Adopt a Vine and Make Your Own Wine

with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

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Tagged articles : Tasting

An original organic Christmas wine gift, personalised and delivered to you


Are you looking for a special wine-related Christmas present this year?  Adopt some vines in France and give a unique experience for a wine lover.  With the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience you can get behind the scenes, become an apprentice organic wine-maker for a year, and discover the work that goes into making your own personalised bottles of organic wine. And by doing so, you’ll also be supporting small, independent organic winemakers.

Special Christmas gift for wine lovers: adopt a vine

What’s included in the Wine Experience Christmas gift box?

Choose from the different options available and order your adopt-a-vine Christmas gift on our website. You can choose the region, the winery (all organically certified), the number of vines to adopt, and how many wine experience days at the vineyard to include.  We’ll send the welcome gift pack to you, or directly to the recipient to open on Christmas day, containing a personalised vine adoption certificate, some wine accessories, and an access code to the private customer portal to get the adventure started straightaway.

The recipient will then receive news, photos, and updates from the wine-maker as the vines grow, the grapes are harvested, and the juice made into wine in the cellar. At the end of the wine-making year, his or her organic wine, made from the grapes in the vineyard where his or her adopted vines are located, will be bottled, complete with personalised wine labels denoting the name of the wine that your lucky recipient chooses!

It’s also possible to go to the winery, meet the wine-makers, and participate in wine experience days to learn about the key stages involved in the making of your wine. The Wine Experience Days can be included in the Christmas gift pack, or added later.

Oenology gift for Christmas: rent a vine

The Wine Experience Days take place on the weekends from 09:30 to 16:00, with wine tasting and lunch included for two people. There are three different choices. The Discovery Experience Days concentrate on the work in the vineyard before the harvest, the Harvest Experience Days get you involved in picking the grapes and teach you about the first stages of fermentation, and the Vinification Experience Days are made up of practical workshops to hone wine-tasting skills, and to learn about ageing, blending and bottling wines. You also learn how the wine-makers work organically, and what’s at stake in doing so. They are fun, informative, and moments rich in sharing that make you think a little differently when you open your next bottle of wine.

What makes the Wine Experience an extra-special Christmas gift?

Not only is it an original Christmas gift for a wine lover, it’s a present that supports independent organic wine-makers and small business, something that’s appreciated even more during these challenging times!

rganic wine gift box for Christmas

We’ve chosen to only work with organically or biodynamically certified wine-makers, all of whom have had their wines selected and awarded by the leading wine guides and press. We picked them for their friendliness, and enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge and love of their profession, essential factors needed to ensure an exceptional and unforgettable experience.

But don’t just take our word for it, read the customer feedback. For over 10 years now, we have developed and delivered a quality service, creating strong bonds and friendships with our partner winemakers and customers alike.

And it’s a no risk Christmas gift, because if you’re not sure which Wine Experience to choose, the recipient can always change the winery, type of day, or vintage by contacting us. The Wine Experience Days can also be carried over to the following year if needed.

Order your Adopt-a-Vine Christmas Gift in a few clicks

No need to go to the shops! Order your Wine Experience Christmas gift online, and we’ll take care of the rest:

  • The welcome gift pack will be sent out within 24 hours, Monday to Friday
  • The vine adoption certificate and activation code will be sent by email to the buyer
  • Gift wrapping and personalised message option available
  • Option to pay in 3 instalments
  • Flexible. The recipient can change the options or carry days over if needed

The Christmas Wine Experience welcome pack will be sent to the address of your choosing, containing a few wine accessory gifts; a DropStop, re-usable glass wine stopper, wine cooling bag, vine adoption certificate, and a personalised guide to get the present started!

Find out more about the Wine Experience Christmas present

Visit our website for more information about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience or to place an order.

Any questions? We’re available from 09:00 to 18:00, Monday to Friday by phone on 01 46 27 05 92 within France, or on +33 1 46 27 05 92 from outside France, or through our contact page.

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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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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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Wine-making and blending course with the wine-maker in Saint-Emilion


After this complicated lock-down period, it was great to at last be able to re-start the Wine Experience Days at Château Coutet with the Vinification Experience Day.  The masks and hand gels were compulsory, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm and fun of the day.  We met up and introduced ourselves over a coffee and croissant on the lawn in front of the chateau.  Matthieu, who represents the 13th generation of this family of winemakers, presented Château Coutet and explained the diversity of soil and grape varietals that make it such an exceptional place where the vines, trees, and people live in perfect harmony for more than 400 years.

We then visited the cellar where Matthieu explained the fermentation cycles that have happened since last year’s harvest.  His passion and love for wine-making lights up his eyes and keeps us enthralled as he speaks.

Top wine lover gift. Learn how to blend wines in an organic winery in Saint-Emilion

Another room in the cellar is home to the barrels used to age the wines, as is tradition in the Bordeaux region.  At Château Coutet, the aim is to not give the wine too much of a woody taste, so the percentage of new barrels used is on the low side, older, used barrels being preferred.

We then regrouped on the lawn in front of the château for the blending workshop.  Benoît, the Gourmet Odyssey oenologist, reminded us of the techniques used to taste wine, so that we could all speak the same language, and then we started to blind taste several different wines.  It’s always interesting to taste wines blind, so that we concentrate solely on the aromas and tastes that we perceive to analyse the wine, and not be influenced by the label.

We continued the blind tasting with the four different grape varietals that are grown at the winery.  Matthieu and Benoît then presented us with three different blends, giving us three completely different wines, using exactly the same ingredients, just in different proportions.  It helped us to better understand the complicated work to blend wines in Bordeaux, something that is an important skill for the wine-makers here.

Adopt-a-vine gift and learn the art of wine-making

After all of this hard work, we whet our thirst with the refreshing Claret de Coutet under the sunshine that started to peak out from behind the clouds.  It’s a vibrant and fruity wine, difficult to classify, as it’s between a red and rosé wine.

Tasting wines with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion

Over lunch, we discovered the estate’s red wines.  The 2016 Belle-Cimes, the château’s second wine, perfectly accompanied the revisited Landaise foie gras salad.  We then tasted two different vintages of the Château Coutet red wine, something that is always interesting to compare.  The 2017 is still young and a bit feisty, not yet having reached its potential despite being nice and fruity.    The 2014 is now starting to taste really good and we can see that the wine has started to mature nicely even if it can still be kept for a good 10-15 years.

We then had the good fortune to the taste the 2017 Demoiselles red.  It’s a select wine made from the best merlot and cabernet franc vine plots that are located on the limestone plateau and worked by horse.  A real treat.  The depth of aromas carries us afar, and the finesse of the tannins nicely wrap around the body of the wine.  A real journey of discovery!

After lunch, we headed out to visit our adopted vines in the Peycocut vineyard that overlooks the Dordogne valley.  It’s a magnificent setting from where you can also see the bell tower of Saint-Emilion’s church just 800 m away.  We each immortalised the meeting of our adopted vines with a few pictures, some of which were entered into the annual My Vine photo competition held by Gourmet Odyssey for the most creative photo with the vines.

Adopt organic vines in Saint-Emilion and make your own personalised bottles of Grand Cru wine

The day ended with a visit of the store room where the bottles are stocked.  Matthieu explained how the wine is bottled and the labels then applied, the last stages before the wine if finally ready for release.

Huge thanks to Matthieu for welcoming us and to Gourmet Odyssey for organising these days that are always such good fun and very informative.

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Wine Discovery Experience Day in the vineyard in Alsace


It was a real pleasure to find ourselves back in the vineyard for the Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace.  Whilst we had been confined during the lockdown, the vines had been soaking up the sun and flourishing.  The past few months had been very busy for the winemakers in the vineyard as we were to find out.

Adopt some organic vines in Alsace.  The perfect gift for an organic wine lover.

After the introductions, we headed out into the vineyard, respecting the new social distancing norms of course!  Our first stop was the Rosenberg vineyard, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  We took a few minutes to find the nameplate in front of our vines, take a few pictures, and encourage them to produce some good grapes for this year’s harvest!

Adopt a vine gift in Alsace to learn about how wine is made

 

We were accompanied by Stéphane and Céline, the brother and sister duo that have now taken over the running of the winery from their parents.  Stéphane explained the work that had been done in the vineyard over the winter to prune the vines and work the soil.

Vineyard experience gift

The relatively mild winter, and then the hot and sunny weather that has prevailed in France for most of the time since the beginning of the lockdown in mid-March, has meant that the vines have been thriving and have developed much faster than normal.  We could see that the grapes had already formed on the vines, and were at a stage that you would normally expect to see in July.  The flowering period had happened at the end of May in great climatic conditions.

Grapes appearing on the organic vines

We then headed to the neighbouring plot of vines, which had been replanted three years ago.  Stéphane explained the life cycle of the vines and how they are replanted.  This year will be the first time that the grapes will be harvested.  He explained how they have been pruned to form the desired shape.  Despite the pruning carried out in March, some of the vines had sprouted shoots from the trunk that are unwanted, so our job for the morning was to remove them, thus enabling the vines to concentrate their energy on the fruit-bearing branches, and to maintain their form.

We spread out amongst the rows and carefully removed the unwanted shoots.  The vines might be higher in Alsace than in other regions of France, but this job still involves lots of bending over!

Wine-making experience gift in Alsace

Domaine Stentz-Buecher, like all of the Gourmet Odyssey partner wineries, is organically certified, and Stéphane explained the organic methods that they use to work the soil and protect the vines from odium and mildew.

Back at the winery, we sat down to enjoy some of the wines from the winery.  The wine tasting session, guided by Céline, started with the refreshing Crémant d’Alsace pink sparkling wine.  This is the first year that the winery has made a rosé sparkling wine, and it received the thumbs up from all.  100% pinot noir, it has a good structure, whilst retaining the freshness and acidity that you expect from a sparkling wine.

 

Organic wine tasting gift and winery tour with the winemaker in Alsace, France

We then tasted the 2018 Riesling Tradition and the 2018 Muscat Rosenberg, before tasting the 2018 vintage of the Pinot Gris Rosenberg, which is the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey adopt-a-vine clients.  Céline explained how the grape yields are voluntarily kept well below the limits authorised in Alsace, which results in the very aromatic, rich, and complex wines that characterise those produced by Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  We then tasted the 2017 Pinot Noir Tradition, and concluded the wine tasting session with the delicious 2016 Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru, with a slice of the local lardon and walnut savoury Kouglof.

We continued tasting the wines and local delicacies over lunch of the typical baeckeoffe, a selection of local cheeses, and blueberry tart, accompanied by the 2018 Pinot Blanc Tradition and the 2017 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg.

In the afternoon, Stéphane explained the work left to do over the summer in the vineyard, and how the date of the harvest will be chosen for each individual vineyard plot and grape varietal.

Stéphane then took us on a tour of the cellar, starting with where the grapes will be received and pressed at harvest time.  He showed us the barrel room where the pinot noir wines are aged in oak barrels.

Organic wine cellar tour in Alsace

We ended the day in the room where the white wines are aged, either in huge old oak casks, or smaller stainless steel vats.  Stéphane’s explanations were accompanied by the intermittent gurgling sounds of some of the vats where the wines were still fermenting!

Many thanks to all of the participants and to Céline and Stéphane for sharing the passion for their profession.  We look forward to coming back in September for the Harvest Experience Day!

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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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De-budding the organic vines in the Languedoc


For our last Discovery Experience Day at the winery for the 2019 vintage, a beautiful sunny day welcomed us to Domaine Allegria, in the south of France. As we listened to the introduction to the winery, we admired the view of the surrounding hills.

We then headed out into the vineyard to find the plot of Syrah vines that have been adopted for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  Blended with a neighbouring plot of Mourvèdre, their grapes will be used to make the 2019 Tribu d’A, an organically certified AOC Coteaux du Languedoc Pézenas red wine.  We took a few minutes to take some souvenir photos.

Organic vine adoption in Pézenas, France

After having explained the work carried out in the vineyard since the start of the year to prune and de-bud the vines, we continued our walk through the vines.

We made our way to the plot of Carignan white that was planted in 2018.  Since our last visit, the vines have grown a lot thanks to the rain in May, and the heat of the last couple of weeks.  Time to get down to some work.  Ghislain showed us how to de-bud the vines and attach the long branches to the wooden posts.  It’s a job that has to be done carefully as it will lay the foundation for the next 50 years.

When we de-bud the vines, we reduce the number of branches which grow, only keeping those that will produce fruit, so as to concentrate the energy of the plant on the growth and maturity of the grapes to come.

Work in the vineyard gift box in Languedoc, France

As the branches grow quickly at this time of year, and start to become loaded with grapes, the bend with their weight, and fall into the middle of the vine rows.  To be able to continue to work the vines and the soil, we need to be able to get the tractor into the vineyard, and so the branches must be carefully held between the training wires.  It also helps us to better control the amount of sun that reaches the grapes and improve the air flow around the leaves and fruit, which in turn helps reduce the risk of mould.

At the end of the morning, we enjoyed the shade of the terrace in front of the winery.  We enjoyed discovering and tasting the different wines of the winery over lunch that was prepared by Delphine, the winemaker.

Organic wine tasting in France

After lunch, we visited the fermentation hall to discover what happens on the wine-making side of things.  Here the grapes will be brought at harvest time, and we saw the barrel room where the wine will slowly age. We’ll find out more when we return for the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

Many thanks to all for this great wine discovery day!

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Nurturing the pinot noir vines to prepare them for the harvest


The quality of wine is determined largely by the quality of grapes that are picked at harvest time. And to ensure the best possible grapes, the winemaker is kept busy in the vineyard, especially at this time of year, when the vines are growing rapidly. We spent a fascinating Discovery Experience Day at the stunning Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy to find out more.

 

Vienyard Discover Experience Gift
In the winery garden, surrounded by vines, Jean-François, the owner of Domaine Chapelle, briefly introduced us to his winery.  The temperature was already beginning to rise with the very hot end of June that all of France has been enduring, so we quickly headed out to the vineyard just below the chateau, and home to our adopted vines.  We spent a few minutes to locate our micro-plot of vines, and encourage them as the grapes start to grow.
Adopt-an-organic-vine in Burgundy, France

Jean-François and Yannick, the Technical Director, then explained the work that has already been carried out in the vineyard during winter and spring to prune and de-bud the vines.  These are both critical tasks to control the quantity and quality of grapes that will be produced. Decreasing the number of grapes and branches, helps the vines to concentrate their energy on the fruit bearing branches.

The short flowering season has recently finished, and we could see the first grapes starting to form.   This is known as fruit set.  For the next few weeks the grapes will gradually get bigger.  This combined with the growth of shoots and leaves, causes the branches to fall into the middle of the rows which isn’t good for a number of reasons.

Vine-tending course in Burgundy, France
Firstly, it makes it very difficult to walk down the rows, let alone drive the tractor.  To do so would damage the branches, and so makes it impossible to treat the vines.  This is particularly important in organic wine-making, as the treatments used to protect the vines from mildew and odium get washed away when it rains, so they need to be re-administered.  Secondly the branches that touch the ground would act as highways for fungi spores to spread from the soil to the vines, again putting the vines and grapes at risk.  Thirdly the weight of the foliage and fruit might cause the branches to break.  For all these reasons, and to ensure more sunlight gets to the vines and that there is a better airflow around the grapes, the vines need to be trained using a trellis system.
Meet a French organic wine producer in Burgundy

Having watched Yannick and Jean-François show us how to train the vines, we spread out among the rows and had a go ourselves.  First we raised the training wires on either side of the row, and then clipped them together using a small bio-degradable clip.  We then ensured that all of the branches were growing between the wires, and were supported as best as possible.  Rewarding work, because when you looked back down the rows where we had been, everything was much more orderly than before!

Wine-making experience in Burgundy, France

We then headed back to the shade of the garden where we learnt more about the jobs that need to be done in the vineyard between now and the harvest.  The conversation then turned to other topics as diverse as the history of the winery and the introduction of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system in Burgundy, something that Jean-François’ ancestors were involved in lobbying for.

All of the work and talk had made us thirsty, so to quench it, Jean-François served us a nice chilled 2017 Santenay Saint Jean organic white wine, accompanied by some gougères, a delicious local cheese shoe pastry delicacy.  

Organic wine tasting at Domaine Chapelle, France

Lunch was enjoyed in the relative cool of the harvester’s refectory.  We tasted three of the wineries red wines, starting with the 2017 Burgundy, then the 2015 Santenay Clos des Cornières, and ending with the 2013 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru.

Cellar tour at Domaine Chapelle, France

After lunch, Yannick took us on a tour of the fermentation hall and cellar.  Here we were introduced to the wine-making side of the profession, and we marvelled at the site of all the barrels and bottles resting in the vaulted underground cellar.  We’ll be spending more time in the fermentation hall during the Harvest Experience Days in September as we put the grapes into the vats, and we’ll get to taste some of the wines that are in the ageing process during the Vinification Experience Days early next year.

Many thanks to Jean-François and Yannick for giving us a fascinating glimpse into the life of a winemaker.  We’ll appreciate the next bottle of wine we open that little bit more!

Learn more about how to adopt a vin in Burgundy

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Training the organic vines in Bordeaux


In the beginning of June, we met up at Château Coutet, near the banks of the Dordogne river and just 800m from the village of Saint-Emilion. We were there for a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day to learn how the vines are nurtured to produce the 2019 harvest.

Matthieu, one of the winemakers at the chateau was our guide and introduced us to the day, accompanied by the Gourmet Odyssey oenologist, Benoît.  He works all year with his father and cousin, continuing the organic winemaking philosophy that the family has adopted over the past 400 years at the winery. 

Vineyard tour in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

The estate covers 16 hectares.  Matthieu explained the different tasks carried out in the vineyard throughout the year.  Pruning in winter, tilling the soil using the tractor, and the manual work on the vines in spring.

Our adopted vines are located in the Peycocut vineyard, up on the limestone plateau, which is one of the highest points of the Saint-Emilion appellation.  It looks down on the Dordogne valley, and the view is magnificent.  We each found our adopted vines with the help of a small slate with our name on.  A great photo opportunity!

Adopt an organic vine in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

At this time of year, the vines have grown lots and so need to be trained. This is a vital job. Vines are creeper plants which develop in 3 dimensions.  The aim of supporting them with the trellis system is to contain them to 2 dimensions.  We need to get the tractor and horse down the rows without breaking the branches which will carry the future grapes.

Vine tending lessons at a French winery

Spring is the time that needs the most use of the tractor. We need to keep the growth of grass and weeds under control by mowing or tilling the soil regularly. We must also protect the vines from fungal diseases by spraying organic treatments.  We therefore lift up any branches that protrude into the middle of the row and tuck them behind the training wires. This was to be our task for the morning, and after a quick lesson from Matthieu, we carefully tended to the vines.

Vine tending lessons at a French winery
Vine tending lessons at a French winery 
We then gathered on the lawn in front of the chateau for the aperitif, starting with the winery’s second wine, the 2015 Belles Cimes. It’s a very pleasant fruity wine, produced from the young vines whilst conserving the quality of the first wine at Château Coutet.

To accompany the starter of local charcuterie, we tasted the 2014 Château Coutet, an elegant wine with nice depth.  The 2016 Château Coutet showed more structure and maturity due to its vintage, and was perfect with the main course.

Organic wine tasting in Saint-Emilion, France

We were lucky enough to taste the 2014 Demoiselles wine with cheese.  This is a wine that is produced in a very small quantity, blending together the grapes from nearly 100 year old vines that grow up on the limestone plateau. They are worked entirely by horse or hand using the greatest care and precision. The power and finesse of the tannins are unique to this particular Saint-Emilion terroir.

After lunch we headed back out into the vineyard, where Matthieu explained the challenges but pride in cultivating the vines organically.  The family has been doing so for 4 centuries at Château Coutet.  Working in this way poses a slight risk to the quantity of production in the difficult years, but the result shines through in the quality of the wines.

The day drew to a close in the chai, where we will be spending more time during the Vinification Experience Days.
Many thanks to Matthieu for his warm welcome and interesting explanations throughout the day.

Learn more about adopt some vines and making your own organic wine in Saint-Emilion

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De-budding the vines in Alsace


We spent last Saturday in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher for a Discovery Experience Day.  The objective of the day was to learn about all of the work in the vineyard needed to produce the best possible grapes come harvest time, and as we were to find out, there is lots to do!

Original wine gift for organic wine lovers.  Adopt a vine in Alsace and get involved in making your own wine

After the introductions to the winery and family history by Céline, we made our way through the vineyards.  On the way, Céline showed us the different terroir, and pointed out the Hengst and Steingrubler Grand Cru vineyards slightly further up the hillside.

We arrived at the Rosenberg vineyard, home to our Pinot Gris adopted wines.  We took a few minutes to take a few pictures of our vines and to say a few words of encouragement for this year’s harvest.

Rent-a-vine gift experience in an organic vineyard in Alsace

Jean-Jacques, Céline’s father and founder of the winery, joined us and brought us up to speed on the work that has been carried out in the vineyard during the winter.  He explained the importance of pruning the vines and how it is done, the need to protect the vines during the colder winter months from the frost by heaping soil around the vine stocks, and the laborious task of repairing the training posts and wires.  He also showed us the plot next to our vines which was replanted 4 years ago, and will produce the first grapes this year.

Learn how to de-bud vines alongside the wine-maker

The buds burst on the vines at the end of March, and since then the shoots have sprung to life.  A little slower than the last couple of years when the harvest was very early, but in line with a more normal year.  This time of year is principally taken up with de-budding, and after pruning, it is probably the most important task in controlling the yield and improving the quality of the grapes.

Jean-Jacques demonstrated how to select which shoots to keep and which to remove.  Remove any shoots that have sprout from below the head on the trunk, and remove the weaker branch from any double shoots.

Hands-on vineyard experience gift

Sounds easy in theory, but once we had spread out among the rows and started having a go ourselves, we quickly learnt that there are many exceptions to the rule!   To keep the growth at the same height among the vines, we are always trying to keep the growth as low as possible.  This means that sometimes we leave a shoot lower than this year’s branch, so that we can use it next year.  As with pruning you always have to think at least one year ahead!  After a few tentative tries, and clarifying questions, we gradually gained in confidence!
We then headed back to the winery, where Céline gave us a wine tasting session, starting with the delicious 2015 Riesling Ortel. We then tasted the 2017 vintage of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Experience, the Pinot Gris Rosenberg, followed by the 2012 Pinot Noir.  Next up, a 2015 Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru, followed by a surprisingly full bodied 2015 Pinot Blanc Vielles Vignes white wine.

A local caterer had prepared a delicious baeckeofe for us, and we continued the wine tasting with the  2017 Who Am I?, a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Céline served a 2016 Gewürztraminer Rosenberg with cheese, and the meal ended with a tasty blueberry tart.

Organic wine tasting with the winemaker in Alsace

After lunch we had a tour of the cellar where we were introduced to what happens to the grapes once they have been harvested.  We’ll be learning more during the Harvest and Vinificiation Experience Days.

Cellar tour with the winemaker near Colmar in Alsace

The day ended back in the vineyard, where Jean-Jacques explained the work yet to come in the vineyard between now and harvest time, and how they will monitor the grapes to choose when is the best time to start harvesting.  The next critical phase should happen within the next couple of weeks, when the vines flower.  How well this goes will set out the potential yield of the harvest, and will give the first indication of when the harvest is likely to start.  The old adage says that the harvest will be 110 days after flowering. We will be closely monitoring the vines over the coming days.

Many thanks to the Stentz-Buecher family for sharing their passion for wine-making with us.  We’ll be back again at the end of June for the next Discovery Experience Day.

Find out more about adopting vines in Alsace.

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Wine-making and wine-tasting in Chinon


Under a sunny blue Chinon sky, our hosts at Château de la Bonnelière welcomed us last Sunday for a Vinification Experience Day, a day dedicated to learning about the wine-makers secrets in making wine and to tasting wines.

The busy day started with by introducing ourselves to one another over coffee and croissants, and enabled us to meet the winemaker, Marc Plouzeau, who had opened the doors of Château de la Bonnelière to us.

Marc gave us an overview of the 2018 harvest and vintage so far.  It’s looking to be a very good year, in terms of both quality and quantity!  The first wines that have been bottled from this year are already pleasing on the palate, whilst other wines are still ageing in the cellar.  We’ll get to taste them later on in the day.

Meeting the adopted vines in the vineyard

After a quick visit of the adopted vines and a few quick souvenir photos, we split the group in two, one to go with Marc to learn about what happens in the chai, and the other group with Louise to identify the different aromas found in wine.  Of course, we then changed groups later on in the morning!

In the chai, Marc explained how the vinification process is managed at the winery.  The grapes are handled as gently as possible using gravity to transfer them into the vats, no other elements are added, how the fermentation takes place in the vats and barrels…  It’s the combination of all of these factors that make Marc’s wines unique and reflect the different vineyard plots of the left bank.

In the caveau, Louise got everyone busy scribbling away with paper and pens!  We learned how to identify the different aromas found in Chinon wines.  Young and old, everyone did well for a first attempt, even if some answers left us a little bit puzzled!!

Workshop to identify the aromas found in Loire Valley wines

We then headed to the winery’s cellar underneath the Chinon Fortress, where the wines are aged, and stopped in the courtyard next to the entrance.  The sun and temperature gave us a taster of the summer to shortly come, and even gave a few of us a little more colour than we would have liked!

Enjoying the aperitif in the sunny cellar courtyard


We tasted the different red and white Chinon wines from the winery over lunch, and put our newly acquired wine tasting skills to the test.

Visiting the cellar where the wine are aged under the Chinon fortress

The day finished in the cool of the cellar, where the temperatures remains a constant 12°C all year round, ideal conditions for ageing wines.  Marc explained the history of the cellar, it having been excavated to extract the stone used to build the fortress overhead.  We then set about tasting the wines that are still in the ageing process.  We were very pleasantly surprised as the tannins are already silky, and the aromas very present.  The 2018 vintage looks set to be a big hit!

Re-assured by this tasting, we left at the end of the day longing to taste the wines again when they are finished!

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De-budding the vines in Burgundy


We spent Saturday at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay for a Discovery Experience Day. The main objective was to learn about the life-cycle of the vines and how to work organically in the vineyards to bring the grapes to maturity for the 2019 harvest.

The day started with a short presentation of the winery by the owner, Jean-François Chapelle. He talked about the history of his family and the path he took to convert the winery to being organic. The viewpoint from the winery over the surrounding vineyards helped us to understand the make-up of the Burgundy terroir, and their influence on the wines.

Vine adoption in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We then made our way to the Les Crais and Clos des Cornières vineyards to meet our adopted vines, the first planted with Chardonnay, the second with Pinot Noir vines. We learnt about the vegetative life cycle of the vines and the work necessary to nurture them from when they wake up after winter to harvest time.

Organic vineyard visit in Burgundy France

We were accompanied by Jean-François, and Yannick, the Technical Director of the vines and cellar.  Between the harvest and December, the winemaker’s time is mainly taken up with the vinification of the vintage that has just been harvested.  But then from December to March, they are very busy in the vineyards, pruning each and every vine manually.  The cut branches are then pulled away from the vines and either crushed in the rows or burned, usually by a different team than those who pruned.  It’s a tough job that takes around 4 months, and must be finished by around mid-March, the time when the first buds start to burst, and the vines spring back to life.

The vines shoots and branches grow quickly at this time of the year, some 30 or more centimetres in a month.  It’s therefore important to manage the growth.  This is also done manually for the most part by de-budding or removing some of the leaves, which also improves the air flow around the vines.

Adopt-a-vine experience at Domaine Chapelle in France

It’s the de-budding that keeps the team busy at the moment.  This task enables the quantity of fruit produced by the vines to be reduced, and thus improve the concentration and aromatic qualities of the remaining grapes.  Reducing the yield helps the grapes to reach optimum maturity, and also helps to increase the life expectancy of the vine plants in the long term.

Organic vine tending in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We’ll be able to see the result of this spring work in September when we reach harvest time.

After this full morning, we returned to the winery for the aperitif and lunch, served with some of the winery’s wines.  A Santenay Saint Jean white wine to start with, followed by a red Burgundy, Santenay Clos des Cornières, and Santenay La Comme Premier Cru.  We compared the wines and enjoyed the fine Burgundy dishes.

In the afternoon, we visited the fermentation hall and cellar for a little insight into the wine-making side of things, something that we will learn more about during the Vinification Experience Days.

We hope that everyone had a good time, and we look forward to welcoming another group soon to Santenay!

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The work of the winemaker in the cellar to make and age the wines


We spent an excellent week-end in Chinon for a Vinification Experience Day where we would learn about all of the work and skill that enables the winemaker to transform the grape juice collected at harvest time into wine, and then age it until it is ready for bottling.

An original experience gift for wine lovers.

After a welcome over coffee and croissants, Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker and owner of Château de la Bonnelière, took us to the fermentation hall.  Here he explained how the grapes are received at harvest time and put into the vats.  At Château de la Bonnelière, the grapes from each vineyard are kept separate for the most part to make a range of wines that express the different terroir.

Learn how to make organic wine in the Loire Valley

We discussed how the grape juice ferments to produce wine, and how Marc monitors and controls the process to try and produce the best quality wines.

Marc then took us to the hall next door where we saw the bottling and labelling machine that is used at the end of the process, once the wines are finally ready.

The wine bottling and label machine

The Vinification Experience Day is a fascinating day when we get the chance to taste wines that are still in the ageing process.  To help prepare us, we participated in a workshop to develop our wine tasting skills, which included a fun game to try and identify different aromas that can be found in wine.

Wine tasting course in the Loire Valley

We then headed outside to the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard that surrounds the château.  This is where our adopted vines are to be found, and so we took a few minutes to find them and take some photos!

Rent some organic vines in the Loire Valley

The wines at Château de la Bonnelière are aged in the cellar that is located directly underneath the Chinon Fortress in one of the galleries where the stone had been extracted to build the castle above.  So we transferred to the cellar, where a glass of the winery’s Perle Sauvage naturally sparkling white wine was awaiting us.

Wine tasting gift with the winemaker

We then sat down to a delicious lunch prepared by a local caterer and friend of Marc’s, during which we tasted the 2017 Silice Chinon white wine, and the 2018 La Roche, 2017 Clos de la Bonnelière and 2016 Chapelle Chinon red wines.

Lunch and wine tasting in Chinon with the winemaker

After lunch Marc explained the role of the barrels in ageing wine, and the perfect conditions that his cellar provides.  He also explained a brief history of the cellar, and how it was excavated, entirely by hand.

Learning the art of wine-making in the Loire Valley

We ended the day with a tasting of different wines to better understand the work of the winemaker in ageing and preparing the wines for bottling.  The first wine was the same La Roche 2018 wine that we had tasted over lunch, the only difference being that it had been drawn from a vat, and had not yet been prepared for bottling.  We could taste that it wasn’t quite as polished, and still had some residual gas in it that Marc will remove before it is bottled.

We then tasted a second wine that was richer and more complex.  The second wine was the 2018 Clos de la Bonnelière, which is the wine that the 2018 vintage Gourmet Odyssey clients will receive next year.  The main difference between the first two wines was the way in which they are aged.  The former in stainless steel vats, and the second in oak barrels.

Wine cellar tour and tasting with the wine-maker

The third wine, the Chapelle, is aged in the same way as the Clos de la Bonnelière, but was darker in colour and more intense, the difference arising from the terroir where the grapes used for the Chapelle wine are grown.

The fourth and final wine was different again which a much more tannic structure.  This wine was the Vindoux Intégrale, a wine that Marc makes whereby the grapes are put directly into a large barrel at harvest time, the wine staying in the barrel throughout the fermentation and ageing phases.

All of the wines were made using the same grape varietal, Cabernet Franc, but it’s amazing the range of tastes and aromas that can be found depending on the different terroir or choices that the winemaker takes when making and ageing his wines.  A fascinating day and a great insight into the life of a winemaker.  Many thanks to Marc for sharing his passion with us.

Follow this link to find out more about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

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Making and ageing wines in Alsace


Today we had travelled from Switzerland, Belgium, around Paris, and from throughout the North-East France for a Vinification Experience Day, the last in the wine-making cycle, where we would learn the choices that the winemaker takes to produce the best balanced organic wines.

 

Meet an organic winemaker in Alsace, France

We enjoyed the welcome coffee in the sunshine of the courtyard, with the temperature being unusually warm for the season. So warm that it’s as worrying for the vines as for us, as Céline explained. 30 years ago the norm was to harvest around mid-October, but the last couple of years it has been more usual to harvest in the beginning of September, and this year even saw the harvest start at the end of August.  Céline reminded us that the 2018 vintage however had been exceptional, both in terms of quality and quantity.

Vine tending experience day in Alsace, France

The vines are developing earlier than usual this year because of the warm temperatures, as we could see when we visited our adopted vines. This is worrying because the pruning and attaching of the vines to the training wires isn’t yet finished everywhere, but the sap is already flowing through the branches and the first buds are just about to start bursting. The problem is that frost is still a distinct possibility in April, and new buds are particularly sensitive. If they freeze, the quantity of the 2019 harvest will be adversely impacted.

Adopt-an-organic-vine experience in Alsace, France

But for now, under the lovely blue skies, it’s time to enjoy and take a few souvenir photos with our adopted vines, and marvel at the valleyed Alsace landscape around us.

Aromas workshop in organic wines from Alsace, France

Back at the winery, we got down to the serious matter of the day with a little test of our ability to detect the aromas that can be found in Alsace white wines. There are first of all the primary aromas that hail from the grapes themselves, and the secondary aromas that are a result of the fermentation. Most of the aromas are fruity and floral. For example Riesling wines are often noted for their citrus fruit aromas such as lemon or grapefruit, whereas litchi or rose are found in Gewurztraminer wines, and Muscat wine smells of… Muscat grapes! Then come the tertiary aromas that are to be found after the wine has been aged in oak barrels or casks. Not all Alsace wines are aged in wood, but it’s a good occasion to talk about the different aromas that barrels can bring depending on the type of wood and way that they have been toasted.

Visiting the cellar at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace, France

We then visited the cellar where Stéphane explained the choices that he makes to vinify and age the wines to extract the maximum aromatic potential of each one. We picked up where we had left off at harvest time, and talked about the alcoholic and malo-lactic fermentations, how long they take (at this time, not all of the wines have finished fermenting), the strange gurgling sounds that emit from the vats as the carbon dioxide escapes from the must, racking the wines, transferring the wines to casks or stainless steel vats… The questions flow, and Stéphane replies with humour and passion.

Vinification and tasting experience day in Alsace, France

To better understand, we tasted the 2018 Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine that is still ageing in the oak cask.  There are still a few months ageing left to go and it’s fairly closed for the moment, but we can already get a good impression of the potential to come.

Tasting organic white and red wines from Alsace, France

We returned to the courtyard for an aperitif in the form of a blind tasting of the wines. Céline served three Riesling wines from three different terroir and vintages. A 2017 Riesling tradition, a 2013 Riesling Tanenbuehl, and a 2016 Riesling Steingrubler Grand Cru. We had fun describing the aromas we could identify and the difference between the wines. We then tasted two Pinot Gris Rosenberg wines, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, from the 2010 and 2017 vintages. The difference was astonishing, so much so that the majority of us thought that they were two completely different types of wine.

With all of the work our taste buds were doing, we started to get a little hungry, which was just as well, as our local caterer had prepared an excellent choucroute, followed by regional cheeses and a Black Forest gateau.  During lunch we tasted the winery’s Who Am I white wine with the choucroute, an unfiltered Pinot Noir with the cheese, and the Ambre wine with pudding, another Pinot Noir, but made like a white wine (pressed, without any maceration) and which has a little residual sugar, making it slightly sweet and perfect with dessert.

Visit a winery and help the winemaker producing the wine in Alsace, France

After the gargantuan meal, we needed some exercise to help with the digestion!  So we returned to the cellar to find out what happens at the end of the wine-making cycle once the wine is ready for bottling.  Stéphane explained how the wine is bottled, and the conundrum of choosing corks that enable the wine to age well over time whilst being protected from oxidation.  We then had a go at labelling some bottles and packaging them into boxes.  We were proud to have labelled and packed 300 bottles in about 15 minutes.  It takes just two people at the winery to label and bottle 1200 bottles an hour.

The day drew to a close and we left thinking about how we will name our wine once it is ready, and of the good time that we had spent learning about the work that goes into making a good bottle of Pinot Gris!


Interested in participating in a Vinification Experience Day at one of Gourmet Odyssey’s partner wineries?  Learn more about the Wine Experience.

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

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