'

This is the year that we will complete the whole range of our wines to best express the diversity of our different vineyards.

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Learning to prune vines in the Loire Valley


A spring sun came out in force to welcome our first participants for the Discovery Experience Day of the 2016 vintage at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley. A small, but very motivated group set about a vigorous morning’s work in the vineyard after a quick coffee and introduction to the winery and winemaker, Marc Plouzeau.

Marc explained the history of the Chinon wine region, of which we have very precise information thanks to Rabelais’ hero, Gargantua, and he then told us about his own history at the winery which started in 1999 when he took over the running of the estate from his father.

Today, Marc manages some 34 hectares of vines, all of which are located on the left bank of the River Vienne, with its own particular micro-climate. The majority of his vineyards are planted with cabernet franc, the king of the Chinon grape varietals, but he also has some chenin blanc, enabling the winery to produce Chinon white wines.

Rent a vine, Loire Valley, France

After wrapping up, our apprentice winemakers started off by meeting their adopted vines. It was the occasion to participate in the “My Vine” photo competition for the most original photo of their vines. One of last year’s winners came from Château de la Bonnelière and given the creativity of those present, the winery could also produce a winner for 2016!

It was then high time to get down to the serious business of the morning. Marc taught us all about the intricacies of pruning using the Guyot method. You have to not only choose which branch to leave to produce this year’s harvest, but you also have to prepare for next year by leaving a spur.

Vineyard experience, Chinon, France

Pruning is a difficult task to understand at first, but with a little practice, the techniques were quickly assimilated and some of the group seemed to have found a new vocation! Others preferred to pull the cut branches from the vines and round them up in the middle of the rows. By the end of the morning we had a very efficient production line in place!

Adopt a vine france, Loire Valley

We then returned to the warmth of the château for an aperitif and wholesome meal prepared by Mme Plouzeau who, as usual, had pulled out all of the stops to welcome us. We also tasted a wide range of the wines during the meal.

Wine experience gifts, Chinon, France

In the afternoon, we visited the tool shed, which enabled us to get a much better understanding of the different work carried out in the vineyard during the different seasons between two harvests.

Unique wine gifts, Loire Valley, France

All in all, it was a very enjoyable and fun day. Thanks to all of those who came to share it with us, and of course to our winemaker Marc for sharing his passion for his work with us.

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Pruning the vines in a Burgundy vineyard


Last Sunday, we welcomed some Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers to Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay for a Discovery Experience Day, dedicated to learning more about the work in the vineyard.
Vineyard experience, France, Burgundy

Following the introductions to the day, Jean-François, the owner and winemaker at Domaine Chapelle, took the lead, presenting the winery and its place amongst the Burgundy vineyards. We then all got booted up to immerse ourselves in the vineyard! We formed two groups, the first under the guidance of Simon, Jean-François’ son, started by learning how to prune the vines using the cordon de royat method.

Adopt a vine, Burgundy, France

The second group started with Jean-François, learning how to fold the branch left from pruning using the guyot method, and attach it to the training wire. Jean-François also started to talk about the intricacies of working organically in the vineyard.

Original wine gift, France, Burgundy

We had a great moment in the vineyard. Everyone got stuck in and we all succeeded in becoming certified pruners!

The warmth of the winery beckoned, as did the time for a typical Burgundy aperitif. Jean-François served a Santenay white wine that went down very well, accompanied by some gougères, the traditional cheese shoe pastry appetiser. During the course of the meal, including a hearty beef bourguignon, we tasted three different wines, a Burgundy red, a Santenay “Clos des Cornières”, and a Santenay “Beaurepaire” Premier Cru.

At 14:30, we returned to the vineyard to introduce ourselves to our adopted vines. After a few quick photos, we climbed the track to the Beaurepaire vineyard, which was to be our next centre of attention.

Rent a vine, Burgundy, France

After a nice little stroll, punctuated by Jean-François’ commentary on the different soils and ways of working to till and weed them, we arrived in front of this little vine.

Wine lover gift, France, Burgundy

We learnt all about the work necessary to get the vine to this stage, and of the consequences replanting a vineyard has on the production. The vines are green harvested for the first two years, so that the plant focuses on its structure and root development. The first harvest is not until the 3rd year, but the wine it produces will be demoted to a lower class appellation. It’s only after about 10 years that this young vine will start to express the potential of the terroir. It’s a reminder that a winemaker has to have vision to lay down the groundwork for the future generation and so maintain the quality of the estate.

Personalised wine gift, Burgundy, France

Back at the winery, Jean-François took us on a quick tour of the cellar and fermentation hall. We could see the different marks that each generation had made in the fermentation hall. Wooden casks introduced by the grandfather, concrete vats during Jean-François’ father’s time, and a host of new stainless steel vats designed to work with gravity that Jean-François had introduced in a quest to further improve the quality of his wines.

At the end of this great day, we had learnt much about the work of the winemaker and the care that must be taken in the vineyard to nurture the vines. Many thanks to all who participated

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What to get the person that has everything ?

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

From € 159

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