Adopt a Vine and Make Your Own Wine

with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

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Tagged articles : Vine

An original Christmas gift for organic wine fans


If you’re thinking of giving a wine related Christmas gift to someone special this year, adopt some organic vines for them in one of Gourmet Odyssey’s award-winning French vineyards. The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gets you behind the scenes at one of our organic partner wineries to follow and participate in the making of your own personalised bottles of vintage wine. It’s a great Christmas present to discover and appreciate all of the work that goes into making a bottle of organic wine, and enables you to live the dream of being a winemaker for a year. 

Adopt some organic vines

Adopt some vines and follow their progress as they produce the grapes that will make the wine for your personalised vintage, a Christmas gift that is sure to please all wine lovers. Via the customer portal, you can accompany the vines up to the harvest, and then you’ll learn about how the wine ferments and ages in the cellar. Each stage of the wine making process is explained in the newsletter, and you can also include wine experience days at the winery to spend the day with the winemaker and participate in helping to make your wine.
dopt-a-vine experience as Christmas Gift for wine lovers
We have chosen to only work with winemakers who produce organically or biodynamically certified wines, who have been recognised for the quality of their wines in the most prestigious wine competitions, guides and reviews, and that have been selected for their enthusiasm and desire to share their passion for their profession. This all makes for an exceptional experience!

How to choose the right Christmas Wine Experience gift?

There are many different options for this unique wine-making present. First select if you want to give a red or white wine experience for your Christmas gift, then pick the wine-making region and winery. You can then choose the number of adopted vines and personalised bottles of wine that you wish to include. One vine gives one bottle of personalised wine.
Wine Christmas gift box with course at the winery in France
You can also include up to three wine experience days at the winery with the winemaker and our oenologist. Each wine course lasts from 09:30 to 16:00, includes lunch and wine tasting, and is valid for two people. There are three types of day to choose from. The Discovery Experience Day focuses on the work in the vineyard to prepare the vines for harvest and includes hands-on participation in work such as pruning, de-budding, or training the vines. The Harvest Experience Day gets you involved in picking the grapes and learning about the work in the chai at harvest time to receive the grapes and start the fermentation process. The third option is the Vinification Experience Day which sees you participate in different workshops to discover the art of tasting, ageing, blending and bottling wine.

An unforgettable Christmas gift

It’s not just us who think so :-)! Take a look at the customer feedback we have received from our clients, press articles, or the wine reviews of our partner winemakers. We have been developing and delivering our Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience since 2009, forging strong links with our partner winemakers and our team of passionate oenologists to create the best possible experience for our customers.

Together we organise unforgettable, fun, and interactive days at the winery to learn all of the hard work and skill that goes into making a quality wine.

Order with confidence

Ordering is easy in just a few clicks, and then we do the rest:

- The welcome packs are sent out with 24 hours on working days
- There is a gift wrapping option with a personalised message possible
- For last minute gifts, we can send you the vine adoption certificate by email
- You can pay for your order in three instalments
An original Christmas gift for organic wine fans
The personalised welcome pack that we will send to your preferred address, contains some gifts to be enjoyed straight away: a DropStop, re-usable glass wine stopper, wine cooling bag, adoption certificate and personalised guide to explain the wine adventure that awaits!

Learn more about the Adopt-a-Vine Christmas gift

Visit our web site to learn more about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, to place an order, or to consult our Christmas delivery deadlines .

Further questions? We are available from 09:00 to 18:00 Paris time, Monday to Friday on +33 (0)1 46 27 05 92 or contact us on our web site.

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Update of the 2018 vintage so far


Starting with a cold and wet winter, followed by a warm and rainy start to the summer, the 2018 vintage has generally had fairly good conditions in most of France’s wine growing regions.

Replenishing the water tables and keeping the frost at bay

Vine adoption 2018 vintage

It rained regularly back in January at the start of 2018, allowing the water reserves to be replenished.  Then in February, the cold set in, which is a good thing for the vines because it enables them to rest and also kills off some of the parasites that live in the soil and can bring disease to the vines.
Spring was generally sunny and warm, meaning that the buds burst fairly early.  For example in the Cotes du Rhone region, the bud burst was two weeks earlier than usual at Domaine de la Guicharde.  At that time, back in April, frost was the biggest threat.  Most of our organic winery partners had put in place some defence system, whether it be candles or bales of hay ready to burn and heat the air, or wind turbines to mix the warmer air with cooler air.   Part of the Loire, Bordeaux and Languedoc regions were particularly touched, whereas the impact in Burgundy and the Rhone valley was much more localised.  Fortunately, none of our partner vineyards were badly affected by the frost.
The very start of the summer was particularly wet, not just because of the frequent downpours, but also because of the quantity of rain that fell, being much greater than seasonal norms.  The constant humid conditions, coupled with the warmth, created the perfect conditions for mildew to develop, and most of our partner winemakers have seen the tell-tale spots form on the vine leaves.

Tending vines during the 2018 vintage

Mildew can be a big problem for organic and biodynamic winemakers because the elements used to protect the vines, principally copper and sulphur, are contact products that don’t enter into the plant.  Therefore, with each rainfall, they are washed away and you need to treat the vines again.  Another way of trying to fight against mildew is to remove some of the leaves from in front of the grapes.  This allows the grapes to dry quicker after the rain, giving the mildew less chance to develop.  Fortunately the hot dry weather throughout France since mid-June has helped to stop the spread of the mildew.

Vine growing in France in 2018

The flowering vines and the harvest to come

The rain and heat has meant that the vines have grown rapidly since the initial bud burst.  The winemakers have been kept busy de-budding the vines, ensuring that the branches grow between the training wires, and trimming the vines.  It has also been important to work the ground, either mowing the grass or tilling the soil lightly to keep the grass and weeds in check and stop them from competing with the vines for the nutrients in the soil.

Harvest dates and vine flowering in France in 2018

The vines flowered early in most regions at the end of May and beginning of June. In Burgundy, the first flower was seen on the 26th May during a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day.  It was a fairly rainy period in most regions during flowering, so some vines have seen some shot berry.  This happens when the rain weighs the flower cap down, stopping it from falling free and resulting in the flower not being fecundated, and therefore not producing any fruit.  Fortunately the shot berry has only been seen relatively sporadically in most parts, meaning that the quantity of grapes at harvest time should generally be OK.

Harvest forecast in France in 2018

Probably the biggest threat to the future harvest is the risk of being hit by a hail storm.  Normally these are very local, but the last few years have seen some big storms hit that have damaged the vines on a larger scale than normal.  The unlucky region to have been particularly badly hit this year is the Médoc, not just once but twice, the second coinciding with France’s victory at the world cup!
The sunny weather of the past few weeks means that the veraison will happen earlier than usual, and now is the time when the grapes start to change colour.  They stop growing, and enter the maturing phase.

Adopt-a-vine-experience in a French vineyard in 2018

So at this stage, the winemakers are quietly optimistic of a good harvest to come, both in terms of quantity and quality, as long as the weather remains kind during the summer, and the hail stays away.  The harvest will be earlier than usual and most of the grapes will have been harvested by the end of September.
We look forward to the end of summer and a good harvest for 2018!

Related articles

How can you protect vines from frost?
Bud burst of the vines in Spring

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The flowering period of the vines


The much awaited vine flowers have made their appearance in the vineyards throughout France recently, and if you take a walk through them, you’ll notice a very light and delicate fragrance wafting on the wind.  It’s also one of the critical stages in the wine-making calendar as it will have a large impact on the potential size of the 2018 harvest to come.

The flowering period is one of the growth stages of the vine life cycle and marks the start of the formation of the grapes.  After the winter rest period, the vines start to come back to life as the soil starts to warm again in March, and the sap starts to flow again in the vines.  In April the buds start to appear on the branches and then burst to make way for the leaves to start unfurling.

The leaves and branches continue to develop into May, and you can start to see the structure of the future bunches to form.  Small tight green clusters that look like buttons appear on the tips of the young shoots.  Each of the flower buttons has a cap of petals known as the calyptra to protect the reproductive organs inside.

Vine flowers
The caps are shed to reveal the reproductive organs.  Vines used in wine-making are generally hermaphroditic, containing both male and female reproductive organs, and so are capable of pollenating themselves.  The conditions have to be right however for this to occur.

And that is where the difficulty lies.  As a general rule of thumb, flowering happens eight weeks after bud burst and lasts between 8 and 15 days.  If the weather is mixed it can take longer than if it is hot and sunny.  It normally happens around June, when the weather can be variable, and so the results can be mixed.
The flower caps fall away during flowering

If it rains a lot or the temperatures are cool, the floral caps aren’t able to detach themselves properly, and the fecundation can’t take place, which means no fruit to harvest in the autumn.  That is known as coulure, and the flower dries up without having been pollinated.

Flowering can be more or less marked depending on the region, and the grape varietal.  You can tell that the vine has been well fecundated when the grapes that form a few days later are all of the same size.

Traditionally you count 100 days from the flowering period to the start of the harvest.  We should shortly have a good indication of when the 2018 harvest will be!

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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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Two magnums of wine for the winners of the My Vine photo competition


We enjoyed another great year in the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vineyards, as the photos submitted for the “My Vine” photo competition illustrate. Many thanks to all of you who have entered a picture, liked, commented or shared the photos that were taken during the wine experience days at our partner wineries.
The vote on Facbeook is now over and it’s time to announce the two winners. Congratulations to Mégane Cadiou, who wins the photo with the most likes on Facebook, and to Jérémie Lebrun who received the Gourmet Odyssey jury vote. It's not exactly the sort of activitiy that normally goes on in the vineyard, but it's the originality that has been rewarded!
Wine course at the winery in the Languedoc vineyard
Wine gift box adopt-a-vie-experience day in France

Once again this year, it wasn’t easy to select the winners from all of the great photos that made it through to the final!

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

We’ll be back in February 2018 for a new competition which starts with the first Vinification and Discovery Experience Days! In the meantime we hope that you enjoy the end of year festivities!

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How can you protect vines from frost?


Vines are very hardy plants and can withstand much adversity; drought, wind, storms, and cold for the most part. But with the latest cold spell and frosts that recently touched most of France’s wine-growing regions, we are once again reminded that the winemaker remains at nature’s mercy. Why does frost harm the vines and what can a winemaker do to protect their vines from it?

Conditions for frost to damage the vines

The most sensitive part of the vine is the bud which, when newly exposed, can’t survive at temperatures less than -2/-3°C. The bud is also the most important part of the vine as it from where the fruit and harvest for the new year will grow. That’s why the frosts that cause the most damage are the late spring ones, because it is at this stage that the buds have started to flourish and are more vulnerable.

The vineyards most at risk from frost are those situated at the bottom of the hillsides, in hollows, or on the valley plains, because that is where the cold air gathers. Plots that have grass between the rows are also more at risk because the vegetation holds humidity and cold. And if the vine varietal or the year is early in exposing the buds, the risk of damage from spring frosts is greater.

Oenology course on vine tending in a French vineyard

It’s worth noting that an early autumn frost before the leaves have fallen, or a prolonged winter freeze below -15°C can also harm the vines.

How does the vine freeze in spring?

As the temperature rises in spring, the sap starts to rise in the vine, and we can see the “vine tears” form from the wood exposed during pruning. The buds appear, burst and then the first leaves unfurl. The buds and the first leaves are rich in water.

When it freezes, this water cools so much that it destroys or burns the cells in the bud or the leaves. There are two types of frost. The white frost burns the moist vegetative matter through the sun rays, and the black frost which occurs when the temperature drops below -7°C in dry and windy conditions.

What is the impact from frost?

Damage caused by spring frosts is more frequent but less serious for the longevity of the vines compared to the autumn and winter frosts. Even if there is a direct result on the year’s harvest, they don’t cause the vine to completely die.

Frost damage at a winemaker experience day in the Loire Valley, France

If the primary buds are burnt, there is always the hope that the secondary buds will appear after the frost has passed. These buds burst later, but are also fruit-bearing. Months of working and caring for the vines can be ruined in just a few hours due to frost.

Protecting the vines from frost?

The most common solution is to light candles or torches to protect the vines using smoke. The winegrowers place them every few metres in the vineyard, which is enough to rise the temperature by 2-3°C, and often avoid frost from forming. In the past they also burned wood or fuel in old oil drums, but that gave off lots of carbon dioxide, so now large blocks of paraffin are preferred. The smoke that they emit stops the early morning sun rays burning the buds that have been thinly covered in frost.

Wine-making Experience Vineyard tour in Chinon France

Another solution, but more costly, is to spray the vines with water. An ice cocoon forms around the buds which stops the water inside the buds from freezing. The vines are sprayed frequently until the temperature rises above freezing to avoid the ice from melting too fast, thus protecting the buds from the sun rays. This method is generally reserved for vine plots that are most at risk because the installation of the water pipes and sprinklers is very expensive.

Wine course in Burgundy, France as a gift box

More and more often now, you can also find wind turbines being used nowadays in the vineyards. These small turbines cause the air to circulate and the warm air to come back down and warm up the vines. A few degrees gained can often be enough to avoid the buds from freezing.

Heated wires which run along the training wires have also started to appear in the past few years. Of course, this can only be used in vineyards where the vines are trellised. Apparently this system has proved to be very effective in the plots that it has been tested in, and can be set to automatically activate below a set temperature. Running costs are fairly reasonable, but the purchase and installation costs are high given the kilometres of vine rows that have to be equipped, so explaining the small take-up for the moment.

Some winemakers even call in helicopters to fly low level over the vines and circulate the air as the turbines do. It’s fairly dangerous as the pilot must fly very low, most of the time at dawn when the light is not necessarily the best, and the pilot perhaps not the most awake!  It’s fairly expensive, but is worth the cost for some of the better quality vineyard plots.

Vine protection course in a French Vineyard in Chablis, Burgundy

And then sometimes, as our partner winemakers at Château Coutet reminded us, it’s simply nature that offers protection. Having dense vegetation or trees around the vineyards can help stop the temperature form dropping too far and can protect the vines from wind and the morning sun rays which can be so fatal for the frost covered buds.

Vine tending course in Saint-Emilion, France
The winegrowers are becoming better equipped at protecting the vines from frost, and the weather forecasts are becoming more refined, but over the past couple of years the frost attacks and other sources of weather damage are seeming to become more and more frequent, reminding us that winegrowing is still at the mercy of nature’s whim!

  

Related articles

Bud burst of the vines in Spring

What makes Ice Wine so different?

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Pruning the vines in the Rhone Valley


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

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

Eric explains how to prune the vines

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

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

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

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

Enjoying lunch in the caveau overlooking the vineyard

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

Pruning is not as easy as it looks

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

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

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The role the vine roots play


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

First of all, what are the roots?

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

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

What role do the roots play?

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

Learnto protect the vine in a oenology course at the winery

  

How deep do the roots go?

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

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

Are the roots impacted by the weather?

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Related articles

End of the winter holidays... for the vines
Bud burst of the vines in Spring
What is biodynamic wine?

 

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A fun Harvest Experience Day in the Rhone Valley


Some of the adoptive Gourmet Odyssey vine owners at Domaine la Cabotte recently came to the winery to participate in the 2016 harvest. We were accompanied by Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne who run this excellent Côtes du Rhône winery together, and this year we had the pleasure of welcoming some very young harvesters, a little girl and a couple of babies to lend a helping hand!

 

harvest experience in the Rhone Valley France

The weather was on our side. After the rain of the preceding days, the sky was getting ready for the Mistral wind, which was welcome to help dry the ground between the vine rows and make it easier to harvest.

We began the day by heading to the Grenache vineyard where our adopted vines are located. These vines are used in the making of the winery's Garance red wine, which is the biodynamic wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey.

wine gift course in RHone Valley France

Eric and his son, Etienne, handed out the buckets and secateurs, and everyone got stuck in, having learnt how to pick the bunches of grapes, and more importantly how to avoid cutting any fingers!

It's hard, but fun and rewarding work. With a glass of rosé at the break to help keep the smiles on the faces, we managed to harvest 7 rows, filling 4 containers.

Picking grapes experience at the wiery in France

We then followed the tractor, laden with our harvest, back to the chai, and gathered around the de-stemming machine to better understand how the grapes are handled before being put into the vats.

The harvested bunches pass through the de-stemming machine to separate the berries from the stalks.

Whilst we were waiting for the machines to be put in place, Jacqueline, the oenologist, showed us some of the tools and materials used in making the biodynamic preparations, and explained how they are used to bring the soil more alive.

Marie-Pierre, then announced that lunch was ready, and we sat down under the shade of the trees to some fresh salads, terrine, vegetable quiche, local cheeses and cherry clafoutis, all of which had been home-made.

winemaker's meal and wine tasting at the winery

To accompany our delicious lunch, we tasted the range of red and rosé Côtes du Rhône wines produced on the estate. We started with the "Colline" red and rosé before tasting the Massif d'Uchaux Côtes du Rhône Village appellation wines that are more structured and keep for longer. We also tasted the new "Clairette" white wine, an amazing wine which is made in Italian clay amphorae.

wine ageing and vinification in Rhone Valley France

After our late lunch, we ended the day next to the vats to taste the first juice from the harvest, and to understand how it will be nurtured to make the next wines from Domaine la Cabotte.

A few bottles were ordered to take home to enjoy later, and the little girl left with a lovely vine branch that had already taken on the hues of autumn. She was taking it back to her school as a souvenir of the harvest!

Many thanks to Marie-Pierre, Eric and Etienne for welcoming us, and we look forward to returning soon to learn more about the vinification and blending!

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A personalised wine for the wedding couple


The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience makes for an original wedding gift because the newlyweds get to follow the making of their wine from the year of their mariage. We've had lots of feedback from wedding couples who have been thrilled with their wine experience and their personalised vintage. Julie & Richard recently left us a comment on our website that we wanted to share here:

Richard and I are both wine lovers. Ever since we got together, we've covered quite a few of the wine routes, seeking out good wines directly from the producers. But until we received the Gourmet Odyssey wine gift box, we'd never had the opportunity to dig deeper and discover the vast and varied work of a winemaker. It really is a fascinating profession.

When we got married, a group of friends clubbed together to buy us a Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience for our wedding present. For the year of our wedding, we were to become the adoptive parents of 6 vines in France's Rhone Valley at Domaine la Cabotte.

We found it to be a great idea for a wedding gift. We registered our gift pack on Gourmet Odyssey's web site, and we started to follow the making of our wine. The winemakers sent us news about the vines progress, as the grapes for our future wine grew and matured.

When the winemakers starting talking about the harvest, we thought that it would be fun to get involved, so we signed up for a Harvest Experience Day at the winery. What a great day we had! We spent the morning harvesting the grapes, and in the afternoon we helped sort the grapes and put them into the vats. We spent the whole day with the winemakers, Eric & Marie -Pierre, and had the chance to ask them lots of questions, particularly during lunch and the wine-tasting session.

We continue to receive updates about how the wine is evolving in the cellar. We decided to add a few extra bottles of personalised wine to surprise our friends and open them with them for our wedding anniversary. We can't wait to taste the wine from the year of our wedding!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marie Koch

 

Related articles

What makes French Organic Wine, Organic ?
What is biodynamic wine?
No to European Organic Wine?

 

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De-budding the vines in the Loire Valley


Last weekend, Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker at Château de la Bonnelière, welcomed some of the 2016 vintage Gourmet Odyssey adopt-a-vine owners to the winery in the Loire Valley for a Discovery Experience day.
Discovery Experience Day to learn about winemaking at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley

Over a coffee and some croissants, Marc gave us a quick overview of the Loire Valley and Chinon winemaking regions, and he introduced us to his family history and their involvement with the winery up to when he took over the running of it in 1999. It was then time to head out into the vineyard.

Before getting to meet the adopted vines, we discussed the frost that hit the Loire valley hard at the end of April. The Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard got off lightly, thanks to the protection that Marc and his team had put in place using anti-frost candles.

Marc explains how he tried to protect his vines from the recent frosts

The anti-frost candles are 5 litre cans of paraffin that are placed 400 per hectare throughout the vineyard, and then lit when needed. They help raise the temperature of the air by a few crucial degrees and by doing so, help reduce the risk of the frost developing. The lighting of these candles enabled Marc to save the harvest of the vines in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard.

After the traditional photo shoot of the adopted vines for the "My Vine" photo competition, the main programme for the morning was de-budding.

The adopt-a-vine owners get to meet their vines.

The vines are flourishing at the moment, and the shoots and leaves are rapidly growing. Some of these shoots will not produce any grapes, and will just serve to take energy away from the vines if they are not removed. So our mission was to help Marc get rid of the excess growth.

Wine Experience gift to help the winemaker work in the vineyard

Despite some hesitation and at first being worried about removing the wrong shoots, we got stuck in and followed Marc's guidelines. We had a very motivated group, and we de-budded a couple of rows which will help the team at the winery finish the task more quickly!

Gift experience to learn how to de-bud vines

Having finished the work, it was time to sit down, and continue the discussion over lunch whilst tasting various wines from Château de la Bonnelière. We were lucky enough to taste the latest of Marc's creations, the Vindoux wine which is a Chinon red from the 2014 vintage. It's the first integral vinification wine from the winery that had been fermented and aged completely in new oak barrels. The wine was much appreciated!

Wine tasting and vineyard experience gift in the Loire Valley at Château de la Bonnelière

The afternoon continued with a visit to the tool shed to learn about the array of tools that are used to work the vines and soil in the vineyard. We also visited the chai to get a taster for what the Vinification Experience Day holds in store.

It was another rich day, full of interesting discussions between the participants and the winemaker. Many thanks to Marc and to all you came!

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Organic, biodynamic and natural wines


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

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

Learning how to make an organic wine

 

The main differences

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

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

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

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

The Tyflo label for integrated winemaking

 

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

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

The EU's label for organic winemaking

 

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

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

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

Demeter's label for biodynamic winemaking

 

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

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

 

How to recognise the labels?

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

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

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

 

Related articles

What makes French Organic Wine, Organic ?

What is biodynamic wine?

No to European Organic Wine?

 

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A lesson in pruning vines at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis


Pruning is probably the most complicated and hardest of all the work that is carried out in the vineyard. It is probably the most important too, as it helps determine not just the yield of this year’s harvest, but also lays the foundation for the following year. It might sound simple in theory, but as the participants in last Sunday’s Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard were to find out, it’s not quite as simple!
Vineyard experience, Chablis

The aim of this hands on wine course is to learn about all of the work that the winemaker has to do in the vineyard to ensure the best possible grapes at harvest time, so after the brief introductions, overview of the Chablis region and the history of the winery, we headed out into the vineyard.

We made our way to the Boissonneuse vineyard, which is where our adopted vines are located, and which was also the first of the winery’s vineyards to be organically and biodynamically certified. Here you have a great view of the rolling Chablis hills, planted with vines as far as the eye can see, and so we took a few minutes to take some photos of our vines in this wonderful setting.

Adopt a vine, Chablis, France

It was then time to get down to some serious business! We were accompanied by Fred, one of the key members of the vineyard team. He told us about what had been keeping him busy since the last harvest, most of the time which had been spent so far pruning the vines. The pruning at the winery has finished, but Fred had kept a few vines back so that we could have a go for ourselves. He showed us how to choose which branches to cut, and which to select to produce this year’s harvest. Easy!

Wine experience, Chablis, France

Secateurs in hand, we then had a go for ourselves. Hang on a minute. What did Fred say? Is this the right branch to keep? This vine doesn’t look anything like the ones he used for the demonstration... The first thing we learnt is that the theory is all well and good, but each vine has its own exceptions! However, after the first couple of vines, it starts to get a little easier, but we have a much better understanding of the complexity of what appears to be a simple task. And when you look at the hundreds of thousands of vines growing on the surrounding hills, you realise what a mammoth task pruning is.

Wine lover gift, Chablis,France

Fred then showed us how the branches are bent and attached to the training wire using a fantastic tool that ties and cuts some string at the press of a button, considerably speeding up the job.

Unique wine gifts, Chablis, France

We also had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics as varied as working the soil, grafting and planting new vines, as well as the differences between conventional, organic and biodynamic farming.

We then made our way back to the winery for a well earned tasting of some of the Chablis wines produced on the estate. We tasted a Petit Chablis 2014 and Chablis Sainte Claire 2015, produced from the vineyard immediately around us. We then tried a Chablis Premier Cru “Butteaux” 2011, followed by a Chablis Grand Cru “Valmur” 2011. Over lunch we continued the tasting with a Chablis Boissonneuse 2013 and one of the few red wines produced at the winery, the Irancy “Les Mazelots” 2014.

Original wine gift, Chablis, France

After lunch and all those wines, it was good to get some fresh air! We headed out into the Sainte Claire vineyard, where we could see the notable difference in terroir from the Boissonneuse vineyard. Here we talked about the different tasks that lay ahead in the vineyard between now and the harvest, and how the winemakers will choose when the time is right to pick the grapes.

Adopt a vine france, Chablis

The day ended with a quick visit to the fermentation hall that is home to all of the wooden casks at the winery. It’s an impressive room, and is where part of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey cuvée is aged.

Personalised wine gifts, France, Chablis

We’ll go into more detail about the winemaking side of things during one of the Vinification Experience Days. For now the attention swings back to the vineyard, as the next couple of weeks will be crucial as we hope that the last of the frosts are behind us, and that the buds continue to flourish unhindered.

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Start your retirement by learning to be a winemaker


Retirement is a big milestone, and some embrace it better than others! We received this message from Daniel, a client who received a Wine Experience at Château de la Bonnelière. His colleagues gave it to him for his retirement present, and we’re delighted to see that this original gift pleased him. Here is what Daniel told us:

No chance of me sitting in a chair, twiddling my thumbs for my retirement. That’s what I told my former colleagues, and they held me to my word. With the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience gift they gave me, I became an apprentice winemaker and had to roll up my sleeves to help make my personalised bottles of wine!

When they gave me the retirement gift, they told me that I would follow the making of my wine from the year that I retired at Château de la Bonnelière in France’s Loire Valley, from the work in the vineyard through to the bottling, which of course they hope to share with me! What they didn’t say straight away is that I would get to go to the winery and spend a day working alongside the winemaker in the vineyard.

I participated in the Discovery Experience Day last year in the spring, where I met Marc Plouzeau, the owner and winemaker. He showed us the vineyard where my adopted vines grow and produce the grapes used in the making of my wine, and also put us to work to de-bud the vines and lower the training wires. We also had a very nice lunch and of course got to taste the different wines that the winery produces.

It was a great day and very hands-on, so when I got the chance to come back, this time to learn more about the work in the cellar, I signed up straight away. I’ll participate in this day this winter, and I’m looking forward to seeing, and most of all tasting how my wine is coming along!

Many thanks to my colleagues for this great idea for a retirement present. It’s been almost a year since our paths separated, but I’m not missing them too much! We’ve agreed to meet up once I’ve collected by wine so that we can share a glass or two!

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The art of vinifying and ageing wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon


Last Saturday, a beautiful Spring day awaited the participants of the Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Day at Domaine Allegria.
Vineyard experience, Languedoc, France

To get the day started, we headed off into the vineyard with the winemaker, Ghislain to find our adopted vines. It gave us the opportunity to take a few photos of our vines and to learn a little about the vines growth cycle and the work that is carried out in the vineyard. It is after all the work here that has a big impact on the quality of the wine at the other end of the cycle!

Rent a vin, Languedoc, France

Upon our return from the vineyard, we visited the chai from top to bottom, and covered a whole host of questions regarding the fermentation and vinification of wines. We also talked about the differences in making red and white wine.

Next on the programme was an aromatic workshop. We had to try and identify 12 of the most commonly found aromas in red wine. It puts both your nose and memory to the test as you try and put a name to the smell contained in the small glass bottle. Not as easy as it would seem!

Wine gift packs, Languedoc, France

We ate lunch outside on the terrace to enjoy the spring sunshine. For the aperitif, we tasted a magnum of the Dolce Vita 2015 rosé wine that had been bottled just a few weeks previously. During the meal, we tasted several of the estate’s wines, the 2014 Cinsault Abuelo, the Carignan Gourmand from the 2013 vintage, and a Cousu Main 2011 in magnum. To accompany the goat’s cheese from the neighbouring Mas Roland, we tasted the 2014 Tribu d’A white wine which pairs perfectly. We finished the meal with La Belle Histoire 2013, a great vintage for Languedoc wines.

Wine tasting gift, Languedoc, France

After lunch, we returned to the chai to taste three different wines from the 2015 vintage that are still in the process of ageing. A great opportunity to get a sneak preview of this promising year and to talk about the different characteristics of each grape varietal. We tasted a Cinsault, a Syrah and a Mourvèdre. The wines are still very young, and fizzy from the caron dioxide released during the fermentation period, but they are also astonishingly soft and enjoyable to drink at this early stage in their evolution!

At the end of the day, we hope that everyone had learnt a little more about the art of making wine, and will have a few more wine stories to recount. Many thanks to all of the participants for sharing this day.

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

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