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Tagged articles : Harvest

A great gift for a wine lover to get involved in the grape harvest in the Cotes du Rhone


A look back to the Harvest Experience Day at Château Cohola in the Rhone Valley on Saturday 17th September.  Joined by our apprentice winemakers, we helped Jérôme and Chéli, the wine-making couple at Château Cohola with the harvest.  The aim of this hands-on wine experience day is to accompany the winemakers throughout the day and follow the grapes from the vines until they arrive in the vat.  It’s a fun way for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience participants to understand the work of the winemaker during the busy harvest period.
Harvest day with gourmet odyssey
We started the morning with a coffee and brioche at Château Cohola, marvelling at the superb view down over the vines and the Rhone Valley.  Mark, Gourmet Odyssey’s founder, explained the programme for the day, and then Jérôme and Cheli introduced us to their winery, the winegrowing region of the Côtes du Rhône and Sablet, and talked a little about the organic methods they use and other more unusual techniques, such as playing music twice a day to the vines to help them resist disease.  A surprising method, but one that they believe has made a differenc over the last 4 years.
 
Wine lover gift in cotes du rhone
Before getting down to harvesting, we made our way to one of the lower terraces to meet our adopt-a-vines.  It was a fun moment, and we each took some photos with our adopted vines.
 
Wine experience day with gourlet odyssey
We then followed the winemakers to a plot of vines just a little higher up the hill, and the real work was about to get underway.  We each took possession of our harvesting tools of a bucket and pair of secateurs.  Before starting, Cheli and Jérome showed us how to cut the bunches of grapes without injuring ourselves or our partner.
 
adopt a vine in cote du rhone
We then paired up, and spread out among the rows, with one pair of harvesters at each end of the row, who would eventually meet up somewhere in the middle.  The buckets filled quickly, and we then emptied them into crates positioned every two metres along the row.
We rapidly perfected the cutting action, and the crates were soon full.
 
discover how to harvest with gourmet odyssey
Jérôme then passed down the central row, pulling a trailer behind his quad.  A few volunteers from our group, helped load the crates onto the trailer.  It was an energetic task as the crates were fairly heavy, but the team was very efficient. We then cleaned our hands and drank some cold water to refresh ourselves whilst Jérôme and Cheli congratulated us on a job well done.
 
Harvesting of organic vines at chateau cohola
It was a busy morning and we had managed to harvest all of the grapes from the plot of Syrah that had been set aside for us.  To capture the moment, we took a photo to celebrate the end of the harvest.
 
Adopt your own vines with gourmet odyssey
We then went down into the village of Sablet, where Château Cohola’s cellar is located, taking our precious harvest with us.  Lunch was fast approaching, so Cheli served us a glass of the 2021 Château Cohola white wine, a well-earned aperitif after our morning’s work.
 
Organic wine tasting at chateau cohola
After we had finished our glass, we sat down to a delicious lunch prepared by a caterer from the village.  And of course, we also tasted some of the other organic wines from Château Cohola.  Jérôme served us the 2021 Château Cohola rosé to accompany the lovely country pâté starter.
We compared two very different red wines over the main course.  The 2021 Cuvée Fruit Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet, a red wine that is to be drunk slightly chilled, and then the 2018 Château Cohola Sans Soufre Ajouté Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet with no added sulphites.  Two distinct styles, but both of which paired well with the chicken and wild mushroom fricassee. A delight for our taste buds!
Jérôme then served us some of the honey that he produces, cutting the honeycomb into squares before us.  The honey was served with some local goat’s cheese and a glass of the 2018 Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet red wine.  We finished the meal with a slice of pear tart, accompanied by another glass of the wine that we had each preferred.  It was a great moment shared, during which time we asked lots of questions to Jérôme and Cheli.
 
harvest day wat chateau coholo in cotes du rhone
After this generous lunch, we returned to the fermentation hall to put our grapes into the vat.  Jérôme explained the first stage of separating the grapes from the stems and showed us the machine that we would use.
We emptied the crates of grapes into the de-stemming machine.  Once the grapes had been separated, the machine crushes them
slightly to help release some of the juice.
 
Wine experience day with gourmet odyssey
At Château Cohola, some dry ice is added to the grapes to stop the juice from oxidising and the quality diminishing.  It also enables the temperature of the harvested grapes to be lowered, which delays the start of the fermentation process and will help improve the aromatic characteristics of the wine.  The grapes are then put directly into a vat or barrel to start the fermentation process.
 
Rent your own organic vines in cotes du rhone
We helped Jérôme clean all the material used, and once again, it was a great team effort!  We then tasted some juice that had been fermenting for a few days and compared this to the juice from the grapes that we had just picked.  We could all taste the difference and saw how it only takes a few days before the sugar in the grapes starts to transform into alcohol as the fermentation process begins.
 
Gift idea for all wine lovers with gourmet odyssey
Jérôme then explained all the rest of the work in the cellar during the harvest period to track and manage the evolution of each vat and barrel.  He told us about the different techniques used to extract the tannins and colour from the grape skins, and showed us the pigeage method, whereby the cap of skin that rises to the top, is pushed down into the juice.
 
harvest day in cote du rhone vineyard with gourmet odyssey
This thoroughly enjoyable day then came to an end, we said our farewells, and left with some bottles to replenish our wine cellars at home!

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Harvesting organic grapes in the Loire Valley


Last Saturday, we harvested lots of beautiful grapes under a sunny blue sky at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley, in the expert company of our partner winemaker, Marc Plouzeau.  This hands-on day, organised by Gourmet Odyssey as part of the Wine Experience enables wine lovers to discover the work of the winemaker in the vineyard and cellar during the harvest.  We would quickly understand that it’s a very busy time for the winemaker!
Gift for wine lover in Loire Valley
2022 hasn’t been a simple year for the winemakers.  It looked as though it would be very early after rapid growth in spring, but finally the summer drought delayed the maturing of the vines and reduced the quantity of grapes which didn’t grow so big due to the lack of water.  But they were of a very high quality with a good level of concentration.
Once we had finished breakfast, over which we discussed the nature of this vintage, we headed to Les Roches St Paul.  It’s a wonderful little hamlet, typical of the Touraine region, with its lovely houses made of the local limestone and slate. 
 
Harvest day with Gourmet Odyssey in loire Valley
Marc has several small vineyard plots here.  We learnt which grapes to harvest and how to pick them, then equipped with a bucket and pair of secateurs, we spread out among the rows.
 
Wine experience day at chateau Bonneliere
The grapes were indeed a little smaller than usual, but were very good!  Our harvesters turned out to also be very good tasters, and we appreciated the lovely sweet grapes.
We put the grapes we had picked into our bucket, and once full we emptied it into the trailer.  It’s one of three ways of harvesting at Château de la Bonnelière.  We can also empty our buckets into crates, each weighing around 20 kilos when full.  The other method is to use porters who walk down the rows collecting the grapes from each harvester, filling up the basket on their backs, to then take to the trailer.  The porter’s basket can weigh up to 80 kilos, making it a fairly physical job.
 
Participate to a harvest day with gourlet odyssey
We harvested two plots of vines in the morning, one of 23 ares and the other of 12 ares (although Marc had fooled us into believing that we had 2 hectares to pick!)
Our harvesters for the day were very productive, and in 2 hours we had completed our mission!  We enjoyed an aperitif in this wonderful setting among the vines of the Roches St Paul priory, tasting the Perles Sauvages natural sparkling wine that Marc makes using Chenin Blanc grapes.
We then returned to the winery for lunch and to build our strength back up for the next stage of putting the grapes into the vat.
Taste organic wine in Loire Valley
We ate lunch in front of the winery.  Château de la Bonnelière has three different buildings, each dedicated to different functions.  There is the fermentation hall where the grapes are received at harvest time and put into the various stainless steel and concrete vats, the hangar dedicated to bottling and labelling, and the hangar used for storing and dispatching the deliveries.  We’ll learn more about these areas during the Vinification Experience Days
After lunch, we saw the first stages of transforming the grapes into wine.  First, the grapes are separated from their stems using a de-stemming machine.
 
Harvest day in organic vines at chateau de la bonneliere
The grapes then fall into a trolley below, which is raised above one of the vats using a forklift truck.  Once stable, the bottom of the trolley is opened little by little, to let the grapes fall into the vat.  It’s a very good way of doing so, as it ensures that the grapes enter the vat in as good condition as possible.
 
Gift for winelover with Gourmet odyssey
Once this important step has been completed we can then start the analysis of the harvest, measuring the sugar level to give us the probable alcoholic degree, and the pH levels to determine the acidity.  This will help Marc make the right decisions during the following fermentation stages.  We asked lots of questions, and saw how much Marc enjoys talking about his favourite passion!
We finished this great day by paying a visit to our adopted vines.  They hadn’t yet been harvested because the Clos de la Bonnelière is a little behind the other plots, and so the grapes hadn’t yet reached optimum maturity.  We’re all hoping for a magnificent 2022 vintage!
Many thanks to Marc and all of the participants.  We hope to see you again soon!

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Participate in harvesting the grapes in a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru vineyard


We spent another great couple of Harvest Experience Days in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet.  We were warmly welcomed by Alain and Matthieu, the father and son wine-makers at this family run winery who taught us how to harvest the grapes as we followed their journey during the course of the day from the vines and into the vats.  As we were to learn, there is much more to harvesting than just picking grapes!

Gift for wine lover with Gourmet Odyssey

After the introductions, we headed straight out into the vineyard, climbing the hillside to reach the famed Saint-Emilion limestone plateau, where the best plots are located, including the Peycocut vineyard, home to the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines.  We took a few minutes to each find our micro-plot of vines, take a few photos and admire the lovely scenery of sloping vineyards, châteaux and the church spire of Saint-Emilion.

Adopt a vine with Gourmet Odyssey in Bordeaux

We then made our way to the plot of vines to be harvested.  Here we were each given a basket and pair of secateurs and listened to the instructions of which grapes to pick, which ones to leave, and how to cut the bunches safely without cutting our fingers!

 

In pairs, we spread out among the rows, and started to harvest the grapes!  The grapes this year were of excellent quality, so our job was made much easier.  There was very little to sort, and virtually all of the grapes were for picking. 

 

Experience day gift in Saint Emilion

Once our baskets were full, we emptied them into larger crates which were then taken back to the beginning of the row.  It’s important not to squash the grapes at this stage, and the crates ensure that they don’t get crushed from the weight of the grapes above them.

 

Harvest day with Gourmet Odyssey in Bordeaux

Once we had filled all of the crates, we loaded them onto the trailer to be taken back to the winery and placed in the shade.  We followed behind and stopped in the garden in front of the chateau for a well earned glass of wine!

 

Adopt a Vine for a winelover
 
We then sat down to a delicious lunch of salade vigneronne, guinea fowl with a morille and foie gras sauce, and chocolate praline dessert, enjoying the 2019 Château Coutet and 2018 Les Demoiselles Saint-Emilion Grand Cru wines at the same time . 

 

In the afternoon, our mission was to put our harvested grapes into a vat.  First we had to separate the grape berries from the stems.  This is normally done by a de-stemming machine, but at Château Coutet, the grapes from the best plots are done by hand, including the ones that we had picked.  In fours, we gathered around some tables and removed each of the grapes by hand, placing them in a separate basket, and throwing the stems away in a bin.  The stems will then be spread in the vineyards to return some nutrients to the soil.  It also gave us the opportunity to remove any dried-up grapes or leaves that might have inadvertently made their way into the baskets.

 

organic harvest experience with gourmet Odyssey

The full baskets of grape berries were then emptied into a large bucket, and we then lightly crushed them using a wooden post to break the skins and release some of the juice.  Theses grapes were then emptied into a vat, where they will begin the fermentation process in a couple of days time once the yeast cells naturally present on the grape skins come to life and start to transform the sugar into alcohol.

 

Wine experience gift in Saint Emilion

Alain and Matthieu showed us the de-stemming machine and sorting table used for the majority of the grapes at the winery, explaining how they work and how the grapes are then pumped into one of the vats.
We then learnt about the work during the fermentation and maceration phases to monitor the transformation of sugar into alcohol, and to extract the colour and tannins from the grape skins.  At Château Coutet the extraction is done mainly by drawing the juice from the bottom of the vat and pumping it back into the top to filter down through the cap of skin and pips that has been pushed to the surface by the carbon dioxide released during fermentation.

 

Follow a winemaker during a day with Gourmet Odyssey

Alain and Matthieu will be kept busy over the next 3 to four weeks tracking and managing each of the vats until the fermentation has finished and the wine is ready to be transferred to the barrels.

 

We look forward to learning more about this work, and the rest of the wine-making process to age, blend, and prepare the wine for bottling during the Vinification Experience Days next year.

 

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Harvester for a day in the Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region



We spent two great Harvest Experience Days on the 3rd and 10th September at Château de Jonquières, a magnificent family-run winery in the Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region of Languedoc in the south of France.  We were there with some clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience who had come to get involved in harvesting the grapes and learn about how the grapes are turned into wine during the fermentation and maceration phases.

Charlotte and Clément, the young wine-making couple, are the 32nd generation of winemakers at the winery, welcomed us in the courtyard of the château over coffee.  Smiles beamed from each of their faces, which maybe hid a little bit of stress that this crucial period of harvesting in the wine-making year inevitably brings!

Equipped with buckets and secateurs, Charlotte explained how to harvest the grapes.

After a quick explanation of the winery’s history, the Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region, a recap of the 2022 vintage so far, and an overview of the day’s agenda, we were equipped with a bucket and pair of secateurs.  We then made our way through the vineyards to a nearby plot of Syrah vines.  It’s important to pick the grapes early in the morning to preserve their full potential.

As we walked to the vines, Clément followed by tractor, pulling a trailer into which we would delicately put our harvest.
We were taught how to pick the precious grapes without damaging them or harming ourselves!  Sometimes we had to remove some of the leaves in front of the bunches to be able to get to the grapes more easily.

Getting involved in picking the grapes

The harvest was generous and of great quality this year despite the very hot spring and summer.  The vines were able to adapt to the climate and responded well to the treatment and care of the winemakers throughout the year.  Some of our apprentice winemakers had learnt this first-hand during the Discovery Experience Days earlier in the year.
Once the buckets were full, we emptied them into the trailer.

We emptied our grapes into the trailer

 In didn’t take us long to realise that it’s a fairly difficult job.  The positions we find ourselves in to pick the grapes can be uncomfortable at times, some rows are more abundant than others, and some harvesters are quicker than others...  But the groups remained supportive of one another and we had lots of fun.  In just over two hours, we had harvested the plot and had become real harvesters!

We had a quick refreshment break until Charlotte informed us that Clément was already ready to put out harvest into the vat.

We didn’t have any time to lose, and so we brought our precious gaped back to the winery to put them into the vat, but we had one last little job to do before then.  We set about cleaning the buckets and secateurs with water so that they were nice and clean for the next day, and once again the team spirit shone through!

Cleaning the buckets

  Clément carefully positioned the crates of grapes in front of the chai to then put them into the de-stemming machine.

This is in some ways the first step in making wine, and involves separating the grapes from the stems and any leaves that may have inadvertently fallen into one of the buckets.  This avoids the wine from developing a bitter taste.

Once the grapes are freed from their stems, they are put into a stainless steel vat to start the fermentation process.  
Charlotte then explained the differences in the process for white, red and rosé wines.  For example, the red wines are kept in contact with the skins during the fermentation and maceration phase which lasts around 20 days, whereas the white grapes are immediately pressed before the fermentation phase starts to separate them from their skins.   

Charlotte explains the work in the chai during the harvest.

 

 We tasted some of the grape musts that had been fermenting for 10 days, and Charlotte suggested that we put our ears to the vats to listen to the effervescence of the fermentation.

It was then time for lunch, and so we made our way back into the shade of the courtyard to taste 5 of the winery’s organic wines over lunch which had been prepared by a local caterer.  We took the opportunity to ask the winemakers lots of questions about a wide range of topics such as their way of life, their philosophy of being organic, and the differences between the wine that we had tasted.

Our adopted organic vines

  After lunch, we went to visit our adopted vines.  After a short walk through the village of Jonquières, we arrived at the vineyard where our vines are located, and spent a few minutes metting our vines, and taking some photos of them.

We then returned to the chateau to bring the day to a conclusion, and collect a few bottles of wine to take home with us and share with friends and family.

We look forward to welcoming you back to the winery next year for one of the Vinification Experience Days!

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Harvest Experience Day in Alsace


We sent a most enjoyable time last Saturday at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace, harvesting the grapes in the Steingrubler grand cru vineyard.  We then followed their journey back to the winery to learn about the work in the cellar during harvest time. As with all of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Days, the aim is to better appreciate the skill and effort that goes into making wine by actually getting involved in the work.

After the introduction to the day by Mark, the founder of Gourmet Odyssey, and Céline, the winemaker at Domaine Stentz-Buecher, we made our way to the Steingrubler grand cru vineyard with Céline, her father, Jean-Jacques, and a few of the winery’s harvest team.  Céline handed us each a pair of secateurs and a bucket, and explained which grapes to pick, and gave us some useful tips on how to avoid cutting our fingers!

Original wine lover gift to get involved in harvesting organic grapes in Alsace

In two or fours, we were then assigned a row, and started the harvest.  The grapes we were picking were of the Gewurztraminer variety, were in perfect condition, and tasted delicious!  There were very few bad grapes to sort, so our buckets quickly filled up.

Harvest Experience Day in Alsace to picj the organic grapes

When the buckets were full, we passed them under the rows until they reached the central row of the porter.  Here, we took it in turns for two people to carry a hop on their back, which we then filled up with the buckets of grapes.  It’s surprising how heavy grapes can be, and when full the hopper can weigh between 40 and 50 kg.

Harvest gift experience in France to pick grapes

The porters then carried their load to the nearby trailer, climbed a ladder, and tipped the grapes in.  You have to tip them over your shoulder, something which is a little difficult the first time, but our team of apprentice harvesters quickly got the hang of it!

Grape harvest gift experience in an organic vineyard

When we got to the top of the row, we then took another row and came back down.  The slope made it a little harder to walk up and down, but also made it easier to pick the grapes because we could position ourselves to have the grapes higher up.

Once we had finished harvesting the plot of vines, we gathered around the trailer to admire our work, wash the sticky grape juice from our hands, and have a drink.

50th birthday gift experience for wine lovers

We then headed to the Rosenberg vineyard to meet our adopted vines.  The grapes had been picked earlier that week because they had already reached optimum maturity.  We took a few minutes to take some pictures and admire the view across the vineyards and of the nearby châteaux.

Rent-a-vine in Alsace, France and follow the making of your own organic wine

Back at the winery, we met up with Stéphane, Céline’s brother and fellow wine-maker.  We helped our harvested grapes into the press by raking them out of the trailer and into the press below.

Original gift idea for wine enthusiasts.  Harvest the grapes from your adopted vines

Stéphane explained how the press works, and how the cellar had been designed to use the force of gravity, as opposed to pumps, to get the juice into the vats.  The first vat is a holding vat, where the juice will rest for between 24 and 48 hours during the “débourbage” process as the small solid particles of skin, pips, and stems that managed to get through the press, settle on the bottom of the vat and the juice becomes clearer.

We then headed back out into the courtyard where Céline had prepared a well earned wine tasting session for us, starting with a delicious naturally sparkling Crémant d’Alsace.  For each of the following wines, we had to say what aromas and tastes we could identify, and try to guess which of the Alsace grape varietals it was.  An easy task for Céline, but not quite so easy for the rest of us!

Wine tasting gift experience with the organic winemaker in Alsace

Céline first served us the 2019 Pinot Gris Rosenberg, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, followed by the 2018 Sylvaner Vielles Vignes, the 2017 Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru, and finishing with the 2019 Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru.

We then continued the tasting over the harvesters lunch with the 2019 Pinot Blanc, 2020 Pinot Noir, and 2019 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg to accompany the local charcuterie, cheeses and apple pie.

After lunch, we returned to the cellar, where Stéphane showed us the fermentation hall where the white wines start the process of transforming the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol.  Stéphane explained how he monitors the progress of these wines through the process, as we listened to the vats and casks gargle away.

Wine-making experience gift in Alsace, France

The Pinot Noir grapes don’t go into the press straight away.  Stéphane explained how the berries are separated from the stems, and are then put into vats.  The juice is clear in Pinot Noir grapes, the colour being found in the skin.  Therefore to make red wine, the juice needs to be kept in contact with the skins to be able to extract the colour.  Tannins are also found in the skin which adds body to the wine.  During the fermentation phase carbon dioxide is released which pushes the skin to the surface, forming a solid cap.  This cap needs to be broken and pushed down into the juice for the extraction of the colour and tannins to take place.  At Domaine Stentz-Buecher this is done using the pigeage method.

Original wine gift to discover the work in the cellar during the harvest period

Stéphane explained pigeage and showed us how to use the large plungers to break the solid cap of skin and pips.  We took it in turns to have a go, and realised that it is a very difficult job, and the cap is actually very hard to push down!  The job gets easier as the fermentation progresses, but it’s still something that has to be done once or twice a day for each vat!

Before we knew it, the day had come to an end.  We look forward to returning next year for the Vinification Experience Days, and learning about all of the work after the harvest to age the wines and prepare them for bottling.

Many thanks to all for making it such a great day.

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The 2022 Gourmet Odyssey harvest gets underway in Burgundy


We welcomed our apprentice wine-makers to Domaine Chapelle in the Burgundy village of Santenay for the Harvest Experience Days on the 27th, 28th, and 29th August.  2022 is a very early year due to the high temperatures of the last few months.  Our objective for the days was to pick the grapes, follow their journey into the vat, and to learn about all the work in the cellar during harvest time.  There’s more to harvesting than just picking grapes!

 

The Gourmet Odyssey apprentice wine-makers participate in the Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy

 

After an introduction to the day and the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, and of Domaine Chapelle’s history, we walked to the “Clos des Cornières” and “Les Crays” vineyards, where the adopted pinot noir and chardonnay vines are to be found.  

 

Meeting the adopted vines

 

We took a few minutes to say hello to our adopted vines, and take some photos for the “My Vine” photo competition.  A magnum of Santenay wine is up for grabs!

After this fun start, it was time to get down to the more serious business of harvesting, and so we gathered in the Clos des Cornières vineyard where the beautiful bunches of grapes from this exceptional vintage were waiting.

 

The top quality grapes waiting to be picked

 

Climate-wise, the last couple of years have been challenging, and so we were delighted that the 2022 vintage had produced such good quality grapes, and of a normal quantity!

Jean-François and Simon gave us each a pair of secateurs and explained how to pick the grapes, which ones to harvest and which to leave on the vine.  The ripe grapes are located at the bottom of the vine and, as we quickly noticed, the vines in Burgundy are very low to the ground!

In pairs, we each took a row and started the harvest.  First we removed the leaves around the grapes to see them better.  This makes it much easier to cut the bunches without taking our fingers with them!

 

Our harvesters in action

 

We put the cut grapes into crates, which is the best way to harvest pinot noir due to their delicate skin.  The crates avoid the grapes being squashed by the weight of other grapes above them, ensuring that they arrive in the cellar in the best possible condition. 

Harvesting is a physically demanding job as our backs and legs could testify!  But it’s also very rewarding and satisfying to see the rates full of delicious grapes!  And to arrive at the end of the row!

 

Our lovely grapes in the crates

 

Once the crates were full, we brought them back to the beginning of the row to be taken back to the winery in the van.

After the effort, our reward was a lovely glass of chilled 2020 Santenay Villages white wine which we enjoyed in the garden, accompanied by the famous  Burgundy gougères.

 

The 2020 Santenay Villages white wine aperitif

 

We then sat down to enjoy lunch.  Poached egg on a bed of mushrooms, veal risotto and potatoes, and a framboisier to finish.  The courses were accompanied by a Burgundy Aligoté, a 2019 Santenay Clos des Cornières, and a 2016 Santenay Les Gravières Premier Cru.  All delicious!

In the afternoon, we made our way to the sorting table to participate in the process involved in putting the grapes into the vat.

 

Sorting the grapes

 

We learnt how the work is organised around the sorting table and we got involved.  The quality was so good this year that we didn’t have a very stressful job!  We did however have to remove some of the grapes that had been scorched and had dried out due to the drought, but fortunately there weren’t very many.

We then went down into the fermentation hall, one floor below. The grapes that had been separated from their stalks by the de-stemming machine fall into a trolley using the power of gravity.  Once the trolley is full, it is pushed next to the vat to be filled, and the grapes poured into a vertical conveyor belt, known as the giraffe, which carries the grapes up into the vat without the need for a pump.

 

The grapes are carried into the vat using the giraffe

 

This method of putting the grapes into the vat treats the grapes very gently, keeping each individual berry as intact as possible to start the maceration phase before fermentation starts.

For three days, the harvested grapes are kept cold during the initial maceration stage, and then the temperature is warmed to allow the fermentation to begin.  This will last for approximately 10 days.  At the same time, the maceration continues and the tannins and colours are extracted by pigeage and pumping over.  The maceration phase lasts for around three weeks.

Then comes the time to separate the wine from the solid matter, and to put the wine in the oak barrels to start the ageing process which will last for around one year.  We’ll learn more about the rest of the work in the cellar after the harvest and up until bottling during the Vinification Experience Days in spring next year.

And so the day drew to a close and having collected some bottles of wine for the most part, we parted company, promising to come back soon to discover more of the Burgundy terroir in Santenay!

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Harvest Experience Days in the Loire Valley


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

 

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

 

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

 

Secateurs in hand, we participated in the harvest

 

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

 

We emptied the grapes into crates

 

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

 

Enjoying the aperitif before the harvesters lunch

 

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

 

Sorting the grapes

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Harvest Experience Day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


Last Saturday we were in Alsace for the Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  Our mission was to pick the pinot noir grapes located in the Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyard and learn about the work in the cellar during harvest time.

 

An original gift idea for wine lovers to get involved in harvesting the grapes

 

Domaine Stentz-Buecher is run by the brother and sister duo of Céline and Stéphane.  After a brief introduction to the day and the winery, we headed straight off out into to the vineyard, and climbed up to the Steingrubler vineyard, marvelling at the wonderful views on the way.  Céline instructed us how to pick the grapes, and how to choose which grapes to pick and which to leave behind.

We were then each given a pair of secateurs and a bucket and assigned in pairs to a row.  We started to pick the grapes, tentatively at first as we decided which grapes were worthy of putting into the buckets.  It’s been a complicated year for winemakers in Alsace, first because of the frost in spring that hit much of France’s wine-growing regions, and then due to the wet summer that saw mildew impact many of the vineyards.  These two phenomena have meant that the vines have produced far fewer grapes than normal, making the grapes we harvested all that more precious!

 

Adopt-a-vine and learn how to make wine in an award-winning organically certified winery in Alsace, France

 

Our buckets quickly filled up though, and we passed them under the rows to one of the waiting porters.  The grapes were then tipped into the basket on their back, and the empty buckets passed back for the next fill.

 

Great wine gift experience to get involved in the grape harvest

 

The porters then carried the grapes to the tractor and tipped them into the trailer.  It’s a physical job as the baskets quickly become heavy, and the Steingrubler vineyard is located on a fairly steep slope!

 

Learn how to harvest the grapes

 

Time flies by when you’re having fun, and before we knew it, we had arrived at the bottom of the vineyard and the end of the rows. 

We then headed to the Rosenberg vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  These had been harvested earlier in the week, because the grapes had reached optimum maturity and couldn’t wait any longer.  We spread out among the rows in search of the name plate designating where each of our micro-plot of vines started and took a few photos to immortalise the moment.

 

Rent-a-vine in an organic Alsace winery

 

We then followed the grapes back to the winery, where Stéphane was waiting for us to put the grapes into the vat.  We emptied the bunches of grapes into a de-stemming machine that separates the berries from the stalks.

 

Following the grapes on their journey into the cellar

 

The grapes then fall into a vat.  Stéphane explained how the fermentation process will transform the grapes into wine, and the work needed to extract the colour and tannins from the skins during the maceration process.

 

Harvest Experience Gift in Alsace

 

We then headed back into the courtyard for the wine tasting session that Céline had prepared to discover the breadth of the organic wines produced at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  After the Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine, we tasted the 2019 Pinot Gris Rosenberg, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, followed by the elegant 2016 Sylvaner Vielles Vignes, and the delicious 2018 Riesling Ortel.  Then came the intense 2018 Pinot Noir Old Oak, which is the wine made from the vines that we had picked.

 

Discovering the breadth of Alsace wines

 

Over lunch, we tasted the 2019 Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir Tradition wines, finishing with the aromatic 2018 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg.

Back down in the cool of the cellar, Stéphane then explained how the white grapes are pressed and left to clarify in the holding tanks for up to two days before being racked to separate the clear juice from the solid matter that has settled in the bottom of the vat.

 

Learn how grapes juice is fermented and tunred into wine

 

We finished the day in the room where the white wines ferment and age. Stéphane explained how he will closely monitor the wines through the fermentation stage as the sugar is transformed into alcohol.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Vinification Experience Days next year to learn about the rest of the wine-making process and to see how our wine is developing.

And so the day drew to a close.  Many thanks to Céline and Stéphane for a really enjoyable day.

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Participate in harvesting Saint-Emilion Grand Cru grapes


At the end of September we joined the winemakers at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Harvest Days.  The aim of these days is to get involved in picking the grapes and following their journey into the cellar to discover the work at the winery during the harvest period.  It’s a busy time for the winemakers and really exciting to be a part of!

 

A great gift idea for wine lovers.  Adopt aome organic vines and get involved in harvesting the grapes

 

Over coffee and croissants, we started to get to know Mathieu, Alain and Adrien, the winemakers at Château Coutet, and Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey wine expert.  The amazing family history at the winery started several hundred years ago in this beautiful wine-growing region on Bordeaux’s right bank.

We started the day by visiting the vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  They grow in the best area of the Saint-Emilion vineyards, up on the famous limestone plateau.  The vines are old, and produce some of the estate’s best grapes.  The view is marvellous, and we could see across to the bell tower of Saint-Emilion’s church, just a few hundred metres away, and down to the Dordogne valley below.  We each took a few minutes to visit our adopted vines.

 

Rent a vine in Bordeaux, harvest the grapes and follow the making of your own personnalised bottles of wine

 

We then got equipped to start the harvest.  The winemakers explained which grapes to pick and which to leave on the vines.  The good bunches are found where the vegetation starts to grow, close to the bottom training wire.  The bunches that grow higher up appeared later and are not at the same level of maturity, so it’s better to leave them as they would diminish the quality of the wine.

 

Learning how to harvest grapes

 

A pair of secateurs in one hand and a basket in the other, we were then ready to start harvesting the grapes.  We picked a plot of merlot grapes, one of the main grape varietals grown at the winery, located on the clay-limestone hillside.  We were two to a row, one on either side, but not exactly opposite each other to avoid cutting the fingers of our partner!

 

Grape harvest experience gift in France

 

Once our baskets were full, we emptied them into a crate that we then carried and put on the trailer behind the tractor.

 

Grape picking experience gift alongside the winemakers in Saint-Emilion

 

The grapes are low to the ground and at times are well hidden behind the leaves. You need to pay attention to not leave any behind or to cut your fingers!  Having harvested a few rows, we finished the morning by following the tractor back to the winery to clean the material and tidy it away.

The glass of Clairet wine served for the aperitif was very refreshing and awoke our taste buds for lunch and the tasting of the other wines produced at Château Coutet.  It’s an unusual wine, between a red and a rosé, which was at first made just for the private consumption of the family, but has proved to be very popular with the clients as well, and now has firmly established its place alongside the range of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru wines.

Once seated, we started lunch with a winemaker’s salad, accompanied by the 2019 Château Belles-Cimes, the winery’s second wine.  It’s made from the young vines which give a fruitier wine that can keep for around 10 years.

 

Enjoying lunch with organic wines from the winery

 

The stuffed guinea fowl with foie-gras and morille sauce paired delightfully with the complexity of the 2017 Château Coutet.  It’s a blend of the four grape varietals grown on the estate; Merlot, Bouchet, Pressac, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and of the three soil types. A real treat!

We finished lunch with the Demoiselle wine made from the oldest vines grown on the limestone plateau.  They are nurtured by hand and horses are used to till the soil.  It’s a very elegant wine that takes you back in time to how wines used to be made centuries ago.

The afternoon was devoted to the second stage of work during the harvest to sort the grapes and put them into the vats and barrels.  We manually sorted the grapes, as is done for the Demoiselle wine, separating the grapes from the stem by hand.

 

Selecting and de-stemming the grapes by hand

 

The day ended with a visit of the fermentation hall where the winemakers explained the work done during the maceration and fermentation stages to transform the grapes into wine.  We’ll pick up from here during the Vinification Experience Days next year, when we’ll get the chance to taste the wines during their ageing phase, and better understand the work of the winemaker in the cellar.

 

Learning about the work in the cellar at harvest time

 

Many thanks to the winemakers for their warm welcome, for taking the time to explain their work, and for sharing their passion for their profession.

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Adopt-a-Vine and participate in the grape harvest in Burgundy


We welcomed our apprentice winemakers to Domaine Chapelle in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay on the 18, 19 and 20th September for the Harvest Experience Days.  The aim of this fun gift for wine lovers is to discover the work of the winemaker, and the agenda for the day to roll up our sleeves, get involved in harvesting the grapes and follow their journey through the sorting table and into the fermentation vat.  We also learn about the work in the cellar during harvest time during the maceration and first fermentation stages.  The weather wasn’t always fair, but for the rain didn’t dampen our spirit!

Adopt organic vines in Burgundy and get involved in the garpes harvest

After an introduction to the day, Jean-François Chapelle spoke with passion about his profession, winery, and winemaking in Burgundy.  We then got kitted up for the harvest in the Clos des Cornières vineyard, a plot of vines in front of the chateau where the adopted vines of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience are located.

Jean-François explained how the work at harvest time is organised and the importance of selecting which grapes to pick to ensure only the good ones are picked.  2021 has been a particularly difficult year.  In April, a huge frost across the Burgundy winegrowing region meant significantly less yields in many areas.  Then the heavy and frequent rainfall meant that it as impossible to treat and protect all the remaining grapes in time.  Mildew and odium set in, further reducing the quantity of grapes, so it’s a very small harvest this year.

Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Chapelle with Jean-François


It was then time to start harvesting!  We had to be careful when choosing which grapes to cut and put into the crates, having to remove any berries that weren’t up to standard.

Harvest Experience gift in Burgundy


It’s a long and hard job, as we soon learnt.  Once we’d removed the imperfect grapes, sometimes there weren’t many remaining on the bunch!

A great gift for all wine lovers.  Adopt-a-vine in Burgundy and harvest the grapes

 

Once we had filled a crate, we brought it back to the beginning of the row, but with the small bunches, we managed to fill far fewer crates than normal!

A great gift idea for two.  Harvest graes from your own vines in Burgundy


After a couple of hours of harvesting, the aperitif served in the garden or cellar depending on the weather of the day, was very welcome! To start, the 2018 Santenay Village chosen for the white Wine Experience clients, accompanied by the delicious cheese gougères.

Wine tasting gift with the winemaker at the winery in Burgundy


We then sat down to a lovely lunch, prepared by a local caterer in Meursault, accompanied by three other wines, the 2019 Burgundy Chardonnay, the 2018 Santenay Clos des Cornières (the wine chosen for the red Wine Experience clients), and the 2016 Santenay Gravières Premier Cru.

Harvest Experience Day and lunch at the winery in Burgundy


After lunch, we headed to the cellar to put the grapes we had harvested in the morning into the vats.

The grape bunches are first emptied onto a vibrating table that removes any grapes that had been shrivelled up by the sun, or water droplets if the grapes have been picked when raining.  They then move along sorting table on a conveyor belt for a final sort to remove any unwanted grapes or leaves that might have made their way into the crates.  At the end of the sorting table, the bunches fall into a de-stemming machine where the grapes are separated from the stalks, and then fall into a trolley, a floor below in the vinification hall.

Sorting the harvested grapes


The trolley is then pushed to another conveyor belt, that climbs up and lets the grapes fall into the vat.  After a year’s work, it very satisfying to be able to at last start the wine production side of things!

Follow the grapes on their journey into the vats


The grapes that are in the vat will be left to slowly macerate at a low temperature to keep the aromatic potential of the wine.  The fermentation will take around 15 days, at the same time as the colour and tannins are extracted from the skins during the maceration phase. Each vat will have the cap or skin and pips pushed down into the juice twice a day to help the maceration, which will last for about three weeks.

Then the wine will be racked to obtain the free-run wine, and the remaining solid matter of skin and pips will be pressed to obtain the press wine.  Then the ageing phase will start that will go on for the next 12 to 18 months!

There’s lots of work to produce a quality wine, but the effort will be well worth it once the bottles are ready to be tasted!  We’ll learn more about the work in the cellar during the ageing and bottling processes during the Vinification Experience Days.

And so the day, full of great exchanges and rewarding work, drew to a close.  We hope to see you back at Domaine Chapelle soon, or at one of the other Gourmet Odyssey partner wineries!

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Harvest Experience Day in the Languedoc


Harvest season is once again upon us, and last weekend we headed to the Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region in the Languedoc for a Harvest Experience Day at Château de Jonquières.  The sun was shining and the grapes in perfect condition, so all was set for a great day.

 

Adopt-a-vine in the south of France and get involved in harvesting your grapes

 

After a quick introduction to the winery, region, and family history by Charlotte and Clément, the 32nd generation of winemakers at the winery, we made our way to the plot of Syrah vines that we were to harvest.  Charlotte explained which grapes to pick and how to pick them, and also showed us which grapes to leave behind so as to ensure that only the grapes that were fully ripe are used to make the wine.

 

A great present for wine lovers.  Get involved in the harvest of the grapes in the Languedoc

 

Clément then equipped us each with a bucket and pair of secateurs, and assigned us our rows.  We then started to pick the grapes, slowly at first as we checked that we had indeed understood Charlotte’s instructions.  But we soon got the hang of it, and the buckets started to quickly fill up.

 

Adopt-a-vine and pick grapes in the Terrasses du Larzac

 

The task was made that much easier thanks to the quality of grapes, which were in very good condition, and so needed very little sorting.  When in doubt whether any grapes were ripe enough, the best way to tell is to taste them, and we needed no encouragement to do so!  You can taste straight away whether the grapes are ripe, because they are deliciously sweet.  The unripe ones, even though they may at first look ripe, are too sharp.

 

Grape harvest experience gift for wine enthusiasts

 

Once we had filled our buckets we emptied them into some crates, which we then loaded onto the trailer behind the tractor.  We then took another crate and headed back to the rows to continue our harvest.

 

Organic harvest experience gift in the south of France

 

Having picked all the grapes in the plot of Syrah, we then followed their journey back to the chai.  We then emptied the crates into the de-stemming machine to separate the grapes from the stalks.

 

Participate in the grape harvest

 

The stalks are jettisoned from the machine and will be spread in the vineyards to return some nutrients to the soil.

 

The de-stemming machine in action

 

The grapes fall into the pump which transports them to the vat where they will start the transformation process into wine.

 

Grapes at harvest time

 

After the full morning’s programme, we made our way into the courtyard of the chateau, where Charlotte served us a lovely fresh glass of the 2020 Lansade white wine, a mineral wine that is a blend of 70% Chenin Blanc, and 30% Grenache Blanc.

 

Organic wine tasting experience gift in the south of France

 

We then sat down to a delicious lunch, prepared by a local caterer, starting with a starter of terrine de porc aveyronnais and taboulé, accompanied by the 2020 Lansade red, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.   We enjoyed the richer 2019 Baronnie red with the duck main course, the 2020 Baronnie white with the cheese platter, and finished with the 2020 White Label wine with the strawberry macaron dessert.

After lunch, we strolled through the village and vineyards to visit the plot where our adopted vines are located.  They were heavily laden with grapes, but they weren’t quite ripe enough for picking yet.  We each took a few minutes to locate our micro-plot of vines and take some souvenir photos!

 

Organic rent-a-vine gift and harvest experience

 

Harvesting isn’t just about picking grapes though!  Back in the chai, there is much to do, and that is where Clément spends most of his time during the harvest.  He explained the fermentation process and how he keeps the wine must in contact with the skins during the maceration process to extract the colour and tannins from the grape skin and pips.

 

The fermentation vats in the cellar

 

He showed us the mustimeter that he uses to analyse the sugar content of the juice that reduces during the fermentation process as the sugar is turned into alcohol.  He also explained the differences between making red, white, and rosé wines.

 

Analysing the grape juice at harvest time through the fermentation stage

 

We finished the day with a final tasting, first of the juice from the grapes we had picked that morning.  It was deliciously sweet and very enjoyable.  We then compared it to the juice from another vat of Syrah that had been picked earlier in the week and had already started to ferment, noting the difference in colour, smell and taste.

Many thanks to Charlotte and Clément for their warm hospitality, and to all of the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice wine-makers for their hard work and jovial humour throughout the day!  We’ll be back at Château de Jonquières next year for the Vinification Experience Days to discover the work that lies ahead to age, blend and bottle the wines.

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Apprentice harvester for a day in Saint-Emilion


The vines had a particularly warm and dry summer for the 2020 vintage in the southwest of France.  The grapes reached perfect maturity and so we had a harvest of top quality grapes.  We met up at Château Coutet with Mathieu, Adrien, and Alain, all members of the David-Beaulieu family who have been the owners of the winery in Saint-Emilion for 400 years.  After a coffee and croissant, we got the Harvest Experience Day underway.

Origiinal wine gift. Get involved in the harvest in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey wine expert, presented the programme of the day, and reminded us of the social distancing and protective measures put in place in light of the current epidemic.

We started the day by visiting our adopted vines which are located on the limestone plateau above Saint-Emilion, where the winery’s best plots are to be found, surrounded by the most prestigious of Saint Emilion’s Grand Cru Classé vineyards.

Adopt-a-vine gift at a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru winery

We each took some souvenir photographs of this magnificent setting, and some entered some pictures for the “My Vine” competition to reward the most original photo of their vines.

Walking through the vineyards gave us a good warm up before starting the harvest of the grapes.  After the safety reminder that we make better wine with grapes rather than finger tips, the sound of the secateurs snipping away resonated throughout the vineyard.

Harvest Experience Gift in Bordeaux

We put the bunches of grapes into a bucket which we then emptied into a crate which was carried to the awaiting tractor by some porters.  The grapes were in perfect condition, the first and most important indicator of a good potential vintage to come.

Wine picking experience gift in Bordeaux France

After our morning’s hard work, we returned to the lawn in front of the chateau for the aperitif, tasting the Clairet wine, which is either a very light red wine, or a strong rosé wine depending on your viewpoint.  During the vinification stage, the grape juice only remains in contact with the skins for a short time to extract less colour than for a red wine, giving the wine its light and fruity character.  It’s a very refreshing drink.

We then sat down to a delicious lunch prepared onsite by the caterer and accompanied by some other wines from Château Coutet.  The first wine was the 2017 Château Belles-Cimes made from the young vines which has a delicate tannic structure and paired perfectly with the winemaker’s salad.  We went up a grade with the 2017 Château Coutet Grand Cru, the winery’s signature wine.  Made using the grapes from the estate’s three different types of terroir and the four grape varietals, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is more powerful with a longer finish, making it a great match for the guinea-fowl farcie with morille and foie-gras sauce.

We discovered an exceptional Saint-Emilion wine with the 2017 Desmosielles, a limited edition wine made using the best vine plots that are worked by horse, without the intervention of the tractor and electricity.  It’s a real treat to taste this wine that has such depth and voluptuous soft tannins on the palate.  We finished the wonderful meal with a cheese platter and chocolate praline dessert.

In the afternoon we turned our attention to the work in the cellar to de-stem and sort the grapes.  We separate the grapes form the stalks and take away any grapes that aren’t ripe enough, which weren’t very many this year.

Sorting the grapes

We ended the day with a visit of the cellar to learn about the first stage of fermentation.  We’ll learn more about what happens next during the Vinification Experience Days.

Winery tour and experience day with the winemaker

Many thanks to the David-Beaulieu family for welcoming us so warmly during the harvest which is a particularly busy and stressful time for the winemakers.

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Getting invloved in the 2020 harvest in Alsace


A gorgeous sunny day welcomed us to Alsace for the Harvest Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher last week-end.  The harvest is early this year due to the warm and dry weather, and whilst we were all in lock-down, the vines were soaking up the sun and having a great time.  The vineyards around Wettolsheim received just the right amount of rainfall at the crucial moments, so the grapes were in perfect condition to be picked.  All they needed were a team of harvesters, so the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers were very welcome to give a helping hand!

Top wine lover gift to get involved in harvesting the grapes in Alsace

After the introductions we headed towards the Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyard, where the pinot noir grapes that we were to harvest were to be found.  Céline explained which grapes to pick and how to harvest them, then armed with a bucket and pair of secateurs we got down to the serious business of harvesting the grapes!

Harvest Experience gift in organic french vineyard


The Steingrubler vineyard is on quite a steep slope, so the tractor and trailer waited patiently for our grapes at the end of the rows. To avoid wasting time and energy by everyone walking to and from the trailer, a couple of brave people volunteered to be a porter, strapping a large hop on their backs.  Once we had filled our buckets, the grapes were then poured into the hop for the porter to then empty them into the trailer.  It’s a physical job at the best of times, particularly so when you have to contend with the slope of the vineyard!

Join the harvest and learn the hard work that goes into making wine


The buckets filled quickly, and as we picked, we asked questions about life at the winery to Céline, her father Jean-Jacques, and the winery harvest team who were also on hand to help with the harvest.

Once we had picked all the grapes from the plot, we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard where our Pinot Gris adopted vines are located. They had reached optimum maturity earlier in the week, so had already been harvested.  Once the grapes are ripe, they need to be picked straight away to ensure the best quality wine possible.  We took a few souvenir pictures and some for the “My Vine” photo competition with our adopted vines before heading back to the winery.

Adopt-a-vine gift in an organic French vineyard

Our next job was to put the grapes that we had harvested into the fermentation tank.  We used a long-handled rake to gently pull the grapes out of the trailer and into the de-stemming machine below.  This machine separates the berries from the stalks, and then the grapes continue their fall into the waiting vat.  The winery building has been designed to use gravity as much as possible in preference to pumps, so that the grapes arrive with their skins as intact as possible in the vat or press, helping to preserve the aromatic concentration.
Learning about the work in the cellar during the harvest


It was now time for a well-earned aperitif.  Céline had prepared an extensive wine tasting session for us, starting with the fresh and floral 2019 Pinot Blanc Tradition.  We then tasted the lovely mineral 2014 Sylvaner Vielles Vignes, followed by the complex and aromatic 2016 Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru.  Next was the intense 2015 Pinot Noir Old Oak, the wine that the grapes we had picked in the morning are used to make, and then the 100% Pinot Noir Crémant Nature Rosé sparkling wine, accompanied by a savoury Kougelopf.

Wine tasting session with teh winemaker in Alsace


We continued the tasting over lunch, starting with the 2018 Pinot Gris Rosenberg which perfectly paired with the “Bouchée à la Reine” and spatzlé.  With dessert we compared two different wines, the 2017 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg and the 2016 Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru.

We picked up after lunch where we had finished in the morning and descended into the cellar.  Stéphane described how the grapes for the white wines are treated differently, being emptied directly into the press, where the time and pressure are regulated depending on the quality of grapes ad thickness of the their skins.

Stéphane then explained the different processes and work needed for red and white wines up until the end of the first fermentation period.

Wine-making gift experience in Alsace

We visited the barrel room where the Pinot Noir wines are aged, and ended the day in the fermentation hall where the white wines were bubbling away as they start the fermentation process.  We’ll be spending more time here next year for the Vinification Experience Days to discover all of the work that is left to do between now and the time when the wine is bottled and conditioned.

Many thanks to Céline and Stéphane for a great day!

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Participating in the harvest of the Chenin grapes in the Loire Valley


2020 was a warm year for the most part, and so the harvest was early, taking place on the 19th and 20th September for the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers, which is almost a month earlier than usual.

Marc Plouzeau, the owner and wine-maker at Château de la Bonnelière, a few kilometres from the charming town of Chinon, had started the harvest with his team, a week earlier with the grapes used for the rosé and white wines, the red grapes needing some rain before being picked.  As with each year, this first week allows Marc and his team to warm up and find their marks again for the harvest, a gentle real-time training before the really busy period that follows as the quantities are much bigger for the Cabernet Franc red grapes!

Marc already had lots to do in the chai, so after the welcome coffee and introductions, we headed into the vineyard with Noémie, the vineyard manager, and Louise the Gourmet Odyssey wine expert.

After a quick visit of our adopted vines in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, we were ready for the harvest. 
Our grapes hadn’t yet quite reached optimum maturity, so we crossed the road to pick the plot of Chenin blanc.  Our mission for the week-end was to pick the entire plot!

Harvest Expeirence Day in the Loire Valley

Many people don’t know, but the Chinon wine appellation exists for red, rosé and white wines.  Made using the Chenin grape varietal, as for the nearby Saumur and Anjou white wines, the Chinon white wine has a very limited production, accounting for less than 2% of the total appellation.  10 years ago, it was even less, but thanks to the efforts of some winemakers, they have brought the white wines to life too.

Wine gift Box for harvesting your vines

In 2014, Marc replaced a plot of red with Chenin vines.  This half-hectare vineyard produces the grapes used for the Silice white wine.

Half a hectare in two mornings was a do-able but tough challenge, particularly with the weather not being on our side, especially on the Sunday.  

Harvest your own adopted vines in France

Leaving a few rows for Marc’s team, we learnt which grapes to pick, and which ones to leave.  The majority of grapes were in perfect condition, but some had been attacked by rot.  Noémie also gave us some tips on how to not have a bad back at the end of the day!

Visit and tasting at the winery in Chinon, France

After the harvest, it was time for the aperitif, followed by lunch to gather our strength for the work in the chai!  Amongst the wines we tasted, Marc opened a few bottles of the Silice wine from previous vintages, so that we could see the potential of our morning’s harvest.

Harvest Experience in the Loire Valley

Despite the good cheer at the table, we had to think of the grapes and get up to see to them.  With Marc, we discovered how to fill the press, and then Marc explained the different stages to follow; the settling, alcoholic fermentation, racking, ageing in barrels… There was lots to learn, and everyone hung off Marc’s every word.

Meeting an organic winemaker in France

As Marc is very talkative, the time flashed by.  Fortunately many of the group will be coming back soon to discover the work in the cellar during the Vinification Experience Days!

The Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, where the adopted vines are located, was harvested on the 1st October, as usual being the last vineyard to be picked. The grapes were perfectly ripe, so we should be in for a great vintage!

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Harvest Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


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

The Harvest Experience gift in the Rhone Valley, France

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

Adopt a vine gift and personalised bottles of biodynamic wine

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

Grape harvest gift in the Rhone Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organic wine tasting gift with the winemaker

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

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

Learning about the work at harvest time in the chai

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

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

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

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

Tasting the grape juice from our harvest

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

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Harvest Experience Day in the Languedoc


Today was a special day at Domaine Allegria.  It was lovely weather for the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers to harvest, something that is not uncommon, but it was the first time that we were to harvest the new plot of Grenache vines that had been massally selected.  As opposed to buying young vines from a nursery, Ghislain and Delphine had chosen to take cuttings from their best vines.  This is known as massal selection, and helps preserve the genetic lineage of older vines, with the aim of improving the quality of the grapes and the vine’s natural resistance to disease.

After the introductions, we headed out into the vineyard and listened attentively to the instructions on how to harvest.  We carefully picked the grapes and put them into crates that could hold 15 kg of grapes, which we then stored in the shade of the vinification hall.  The temperature quickly rose, but we remained in good cheer.  The grapes that we tasted as we picked confirmed that the harvest was a very good one, and that we should be able to look forward to a good vintage from the wine made using this plot.

Harvesting the Grenache plot

As with many wine-growing regions of France, this year has been great weather-wise because the sun and summer heat allowed the grapes to reach optimum maturity, without being infected by any disease of rot.  This made our job of harvesting that much easier too because there was practically nothing to sort!

Sorting the grapes

Once we had finished the harvest, we followed the grapes journey into the vats.  First of all we removed any leaves that had inadvertently made their way into the crates, and some dried out and shrivelled grapes that had been burnt by the sun.  The remaining bunches were then put into a de-stemming machine that separates the berries from the stalks which, if left in the vat during the maceration period, would make the wine too strong and would bring unwanted herbaceous aromas. Sometimes, in certain conditions, we can choose to leave some of the stems during the maceration period, but that remains a choice for the winemaker to make!

After the morning’s hard work, the aperitif was very welcome, with a tasting of a magnum of the 2019 Dolce Vita rosé.  We then sat down to a nice lunch prepared by Delphine, which was accompanied by other wines from Domaine Allegria.

Visiting the adopted vines

In the afternoon, we headed back out into the vineyard, for a digestive walk, and to find our adopted vines in a plot of Syrah.  The grapes will be blended with some Mourvèdre grapes to create the Tribu d’A wine once they have sufficiently aged.  We’ll learn more about these stages of winemaking next year during the Vinification Experience Days!

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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 !

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