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Tagged articles : Biodynamic

Winemaker profile. Isabelle and Arnaud Guichard at Domaine de la Guicharde


Continuing the series of our Gourmet Odyssey partner winemaker profiles, we recently asked a few questions to Isabelle and Arnaud Guichard, who run the Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley village of Mondragon.  It’s a biodynamic winery surrounded by wooded hills and bushland, where they make wine with passion and care.

Adopt-a-vine experience in France, Cotes du Rhone

For how long have you been winemakers and why did you create the winery?

Whilst looking for a few hectares of vines to set ourselves up with, we stumbled across the Guicharde, hidden away in the heart of the Massif d’Uchaux in the Haut Vaucluse region of the Rhone Valley.

The property was for sale and our surname is Guichard.  It just seemed the right place to put down our city dweller bags and settle in this Provençal villa, surrounded by vines and woods.  And so the adventure began in 1988.

The first harvest was fun. Complete philistines that we were, we had everything to learn. We didn’t yet know where we were headed or what type of wine we wanted to make, but we knew that we had made the right choice. Our relationship with the terroir and the vines slowly developed over the days, the seasons, and the years.

This slow journey led us naturally to turn towards organic winemaking.

 

What is your best memory at the winery?

The first steps of the winery towards becoming biodynamic.  Thanks to a wonderful encounter with a delightful man, we started our biodynamic conversion in the autumn of 2010.

Virtuous and caring, this marvellous approach to farming re-enchanted our daily life and our vines.

 

For the 2016 vintage, that you are in the process of ageing, what is your favourite wine and its short story?

Terroir du Miocène. The newcomer amongst the wines at Domaine de la Guicharde, the Terroir du Miocène was born the previous year with the 2015 vintage. A few young grenache and syrah vines that thrive in the white limestone marl from the beginning of the Miocène epoch.

From the nursery to the vineyard, the vines have only ever known what it’s like to be cared for biodynamically. The vines have reached the age of reason, and even if they are still young, the potential of this wine is already evident, because the quality of the terroir can already be discerned in the wine.

 

What are your challenges, wishes or projects in the coming months?

Biodynamics has made our wines become more refined. They are less sun-drenched and exuberant, and more elegant. The aromatic palette has become more developed. In the vineyard, the soil is softer, the vine branches flourish and they have become a nice golden mahogany colour. We would like to learn more and further develop our biodynamic approach to wine-making.

We would also like to create new wines. It’s always fun to try new things at harvest time. In 2010, we made a very exclusive wine called Petites Mains. Using grenache grapes from some old vines that had been carefully picked, placed in small crates, sorted grape by grape and then lightly crushed, we aged the wine in some large 600 litre demi-muid barrels for a few months before bottling. It was a successful test. We used the same technique again in 2012, only using syrah grapes this time.

 

One question that our clients often ask. What do winemakers like to do when they have a little time to themselves?!

When nature allows us and the vines take a breather, we take a few days rest to climb mountains and marvel at the snow-capped peaks.  Arnaud is a great lover of downhill skiing and walking. Isabelle prefers taking a small rucksack and walking the paths that lead to Saint Jacques de Compostelle.

Wine and the love of nature are never far away. Arnaud is actively involved in the winemaker associations and Isabelle has written two books on the harvest and biodynamics. Recettes de vendangeurs (Harvesters recipes) was published in 2012 by the publisher, Rouergue, and Précis à l’usage de ceux qui pensent que Demeter n’est qu’une déesse grecque (A summary to be used by those who think that Demeter is just a Greek Goddess) has just been published by L’Epure. Two different works about the daily life of being a winemaker.

 

Interviews of our orther partners

Marc Plouzeau from Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley

Eric, Etienne and Marie-Pierre Plumet from Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhône Valley

Jean-François Chapelle from Domaine Chapelle in Burgudy

Delphine and Ghislain d'Aboville from Domaine Allegria in Languedoc

Adrien David Beaulieu from Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion

 

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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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A recap of the 2017 wine vintage so far


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

The frost in the beginning of the year

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

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

Christmas gift box wine making experience

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

The summer drought

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

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

Oenology course in France gift idea

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

The 2017 harvest

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

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

Harvest Experience Day at the winery

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

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

In the cellar

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

Vinification experience in France gift idea

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

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End of year wine fairs to taste the latest wine vintages


This week sees the start of the end of year wine fairs, where our partner winemakers will be touring France to share their latest wines.  Put the dates in your diaries and come and taste their wonderful organic wines!

Domaine de la Guicharde – Côtes du Rhône

Wine tasting at French fairs, meet Domaine de la Guicharde

Domaine Chapelle – Burgundy

  • 27-29 October – 17ème Rencontres Oenologiques – Abbaye des Prémontés, Pont-Mousson (54).
  • 27-28 October – Foire aux Vins – La Cave, 11 Rue de Stang Bihan, Quimper (29).
  • 4 November – Biennale des Bourgognes – Loire sur Rhône (69), salle polyvalente.
  • 10-12 November – Salon des vins et produits de Terroir – Sevrier (74).
  • 15-17 November – Private wine tasting at the Hôtel Napoléon – Paris, 40 Avenue de Friedland. To receive an invitation, please contact us.
  • 24-26 November - Natura Bio – Salon des Vins Bio – Lille, Grand Palais. Click here for a free invitation.
Wine tasting at French fairs, meet Domaine Chapelle


Domaine Stentz-Buecher - Alsace

  • 18-19 November– Salon Ô l’Amour - Mulhouse, DMC.
  • 29 November – 4 December – Salon des Vignerons Indépendants - Paris, Porte de Versailles, Stand K34.
  • 1-16 December, Alsace Christmas market (marché de Noël Alsacien), Paris - Parvis de la Gare de l’Est (in front of the Gare de l’Est train station).
Wine tasting at French fairs, meet Domaine Stentz-Buecher


Château Coutet - Saint-Emilion

Wine tasting at French fairs, meet Château Coutet


Domaine la Cabotte – Côtes du Rhône

  • 2-3 December, Open day and wine tasting at Domaine la Cabotte : champagnes from Domaine Jean-Marie Massonnot, Burgundy wines from Domaine d'Ardhuy and Côtes-du-Rhône wines from Domaine la Cabotte – Domaine la Cabotte, lieu-dit Derboux, Mondragon. Free entrance.


Château de la Bonnelière – Loire Valley


Château Beau Rivage - Bordeaux


The Gourmet Odyssey partner wineries look forward to meeting and sharing their wines with you!

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The 2017 harvest in Chablis


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

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

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

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

Participate in the harvest and learn about the art of winemaking

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

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

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

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

Wine-making experience gift in Chablis

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

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

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

Wine tasting gift at the winery in Chablis

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

Rent-a-vine in a French biodynamic vineyard

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

Original wine gift for wine lovers

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

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Harvesting the grapes in the Rhone Valley


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

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

harvest wine box in the rhone valley france

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

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

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

meet the winemaker at a harvest experience day in france

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

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

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

oenology course in the rhone valley vineyard france

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

harvest experience wine box gift in france

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

winery tasting and vineyard visit in france

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

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

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

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

wine-making and grapes picking course in france

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

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

wine-making experience in a biodynamic vineyard in france

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

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Pruning the Chardonnay vines in Chablis


Much of a wine’s quality is directly linked to the effort and care taken in the vineyard to produce the best quality grapes.  For without good grapes, it is very difficult to make good wine.  We ventured to Chablis last weekend to learn about the important work in the vineyard during a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.

Adopt-a-vine gift for wine lovers in Chablis, France

We spent the morning in the vineyard under the expert of guidance of Arnaud, one of the most experienced members of the vineyard team.  Arnaud brought us up to speed on what they have been busy doing in the vineyard during the winter.

Most of the time since November has been taken up with pruning, which is probably the most important task of all in the vineyard, as it not only helps determine the potential yield for the coming year’s harvest, but also lays the foundation for the following year.  Arnaud had kept back a small plot of vines for us to have a go at pruning ourselves.  He explained and showed us how to select the branch that will bear this year’s grapes, and how to choose the two spurs that will be used in the future.

Vineyard experience gift in organic Chablis vineyard

Listening to Arnaud, it all sounded very easy, so secateurs in hand, we set about having a go ourselves.  But wait a minute, the vine in front of us resembled nothing like the ones that Arnaud had used to demonstrate on!  We were to soon learn that each vine seems to be an exception to the rule!  Arnaud flitted between us to help us or to confirm our thinking, and little by little, we became more confident in our choices.  It’s much more complicated than you would imagine. Having a go yourself is the only way to really understand, and also to appreciate the mammouth task that the winemakers face when you look around the surrounding vineyards that spread as far as the eye can see.

Rent-a-vine birthday gift in a French vineyard

Arnaud then showed us how the branches are attached to the training wires to ensure that the growth will be spread evenly.  He answered our many questions, and we also spent quite a lot of time talking about the differences between conventional, organic and biodynamic methods.  The domaine is one of the largest organic and biodynamic wineries in Burgundy, and the plot of vines that we were working in is cultivated biodynamically.

On the way back to the winery, Arnaud showed us a some vines that had been pruned using the guyot double method, which leaves two branches instead of one in the guyot simple method that we had used.

Wine enthusiast gift.  Rent-a-vine in Chablis

We had earned our aperitif, and back at the winery Jean-Louis, had prepared a tasting of Petit Chablis, Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru to whet our appetite.  We continued the tasting over lunch of other organic wines from the winery, including Les Preuses Chablis Grand Cru.

Wine tasting experience gift at the winery in Chablis

After lunch we headed back into the vineyard to visit our adopted vines and to get in some training for Easter as we each hunted for our micro-plot of vines!

Adopt-a-vine in a French organic vineyard

We then learnt about the work that remains in the vineyard between now and the harvest.  There is still lots to do, and as we enter this crucial period now that the buds are starting to burst we hope that the frosts stay away.  The vines will grow rapidly now over the next couple of months.

The day finished with a quick tour of the upper fermentation hall to see where the wines are aged in oak casks.  We’ll learn more about what happens here during the Vinification Experience Days.

Wine-making experience present in Chablis, France

And so the day came to a close, and we left our vines in the care of the winery to be nurtured and managed as they grow and bear their fruit.  We look forward to coming back for the Harvest Experience Day!

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Attaching the vines to the training wires


We spent last Saturday at Domaine Chapelle in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay. We were there to learn about the winegrower’s work in the vineyard and to help attach the vines to the training wires.

The day started in the warmth of the winery where we listened to Simon, the son of the owner and who will one day succeed Jean-François, talk about the history of the family and introduce us to the classification system of Burgundy wines.

In the vineyard there has already been lots of work done to prune all of the vines, and with the arrival of spring, there is no let-up in the winegrower’s workload!  It’s time to get back out into the vineyard.

Adopt-a-vine experience in Burgundy, France

We make a quick stop to meet our adopted vines, and take a few photographs. We start to talk about organic winemaking, Domaine Chapelle having now been organically certified for several years. Simon explained the philosophy and principals applied in the vineyard. We also learnt of his desire to work biodynamically, and 5 hectares of the estate are already worked biodynamically to test the different method of working.

Vineyard tending stage in Buegudy as a gift

Simon brought us up to speed on the work carried out in the vineyard so far for the 2017 vintage, notably the different pruning methods used. For the most part, 5 to 7 eyes are left on each of the branches and 2 eyes on the short spur. The longer branch will produce the fruit for the coming year, and the shorter spur will prepare the vine for next year’s pruning.

Oenology course at an organic winery in France

Now that the pruning has finished, the next stage is to bend the branches and attach them to the training wires. This helps to better spread out the foliage and in the coming months will also mean that the grapes are better spaced, limiting the risk of mould developing.
We each had a go at this delicate operation. It’s quite stressful because the vines make a cracking sound when the branches are bent.

A perfect wine lovers gift with a vine adoption and tending box

The April showers started to fall a little harder, so we then headed back to the shelter of the cellar for a nice Burgundy aperitif!

We tasted the Santenay Saint Jean white wine, accompanied by the famous Gougères, a delicious Burgundy speciality. We then tasted three different red wines during the meal which included an excellent beef bourguignon.

Vineyard and winery visit in Santenay, Burgundy

The sun was out again after lunch, so we headed back out into the vineyard to visit the Beaurepaire Premier Cru vineyard which had been replanted two years ago.  It enabled us to better understand how vines are selected and nurtured, and the work and time that it takes before the first full harvest can be reaped.  From our vantage pot, we admired the view of the surrounding vineyards and the village below.

We finished the day with a quick tour of the cellar where the wines are aged and stored. Our wine isn’t yet there, but we’ll be back in a year’s time to see how it is getting on during one of the Vinification Experience Days. But before then, we also have the Harvest Experience Days to pick the grapes!

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Pruning the vines in the Rhone Valley


The first Discovery Experience Days for the 2017 vintage got underway recently at Domaine la Cabotte.  Marie-Pierre and Eric, the winemakers, were waiting for us with a nice warm coffee, and we admired the view over the vines and Massif d’Uchaux terroir as we waited for everyone to arrive.

We were at the winery to learn about the work of the winemaker in the vineyard to grow and nurture the best possible grapes come harvest time.  And as we were to learn, there’s a lot of work involved between now and the harvest!

Eric explains how to prune the vines

Eric and Marie-Pierre explained their philosophy of working the soil and the wines.  Why do you need to prune?  Why at this time of year?  Having been shown how to prune, we each had a go for ourselves under the guidance of Eric & Marie-Pierre.

The participants have a go at pruning under the guidance of Marie-Pierre

At the end of the morning, we visited the plot of Grenache where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located, and took some photos of the plants that will hopefully give us the fruit to make an excellent wine this year.

We then enjoyed a home-made lunch prepared by Marie-Pierre of endive salad, provençal stew, and raspberry tiramisu, paired with the Garance, Gabriel and Colline Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.

Enjoying lunch in the caveau overlooking the vineyard

After lunch we returned to the vineyard to finish the pruning and to perfect our cutting.  It’s not always easy to choose which branches to keep and which to cut!

Pruning is not as easy as it looks

In the chai, we talked about how biodynamics impacts the work and the environment at the winery.   We learnt about how it helps to improve the biodiversity in the vineyard, and how prevalent it is in the Massif d’Uchaux appellation, respecting the soil and nature’s rhythm.

And so the day drew to a close, a day full of information and the clip clip of the secateurs.  We’ll soon be able to see if our pruning bears any fruit as Eric and Marie-Pierre update us on how the buds develop.  Many thanks to our hosts for welcoming us and for being as authentic as ever.

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Wine-making and blending experience day in the Rhone Valley


Last Saturday, we were welcomed by Marie-Pierre and Eric Plumet at Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhone Valley to learn more about the vinification process of the 2016 vintage.  For some of the participants it was their third wine experience day at the winery, having already participated in pruning the vines and harvesting the grapes last year.

Wine-making experience gift at the winery in France beside the wine-maker

The programme of the day was to talk about how the wine progresses through the fermentation and ageing stages once the harvested grapes arrive in the chai, and for this, we were in the expert hands of Eric.

Original wine enthusiast gift to learn about wine-making

At Domaine la Cabotte, whenever possible they blend the different grape varietals together to make each of their different wines.  Marie-Pierre and Eric prefer that the juice from the grenache, mourvèdre, carignan and cinsault mix and ferment together.  It’s not something that is easy to do, and sometimes they opt to vinify the grape varietals separately.  It’s all a question of the vintage.

They regularly taste the wines to determine the best moment to rack them and separate the wine from the solid matter of skin, pips, and stems that is deposited at the bottom of the vats.  The fermented juice becomes “vin de goutte”, and continues to be closely monitored to check that nothing untoward is happening.

Tasting the wines that are still ageing

Four to ten months after the harvest for the most part, the wine is then racked again, bottled, labelled and then enjoyed by wine lovers all over the world, including the adoptive parents, who have followed the birth of the vintage from first bud to the bottle.

We then returned to the caveau for a workshop that put our noses to the test.  We had to try to name a series of different aromas that can be found in wine.  Honey, lemon, pear… for the whites.  Raspberry, blackcurrant, liquorice… for the reds.

A couple of the participants were very good at this game, but all were agreed to step out into the sunshine to smell some real aromas from some real wine!

We tasted the Garance and Gabriel red wines and the Clairette white wine that had been aged in Italian amphorae.  A real treat.
To accompany the wines over lunch, we enjoyed a home-made salad, lamb tagine, and fruit cake.  And Jacqueline, the sommelier, recited ‘L’Ame du vin”, Beaudelaire’s tribute to the divine nectar.

Rent-a-vine gift in the rhone valley in a biodynamic vineyard

We spent the afternoon in the vineyard, amongst the plot of grenache vines that have been adopted by the Gourmet Odyssey clients.  Here, Eric recounted the geological history of the Massif d’Uchaux terroir, and explained the influence it has on the aroma and structure of the wine.

We finished the day in front of the chai, where we learnt a little more about the biodynamic philosophy, and the importance of respecting nature’s rhythm which help to create the balance in the wines at Domaine la Cabotte.

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The role the vine roots play


At the beginning of this year, and with particular reference to the cold spell that we have had over the past few weeks, the winemakers have been talking to us lots about the importance and the benefits of the vines resting during winter. During the cold winter months, the sap descends into the roots to help protect the vines. This article looks at the role of the vine roots, and their importance on the vegetative life cycle.

First of all, what are the roots?

A vine is made up of two parts.  The top part that is above ground is a graft of the vitis vinifera, and the part below ground that is a rootstock, often a hybrid between American and vitis vinifera species that are resistant to phylloxera, a disease that ravaged the European vineyards in the 1860s.

Since the phylloxera crisis, it is very rare that vines are planted “franc de pied”, that is without being grafted to a rootstock that is resistant to phylloxera.  The roots are the part of the rootstock that are under ground and bring the necessary nutrients to the plant.

What role do the roots play?

The vine roots have multiple functions.  Firstly, they serve to anchor the plant to the soil.  They also absorb water and the minerals necessary for the vines development.  And lastly, they also have a role to support the vegetative growth in spring.  After the harvest, photosynthesis continues, and carbohydrate reserves are produced and stored in the vine trunks and roots for winter and spring.  

Learnto protect the vine in a oenology course at the winery

  

How deep do the roots go?

A vine has three levels of roots that reach down 2 – 5 metres on average, and they can descend much further if needed.  The principal roots are those which already exist when the vine was planted.  Then the secondary roots form and from these the rootlets or very fine roots grow.  These rootlets are produced each year, and the rootlets which age then become secondary roots.

The depth to which the roots grow depends on many factors such as the type of rootstock used, the soil type which can be more or less compact and deep, the density of vines planted, and how the soil is worked by the winemaker.  And also the older a vine is, the deeper the roots generally penetrate.

Are the roots impacted by the weather?

We often hear that vines are robust plants, which generally speaking is true.  The winemaker must however help to protect them, particularly when they are young and their root system hasn’t yet developed deep enough to protect themselves.

To protect against the cold in the vineyards that are the most exposed, once the leaves have fallen from the vines, the winemaker will heap soil around the base of the vines to help the shallowest roots be better protected against the frost.  A short period of sustained cold temperatures during winter is one of the best protections against disease for the vines as many of the bacteria that reside in the soil are killed off.

Learn how to protect the vine from the cold with the winemaker

  

Vines don’t like too much humidity.  Some rain is beneficial during the growth of the vine and when the grapes are maturing, but it is best that they avoid being stood in water.  Too much stagnant water causes disease to form and spread through the soil.

Drought is less of a problem for vines, particularly if the roots are well developed and are deep enough to find water and the necessary nutrients.  Having said that, in certain southern vineyards, if it doesn’t rain enough in spring to replenish the underground water table, the winemakers can be obliged to irrigate.

And if drought strikes, it’s not the roots that suffer first, but the fruit, because the plant will always favour its overall survival over producing fruit.  Nature is well done, even if it sometimes disappoints the winemakers!

How do you protect the roots in organic or bio-dynamic wine-making?

As previously mentioned, vines are pretty resistant to the climate, but what they do fear is disease, particularly those that are spread throughout the soil.  Two of the most common are root rot, a parasitic disease, and phylloxera, a sap sucking insect that can cut off the flow of nutrients and water to the vine. These illnesses can cause the vine to die, and the symptoms only appear late, once the contamination has set in.

You therefore have to act preventively, particularly in organic or biodynamic winegrowing where you cannot easily treat the vines once the illness has struck.  To have as healthy a soil as possible, the surface is tilled regularly to aerate the soil and thus encourage the microbial life.

Learn how to grow and harvest a vine in a course at the winery

In biodynamics, the health of the plant is thought to pass directly from the soil, so in biodynamic winegrowing the general aim is to restore and enhance the organic life in the surrounding environment of the vines.  By improving the natural exchange between the soil and the roots, you can help to enhance the vitality and resistance of the plants.

The majority of winemakers who have changed to organic or biodynamic methods have noted the development of a better root structure, and better qualitative and quantitative results over time.

Winter is a time of rest for the vines.  Nothing happens in the part above ground where the sap no longer circulates.  The sap descends into the foot and roots to prepare for spring and to develop the reserves necessary for the future grapes.


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Congratualtions to the winners of the 2016 My Vine photo competition


Many thanks to all of the participants in the 2016 “My Vine” photo competition, and also thanks to all of those who liked, commented or shared the photos taken during the Gourmet Odyssey Experience Days at our partner vineyards.
Voting closed at 17:00 yesterday and we have two winners.  The first winner was chosen by the Gourmet Odyssey jury, and the second winner was for the photo that received the most likes on our Facebook page.

The choice for the jury prize was long debated, and it proved very difficult to single out just one photo from all of the finalists!

Congratulations go to Maxime Baudry, who has been awarded the Gourmet Odyssey jury prize, and to Benoit Gaultier, the winner of the public vote on our Facebook page:

Adopt-vine experience in Burgundy, France

Wine gift box for Christmas, Birthday


Each winner will receive a magnum of wine from the winery where their adopted vines are located!

See you next year as the 2017 competition gets under way in February with the first Vinification and Discovery Experience Days!

 

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Training the vines in the Rhone Valley


What a great day we had last Saturday.  A clear sky and the last wisps of the Mistral to bring a little freshness to help us in our work in the vineyard.

The adoptive vine parents at Domaine la Cabotte arrived punctually, coming from near and far.  From the Var, the other end of the Vaucluse, Paris, Geneva and Brsitol.  And yes, after the Brexit vote, four brave British clients reported present to show their support for good French wine!

After a quick coffee and croissant to give us strength, we climbed to the top of the estate to help with the work in the vineyard at this time of year.  The vines are currently growing rapidly, and need help to support the weight of the grapes and leaves by means of a trellis.  Our job was to raise the training wires and ensure that the vines pointed up towards the sky by clipping them between the wires.

Biodylanic wine experience gift in the Rhone Valley, south of France

Eric Plumet, the winemaker explained how to do it, and then we spread out between the rows, pockets full of coloured clips.

In biodynamic wine-making, we don’t trim the tops of the vines.  The extremity of each branch is left alone because it is the apex that allows all of the force of the aerial environment to penetrate the sap and enter the grapes.  The leaves will stop growing on their own accord when the time is right for the vine to concentrate its energy exclusively on the fruit.

Once we had finished our mission, we went and had a look at the part of the vineyard where our adopted Grenache vines are to be found.

Rent-a-vine gift experience to learn about the art of winemaking

Here the vines are completely different, as the Grenache are pruned using the “gobelet” technique and so do not need the support of a training wire.  We each went on the hunt for our adopted vines, and with the height of the vines, we were soon out of sight of each other as we disappeared into the forest of vines.

We then headed to a plot of Syrah vines to observe the differences between the grape varietals, the leaves, how the grapes form, and the orientation of the plot.  And from here, we had a great all round view of the estate, surrounded by the woods of the Massif d’Uchaux.
By now, it was already lunchtime.  Marie-Pierre awaited our return in the shade with some welcome cold refreshment!

Wine tasting gift experience with the Cotes du Rhone winemakers

The Colline rosé, a delightfully fresh and tasty wine opened our taste buds for the lunch and tasting prepared by Marie-Pierre and Jacqueline.

Two poultry and dried fruit terrines prepared by the winemaker and some Greek “Cabotte” stuffed vine leaves prepared by Jacqueline, were accompanied by the Garance and Gabriel red wines.

We finished the meal with a nice glass of Châteauneuf du Pape which we enjoyed with some goats cheese made at a neighbouring farm, and a homemade red fruit clafoutis.

The warmth of the southern summer threatened our energy levels, so the winemakers quickly ushered us into the coolness of the chai.  We talked some more about the vines and the wine, and noticed that in June the majority of the vats are empty, but the bottles are now full!

In front of us were cases full of freshly picked horsetail, yarrow and oak bark.  Eric explained how they are used in the different biodynamic preparations, and we also discovered the cow horns and how they are used to transform cow dung into rich natural fertiliser.

The questions flew, and Eric tried to clearly explain the answers.  The time passed all too quickly, but hopefully we all learnt a little more about the passionate but complex world of wine-making and biodynamics.  And so it was time to say our goodbyes, a bottle or two under the arm to take away as a souvenir of the day.

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Conference – Threat to wine. The challenges of climatic change.


During the 12th Prix Régional du Livre Environnement, I listened a few weeks ago to a presentation in Lyon about the book "Menace sur le vin : les défis du changement climatique" (Threat to wine. The Challenges of climatic change), given by the authors Valéry Laramée de Tannenberg and Yves Leers. At this very moment in time, the wine growing regions of France are feeling the impact of climatic change, and its shaking the whole wine industry. The book attempts to shed some light on the socio-economic issues, and here is some of what I took away from their presentation.
Threat to wine.  The challenges of climatic change.

Never has the wine been so good and the situation so dire. The tone is set. For the two authors, both specialists in the fields of climate and the environment, the question is not whether climate change will happen, but how the French and global wine industry will deal with it.

The change is already happening, and the statistics and proof of climatic change abound. Since the temperatures in the vineyards have been recorded, the five years with the highest average temperature in the vineyards are 2000, 2005, 2010, 2014 and 2015. Worryingly recent. That supports the view that the climatic phenomena are accelerating, and the exceptional frosts a few weeks ago in the Loire and Burgundy will not stop the trend. The rainfall levels are completely disrupted and the temperature changes even more violent.

As Valéry Laramée de Tannenberg explained, the wine growing regions have encountered numerous climatic change events over the centuries, and that is notably why the culture of winemaking, born in Persia, has climbed further and further north to escape the mounting temperatures in the south. This was also enabled by the advancing Roman legions, known to be great wine lovers, as they expanded northwards. What is different today is the speed of the climatic change. During the COP 21, we talked about trying to stay below 2°C of temperature rise between now and 2100. If we continue as we are at the moment, we are already approaching a rise of 1.5°C.

And the impact for winemaking is already being felt. In the south of France, we're seeing wines touching 16°C in terms of alcoholic volume because of over ripeness. The heat is such that the grapes contain a sugar level that is too high. That is also posing problems for managing the harvest, which is starting earlier and earlier, and which sometimes calls for harvesting during the night to pick cooler grapes. It also has an impact on the vines themselves. In the Bordeaux region, researchers have shown that the merlot grape varietal has reached its optimum. Within the current conditions, it does very well, but a further increase in temperature will see yields decrease. The vines are also seeing new attacks from parasites and fungi which the heat encourages. The wine regions are continuing their advance north, and we are seeing a growth in the number of vineyards in England for example.

The wine growing regions are suffering and it's all of the industry that needs to adapt. Even if some of the changes haven't always been anticipated, there are currently a few paths to explore. The first attempts have been made to try and reduce the alcoholic volume in wine. Tests have been carried out to prune the vines differently and to leave more leaves on the vines to protect the grapes from the sun. Other tests have seen the orientation in which the vines are planted rotate or by planting vines at a higher altitude. In some of the wine growing regions outside of France, where it's authorised, the wine can be diluted with water or filtered when pressed to remove some of the sugar.

But the most impactful research for the long term will be that which is undertaken on the selection and diversity of the grape varietals. In the Bordeaux region for example, they are testing 50 or so new grape varietals which are not currently authorised in the Bordeaux AOC range of wines. Another promising avenue is the regeneration of the soil to develop the micro-bacterial activity as is already the practice with biodynamic winemaking. And another area of research is looking at genetics to create hybrid plants that mature later and are more resistant so as not to need phytosanitary treatments.

To conclude, not is all yet lost if we accelerate the change in cultural practices by using the advances in agro-ecology, organic and biodynamic farming techniques. To learn more about these proposed solutions, you can read more in the book « Menace sur le vin : les défis du changement climatique » (French language only for the moment).

The question that lingers as I leave the conference is the following. The winemakers will encounter some big challenges in the years ahead, but what can we, as consumers and lovers of wine, do? One solution that quickly comes to mind is to be more interested to better understand and better choose our bottles, favouring wines that are produced in an environmentally responsible way. And to talk with those close to us about our choices, so they talk to those close to them, and so that a tiny ripple becomes a wave big enough to force change upon the rest of the wine industry!

Marie Koch

 

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Organic, biodynamic and natural wines


With all of Gourmet Odyssey's partner winemakers being organically certified, and some being also biodynamic, we're used to talking about what this entails during the wine experience days, and how the practices in the vineyard and cellar differ. But with the multitude of labels, and the plethora of information available, it's sometimes easy to get lost!

Wine lovers are becoming more and more demanding when it comes to the environmental impact of making wine on the vineyards and surrounding land, and in knowing what has been added to the wine before it reaches their glass. And so a number of labels and charters have been developed and applied to the world of wine, the most common of which are organic, biodynamic and natural wines.

Learning how to make an organic wine

 

The main differences

In this article we're going to set out the main characteristics of each practice, whether in the vineyard or cellar, but we it would make for far too long an article to be completely exhaustive. To dig a bit deeper, please take a look at some of our other articles on organic winemaking or biodynamic winemaking.

Conventional winemaking practices are currently being questioned because there is no longer the same importance put on forever increasing yields and the development of chemical products to enable it to happen. The use of synthetic substances to protect the vines from disease and produce more grapes per vine has seen opposition in the form of sustainable or integrated winemaking.

Whilst not organic, sustainable winemaking attempts to limit the deterioration of the soil and to better respect the environment by restricting the chemical treatments to the bare minimum, as the label for sustainable winemaking, Terra Vitis hopes to promote.

Integrated winemaking is a blend of sustainable and organic practices that also try to keep the use of chemical products to a bare minimum. The Tyflo label is used to signal this approach.

The Tyflo label for integrated winemaking

 

Organic winemaking is founded upon the suppression of chemical products that penetrate the vines, protecting them from within. As such, all chemical pesticides, fungicides, fertilisers and weed killers are banned. To receive the organic label, within the EU it's the green leaf logo made up of small stars, it takes three years to convert and receive the certification. In France, certification is controlled by independent organisations such as Ecocert or Qualité France. (See a complete list of organic certification bodies).

In organic winemaking, the winemaker uses natural products such as plants, copper or sulphur. These are all contact products and protect the vine from the outside. This is all well and good during dry weather, but has the disadvantage of being washed away when it rains, meaning that the vines need to be treated more often in wetter climates. Organic farming techniques have the advantage though of improving the quality and microbial life of the soil, and promoting a more natural environment in which insects and plants co-exist and compete.

The EU's label for organic winemaking

 

But it's not just in the vineyard that the difference can be found. Since 2012 making wine organically also means regulating what happens in the cellar, such as reducing the level of sulphites, using indigenous or organic yeast cells, and using organic sugar if chaptalising wines. That is why for vintages prior to 2012, a phrase such as "wine produced using organically certified vines" could be found on the wine lables, and it is only since 2012 in France that the words "Organic Wine" could be printed on the labels, once the whole of the production chain was controlled and certified.

Biodynamic winemaking is all about looking at the vines and wine in the context of their surrounding environment. In the vineyard, an equilibrium is sought between the plant and the soil based on the lunar calendar. It is sometimes compared to homeopathy and the treatments are created using plants, silex and animal matter.

It should also be noted that the levels of copper and sulphur used are considerably lower than with organic winemaking. To become biodynamically certified, the winery needs to first certify the vineyards concerned and wine-making process used as being organic, and then it needs to conform to the charter of a biodynamic organisation such as Demeter or Biodyvin.

Demeter's label for biodynamic winemaking

 

Natural wines have gained momentum over the past few years, and this term is used to describe wines that have been made from grapes having had the least intervention possible and where the juice has had nothing added to it. The idea is to let nature do virtually all the work and for the winemaker to act just as a facilitator. For example the grapes are harvested by hand, no yeast cells are added to start the fermentation, and no products are added to the wine to help stabilise and preserve it.

There isn't currently any official label or certification process for natural wines. Some organisations and associations who promote natural wines, recommend organic certification, but it's not an obligation, and none of their charters is bound by law.

 

How to recognise the labels?

So with the exception of natural wines, different labels exist to help the consumers of French wine to know whether a wine is certified as being organic, biodynamic, or sustainable.

But when looking for labels, you have to bear in mind that they only identify those winemakers that have taken the route to be certified. Many winemakers use organic, integrated or sustainable approaches without necessarily going through the certification process due to a lack of time, for financial reasons, or to be free from added bureaucracy and controls. Official certification however remains the best proof though that the winemaker has indeed respected the charter.

The important thing is to understand the approach used by the winemakers and to discuss this with them if possible when you taste their wines. Your beliefs and convictions will also be important when choosing a bottle, but of course the principal criteria when choosing which particular wine should always remain its taste. As with conventional wines, there will be wines that you like and don't like. Any label, whether it be organic, biodynamic or sustainable, isn't a guarantee of its perceived quality. The final step is to put faith in your senses to make the best pick!

 

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

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