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Hints and tips for serving wine when itís hot


It’s not always easy matching wines to summer meals when it’s very hot.  You have to serve the wine at the right temperature without spoiling it, and then keep the wine at the desired temperature once it’s on the table.  If the wine is too warm, it will seem heavy and the alcohol will overpower the wine, and if it’s too chilled, you won’t be able to appreciate the aromatic qualities and depth of the wine.  Here are a few suggestions for enjoying your wine this summer.
Firstly be careful when choosing your wine because not all wines are at their best when the mercury starts to rise.  Of course, the wine should be chosen to match the dish being served, but you also need to take a few points into consideration.  For red wines, favour lighter wines because the heat makes the tannins more pronounced, and serve them between 15 and 18°C.  For the whites, choose dry and mineral wines over complex and sweet wines.  They are usually best served between 9 and 11°C, when the aromas are best released.  The same is true for champagnes and rosé wines, the latter being better suited if they are light and fruity.

These serving temperatures feel much less compared to the 30+°C often encountered during the summer months.  The most important thing is to try and avoid any thermal shocks.  For example with red wines, rather than letting the bottle breathe in the warm air and then cooling it down afterwards, if you’re lucky enough to have a cellar, it’s better to open the bottle and let it breathe in the cellar, and then bring it out at the last minute.  Not such an easy thing to do with a wine fridge though!

Alternatively, if you have a little time ahead of you, before opening the bottle, wrap it up in a damp tea towel and put it in the fridge for an hour at most, but no longer. The wet tea towel will help lower the temperature a little more quickly.

If you prefer to use an ice bucket or ice bag, which can also be used to stop the wine from warming up whilst on the table, mix some cold water with the ice cubes, as still wines don’t like to be frozen, and add some coarse salt which helps the temperature fall more quickly.

Chilling sleeves that you place in the fridge or freezer before wrapping them around the bottle don’t really chill a wine, but they are useful in maintaining the same temperature without causing any thermal shocks.

When using a carafe to serve your wine, they also exist with removable tubes that you can fill with water and freeze so that the ice can be used without diluting the wine.  Of course ice cubes and wine are not a good idea if you want to preserve the aromas and concentration of the wine.  If you really want to put something frozen directly in your wine, an alternative is to freeze some grapes, berry by berry, and then add them when needed.  They’ll cool the wine down without diluting it as ice cubes do, and at least its more eye catching!

Another tip is to chill the wine glasses using ice cubes just before serving the wine, which will stop the wine from warming up so quickly in the glass.  To chill the glass, put a few ice cubes in, and swirl them around until the glass starts to frost up.

By following these few tips, you should be able to continue enjoying a few nice bottles this summer. Enjoy your holiday!

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Nurturing the organic vines in Saint-Emilion


We spent another great Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience weekend in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet with the David Beaulieu family.  They have been making wine here for over 400 years and have a unique story to tell, not just from the 14 generations of wine-makers, but also because they have always been organic and have never used any chemical products on their vines.  We were to hear more about what makes Château Coutet unique throughout the day, but the main focus was on learning about all of the work in the vineyard needed to nurture the vines and produce the best possible grapes at harvest time.

Original wine gift for any wine lover. Adopt some organic vines in a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru vineyard

After the introductions, we made our way through the vineyards and up the hill.  On the way, we learnt about the different grape varietals of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec that are grown on the estate, and we marvelled at the trees and hedgerows that help to make up the special ecosystem of the winery. Around 20% of the winery’s surface area is voluntarily set aside from growing vines to preserve and encourage the biodiversity, which in turn helps maintain a natural equilibrium.

From the top of the hill, we had a good vantage point over the plain below, stretching past Libourne to Fronsac, and across the Dordogne River into the Entre Deux Mers wine-growing region.  Here we learnt the role that the landscape plays in influencing the weather in Saint-Emilion, and could see how the soil changes from the sandy loam flood plain, to the clay limestone on the side of the hill, to the limestone plateau at the top.  The vines at Château Coutet grow on these three distinct terroir.

Vineyard tour with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux

Up on the plateau, we made our way to the Peycocut vineyard, one of the 12 reference vineyards in Saint-Emilion, traditionally used by the Jura to determine the date for the harvest.  This is where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located, and we took a few minutes to visit our vines, admire the views of the rolling vineyards, and take a few pictures.

Rent some organic vines in Saint-Emilion and foloow the making of your personnalised wine

The work in the vineyard began during the cold winter months with pruning.  We learnt how this is done, and were brought up to speed on the other work accomplished so far this year to de-bud the vines, raise the training wires, and work the soil.

Learning the life of a winemaker

The past few months have been warm and wet.  This has meant that the vines have grown rampantly, but it is also been the ideal conditions for mildew to flourish.  Whilst walking in the vineyards we could see some of the tell-tale yellow spots on the vine leaves.  With the heavy downpours of rain, it hasn’t always been possible to get the tractor into the vineyard to treat the vines when needed.   As the vineyard is organic and the bouillie bordelaise used to protect the vines from mildew is a contact product, it gets washed away and needs to be reapplied after each 20mm of rain.

Protecting the vines from mildew

Another way to help reduce the spread and impact of mildew is to remove some of the leaves around the grapes, which improves the air flow and speeds up the drying time after any rain.  This was the job that had been set aside for us, and we were shown how to do so.  The first factor to take into consideration is the alignment of the vines.  In the Bordeaux region the summer months can get very hot with strong sunshine.  The leaves are therefore only removed on the east facing side which receives the gentler morning sun.  The leaves are kept on the other side to protect the grapes from the more powerful afternoon sun.  The leaves to be removed are those directly in front of the grapes and any which touch the grapes and could transport moisture to the grapes from the rest of the plant.

De-leafing the vines in Saint-Emilion

After watching the winemakers do this expertly, we spread out in pairs to have a go ourselves.  It’s not the most intellectually demanding task, but we soon learnt that it’s more physically demanding that you might think, and that there is a real technique needed to go fast.

Hands-on wine course in Saint-Emilion, France

We then headed back to the winery, and enjoyed a well earned glass of chilled Clairet rosé wine in the shade of the magnificent trees in the chateau’s garden.

Lunch and wine tasting gift in Saint-Emilion with the winemaker

Lunch was delicious as usual, prepared on site by the excellent caterers.  We had foie-gras with fig chutney and savoury breads for starter, followed by magret de canard with a 4 spice sauce, mashed potato with truffle oil, and garden vegetables.  To accompany these dishes, we tasted the Château’s second wine, Belles-Cîmes 2015, and compared the 2014 and 2015 vintages of the Château Coutet.  We then tasted the Cuvée Demoiselle 2014 with the cheese and dessert.

After lunch, we talked some more about how the winery is managed organically, and has always been so since time began.  We also learnt about the work left to do in the vineyard before the harvest, and how the winemakers will tell when the grapes are ripe enough to be picked.

Organic wine-making course and gift in Saint-Emilion

The day ended with a quick visit of the chai, family cellar, and barrel room.  The family cellar is full of old vintage wines going back over the past 50 years or so, and everyone tried to find the bottles from their birth years.

Cellar tour in Saint-Emilion with the wine-maker

We’ll be spending more time in the chai during the Vinification Experience Day next year.  For now we have to wait patiently as the grapes ripen before returning in September to help pick the grapes during the Harvest Experience Day.

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Leaf removal to protect the vines from mildew


Last weekend we had travelled from Avignon, Nancy, Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Switzerland and England to meet Isabelle and Arnaud Guichard, the winemakers at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Massif d’Uchaux region of the Rhone Valley.

 

Wine gift box in a French vineyard in the Rhone Valley

The first question to come up over a cup of coffee and croissant was who knew the Massif d’Uchaux? Nobody? But that’s not surprising because it is a very exclusive appellation that was formally recognised in 2005 for having its own distinct terroir.  We were to talk lots more about the terroir during the course of this Discovery Experience Day, a hands-on wine course at the winery, dedicated to the work in the vineyard before the harvest.

Discovery day at the winery and oenology class in the Cote du Rhone area

We then headed out into the vineyard, passing by the olive trees.  The winery has its own special biodynamic ecosystem, including 30 hectares of vines, an organic olive grove, and 20 hectares of woodland, all of which are to be found around the winery buildings, on a small hill which looks a lot like paradise on this beautifully sunny day!

The hill is what makes the Massif d’Uchaux so special compared to the Rhone Valley plain below.  Around 90 million years ago, the sea covered the valley and the hill was an island.  On our way to the adopted plot of vines, we stopped to look at the remnants of an old beach that dates back to the Miocene era, where you can still see some shell fish fossils.

Vine adoption at Domaine de la Guicharde, Mondragon, France
We then arrived on the plateau where a plot of Syrah and a plot of Grenache vines are planted on the terrace that also dates back to the Miocene era.  And yes, that’s why the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, is called the “Terroir du Miocène”, because it is a blend of the grapes that are grown here.
Wine gift box Vine tending class in the Rhone Valley
The winter pruning and biodynamic treatments had prepared the vines for the new campaign, and the vines were flourishing.  The flowering period went well in early June, and the grape berries are now starting to form.  The combination of warm weather and rain in May and June, has seen vigorous growth in the vineyard.  Perhaps even a little too much, because the work to till the soil had been delayed.  As Arnaud explained, it had been impossible to get the tractor into the vineyard because the ground had been too wet, and it had also not been possible to treat the vines after the rain, because the mistral wind had picked up as soon as the rain clouds had passed over.  Regulation stipulates that treating the vines is not allowed if the wind reaches 19 kph, which is a regular occurrence in the Rhone Valley!

Having found our adopted vines and taken a few souvenir photos, we took a closer look at the vines.  Arnaud showed us how to spot the difference between Syrah and Grenache vines.  The leaves are different as we had seen during our last visit, but now that the grapes have started to form, it is even more evident.  The grenache vines produce compact and round bunches of grapes, whereas the syrah vines have more elongated bunches and the grapes are more spaced out.  This also explains why the Syrah vines are generally less susceptible to disease than Grenache vines.
Gift box discovery day in the vineyard in Mondragon, France
The combination of rain, heat, and lack of treatment leads inevitably to an attack of mildew, and unfortunately we could see some spots on the leaves and berries on the Grenache vines.  Thankfully the Gourmet Odyssey adoptive parents had come to help out.  Today our task was to remove some of the leaves on the side facing the rising sun to help the air better circulate around the grapes and reduce the spread and impact of the mildew.    On the side facing the rising sun, the grapes are only exposed to the weaker morning sun, when the temperature isn’t yet hot enough to dry out the berries, whereas the side of the falling sun receives hotter sunshine at the end of the day, and the leaves are needed to shade the grapes and stop them from burning.
Wine box meet the winemaker in his windery in France
It’s easy to remove the leaves, as Arnaud explained.  You just remove all of the leaves from in front of the vines.  He uses quick and precise movements, and then we tried to do it as efficiently as him.  In pairs, we spread out among the vine rows, and starting plucking.  Arnaud moved between us to talk about his work, and to answer the many questions regarding the vintage, weather and the treatments used in the vineyard.
Vineyard discovery day and wine tasting in the Cote du Rhone area
We took a brief pause to quench our thirst, and then Arnaud brought us up to speed on all of the work that had been carried out in the vineyard so far.  Pruning, de-budding, raising the training wires, trimming the vines.  By this time, we were starting to get a little hungry, and so we headed back to the winery for lunch.  On the way, we spotted some of the plants, such as horse tail or yarrow, that are used in the biodynamic treatments.
Organic and biodynamic wine tasting at Domaine de la Guicharde
The nicely chilled rosé in the shade of the courtyard was most welcome.  We also tasted the “Pur rouge”, a wine for friends according to Arnaud, and which went down very well on this hot day.  We also had some grape juice, organic of course, made from merlot and cabernet grown in Isabelle’s second winery, “Les Mourgettes”.
Winery visit, vineyard tour and winmakers' lunch in France
Lunch had been prepared by Thierry Bonfante, from the restaurant Le Temps de Vivre, just 4 km away.  A lentil salad with regional caillettes, slow-cooked beef stew with carrots, cheese and tiramisu, accompanied by a selection of wines from the winery.  For the reds, we tasted the Genest and Terroir du Miocène, and enjoyed the Autour de la Chapelle white wine with the cheese.
Winemaker experience in the Cotes du rhone area
The questions abounded over lunch regarding the daily life of a winemaker, and at the end of the meal, we came back to the topic of biodynamics.  Isabelle talked to us about the book written by Jean-Michel Florin, Viticulture Biodynamique, for those who are really interested in learning more.  For the majority of us who are novices in the subject, Isabelle recounted some of the amusing anecdotes from her short book Précis à l’usage de ceux qui pensent que Demeter n’est qu’une déesse grecque. Laughter rang out around the table as she told us about her adventures with the cow horn manure…

Arnaud explained the principals of the biodynamic wine making, developed by Rudolph Steiner and organised around the lunar calendar.  To make it more easily understandable, he took us to see the tools used such as the dynamiser and the spraying machine.  He told us how he makes the treatments, and he talked about the constraints of the calendar in caring for the vines, depending on whether it’s a fruit, flower, root or leaf day.
Wine-making and vine adoptione experience in mondragon,  france
We finished the day with a visit to the chai, to understand where the grapes will go after the 2018 harvest.  But we still have a little time to go.  The date for the harvest has yet to be fixed as we need to wait a few weeks more to see how the weather influences the development of the grapes.  As we had heard throughout the day, in this calm haven where time seems to stand still, it’s the nature and the raw elements who lead the show, and then Isabelle and Arnaud work their magic to make the most of nature’s gift and to produce their excellent wines. 

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Green harvesting the vines in the south of France


For our last wine Discovery Experience Day of the summer at the winery, we were welcomed warmly by the winemakers and we had glorious sunshine beaming down in us.  After the introductions and coffee outside, we made our way into the vineyard.

 

Organic Vine adoption in Pézenas, Languedoc, France

As we walked through the vineyard, we learnt about how the year has been shaping up so far.  With the alternating rain and hot weather in May and June, the vines have seen some mildew form on them, and we could see the tell tale spots on the leaves, and noticed that some of the grapes had also been touched.  Mildew loves hot and damp conditions.

We arrived in the Mazet vineyard, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located.  The Syrah vines are less susceptible to the mildew and fortunately there was hardly any trace of it on the leaves.  After taking a few photos, we learnt about the work that has already been done to prune, de-bud and support the vines using the training wires as we continued our walk through the vineyard.

Adopt-a-vine experience in an organic French vineyard as a gift
Opposite the winery buildings, there is a plot of young Grenache vines that had been planted last year, and that will not come into production until the 2019 harvest.  Lots of grapes have already started to form on these small vines, but the priority for now is to help them develop their root system.


So armed with a pair of harvesting secateurs, we cut the bunches of un-ripened grapes from the vines.  Sacrificing this tiny harvest this year will help the plants become stronger in anticipation of better harvests later.

After the effort, the reward.  During lunch prepared by Delphine, we tasted different wines from the winery.

Wine gift box tastig and visit at Domaine Allegria, Languedoc, france

We visited the cellar after lunch to discover the vinification hall where the grapes are received at harvest time, and the barrel room where the wines age before being ready for bottling, but we’ll talk more about these aspects during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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De-leafing organic vines in the Loire Valley


For the last time this Spring, Marc Plouzeau welcomed us for a Discovery Experience Day at Château de la Bonnelière to discover his winery, his vines and the Loire valley wines that he produces.  We were also to meet our adopted vines which are used to make the Clos de la Bonnelière red Chinon wine, and to learn about the work carried out in the vineyard.

  Wine Box with vineyard visit in Chinon, France

After the introductions we ventured out into the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard to meet our adopted vines and to see the grape bunches that have already started to form! 

Wine gift oenology course in Chinon, Loire, France

Marc talked about the work that has been so far to get the vines to this stage. The flowering period had gone well despite the wet spring, and we can start to hope for a good harvest, as long as the weather doesn’t have other plans between now and the moment when the grapes are picked.

Oenology box vine tending experience in the Loire Valley

The task for the day was de-leafing, which involves removing the leaves from in front of the vines. The principal reason is to allow the grapes to dry more quickly after any rain, thus limiting the spread of diseases such as mildew. A simple, but important task, expertly carried out by our adoptive vine parents!

Wine gift, vineyard tour and meeting the winemaker in Chinon France

Mission accomplished, and after a question and answer session on organic wine-making, the daily life at the winery, and the work left to do in the vineyard, we sat down to enjoy the lunch which had been prepared by Mme Plouzeau. Her great specialty, the strawberry Chantilly proved to be a big hit once again. And of course, we enjoyed a selection of wines from Château de la Bonnelière.

Wine box with winery visit, wine tasting and winemakers' lunch

After lunch, we visited some of the other vineyards to get a better idea as to the different terroir that make up the winery. We talked about how the work varies in the different plots, and discussed the organic practices used, many of which can also be used in the garden back home!

We’ll next be back for the harvest, and so have to wait patiently to see the fruit of our labour. In the meantime, we wish Marc and the vines a great summer!

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Learning the secrets of making and ageing organic wine in Burgundy


We were welcomed at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay for a Vinification Experience Day to learn all about the work of the winemaker in the cellar. The 2017 vintage has now finished its fermentation period and the wines have been racked and put into barrels to start their ageing process. The work is not yet over for the winemaker however, as there still remain a whole host of decisions and actions that must be undertaken to ensure that we end up with a great organic wine in the bottle.

 

Vine adoption and daay at the winery in Santenay, France

 

The sun was shining brightly, and so we made ourselves at home in the winery’s garden, overlooking the Clos des Cornières vineyard where our adopted pinot noir vines are located. 

Oenology lessons at the winery with Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy, France

Jean-François, the winemaker and owner at Domaine Chapelle introduced us to the winery and gave us a recap of the 2017 vintage. He also pointed out the different terroir found in the surrounding vineyards to get a better understanding of the geology and its impact on the hierarchy of the Burgundy AOC system. The surrounding area is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Wine gift box aromas masterclass at the winery

We then split into two groups, one of which went first with Jean-François for a visit of the cellar and to taste the 2017 vintage directly from the barrel, and the other group stayed with Yvette, Jean-François’ wife, to develop their senses that would be put to the test during the wine tasting to come. The groups then swapped over.

Wine experience and wine tasting in Burgundy, France

Jean-François explained how the sugar in the grapes is transformed into alcohol during the first fermentation phase after the harvest.  We also had the honour of tasting some of the 2017 wines that are currently still in the ageing process, drawing them by pipette directly from the barrel.

Yvette helped us discover and identify the aromas that can be found in Burgundy wines, and explained where they come from, whether it’s from the grape and quality of the grape, or from the vinification and ageing process. 

Vineyard visit box in Santenay, Burgndy, France

We then put our new found knowledge to the test as we tasted different wines from Domaine Chapelle, starting with a glass of the chardonnay AOC Santenay Saint Jean white wine.

During lunch we enjoyed some local dishes of jambon persillé, Gaston Gérard chicken, local cheeses and a chocolate and blackcurrant entremets desert, accompanied by three red wines from Domaine Chapelle, the 2014 Santenay Clos des Cornières, the 2011 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru and the 2013 Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru.

After lunch we headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines, and see how they are preparing for the 2018 vintage. We encouraged them to continue their good work, and passed the baton to the adoptive owners of the 2018 vintage!

Vine renting at Domaine CHapelle, Burgundy, france

Jean-François explained the three different ages of vines that are used in making the Clos des Cornières wine. The 2017 vintage will be the last for a while to use the three different aged vines because the oldest plot of vines was uprooted earlier in the year.  It will be replanted with young vines, but it will take a few more years before any grapes will be produced.

Vina adoption box for a perfect to wine lovers

Back at the winery, we tasted the wines that are currently ageing from these three different aged vines, and so could see for ourselves the difference in quality. Each of the three plots is picked, vinified, and aged separately before being blended when it comes time to bottle the wine.  We noted that the tannins were much softer for the oldest vines, whilst they were still marked for the youngest plot. The winemaker can balance these different styles when blending the final wine.

We had spent a very enjoyable day in Santenay at Domaine Chapelle and can’t wait to taste the 2017 Clos des Cornières wine when it is finished!

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Find the perfect wine gift for Fatherís Day. Adopt some organic vines in France!


For father’s day you might have already given your wine-loving Dad some nice bottles of wine, a wine tasting course, or a guided visit to a winery. This year, take it a whole leap further by adopting some organic vines in France and giving him a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Father’s Day gift. This enlightening and original present is also great for eco-friendly and gourmet Dads. 

By adopting some vines, your Dad will follow the progress of his vines and the making of his own French organic wine for a wine-making year at one of our acclaimed organic wineries in France. Through our newsletters and photos, your Dad will learn about all of the key stages in making a great organic wine, from the work in the vineyard to the choices the winemaker takes in the cellar to ferment, age and prepare the wine before it is ready to be bottled.

Original wine gift for Fathers Day
At the end of the wine-making year, your Dad can choose the name of his wine, and will receive one personalised bottle of wine for each adopted vine.
Wine gift vine adoption and vineyard visit

To make the experience even more interactive, you can add one or more Wine Experience Days at the winery so your father can visit his adopted vines, meet the winemaker and get involved in working alongside him in the vineyard to nurture the vines or pick the grapes, or to learn about the work in the cellar.

Vineyard tour and wine tasting at a French winery

Each Wine Experience Day lasts a full day from 9:30 to 16:00 and includes a wine tasting and full lunch at the winery. These fun days are valid for two people, and are an eye-opening immersion into the real life of a wine-maker!

Wine making experience as a gift for Fathers Day

All of our partner wineries are organically or biodynamically certified and produce wines that are often awarded medals or selected by the main wine guides. They take pride and pleasure in sharing the ins and outs of their profession with you.

Our Wine Experience Father’s Day gift begins with the reception of a welcome gift box containing a wine cooler bag, a re-usable glass wine-stopper, a Drop Stop and a personalised adoption certificate. Your Dad then starts his Wine Experience as soon as he activates his customer portal using the code contained in his welcome pack!

Delivery of the welcome pack takes two working days in France, and between 3 and 6 days for the rest of Europe. For any last minute Father’s Day gifts, we can send you the certificate by email.

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The role barrels play in ageing wine


We have recently finished the en primeur season in Bordeaux when the 2017 vintage wines are tasted from the barrel and sample blends rated. The wines have only recently been put into the barrels and will spend the coming months, and in some cases, next couple of years ageing in barrels.  It’s the same too in lots of the other French wine-growing regions. So it’s a good time to ask what role the barrels play in ageing wines in the cellar.

Why age wine?


Once the grapes arrive in the chai and are put into the vats, the fermentation process begins naturally thanks to the yeast cells that are present in the grapes.  This stage finishes when all of the sugar has been transformed into alcohol.  If you taste the wine at this time, unless you are a trained professional, you will be disappointed because the wine is still very hard and closed, and therefore difficult to enjoy.

Burgundy barrels
The next stage in the wine-making cycle is to allow the wine to soften, improve its structure and develop its tertiary aromas, those that appear during the ageing process.  The aim is to obtain a wine that is mature enough to be bottled and stored, the time varies depending on the type of wine being produced.  To age a wine there are various different containers available to the winemaker.  One of which is the barrel.

 

What role do the barrels play?


A barrel is a wooden recipient, made out of staves which are bowed and held in place by metal rings.  They have been used for over 2000 years, at first to simply store and transport wine, but they are now used primarily for the ageing of wine, and other alcoholic products.  Wine is no longer stored indefinitely in barrels, as once the ageing process has finished, it is bottled for storing.

Bordelais barrels

How does a barrel bring structure to a wine? The wood from which it is made is a natural product, and allows a tiny amount of air to pass through the barrel, allowing it to breathe!  That brings oxygen to the wine and makes the wine fuller and more rounded.

And what about the aromas and tannins?  As the wine is in constant contact with the wood of the barrel, a tiny amount of particles from the wood dissolve into the wine, and transfer some aromas to the wine that vary according to the type of wood and the way in which the barrel was heated, or toasted, when being made.  Tannins are also present in wood as within wine, and when put into contact with one another, they combine to give a more delicate structure.

How are barrels made?


The foundation for a good barrel is the wood, and in most cases is made of oak.  Their trunks are first of all split and dried for several years.  Then they are split again to create the staves.  These are placed in a circle in a first metal ring, and heated so as to make the curve.  The heating can be done by burning them, by using hot water, or steam.

Heating the staves at the Nadalié cooperage

Then the staves have another belt applied and another circle is fixed at the other end. One of the staves has a hole put in it and the water and air tightness is tested.  The barrel is also heated a last time to change its chemical composition and bring the desired aromas that are wanted for the wine.

The aromas and the structure brought to the wine by ageing it in barrels can have a marked difference on the wine, as the clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience days can attest to!  Why not join us for your own Wine Experience?


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Working in the vineyard in the Cotes du Rhone


Last weekend we were at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley for the very first wine experience day at Gourmet Odyssey’s new partner winery.  The topic for the day was to learn about all of the work that happens in the vineyard to produce the best possible grapes at harvest time.  As we were to learn there is much more to do than you might think, and with the winery being both organically and biodynamically certified, particular attention is paid to the well-being of the estate as a whole.

Rent some biodynamic vines in the Rhone valley and participate in making your own biodynamic wine

After the introductions to the day by Mark, the founder of Gourmet Odyssey and to the winery by Arnaud, the winemaker at Domaine de la Guicharde, we set off out into the vineyard.  On the way we passed the olive grove which Arnaud nurtures to produce biodynamic olive oil.  Arnaud had started working at 5:30 to prepare and dynamise a biodynamic silica treatment used to strengthen and invigorate the leaves.  The vines had already been treated and as we walked by, we watched the olive trees being sprayed with the same dynamised water.

Vineyard and Olive grove tour Rhone Valley

Arnaud explained the geological history of the Massif d’Uchaux wine-growing region, and how the surrounding area was covered in water during the Miocène era.  He showed us the remnants of the ancient beach where shell fish can still be seen in the soil.  Difficult to believe when you are looking out over the vines and garrigue towards the pre-Alps and the Mont Ventoux.

We then arrived in the vineyard where our adopted vines are located.  The grapes picked in this plot are used to make the Terroir du Miocène red that is the wine chosen for the personalised wine bottles included in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  A name plate had been put in front of each micro-plot of vines and we took a few minutes to find our vines, take a few photos and encourage them to produce a good harvest this year!

Adopt a vine wine experience in the Rhone Valley vineyard

Arnaud then explained the work that had been carried out in the vineyard during the winter to work the soil, prune the vines using the cordon de royat method, and repair the trellis system used to train the vines.

With the hot weather of the past couple of weeks, the buds on the vines had burst into life, and were starting their growth phase when the branches can grow several centimetres per day.  Sometimes the vines get a little over excited with all this growth, and stems grow from lower down on the vine stock, two branches grow from the same bud, or there are simply too many branches appearing on the vine.  To limit the number of grapes that the vine will produce and improve the quality, it is necessary to remove the unwanted branches.  This is known as de-budding, and Arnaud explained how to select which branches to remove.

Working in the vineyard

We then spread out in the vineyard, two to a row, and had a go at de-budding ourselves.  As with pruning, it is very easy to understand in practice, but more difficult when you have to make the decision yourself!  Each vine is unique, and sometimes you need to leave a branch that in theory you would remove, but that might be useful in the future to reshape the vine or bring the fruit-bearing branches back close to the vine stock.

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

Arnaud then took us on a short walk through the vineyard to show the different grape varietals and how to identify them just by looking at their leaves.  The Grenache vines that we had been working on were a lot greener and had a shiny coat, compared to the adjacent plot of Syrah that was slightly yellower, and had a soft velvet duvet on the underside.

Recognising different grape varietals

It wasn’t just the vines that were enjoying the good weather.  The grass and wild flowers were also flourishing in the vineyard, and we admired the beauty of the poppies dancing in the breeze.

 

Biodynmaic vineyard tour in the Rhone Valley, France

After the morning’s activities, we made our way back to the winery, and convened in the shade of the courtyard for an aperitif and lunch, which had been prepared by the excellent local restaurant, Le Temps de Vivre.  The first wine that we tasted was the Cotes du Rhone white, Au tour de la Chapelle 2017.  During the starter, main course, cheese and desert courses,  we then tasted Le 17 rosé 2017 wine, the Cotes du Rhone Pur Rouge 2017 red, followed by two Cotes du Rhone Villages Massif d’Uchaux red wines, the Genest 2016 and the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the Terroir du Miocène 2015.

Wine tasting experience and lunch at a biodynamic Cotes du Rhone winery

In the afternoon, we ventured back into the vineyard.  Arnaud explained the work to come between now and the harvest to raise the training wires, treat the vines, control the growth of the grass and wild flowers, potentially remove some of the leaves from the vines depending on the weather, and how to choose the date for the harvest.

Sponsor some vines and learn about biodynamic wine making

We then spent a while talking about what is involved in organic and biodynamic wine-making.  Arnaud is a passionate advocate of biodynamics and explained how he converted the winery and his reasons for doing so.  He told us about the different preparations that are used to treat the vines and how the work in the vineyard is managed in coordination with the lunar calendar.  We stopped to have a look at the dynamiser used to prepare the biodynamic tisanes.

Winery tour Rhone Valley

We ended the day with a quick visit of the chai to see where the wine is made once the grapes have been picked.  We’ll spend more time here during the Harvest Experience Day in September and the Vinification Experience Days next year.

Many thanks to Arnaud and all of the participants for making this such a great first wine experience day at Domaine de la Guicharde!

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De-budding the pinot noir vines in Burgundy


We had a beautiful sunny day for the Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Chapelle in the Cote de Beaune village of Santenay.  We were there to learn all about the work of the winemaker in the vineyard to obtain the best quality grapes at harvest time.

 

Vine adoption in an organic French vineyard in Burgundy

Simon, the son of Jean-François and Yvette and who will one day take over from them in the running of the winery, was with us for the day, joined by the Technical Director, Yannick.  Simon began by explaining the history of the winery and of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

We then ventured out into the vineyard where we divided into two groups to learn about the work to nurture the vines.

Vine tending work and vineyard visit in Burgundy

We learnt how the vines had been pruned and the remaining branches attached to the training wire. This vital work had been finished in March. The first buds then burst into life in the third week of April, and we could see how the branches had started to grow, already revealing several leaves per branch and the formation of the clusters from which the flowers will appear to produce the future grapes.

Wine gift box and experience day in Burgundy at Domaine Chapelle

The principal activity in the vineyard at the moment is de-budding, and we learnt how to reduce the number of branches to limit the quantity of grapes that will be produced. This is an essential step to control the yield and produce the best possible grapes.

Gift idea for wine lovers visit at the winery and meet the winemaker

We then had a go at de-budding ourselves under the watchful eye of Simon and Yannick. We proved to be a very conscientious team of de-budders being very much aware of the impact of our actions on the future harvest, and we came away from the day as confirmed specialists!

Wine tasting box Burgundy red wine

By now, we had reached the hour for the aperitif, and we enjoyed a Santenay Saint Jean 2016 white wine in the courtyard, accompanied by some delicious Burgundy gougères.

We then sat down to lunch of a perch terrine, beef bourguignon, a selection of local cheeses, and a delicious chocolate entremets for dessert, accompanied by a 2014 Burgundy red, the 2014 vintage of the Santenay Clos des Cornières wine, chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Experience, and finishing with a  2011 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru red wine.

Gift box winery tour and vineyard visit, Burgndy, France

After lunch we had a quick tour of the fermentation hall and cellar with Yannick. We will be spending more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days to come.

Many thanks to Yannick and Simon, and to all of the participants for making it such a great day.

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Learning about organic wine-making in the south of France


On the 7th April, we were in the south of France for the first of the wine experience days of the year at Domaine Allegria. The agenda for the day was to learn all about the art of making wines, ageing them, and blending the syrah and mourvèdre grape varietals that make up the Tribu d’A red wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

At this time of year, the buds start to unfurl to reveal the first young leaves on the vines.

Vine adoption at Domaien Allegria, Languedoc, France

After the introduction to the winery by Ghislain, the winemaker, we headed out into the vineyard to visit our adopted vines, which are now getting ready for the 2018 growth.

Vine renting and day at the winery in Languedoc,France

We made a little detour to visit a new plot of vines that has been planted with carignan blanc, a new grape varietal for the winery. We’ll be able to taste the first wine from this plot in 3 years time.

WIne gift box day at the winery in Languedoc france

After meeting our adopted vines, we returned to the cellar to discuss the vinification process. We picked up where we had left off after the harvest and talked about what goes on during the first fermentation phase. There is much more to do than you would think to prepare the wine for the ageing period., and Ghislain answered many questions regarding the use of sulphites and other technical matters.

We then visited the barrel room, where the wine is aged, and talked about the purpose of ageing, and the choice of the different containers used, and their influence on the taste and structure of the wine.

Wine box oeonology class in France

To prepare us for the wine tasting and blending sessions to come, we gathered around some wine barrels for a fun game to try and identify 12 aromas found in red wine. They were all scents that we knew well, being everyday aromas, but when you smell them blind, it’s much more difficult to put a name to each one!

Vineyard visit and winemakers' lunch in France

During the morning, Delphine, the winemaker and wife of Ghislain, had prepared a tasty lunch, made from local produce, of great winemaker salads, the first asparagus of the season, and some exceptional bread that had been cooked that morning by the local baker, Jean-Marie.  We also enjoyed some goats cheese from the local Mas Roland, and finished with a delicious home-made chocolate cake and coffee.

Organic wine tasting and winery tour in Languedoc, France

Lunch was accompanied by a tasting of the wines from Domaine Allegria; the new vintage of the Dolce Vita rosé wine, the 2015 Carignan Gourmand, the 2015 Tribu d’A white wine and 2016 Tribu d’A red.  We finished with the 2016 Cousu Main and 2015 La Belle Histoire.

After lunch, we participated in the much awaited wine blending workshop, where we discovered and had a go at blending three 2017 wines of differing grape varietals. It’s not a good exercise for mathematicians, as you learn that 1+1 should equal 3, the idea being that a successful blend should be better than each of the wines used individually. It takes trial and error to learn what works, but by adjusting the percentages used, tasting and re-tasting, we refined our blends. 

The day ended with us gaining a good idea of how the 2017 vintage will be, but we must still wait a few more months until the wine has finished the ageing process and is ready to be bottled. We can’t wait to taste it!

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Pruning cabernet franc vines for making organic wine in the Loire Valley


On the 18th March we were at Château de la Bonnelière in Chinon for the first of the wine experience days for the 2018 vintage. Marc Plouzeau, the winemaker, was on hand to open the doors to his winery and for us to find out from him what is involved in making organic wine.

Marc explained the history of this family winery, which was brought back to life in the 1980’s by his father. Thanks to him, after 60 years without any production, the first Château de la Bonnelière wine was bottled in 1989.

Vineyard tour in Chinon, Loire Valley, France

Today, Marc manages the 35 hectares of vines, all of which are nurtured organically. The vineyards are all situated on the left bank of the Vienne river, and the different plots with their differing terroir enable Marc to produce a range of wines, from lighter wines that are fruity and ready for drinking to more full bodied wines that are best left to age a while.

The Clos de la Bonnelière, which is the wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey for the adopt-a-vine experience, is made from 100% cabernet franc grapes, all of which come from the same plot of vines that are planted next to the château. The way that the vines are nurtured is of the utmost importance in assuring the optimal quality of grapes for the 2018 harvest.

Pruning course as a wine gift box in France

The soil was worked over the winter period, and the pruning of the vines is finally coming to a close in March. There were still some rows left to prune in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, and so Marc showed us how to select which branches to keep and which to cut away. Secateurs in hand, we learnt that the vines are pruned using the Guyot method, and had a go at pruning some of the vines for ourselves.

Winemaking experience gift box in a French vineyard

We then pulled away the cut branches from the vines and training wires. It’s a fairly physical task as the tendrils from last year had wrapped themselves tightly around the wires.

Marc then showed us some of the other vineyard plots, explaining along the way the work that remains to be done this summer and what being organic means in the way of looking after the vines.

Wine tasting and winemaker lunch at the winery in France

The walking had given us all a good appetite, and so we headed to the cellar underneath the Chinon fortress, where Marc ages his wines.  This magical venue was to be where we were to have lunch! During the delicious meal, prepared by Marc’s mum, we tasted the different range of Chinon wines from the winery.

In the afternoon, Marc showed us the different tools and machinery used to treat the vines and to work the soil in the vineyard. We saw the tractors, different ploughs, and other equipment that has been specially adapted to working in the vine rows.

And so a busy and instructive day drew to a close, and we left having a gained an insight into what being a wine-maker entails. We’ll leave Marc to continue his work until we’re back for the next Gourmet Odyssey wine experience day!

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Learning the art of wine-making in Chablis


When you open a bottle of wine, you don’t always think about all of the work that has gone into making it.  Everyone knows that at some stage there is the harvest, but to have the best possible grapes come harvest time, there is much work and effort that has gone into nurturing the vines along the way.  But the harvest is not the end either, and marks the beginning of the wine-making side of things.  There is more that goes on in the cellar than you might think to press the grapes, ferment the grape must, age the wines and prepare them for bottling, as we were to find out during the Vinification Experience Day in Chablis at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard last Saturday.

Wine Experience Gift at an organic winery in Chablis, France

This wine experience day was split into different workshops to learn about everything that happens at the winery between the harvest and the wine being ready for bottling and labelling.  And so the day started in the loading bay where the grapes are put into the wine presses.  Odile, the head wine-maker at the winery, told us how the presses are controlled to extract the juice from the grapes.

Gift experience to learn how organic wine is made

We then learnt all about how the wines are settled and the wines  are clarified to separate the juice from the larger solid particles of pips and skin that made it through the membrane of the press.  Once this has happened the juice then continues its journey into one of the vats where it will remain during the fermentation process.

Wine-making gift experience in France

Odile explained how the sugar in the grape juice is transformed into alcohol over the following weeks.

Once the fermentation has finished, the wines are racked to separate them from the larger lee particles, and they are left to age on their finer lees to develop their depth and structure.  To better understand the process she let us taste some of the wines directly from the vats, including the wine that we will end up with at the end of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.  It’s a rare opportunity to taste wines in their unfinished state.

Learn to taste wine like a professional oenologist

Before the wines are ready to be bottled, they are racked again and filtered to clarify them further, and to ensure that no impurities are left in the wine that might cause it to spoil in the bottle.  We then made our way to the production line to see where the bottling takes place, and we discussed the merits of the different options of sealing the bottles, by cork, screw-cap or other materials.

The wine bottling machine

After bottling, the wine is laid to rest again and then stored until ready for labelling.  Odile showed us the labelling machine that sticks on the front and back label and adds the capsule on top of the bottles.  The bottles are then boxed up and ready for sale or distribution.  It’s an impressive sight!

The next workshop was to learn how to taste wine and prepare us for the wine tasting session to come.  We use all of our senses when tasting wine, and we first put our noses to the test to try and identify different aromas found in white wine, either due to the different grape varietals or from having been aged in oak.  It’s not as easy as you would think!

Wine tasting gift at an organic winery in Chablis, France

We then tasted different sweet, saline, acidic, and bitter solutions to see if there was any difference in where we could feel them in our mouths.

It was then time to taste the wines.  We had three sets of wines to taste, and had to try and identify what the different factor was between the wines in each set.  The wine tasting session had been organised to show the difference between terroir, grape varietals, and the way in which the wine is aged.

Unique wine tasting and winery tour gift in Chablis

We tasted a wide range of different Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru wines, and continued the tasting over the delicious lunch which had been prepared at the winery by a local caterer.

Chardonnay adopt-a-vine gift wine-making experience

After lunch, we took in some air, and headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines.  We took a few photographs and admired the surrounding landscape of rolling Chablis vineyards.

Learnng about the terroir that makes Chablis wine so special

Back at the winery, we descended into the cellar where the far wall had been left bare, revealing the strata of limestone and marl that give the Chablis wines their character.

Winery tour gift to learn about making biodynamic wines

The final stop of the day was to visit the fermentation hall that houses the wooden casks for the wines that are aged in oak.  Here Jean-Louis explained the role of the casks, and we had ended the day with a last wine tasting to see how the oak casks influence the structure of the wine.

It had been a fascinating day to have a glimpse of the life of a wine-maker.  We’ll now have to wait patiently until our wine has finished ageing, but we’ll know that the wait has been worth it!

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Pruning the pinot noir vines in Burgundy


March always marks the change of season, and it is the last month that we can prune the vines in Burgundy before spring arrives and the vines start to grow again.  It’s also a month that has very changeable weather, and fortunately for the adoptive vine parents, the temperatures were very mild for the first Discovery Experience Day of the 2018 vintage at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay, enabling us to get out into the vineyard and learn all about the work to nurture the vines.

After a brief introduction to this day focused on pruning and attaching the vines, Simon Chapelle, the son of Jean-François and future winemaker at the winery, recounted the history of the family winery and how the different Burgundy wine appellations are defined.

Vineyard tour in Santenay, Burgundy
We then headed to the Clos des Cornières vineyard, accompanied by Simon and Yannick, the technical director at Domaine Chapelle. This is where our adopted pinot noir vines are located and we took a few minutes to take a few photos!

Split into two groups, Simon and Yannick then explained the work necessary in the vineyard during the winter and spring months to arrive at a quality harvest, and they told us how they work organically at the winery.
Wine-making and vine pruning course in France

The Clos des Cornières vineyard produces the eponymous wine, and is planted solely with pinot noir vines, as in Burgundy, there is no blending of different grape varietals. The quality of the 2018 vintage therefore relies on the quality of grapes that will be harvested this autumn, and the quality is determined for a large part on the ever so important work of the moment, the pruning of the vines.

Vine tending course gift box for a wine lover

Simon and Yannick explained which branches to keep, which to cut and how many buds to leave on each vine. This will directly impact the yield of each vine. They also enlightened us as to the many questions that have to be answered when thinking about how to prune each vine. Armed with a pair of secateurs, it was then our turn to put the theory into practice! Despite some hesitation at first, we gradually started to get the hang of this difficult job!

French vineyard and winery visit gift box

After pruning the next task is to bend the branches that haven’t been cut away. We crossed the road to the neighbouring vineyard that is planted with chardonnay vines, and is more advanced in the pruning. This is also an important step because by folding the branch and attaching it to the bottom training wire, it helps ensure that the sap will flow more evenly among all of the future fruit-bearing canes, and that they will be better spaced to avoid disease from spreading.

Organic wine tasting in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We then headed back to the winery to enjoy an aperitif outside in the courtyard whilst soaking up more of the spring sunshine! Some gougères, a typical Burgundy shoe pastry specialty, and the winery’s Santenay Saint-Jean white wine delighted our taste buds!

We continued the local specialties over a tasty lunch of other local dishes of perch terrine, boeuf bourguignon, local cheeses and a chocolate and cassis entremet. Lunch was accompanied by a Burgundy 2016 red, a Santenay Clos des Cornières 2013, and a Santenay Premier Cru “Les Gravières” 2012.

Wine gift box Cellar and winery visit in France

After lunch we had a tour of the vinification hall and labyrinth of vaulted cellars underneath the winery to see where the wines ferment and age.  

We’ll now leave it to the winemakers to continue to care for the vines, and wait for the grapes to develop and grow for the harvest. We’re looking forward to coming back already!

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Learning the art of wine-making in Saint-Emilion at Château Coutet


Last Saturday, we spent an enthralling day at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion to learn all about the work and the choices the winemaker takes in the cellar to ferment, age, and blend the wine before it is ready for bottling.  As we were to learn there is much more to do than you might think and a multitude of tools and techniques that the winemaker can pick from to influence the structure, taste and aromatic depth of the wine.

Wine-making exerience gift in Saint Emilion

The day was split into several different workshops to explore different aspects of wine-making and wine tasting.  In the fermentation hall, Alain David-Beaulieu, the winemaker at Château Coutet, explained how the grapes were received at harvest time and the work carried out during the maceration and fermentation phases.

Participate in the making of your own organic Saint-Emilion Grand Cru wine

He showed us the old press that has been used at the winery for over 100 years to press the marc left in the bottom of the vats after racking the wines.  This gives the press wine that is aged separately, and held in reserve to be used if needed later on in the wine-making process.

Once the fermentation has finished, some of the lots of different grape varietals are pre-blended, and transferred into oak barrels.  A mixture of new and old barrels that have already been used to make one or two wines are used at the winery, and Alain explained the role that the oak barrels play in wine-making.  He talked about the work in the barrel room to stir the lees, top up the wine lost to the angel’s share, and the monitoring of the wines over time.

Perfect gift for a wine lover.  Make your own personalised bottles of Saint Emilion wine

Before tasting the wines, we participated in a fun workshop that put our sense of smell to the test.  We had to identify some of the aromas that can be found in wine, and learnt which ones were due to the grape varietal or terroir, and which were the result of being aged in oak.

Wine-tasting gift experience in Saint-Emilion

In the fermentation hall, we gathered around some barrels for the wine tasting and wine blending workshop.  First, we blind tasted three different wines, and had to identify which was the merlot, which the cabernet franc and which the malbec.  Once we had learnt what characteristics each of these grape varietals displayed, we then had a go at blending them to see how the wine changes as the percentages of each grape varietal vary.

Blend your own wine workshop in Saint-Emilion

We then blind tasted three other 2017 wines that had just finished the fermentation process.  Exactly the same wine but one which was being aged in the vat, one in an old oak barrel, and one in a new oak barrel.  The wines had only been put into the barrels a couple of weeks ago, but already it was possible to taste the difference between the wines.

Wine tasting course at the winery in Saint-Emilion

After this full morning, we had worked up a good appetite!  Before sitting down to lunch we refreshed our palates with the Clairet, a deep-coloured rosé wine that is made by drawing off some of the wine at the beginning of the maceration process.

Lunch and wine tasting at the organic winery in Saint-Emilion

Over lunch of Landaise duck confit salad, skewered steak with Bordelaise sauce, potato gratin and vegetables, cheese, and café gourmand, we tasted the 2014 and 2015 vintages of the Château Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, and the Château Belles-Cimes 2014, the winery’s second wine.

The cuvee Emeri, one of the world's oldest bottles of wine

The conversation flowed over lunch, and we listened intently to the wonderful story of the Cuvée Emeri.  When cleaning out the family cellar, Alain stumbled across an old bottle of wine buried in the earth floor.  The bottle was still full and had been closed with a glass stopper in the shape of a heart.  After having had the bottle analysed, it is estimated that it dates from around 1750, making it one of the oldest bottles of wine in the world!  Alain’s nephew, Adrien David-Beaulieu, then had the idea to try and recreate the wine as closely as possible using the oldest vines in the vineyard.  These vines are nurtured manually, the heavier work of tilling the soil done by horse.  The grapes are then hand-picked and sorted by hand, berry by berry.  The resulting wine is then put into hand-blown bottles that are made individually by one of France’s leading master glass blowers.  And the stopper is of course also made of glass in the shape of a heart, just like the original.  It took four years for the master wine blower to successfully recreate the liquid and airproof bottle!

Rent-a-vine in Saint-Emilion and make your own personalise bottles of organic wine

After lunch, we walked up onto the plateau where the vines stretch across to the village of Saint-Emilion, less than a kilometre away.  This is the most prestigious area for the Saint-Emilion vineyards and is where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are to be found.  We took a few minutes to take some pictures and enjoy the surrounding scenery.  On the way we talked about the different terroir and work currently being carried out to prune the vines and attach the remaining branches to the training wires.

Wine-making experience with personalised bottles of wine

Back at the winery, we then talked about how the wine is prepared for bottling and bottled.  We debated the use of sulphites, and talked about the choice of corks used.  We then went into the store and saw the machine in action that puts the capsules and labels on the bottles just before they are ready for consumption.

And so the day drew to a close.  We’d learnt a great deal, and saw just how varied and complex the life of a winemaker is.  We’ll now have to be patient as our wine slowly ages, but the wait for our personalised bottles will be surely worth it!  Many thanks to Alain and Juliette at Château Coutet, and to all of the participants for making this such a great day!

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Preparing the vines for the 2018 harvest


We spent Sunday in the vineyard at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion for a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience day, learning about all of the work that goes into nurturing the vines to produce the best grapes at harvest time.  At this time of year, there might not yet be any growth visible on the vines, but it is the winter work, and in particular the pruning that lays the foundation for managing the quantity and quality of grapes that will grow.

Rent-a-vine gfte experience in Saint-Emilion, France

After the introductions, we headed straight out into the vineyard, accompanied by Alain, the winemaker at Château Coutet and his son, Mathieu.  As we walked up onto the plateau, Alain explained the different terroir of the winery, as Château Coutet has the good fortune of having three distinct soil types among its different vineyard plots.

We passed a plot that is currently left as pasture.  Alain told us how the old vines had been pulled up a few years ago, and how it has since been left fallow to allow the soil to recover.

Vineyard experience gift in an organic winery

At the top of the hill, we reached the plateau, where the estate’s oldest vines are situated, including the plot that is worked manually and by horse, the grapes from which are used to make the Emeri and Demoiselle wines.  Alain explained the work that had been carried out during the winter, such as heaping the soil around the vine stocks.  He showed us how the vines had been pruned and explained the need to adapt the severity of the pruning depending on the age and health of the vines.  The older plots are pruned using the Guyot simple method to produce around 25 hectolitres of wine per hectare, compared to around 45 hectolitres for younger, more vibrant plots.

Pruning vine gift experience

The cut branches are left in the middle of the row and will be crushed to act as compost and return vital nutrients to the soil.

Original wine lover gift to discover the art of winemaking

The vines adopted by Gourmet Odyssey’s clients are in the neighbouring vineyard, and so we stopped by so that everyone could visit their micro-plot of vines, take some pictures, and encourage them to produce a good harvest this year.

Rent-a-Vine gift experience present

Once the vines have been pruned, the remaining branch needs to be bent and attached to the lower training wire.  From each of the eyes, a fruit bearing cane will grow, and by attaching the branch to the wire, this ensures that the canes will grow upright, and will be more evenly spaced, allowing a better aeration around the future grapes, which in turn will help prevent disease in wet weather.  The act of bending the branch also slows down the flow of sap, ensuring a more even distribution of the nutrients that it contains, and thus more homogenous grapes in terms of ripeness.

Participate in working in an organic French vineyard

Alain showed us how to bend and attach the branches using an ingenious tool developed specially for this task that allows you to twist the wire and cut it.  We then had a go for ourselves!  It’s a slightly scary job, as at first you are frightened of snapping the branch, but they are more flexible than you think!

Perfect gift for wine enthusiasts.  Learn what it's like to be a winemaker

We had earnt our aperitif, and enjoyed a glass of clairet rosé wine.  We then sat down to enjoy a lunch of foie gras with fig chutney, magret de canard served with crushed potato and truffle oil, cheese, and fruit tartlet, prepared on site by our fantastic local caterer. Over lunch we tasted the 2014 and 2015 vintages of the Château Coutet Grand Cru and the 2015 Château Belles-Cimes.

Wine tasting gift in an organic vineyard in France

We returned to the vineyard in the afternoon to learn about the work that will come over the following months before the grapes will be ready to be harvested.  De-budding, raising the training wires, treating the vines, de-leafing, trimming… there is still lots to be done.

Using robots to work in teh vineyard

Alain’s brother, Xavier, has developed a solar powered robot called the Vitirover that can be programmed to cut the grass automatically within a given vineyard plot using satellite positioning.  Alain showed us the robot and explained how it works.

Winery tour gift with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion

The day ended with a quick tour of the chai to see where the grapes will be received and the wine then aged in the barrel room.  We’ll learn more about these stages of the wine-making process during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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

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