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Tagged articles : Harvest

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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Harvest Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


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

The Harvest Experience gift in the Rhone Valley, France

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

Adopt a vine gift and personalised bottles of biodynamic wine

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

Grape harvest gift in the Rhone Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organic wine tasting gift with the winemaker

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

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

Learning about the work at harvest time in the chai

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

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

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

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

Tasting the grape juice from our harvest

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

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The 2020 harvest in Burgundy ends with the Pinot Noir


The Chapelle family and their team of harvesters awaited the Gourmet Odyssey adopt-a-vine owners for three days of harvesting pinot noir vines in the Clos des Cornières vineyard in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay.  It’s the plot where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located to make the Santenay red wine of the same name, and as we were to find out, to produce a wine of this quality, there’s lots of work to do!

The harvest this year in Burgundy was very early, starting on the 19th August at Domaine Chapelle, and finished with the Gourmet Odyssey team on the 30th August. We were eagerly awaited, as we were the ones to pick the last grapes, put them into the vats, and close out the harvest of the 2020 grapes! As soon as Jean-François Chapelle had introduced us to the winery and the surrounding area, we headed out into the Clos des Cornières vineyard, which is located just next to the winery.

Harvest Experience Day Wine Making Experience Burgundy

It’s called a “clos” because the plot is surrounded by a wall on three sides. The clos has two distinct areas, each with different ages of vines. The winery’s team of harvesters picked the grapes from the younger vines in the lower part of the vineyard, whilst we took care of the older section. Jean-François explained that the harvest from the two areas would be kept separate in different vats and aged separately until the end of the ageing process, when they will be blended together to form the Clos des Cornières wine.

Adopt a vine and meet an organic winemaker

This year, the quality of grapes is exceptional thanks to the warm and dry weather. Even if the grapes are small as a consequence, they are in great condition and of a very homogenous maturity. Jean-François directions were therefore very straight forward; pick everything!

Harvest Experience Gift in Burgundy

We quickly got into the groove. Spread out among the rows we quickly filled up the crates, and once full, we brought them back to the beginning of the rows to exchange for an empty one. The crates were then loaded into the van to transport the grapes back to the winery.

Harvest your own organic vine in Burgundy

The winery harvest team used a person with a basket on his back to collect the grapes from each of the harvesters. The basket contains more grapes than the crates and gets very heavy. The porter then empties the basket into a trailer by climbing up a ladder and pouring the grape bunches over his head. The trailer is then emptied back at the winery. It’s a slightly different process, and we would see later that the grapes which arrive in the trailer are not treated in the same way as our grapes in the crates.
Once we’d finished picking the grapes, we went and had a look at our adopted vines in the Clos des Cornières vineyard for the clients of the Santenay red wine, and in the Les Crais vineyard on the other side of the road for the Santenay white clients. Jean-François then explained the different terroir that make up the Burgundy wine growing region and how that determines the lay out of the vineyard plots, before making our way back to the courtyard where we tasted a well-earned glass of Santenay white wine!

Winery visit and tasting in Santenay, Burgundy

We continued tasting the wines from Domaine Chapelle over lunch, before heading to the winery building where the grapes we harvested were waiting for us. It was now time to sort the grapes, and as Yannick, the Technical Director, said, the task was made relatively easy because we had worked so hard in the vineyard and the grapes were in excellent condition! To sort the grapes, we tipped out the crates onto the sorting table, which has a vibrating conveyor belt to shake off any water when it rains. We removed any damaged grapes or ones that weren’t yet ripe enough, as well as any leaves, snails or other stowaways from the vineyard!

Harvest and grape sorting exprience in an organic winery in France

The grapes then fall either into a destemming machine or directly into the vat. The grapes from the winery’s harvest team were separated from the stems before being put into the vat. The bunches harvested by the Gourmet Odyssey clients were put directly into a vat because the harvest took place over 3 days. If we had separated the grapes from the stems we would have pierced the skin of the grapes a little, the juice would have fallen to the bottom of the vat, and would have risked starting to ferment before the vat was full, which would be more difficult to control. Putting the whole bunches into the vat produces a stronger, more tannic wine. It will be aged separately from the other vats, and then blended with the other wines from the Clos des Cornières vineyard later to produce the final wine.

Organic winery visit and harvest course in Santenay, Burgundy

We also saw the press used for the white wines. The grapes used for the whites are sorted and pressed as soon as they arrive back at the winery. The juice is then put into a vat before the fermentation process begins. The grapes from the Les Crais vineyard were harvested on the 24th August, as the thinner skinned chardonnay grapes had reached their optimal maturity before the pinot noir. The fermentation had already begun for the Santenay Village white!
The fermentation period will also be the maceration phase for the red wines, where the wine will extract the colour and aromas from the skin and pips.

Wine-making and vine adoption experience in France

Jean-François explained how they manage the fermentation by regulating the temperature. The winery doesn't use any added yeast, relying solely on the yeast cells that are naturally present on the grape skins, so it is more difficult to predict when the fermentation will start and how it will evolve. If the temperature is too low, the fermentation has a hard job getting started, but if the must gets too warm, the yeast cells will die and won’t finish transforming the sugar into alcohol. The temperature is controlled using immersion heaters that are placed into the vats and have either hot or cold water pumped through them to heat or cool the must as needed.
Over the next few weeks, the team in the fermentation hall will be on tenterhooks as they monitor the progress of the different fermentations. The next step will be to rack the first wines to separate the wine from the solid matter of stems, skin and pips, but we’ll cover that in more detail during the next Vinification Experience Days at the start of next year.
Many thanks to all the team at Domaine Chapelle for welcoming us and for replying to our numerous questions with passion and good humour!

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Harvesting organic grapes in the Loire Valley


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get involved in the French grape harvest in the Loire Valley

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

Discover the French lifestyle during the harvest in the Loire Valley

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

Participate in the French grape harvest

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

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

Adopt vines in Chinon and harvest the grapes with the winemaker

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

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Grape Harvest Experience in Alsace


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improve your lnowledge of white wine-making in Alsace

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

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

Adopt vines and discover white wines in Alsace

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

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

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Participating in the grape harvest in Saint-Emilion


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

Harvest experience gift for wine lovers in Saint-Emilion

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

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

Rent-a-vine gift experience in Saint-Emilion

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

Wine-making gift experience in Bordeaux

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

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

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

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

Organic wine tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

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

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

Grape harvest experience gift in Bordeaux

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

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

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

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

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Picking the grapes in the Rhone Valley for the 2019 harvest


The 2019 grape harvest season continues, and last weekend, it was the turn of Domaine de la Guicharde, in the Côtes du Rhone region, to welcome the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients to participate in the harvest.  As we were to learn, there is much more work at harvest time than just picking grapes!
After the introductions to the winery and day, we headed out past the olive grove into the vineyard.  Our first stop was the Miocène vineyard, home to our adopted vines. We took a few minutes to find our micro-plot of vines and immortalise the moment with a few photos.
Organic vine adoption in the Cotes du Rhone vine growing area
It was then time to get down to the serious business of the day. We listened intently to the instructions of how to pick the grapes, which ones to pick, and which to leave. But as we could see, the quality of the grapes this year was excellent and the vines were laden with full bunches, so there were hardly any grapes that needed to be sorted.  
Equipped with a bucket and pair of harvesting secateurs, we split into twos, each pair taking a different row of vines.  To make picking the grapes easier, the first task was to remove the leaves from in front and around the grape bunches.  We then cut the stem just above the bunch, letting the grapes fall into our hand, before being put into the bucket.  
Harvest Experience in the Rhone Valley region
With the nice large bunches, the buckets soon filled up, and we then passed them from row to row to be emptied into the trailer.  We were harvesting Grenache Noir, the grapes that are the last to mature at the winery.  The harvest had started on the 31st August with the white grapes, and the harvest of the Syrah grapes had started two week ago.  The winery is nearing the end of the harvest, and all the grapes should be picked in the next couple of days.
Grape picking Experience in the Rhone Valley region
Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the morning, and we had managed to fill three trailers, which was a great effort from our team of apprentice winemakers!  Having washed hands and cleaned up, we enjoyed a nice refreshing glass of the winery’s 2018 white wine, “Au tour de la Chapelle”, in the courtyard.
We continued the tasting over lunch, the rosé 18 accompanying the millefeuille of aubergine, goats cheese, sundried tomato and courgette coulis starter.  The fruity 2018 Pur Rouge Côtes du Rhône red went well with the roast veal and mushroom risotto, before we tasted the 2015 Terroir de Miocène Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, with cheese.  Our tasting ended with the 2016 Genest  Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux, served with the chocolate mousse.
Harvesters' lunch in a French Orgnic winery
After lunch we followed the journey that the grapes take to the fermentation hall.  We watched as our trailers were emptied and the grapes fell into the de-stemming machine.  Here the berries are separated from the stems, and the grapes then continue their journey into the vat.
Chai visit during the haarvest in the Cotes du Rhone area
Inside the fermentation hall, Laurence explained the process that will take place over the coming weeks to transform the grape juice into wine.  Laurence showed us the mustimeter that she uses daily to monitor the sugar density and temperature of each of the vats.  We also learned about the important role of pumping over the wines throughout the maceration period to extract the colour and tannins from the grape skins.
Wine and grape juice tasting during the harvest
We ended the day by tasting the juice from the grapes we had picked, and compared this to the juice from grapes that had been harvested a week earlier, and was now in its fifth day of fermentation.  It was impressive to see the difference that just a few days make.
We’ll be back at Domaine de la Guicharde next year for the Vinification Experience Days, where we’ll pick up from where we left off, and learn more about the rest of the fermentation process, blending, ageing, and bottling.  There’s still lots to be done, but for now the winemakers can sleep a little more soundly knowing that the harvest is safely in the fermentation hall!

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The 2019 harvest of Pinot Noir grapes in Burgundy


We were welcomed to Domaine Chapelle in Santenay on a gloriously sunny weekend for the Harvest Experience Days of the Clos des Cornières vineyard, the grapes from which will be used to make the personalised organic red wine for the clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

 

Meet the winemaker of an organic winery in Santenay, France

In the garden in front of the chateau, Jean-François, the owner briefly recounted the history of Burgundy wines, and explained the evolution of the production and commercialisation of the wines over the last 100 years, focusing on the decisions that he had taken, notably in converting the winery to becoming organically certified.

Vine adoption in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We the made our way to the Clos des Cornières vineyard and the Crais plot opposite to meet our adopted vines that will make the red and white wines. Having taken a few photos and whispered some sweet words to them, we met up again in front of the vine rows that we were to harvest. We were to harvest the pinot noir grapes from the Clos des Cornières plot, the chardonnay grapes from the Crais having already reached optimum maturity and so having already been picked a few days earlier.

2019 Harvest quality in Santenay Burgundy

As with the team of professional harvesters, we listened intently to the briefing for the day, and the instructions of how and what to harvest.  Jean-François explained which bunches to pick, those that are found between the training wires near the bottom of the vines.  The smaller bunches higher up are not sufficiently mature to produce good quality wine. We were also to leave the bunches that had been attacked by mould, and those that had dried out and had no pulp inside them. With the extremely hot weather this summer, quite a few of the bunches unfortunately contained little or no juice.

Harvest Experience Day in Burgundy, France

Armed with a pair of secateurs and a harvesting crate, we started to pick the grapes.  In pairs facing each other we each took a side of the vine row to make sure that we didn’t leave any good grapes behind.  By the end of the morning we had finished our work and filled a fair few crates, some with a little plaster on their cut finger!  The work of a harvester isn’t always as easy as all that!

Grapes picking experience in Burgundy, France

The time for the aperitif beckoned, and well deserved it was too!  Back in the garden, we enjoyed the Saint-Jean Santenay white wine, accompanied by the famous Burgundy gougères.

Organic Burgundy wine tasting, France

We then savoured the regional lunch, accompanied by three red wines, the Burgundy, Santenay Clos des Cornières, and Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières.

Grape sorting Experience in Burgundy

After lunch we went to see how the grapes are sorted and put into the vats. The sorting table is a crucial step in ensuring the quality of the grape juice that will then start fermenting. At the beginning of the table, the crates are emptied one by one onto the conveyor belt.  Either side of the table, 6 to 8 sorters remove any grapes that aren’t of a good enough quality and any leaves that might be present.  At the end of the table the grapes are separated from the stems mechanically and then fall into the fermentation hall below, where a trolley catches them, before being trundled to a another conveyer belt that lifts them up and into the vat.

Chai visit and wine tasting in Burgundy

There is no pumping at this stage so that the grapes arrive in the vat intact, helping to keep a higher degree of freshness to the future wine.
The day ended with an explanation of the fermentation process which will start in the next few days, and the work involved during this time.  It will be the first stage in the vinification and ageing process, more of which will be explained at the start of next year.
So the time to leave arrived, Jean-François and Myriam thanking us and looking forward already to our next visit!

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The 2019 harvest of cinsault grapes in the Languedoc


We spent a very enjoyable day harvesting the grapes under the bue sky in Domaine Allegria’s plot of cinsault vines.  It was a plot that had unfortunately suffered from the heatwave on the 28th June, so the quantity was reduced, but there were still enough grapes to keep us busy!

 

Meet an organic winemaker in teh Languedoc area France

After the introductions and instructions on how to harvest, we were each given a pair of harvesting secateurs, and we started to pick the grapes and put them in the crates.

Grape picking experience in Languedoc, France

We quickly got into the routine, and by midday we had finished the plot. We had picked 1200 kg, compared to 2500 kg in 2017 for the same plot, less than half the quantity.

Harvest Day experience in Languedoc, France

We then headed back to the winery, where Delphine, the winemaker had prepared a delicious lunch, centred around the old variety tomatoes that had been grow in the winery’s garden, and of course tasted the different wines throughout the meal.

harvesters' lunch at domaine Allegria in Languedoc, France

After lunch, we headed to the fermentation hall to put our harvest into a stainless steel vat. We first emptied the crates into the de-stemming machine to separate the grape berries from the stems.

Wine-making experience in Languedoc, France

The grapes then continued their journey into the vat, and we then washed the emptied crates. In 30 minutes we had put all of the grapes into the vat and all of the materiel was cleaned, thanks to our enthusiastic and efficient team of apprentice winemakers that we would like to have with us every day in the cellar!

Harvest experience in the chai in Languedoc, France

The day ended with a walk in the vineyard and a visit to see our adopted syrah vines. The grapes from this plot will be blended with the neighbouring mourvèdre grapes to make the Tribu d’A wine. The grapes had already been harvested because they had reached optimum maturity, and once that has happened, you can’t wait any longer!

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A good quality but small harvest for 2018


The grape harvest and first fermentations have now finished for 2018, and so now is the time to take a look back at this year full of surprises. We asked the organic partner winemakers of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience for their first impressions of this vintage.

An early harvest

Early harvest in 2018 in France for organic vineyards

In almost all of France’s wine growing regions, 2018 was a very early year due to the glorious sunny and warm summer that we enjoyed.  In the east of the country, such as in Burgundy or Alsace, they were as much as one month early for the start of the grape harvest.  At Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Wettolsheim, we harvested the pinot noir grapes on the 8th September, where normally we would do so in October.

In some regions, such as for Château de la Bonnelière, near Chinon in the Loire Valley, the summer was so dry and hot, that the maturity of the grapes slowed down at the end of summer, putting back the harvest slightly compared to the forecasts at the start of the summer.

An exceptional quality

High quality grapes and wine for the 2018 vintage in France

All of our partner winemakers agree in saying that the 2018 vintage is an exceptional one in terms of quality, with lovely healthy grapes that had ripened evenly.  The sugar levels needed to produce the alcohol were good with a nice concentration due to the summer heat.

Of course there still remains lots of work to do in the cellar, but all the early signs point to a great year.

A small yield

Small quantity of the 2018 vintage for organic french wines

If the quality is high, the same cannot be said for the yields, the quantity being less than usual in some of the regions.  Alsace had a bumper crop of a great quality, Burgundy and the Loire better yields than the previous few years, but the south and west of France suffered.

The drought during the summer and beginning of autumn caused some of the grapes to dry out.  If it happens just a little, it’s not a big problem, and can even bring some added structure to the wine, but where the grapes dry out too much, they become as hard a pepper corns and have to be removed when harvesting, thus reducing the quantity.

Another problem was caused by the very wet spring which led to mildew attacking many of the wine growing regions, in some places having a significant impact on the yield, such as at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion, where some of the merlot plots lost as much as 95% of the grapes.

Mildew reduces the yield

Mildew attacks in the French organic vineyards in 2018

This year the fight against mildew was one of the principal preoccupations of our organic partner winemakers.  With such a rainy autumn, it was often impossible to treat the vines, or when they were able to be treated, the next rain shower would fall quickly afterwards and wash the protection away, as organic treatments remain on the surface of the leaves and don’t penetrate inside the plant.

For example, in Saint-Emilion, more than 30mm of rain fell continuously for 10 consecutive days.  The mildew set in on the leaves, and then developed on the grapes during the summer, causing them to become dry and hard.  In the Côtes du Rhône region, Domaine de la Guicharde, was also affected in their Grenache plots, and Domaine Allegria noted the same for their Carignan vines.


But a smaller yield generally means that the remaining grapes are of a higher quality.  Now the role of the winemaker in the cellar to vinify, age and blend the wines will come into effect, and will play a crucial role in developing and defining the quality of the 2018 vintage.  We look forward to tasting the wines in the cellar as they evolve during our Vinification Experience Days next year.


Interested in learning more and getting involved in harvesting the grapes in an award-winning French organic winery?  You can do so with a Harvest Experience Day with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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Harvest Experience Day in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet


We spent a great weekend picking the grapes in Saint-Emilion for the Harvest Experience Days at Château Coutet.  As we were to learn, there is much more to harvesting than just picking grapes, particularly when you’re trying to make a wine as closely as possible to one that was made almost 300 years ago.  But more of that later.

Original wine gift in Saint-Emilion for wine lovers

After the introductions, we headed up the grassy track onto the limestone plateau where Saint-Emilion’s finest vineyard plots are located.  This is where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are to be found, in the Peycocut vineyard.  We took a few minutes to find our micro-plot of adopted merlot vines, to take a few pictures.

Rent some vines and help make your own organic Saint-Emilion red wine

We then headed to a neighbouring cabernet franc vineyard plot, and equipped ourselves with a pair of secateurs and crate to put the harvested grapes in.  We listened intently to the instructions to learn which grapes to pick, and which to leave.  The mildew that had set in in the spring had meant that we had to be particularly attentive in sorting out the grapes that had dried up to become as hard as peppercorns.  To the chagrin of the winemaker, in a year that the harvest is much smaller than usual, it also takes much more time to pick the grapes as you have to be that much more selective.

Grape harvest gift experience in Saint-Emilion, France

As we picked the grapes we chatted away and asked the winemakers lots of questions covering a wide range of subjects such as the work in the vineyard, the surrounding Saint-Emilion vineyards, being organic, and the David-Beaulieu’s long history with the winery stretching back over 15 generations.

Once we had filled our crates, we took them to the trailer to be stacked carefully so as to not crush the grapes.  Our reward?  Another crate to keep us busy!  Once the bell from one of the nearby clock towers had chimed, we downed tools, and followed our precious harvest back down the hill to the winery.

Adopt-a-vine organic wine gift

A welcome glass of wine, the 2015 vintage of the winery’s second wine, Château Belle-Cimes, was waiting for us, which we enjoyed in the park between the château and the vineyard.  During the tasting, we learnt about the incredible story of Cuvée Eméri, a bottle of wine found in the family cellar that dates back to 1750, and that is still full thanks to the glass stopper used to seal the bottle.  The family has recreated the wine and bottle as closely as possible to how it would have been originally made, and the grapes that we had picked in the morning were destined to help make the 2018 vintage of the Cuvée Emeri.

Organic wine tasting gift experience at the winery in Saint Emilion

We then sat down to a delicious lunch prepared on-site by the excellent local caterer, where we tasted some of the other wines.   To start, we had a winemaker’s salad with smoked bacon and soft poached egg, served with the round and elegant 2014 Château Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru red wine.  Then for the main course we enjoyed guinea fowl with a foie-gras and wild mushroom sauce and a medley of seasonal vegetables, served with the more structured 2015 vintage of the same wine.  With the cheese and chocolate desert, we were privileged to taste the 2014 vintage of the Cuvée Demoiselle, which is the same wine that goes into the Cuvée Emeri, the only difference being the glass bottle itself.  Not your average harvester’s lunch!

Lunch with the winemaker in the vineyard, Saint-Emilion

Harvest time at the winery isn’t just about picking grapes as we were about to find out.  Underneath the awning that had been erected outside the chai, the grapes that we had picked were awaiting for us.  Several stations had been set up and we gathered around to listen to the instructions.  As the grapes were destined for the Cuvée Emeri, they were to be dealt with in a special manner.  Instead of using the sorting table and de-stemming machine, our grapes were to be sorted by hand, berry by berry.  By hand picking only the very best of the grapes, and removing any that weren’t ripe enough or had been affected by the mildew, the winemaker can significantly improve the quality of the resulting wine, particularly in a difficult year such as this one.

Gift to make your own Saint-Emilion Grand Cru wine with personalised labels

Hand sorting the grapes is however a very time consuming way of doing things, and therefore costly.  We therefore saw how the same job can be done by machine before heading into the chai.  Here we learnt how the grapes are put into the different vats, and the juice turned into wine during the fermentation period, and the work done to extract the colour and tannins from the skins during maceration.

Organic wine-making experience gift in Saint-Emilion

We ended the day in the barrel room for a quick introduction to the work that will be covered in more detail during the Vinification Experience Days to age, blend, and prepare the wines to be ready for bottling.  There is still lots that needs to be done before we have our personalised bottles of wine in our hands!

Interested in participating in the harvesting the grapes in Saint-Emilion or giving an adopt-a-vine gift?  More information on the Wine Experience.

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Grape Picking Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


We had fantastic Harvest Experience Day last weekend in the heart of the Rhone Valley at Domaine de la Guicharde.  The grapes were ripe for picking, the sun was shining, and the apprentice harvesters all in fine fettle.

Original gift idea for wine lovers.  Adopt a vine and partipate in the harvest of your grapes

After a brief introduction to the day and the winery, we made our way up the track to the Miocène vineyard, admiring the views across to Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail along the way.  When we arrived we noticed that name plates had been put in front of some of the vines, marking where each of our adopted vines were to be found.  We took a few minutes to visit our vines, admire the grapes that they had produced, and to take a few photos.

Rent-a-vine present in the Rhone Valley

Arnaud then explained how to harvest the grapes using the secateurs and bucket that we had each been given.  Fully equipped and briefed, we spread out between the vine rows and started to cut the grape bunches, being careful to avoid our fingers in the process!
We were picking Grenache Noir grapes.  A quick taste of the sweet grapes revealed that they had a good sugar level, and by looking at the pips, their brown colour confirmed that they were ripe.  The quality was good, but the quantity was less than in a usual year due to the mildew that had attacked the vineyard earlier in the year during the wet spring weather.   Domaine de la Guicharde had been relatively lucky though in comparison to some of the neighbouring vineyards.

Grape picking gift in a French biodynamic vineyard

The buckets soon filled up, and once there was no more room, we passed them underneath the rows where they were emptied into one of the trailers.  As we gained in confidence, the speed picked up, and we had soon filled the first trailer.

Special Birthday wine lover gift.  Harvest your grapes and make your own wine.

Once we reached the end of the row, we stopped for a welcome glass of water before starting the next row. Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the morning, and so we made our way back to the winery, following behind the tractor and our precious harvest.  We watched the grapes make their way through the de-stemming machine to separate the berries from the stems, and into the vat where they will begin the process to turn the grape juice into wine.

Learning about the work of the winemaker during harvest time

In the shady courtyard of the winery, Isabelle had prepared a well-earned chiled glass of rosé, followed by a glass of the Pur Rouge 2016 wine.  We continued the tasting of the winery’s biodynamic wines over lunch which had been prepared by the excellent local restaurant “Le Temps de Vivre”.  To accompany the millefeuille of aubergine, fresh goat’s cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and courgette coulis, we savoured the Genest 2016 red wine.  We then compared it to the 2014 Genest wine in a magnum with the main course of veal and mushroom risotto.  With the cheese platter, we enjoyed the Autour de la Chapelle 2016 white wine, and to accompany the home-made chocolate mousse, we finished with the 2015 Terroir du Miocène, the Massif d’Ucahux Côtes du Rhône Villages wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

Wine Experience Gift with lunch at the winery in the Rhone Valley

We returned to the chai in the afternoon to learn about the work carried out there during harvest time.  It’s not just about picking grapes.  Arnaud explained how the grapes start to ferment, and the work done to keep the juice in contact with the skin during the maceration process.  We learnt about the differences between making red, white and rosé wines.

Wine cellar visit in the Cotes du Rhone

The day ended with a discussion about biodynamic wine-making.  The winery is certified by Demeter, and Arnaud explained how the work at the winery is organised around the lunar calendar, both in the vineyard and in the cellar.  It’s a fascinating approach, and a subject about which Arnaud speaks with passion.

Many thanks to Isabelle and Arnaud for their warm welcome, and to all of the participants for their work and good spirits.  We look forward to returning next year to see how the wines are progressing during the Vinification Experience Days.

Interested in participating in the harvest in France or giving an original gift to a wine lover?  More information on the Wine Experience.

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Grape Harvest Experience Day in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


The harvest season is underway in most of France’s wine growing regions.  The hot and sunny summer has meant that the grapes have ripened quicker than normal, and so the harvest has started earlier.  This is notably so in Alsace which is a month ahead of what would normally be expected.  We joined the winemakers at Domaine Stentz-Buecher last weekend for a Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Day to get involved in picking the grapes and to learn about what else goes on at the winery during harvest time.

Grape harvest experience gift in Alsace France

As always we were warmly welcomed by the Stentz family, before heading out into the vineyard.  Our first stop was to visit the Rosenberg vineyard, where our adopted vines are located.  We spent a few minutes to find the name plate that designated our individual micro-plots of adopted vines.

Rent-a-vine gift in France and get involved in the harvest of the grapes

Then it was time to get equipped.  Céline and her father, Jean-Jacques, handed out a pair of secateurs and a bucket each, and then explained how to harvest the grapes.  The instructions were somewhat simpler than usual due to the exceptionally high quality of the grapes.  The warm and dry weather had meant that there had been no mould or fungi that had developed, and so the grapes were in perfect shape.  We were picking the Pinot Noir grapes that will be used to make the Pinot Noir Tradition wine.  Packed with sugar, we bit into them to see for ourselves how ripe they were.  We could also see that the pips had turned brown, another sign that they were ready for picking.

Perfect gift for a winey lover. Get involved in harvesting your own plot of vines

And so we spread out among the vine rows, and started to pick the grapes, placing one hand under the bunch and using the other to cut the stem above, the best way to avoid any little accidents!  Not only were the grapes in good health, each bunch was also very full.

The buckets quickly filled up, and once full we shouted out “Videz” and passed them underneath the vines to be passed on to the row in the middle where the tractor and trailer were waiting.  Once the grapes had been emptied into the trailer, the empty basket then made its way back under the vines to be filled again.  At times it was difficult to keep up with the flow of full buckets being passed along!

Original gift for 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th birthday. A wine lover's dream.  Havest your own grapes in France

The trailer filled up more quickly than anticipated, and as we waited for the replacement one, we refreshed ourselves with some water and a taste of the 2017 Pinot Blanc that Jean-Jacques had kept chilled in the ice chest. Then back to work to finish the plot.

Adopt a vine and pick grapes during the harvest with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gift

Once that last grapes had been picked, we followed their journey back to the winery.  Here the trailer was slowly emptied into the de-stemming machine which separates the berries from the stems.  Because the grapes were so compact and dense, the machine had to work harder than normal, and so it took a little longer.

Personalised wine-making experience gift for wine enthusiasts

Stéphane took a sample of the juice from the grapes and measured the sugar density using a mustimeter.  The reading predicts that the wine will be somewhere between 14° and 14.5° in alcoholic volume.

Learn about the work in the vineyard at harvest time with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience present

By this time, we had earned our aperitif!  A nice cold fresh glass of Crémant d’Alsace before, sitting down to lunch outside in the winery courtyard.  During lunch, we tasted a range of wines from the winery including the Pinot Blanc Tradition 2016, the Pinot Gris Rosenberg 2016, and the Pinot Noir Tradition 2016 made using last year’s harvest from the same vineyard where we had picked the grapes.  We then tasted a delicious Sylvaner Veilles Vignes 2012 and a Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru 2009, before ending with a Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru 2009.  A great tasting that showed the depth and variety of the Alsace wines.

After lunch, Stephane led us down into the cellar, where we could see where the grapes start the fermentation process.  He explained the difference between how the grapes are received for making white and red wine, and then talked us through the two different processes.

Winery visit gift to learn about the work of a winemaker during harvest time

We ended the day in the cellar where the white wines ferment and age.  A chorus of gurgles from the fermenting wines accompanied Stéphane’s explanations.  We’ll be spending much more time in this room at the beginning of next year for the Vinification Experience Days, where we’ll learn all about the fermentation and ageing processes, as well as the work involved in bottling and labelling the wine.

Interested in participating in the grape harvest or giving an adopt-a-vine gift?  More information on the Wine Experience.

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An excellent harvest of the 2018 pinot noir grapes in Burgundy


We had magnificent weather for the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience weekend at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy. As for most of the summer months, it was hot and dry, and the reason why the harvest was earlier this year than normal.  We harvested the grapes from the Clos des Cornières vineyard on the 7th, 8th and 9th September.

The harvest is always a busy time for the winemakers and their teams, but Jean-François Chapelle had set aside three days to explain the work at harvest time, to recount his family’s history with the winery, and to share his organic work philosophy.

Wine making experience box in Burgundy France

After a welcome coffee in the harvesters’ refectory, we were introduced to the day ahead in the garden of the château. Jean-François also told us a little about the history of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

Adopt a vin experience in Burgundy france

We then made our way to the Clos des Cornières vineyard to catch up with our adopted vines. As usual, the cameras clicked away, as the participants tried to capture the most original photo for the annual My Vine photo competition. Don’t forget to send in your entries!

Wine gift box to meet the winemaker and harvest the grapes

It was now time to get down to the serious business of the day. Equipped with a pair of secateurs each, Jean-François briefed us in how to be the perfect harvester. We learnt that the grapes to pick are only to be found between the first two training wires, and only those bunches which are of a uniform blue colour. Anything that isn’t ripe is left on the vine.

Wine lover perfect gift for making organic wine

As the year had been particularly hot and dry, the grapes on some of the bunches had become a little withered. These we kept, as they help to give character to the wine. However, the berries that had completely dried out were removed from the bunch before being put into the tray.

Grapes harvest experience day in Santenay, Burgundy, France

And so we started to harvest in perfect conditions. About an hour and a few plasters later (being an apprentice harvester isn’t as easy as all that!), the trays were full and the vine rows perfectly harvested.

Harvest experience gift box

The harvest this year is of an exceptional quality. Beautiful, healthy grapes, uniformly ripe, and a yield that is plentiful compared to the last few years!

Unforgettable wine gift in Burgundy, France

We then followed the grapes back to the winery where they were emptied on to the sorting table for the second check of the quality before being put into the vats. Here any grapes that aren’t of a good enough quality and any leaves are removed. The remaining grapes then fall into the de-stemming machine for the berries to be separated from the stems. The grapes then make their way by trolley to a conveyor belt that carries them up into the fermentation vats.

Organic Burgundy wine tasting as a gift

By this time it was now time for the aperitif. We tasted a Santenay 1er Cru Gravières white wine, accompanied by some traditional Burgundy gougères.

Day at the winery and harvesters' lunch in a gift box

Lunch was served in the harvesters’ refectory. A Burgundy tourte for starter, followed by veal medallions and mushroom crumble, a local cheese platter, and raspberry desert. These delicious dishes were accompanied by three of the red wines produced by Domaine Chapelle, a 2016 Burgundy red, a 2015 Santenay “Clos des Cornières”, and a 2013 Chassagne Montrachet “Morgeot” Premier Cru.

Oenology course during the harvest in Burgundy, France

After lunch we returned to the fermentation hall to put the grapes into the vats, and to learn about the fermentation process that will turn the grape juice into wine, and how the vats are worked during the maceration period to extract the colour and tannins from the skins

It was a fun and informative day. We had all worked hard, and progressed from our status of apprentice harvester. We now have to wait a while before tasting this very promising 2018 vintage that will surely be one of the great vintages. We’ll be able to check when we come back for the Vinification Experience Days at the beginning of 2019.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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