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Tagged articles : Vines

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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Pruning the vines in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher


As spring begins, so a new cycle gets ready to start in the vineyard.  There is much that the winemaker needs to do to nurture the vines and help them produce the best possible grapes for the coming harvest, as we were to learn during the Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace.

Original wine gift for organic wine lovers

After the introductions, we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard, the plot where the adopted vines of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience are to be found.  To get in some training for the Easter egg hunt to come next weekend, we spread out amongst the rows to find the nameplate that marks the exact location our micro plot of adopted vines!

Rent-a-vine gift of some organic Alsace vines

Accompanied by Céline and her father, Jean-Jacques, winemakers at Domaine Stenzt-Buecher, we listened intently as we learnt about pruning the vines, which is the most difficult but most important of the jobs in the vineyard as it limits the potential quantity of grapes that will be produced and helps controls the shape and form of the vines growth.  It is long job that takes up most of the winter months, but March marks the end of the pruning season as it has to be finished before the sap rises again.

Wine Experience gift to learn about wine making in Alsace, France

Jean-Jacques had left a few vines for us to work on.  Intellectually it is quite easy to understand the principals of pruning, but as we were to quickly find out, when you are the one standing in front of the vine and having to choose which branches to cut and which to leave, it suddenly becomes much more complicated!

Organic vineyard experience gift

The vines at Domaine Stentz-Buecher are pruned using the Double Guyot method.  This involves leaving one long branch of six to eight eyes on either side of the vine and a spur, from which the branches used for the following year’s harvest will grow.   When selecting which branches to keep, you need to take several factors into account.  The lower branches are preferred to minimise the distance that the sap needs to flow, and to keep the vines at the same height as the neighbouring plants.  Branches that grow along the same line as the training wire are favoured over ones that stick out into the middle of the passage between the rows, as these branches are more likely to get damaged by the passing tractor. The number of eyes left on the vine depends on its age and health...

Learning how to work organicaly in the vineyard

Once the branches to be kept have been selected, all of the other branches are cut away.  The next job involves pulling away the old wood from the trellis system, and putting the branches in the middle of the rows, a job that we all got stuck into with vigour!  The branches will then be crushed to return nutrients to the soil.

Jean-Jacques then showed us how to arc and attach the remaining long branches to the bottom training wire using a great little tool that twists and cuts the wire, saving lots of time from having to hand tie each branch.

Vineyard experience gift in Alsace, France

We also learnt about replacing vines, and visited a plot that had been replanted 3 years ago.  Jean-Jacques talked about working the soil, and showed us where the earth had been heaped around the vines to protect them from the cold winter months.  We finished the morning with a quick look at some of the tools and machinery that is attached to the tractor to help with the work in the vineyard.

After the full morning spent in the vineyard, we had earned our wine tasting.  Céline and Stéphane, took us through a selection of the different wines produced at the winery starting with a Muscat 2015, followed by a Riesling Ortel 2014 and the 2015 vintage of the Pinot Gris Rosenberg wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.    We then tasted the Pinot Noir 2011 and Gewurztraminer Steingrubler 2015 Grand Cru, accompanied by a savoury Kouglof, a delicious Alsace specialty.

Wine tasting gift of organic Alsace wines

Over the lunch of typical Alsace dishes and cheeses, we continued the wine tasting with the Who Am I? wine, a blend of pinot blanc, pinot gris and Riesling grape varietals, and different vintages of the Pinot  Noir and Gewurztraminer wines.

Vineyard tour gift in Alsace

After lunch, we headed back out into the vineyard to learn about the work that remains to be done in the vineyard over the coming months to de-bud the vines, raise the training wires, remove some of the leaves depending on the weather, trimming the vines, and to discover how the moment the grapes are harvested is chosen.   Stéphane also explained to us how the vines are treated organically to help protect them.

Winery tour gift in Alsace, France

The day finished with a quick tour of the cellar to see where the grapes are pressed and where the wines ferment and are aged before being ready to be bottled.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.  But in the meantime, the winemakers will be busy in the vineyard over the coming weeks, as the temperature rises, and the vines burst into life.

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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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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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Raising the training wires in Burgundy


Last weekend we welcomed the participants of the Discovery Experience Days to Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy for a couple of hands on wine courses focused on learning more about the work in the vineyard.

Perfect gift for wine enthusiasts.  Adopt-a-vine in a French organic vineyard

After a welcome coffee and a brief introduction to the day, Jean-François, the owner and winemaker, recounted his family history and that of the Burgundy wine-growing region: how it was formed, the geology, and the birth of the different appellations.  From the garden in front of the chateau we could see the different terroir and how they determine the hierarchy of wines in Burgundy.

Winery tour gift expereince in the Cotes de Beaune, Burgundy, France

We then headed to the vineyard where our adopted vines are to be found.  They were in fine fettle and we took a few minutes to pamper them and take a few photos!

Adopt-a-Vine gift in France with personalised bottles of your own organic wine

Simon, the son of Jean-François who will one day take over from him, then started to explain the different stages of work that happen in the vineyard.

We also learnt about what it means and takes to be organic before getting involved ourselves in some of the work.  We raised the training wires and ensured that all of the branches were supported between them, at the same time separating the branches and trying to space them out as best as possible to improve the airflow around them.  This is an important task to help the grapes mature and to keep them healthy.  If it rains, it’s vital that the air can circulate around the grape bunches to quickly dry them, reducing the risk of rot.

Wine experience gift to participate in working in the vineyard

Back at the winery our hard work was rewarded with a glass of Santenay white wine, accompanied by some gougères, a famous Burgundy hors d’oeuvre.

Wine tasting experience gift in an organic Burgundy vineyard

We enjoyed lunch in the harvester’s refectory.  A sandre terrine, beef bourguignon, local cheeses, and a pear, chocolate and blackcurrant desert, each course served with a different wine from Domaine Chapelle.

Make your own wine gift in an organic French winery

In the afternoon, we visited the fermentation hall and cellar with Jean-François to see where the wines are made and age.  We’ll be spending more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days in September and the beginning of next year.  We look forward to seeing you again soon.

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Supporting the vines in the Rhone Valley


We welcomed some of the 2017 vintage adopt-a-vine parents of the 2017 vintage last Saturday at Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhone Valley.  There was a little wind and a few clouds, which we were all pleased to see following the heatwave that the region had endured in the preceding days with the temperature in the high 30s.

Great gift for a wine lover.  Rent some vines in France in the Rhone Valley

Eric Plumet, the winemaker, led us down through the vineyard to a plot that we were to work in.  The vines have been growing lots recently and our task was to raise the training wires and clip them together ensuring that the vine branches were held between them.
On the way, Eric showed us the different grape varietals grown in the vineyard.  We passed plots of syrah and clairette, and in a plot of Grenache, branch in hand, he showed us some shot berry which was the result of the late frost in spring.  Some of the flowers had been harmed, and so the number of grapes produced will be less.

Wine-making experience gift in a biodynamic vineyard

After a few technical explanations, we got down to work to place the vine branches between the training wires.  Eric explained the important role of the very tip of the vine branches which forms a Y shape, and absorbs the nutritive elements from the air to feed the plant.

Organic gift idea.  Adopt a vine in France, and participate in making your own wine

As the winery is worked biodynamically, Eric only starts to trim the tops of the vines when the apex dries.  The vine then stops growing to concentrate on ripening the grapes.

Marie-Pierre arrived to quench our thirst.  Water at first, but she had also brought a rosé wine produced at the winery, a fresh and very aromatic wine that gave us a glimpse of the tasting to come.

We returned to the winery at lunchtime and sat down at the wooden tables under the shade of the trees.  With the light breeze, it was the perfect place to relax.

Organic wine-tasting experience gift

We compared a clairette aged in oak barrels with a clairette aged in an amphora.  Same grape varietal but very different wines!  We each had our own preference for one or the other.

Over lunch, we tasted the Côtes du Rhône, Massif d’Uchaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines which paired perfectly with the tourte, pâtés, quail and fruit tart, all home-made by Marie-Pierre.  Our palates revelled in the different tastes and we in the good company!

After coffee, we went on a hunt to find our adopted vines, to say hello to them, and take a few photos.  With all that we had learnt during the day, we were more appreciative of all the effort that our bottles of wine will contain once our grapes have reached maturity!

Rent-a-Vine gift and personalised bottles of wine

The day finished in the chai to see the vats and take in the smells of the wines that are finishing ageing.  We’ll be back again in September to participate in the Harvest Experience Days.

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De-budding and hoeing the vines in the Languedoc in preparation for the 2017 harvest


In the Languedoc, the heat wave has been intense, and the temperatures were already high when we welcomed the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day participants at Domaine Allegria.  The adoptive vine owners had come to learn about what happens in the vineyard to produce the best grapes come harvest time.

We started the day by visiting the plot where the adopted vines are located, accompanied by Paco and Bella, the two faithful dogs at the winery.  We applied the sunscreen and put on hats as the sun was already high and beating down strongly, and took a few minutes to take some photos of our adopted vines.

Rent-a-vine gift experience in the south of France

Since the winter, much has already happened in the vineyard and so we were brought up to speed about the various tasks, and learnt about what remains to be done between now and the harvest, which will be a little earlier than usual this year due to the high temperatures and sun of the past few weeks.  We also discovered what being an organic vineyard entails.

The vines had been growing quickly over the previous few weeks, and so there was much to do in the vineyard.  The bravest had a go at hoeing around the vine trunks to remove the grass and weeds.  This is necessary in organic winemaking as the plough that is pulled behind the tractor can clear the weeds between the vines, but has more difficulty directly around the trunk.

Vineyard experience gift to participate in working on the vines

We also ensured that the vine branches were growing between the training wires so that they are better supported and to avoid being damaged by the passing tractor.

Organic gift experience for wine lovers

And we also got to work by removing any shoots that had sprouted on the vine trunk or from the roots.  These shoots will not produce any fruit, and so by getting rid of them, we help the vine concentrate its energy on ripening the grapes for this year’s harvest.

Organic wine experience in the Languedoc

Before lunch, we had a quick visit of the cellar for an introduction to the art of vinification.  We’ll learn more about this process during the Vinifcation and Harvest Experience Days.

Weekend break for wine lovers in the south of France

We enjoyed lunch in the shade because the sun was even stronger by now.  We tasted the Dolce Vita 2016 rosé wine in a magnum for the aperitif.  During the main course, we discovered the Cinsault Abuelo 2016, Carignan Gourmand 2015 and Poivre de Mourvèdre 2014.  With cheese from the local Mas Roland, we tasted the Tribu d’A 2015, and ended the meal with the Grande Cuvée La Belle Histoire 2015.  A great way to end a very sunny day.  We’ll see you again soon for the harvest!

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De-budding the vines in Saint-Emilion


After much excited anticipation, the first Discovery Experience Days got underway last week-end at Château Coutet, our new partner wine-maker in Saint-Emilion.  The warm welcome and passion of the winemakers lived up to expectation and we had a fantastic time learning about the work in the vineyard and the fascinating history of the winery.

Original wine-making gift in Saint Emilion.

The day started in the vineyard, where we learnt about how the vines had been pruned during the winter months to control their growth and ensure that they produce less grapes, but of a higher quality come harvest time.

Vineyard experience gift for wine lovers

We slowly made our way up the hill as we learnt about the different grape varietals and the geology of the Saint-Emilion region.  Château Coutet is one of the few wineries that has vines planted in each of the three different types of soil to be found in Saint-Emilion.

Just before we reached the plateau, we stopped in front of a plot of vines that had been left for us to work on.  With the rain that had fallen in the past few days, and the rising temperatures, the vines are growing rapidly at the moment.  Our first task was to de-bud the vines by removing any branches that had sprouted from the trunk of the vines, and any double shoots growing from the same node.

Rent-a-vine-gift-experience-saint-emilion-france

Simple enough you would think, but a little more complicated when you have to decide for yourself which shoots to remove.  This is especially so for the shoots around the head of the vine, that might be useful to leave to help rejuvenate the vine next year or the following year.

The next job was to raise the training wires to help support the weight of the growth, and to ensure that the branches grow upwards, and don’t fall into the middle of the rows, where they could get damaged by the tractor or transport unwanted fungi up from the ground.   In pairs, we walked down the rows, first to detach the training wires, and then back a second time raising the wires and clipping them together at each stake.

Original vineyard visit to participate in working on the vines

We then continued our journey up onto the plateau where the most renowned Saint-Emilion vineyards are located, including our adopted vines!   Here we had a wonderful view of the surrounding Grand Cru Classé vineyards and the church spire of Saint-Emilion.
Château Coutet have their oldest vines on the plateau, the oldest being between 80 and 95 years old.  The vines from this plot are cultivated organically as with the rest of the estate’s vineyards, but here horses are used to work the soil, no electrical tools are used, so pruning is done by traditional secatuers, and the organic treatments are administered by hand.  The grapes that are produced are used for the wineries prestigious Emeri and Les Demoiselles wines.

The neighbouring plot of vines are home to our adopted vines.  We took a few minutes to meet them and take a few photos to immortalise the moment!

Rent-a-vine gift experience in an organic Saint Emilion vineyard

We returned to the winery via the old Roman path that linked Libourne to Saint-Emilion, passing a plot of vines that had been replanted a couple of years ago.  The vines have taken root nicely and work had begun to put in place the training wire structure.

Back at the winery, we enjoyed an aperitif of Chateau Coutet’s clairet, a deep pink rosé wine that is traditional to the Bordeaux region.   We then tasted the Saint Emilion 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages over lunch, learning about the different characteristics of each of these years, enabling us to see how the wine develops over time.

Tasting the estate's wines in front of the château

In the afternoon, we returned to the vineyard next to the winery buildings to learn about the work that remains in the vineyard between now and the harvest.  Removing some of the leaves, raising the training wires, trimming the branches, treating the vines against mildew and black rot as necessary.  There is still much to do before the grapes will be fully ripe and ready to be harvested.

Guided tour of the vineyards to learn the different work

We then had a quick tour of the fermentation hall and visited the cellar where the old vintages are stored. A real treasure trove!

Cellar tour in Saint-Emilion to see the old bottles of wine

The day finished with a visit of the barrel room to see where the wines slowly age before being ready to be bottled.  We’ll learn more about this stage of wine-making during the Vinification Experience Days next year.

Visiting the oak wine barrels

So much to learn about wine-making and the fascinating history of the winery.  Our first week-end at the winery was all that we could have hoped for, and we can’t wait to return, as there is so much more to discover! Many thanks to our fantastic hosts, and to all of our participants for making it so memorable!

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Pruning the Chardonnay vines in Chablis


Much of a wine’s quality is directly linked to the effort and care taken in the vineyard to produce the best quality grapes.  For without good grapes, it is very difficult to make good wine.  We ventured to Chablis last weekend to learn about the important work in the vineyard during a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.

Adopt-a-vine gift for wine lovers in Chablis, France

We spent the morning in the vineyard under the expert of guidance of Arnaud, one of the most experienced members of the vineyard team.  Arnaud brought us up to speed on what they have been busy doing in the vineyard during the winter.

Most of the time since November has been taken up with pruning, which is probably the most important task of all in the vineyard, as it not only helps determine the potential yield for the coming year’s harvest, but also lays the foundation for the following year.  Arnaud had kept back a small plot of vines for us to have a go at pruning ourselves.  He explained and showed us how to select the branch that will bear this year’s grapes, and how to choose the two spurs that will be used in the future.

Vineyard experience gift in organic Chablis vineyard

Listening to Arnaud, it all sounded very easy, so secateurs in hand, we set about having a go ourselves.  But wait a minute, the vine in front of us resembled nothing like the ones that Arnaud had used to demonstrate on!  We were to soon learn that each vine seems to be an exception to the rule!  Arnaud flitted between us to help us or to confirm our thinking, and little by little, we became more confident in our choices.  It’s much more complicated than you would imagine. Having a go yourself is the only way to really understand, and also to appreciate the mammouth task that the winemakers face when you look around the surrounding vineyards that spread as far as the eye can see.

Rent-a-vine birthday gift in a French vineyard

Arnaud then showed us how the branches are attached to the training wires to ensure that the growth will be spread evenly.  He answered our many questions, and we also spent quite a lot of time talking about the differences between conventional, organic and biodynamic methods.  The domaine is one of the largest organic and biodynamic wineries in Burgundy, and the plot of vines that we were working in is cultivated biodynamically.

On the way back to the winery, Arnaud showed us a some vines that had been pruned using the guyot double method, which leaves two branches instead of one in the guyot simple method that we had used.

Wine enthusiast gift.  Rent-a-vine in Chablis

We had earned our aperitif, and back at the winery Jean-Louis, had prepared a tasting of Petit Chablis, Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru to whet our appetite.  We continued the tasting over lunch of other organic wines from the winery, including Les Preuses Chablis Grand Cru.

Wine tasting experience gift at the winery in Chablis

After lunch we headed back into the vineyard to visit our adopted vines and to get in some training for Easter as we each hunted for our micro-plot of vines!

Adopt-a-vine in a French organic vineyard

We then learnt about the work that remains in the vineyard between now and the harvest.  There is still lots to do, and as we enter this crucial period now that the buds are starting to burst we hope that the frosts stay away.  The vines will grow rapidly now over the next couple of months.

The day finished with a quick tour of the upper fermentation hall to see where the wines are aged in oak casks.  We’ll learn more about what happens here during the Vinification Experience Days.

Wine-making experience present in Chablis, France

And so the day came to a close, and we left our vines in the care of the winery to be nurtured and managed as they grow and bear their fruit.  We look forward to coming back for the Harvest Experience Day!

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Pruning and folding the vines in Alsace


The sun was shining for the first of the 2017 Discovery Experience Days in Alsace at Domaine Stentz-Buecher.  The aim of this day is to learn about all of the work in the vineyard to obtain the best possible grapes at harvest time, and so naturally the day started in the vineyard, not just any vineyard, but the prestigious Hengst grand cru vineyard, where the winery has a plot of Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer vines.

Original birthday gift idea for wine lovers.  Rent-a-vine in an an organic French vineyard

We were accompanied by Jean-Jacques and Céline, who explained to us how the vines are pruned to control their growth and limit the quantity of grapes that they produce.  When pruning you have to think not only of the year’s harvest, but also leave a spur that will produce the branches used to bear the following year’s fruit.  We soon got stuck in, and quickly warmed up with the effort of pulling away the cut branches.

Wine gift experience to learn the work of a winemaker

We put the cut branches in the middle of the rows, where they will later be crushed to return some of the nutrients to the soil.

Vineyard tour gift that gets you involved in the winemaker's work

Once the vines have been pruned, the remaining branches are then folded in an arc, and attached to the lowest training wires. This helps to slow the flow of sap, and better space the future growth of the plant, helping the grapes to ripen and the vines to dry after any rain, which in turn helps reduce the risk or rot.

Vineyard experience gift in Alsace, France

We then made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard, where our adopted vines are located.  The plot is planted with Pinot Gris vines, and we admired the view of the surrounding vineyards and castles that dot the hills behind.

Organic rent-a-vine gift in Alsace, France

Jean-Jacques then talked more about other aspects of working in the vineyard, and showed us a plot that they had replanted last year.
By this time, our appetite and taste buds had opened up, and we were rewarded upon our return to the winery with a nice glass of wine.  We tasted a range of the estate’s wines including the Pinot Gris Rosenberg, chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, and Riesling, Muscat, Sylvaner, and Pinot Noir wines, as well as a glass of Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine.

Organic wine tasting gift experience in Alsace, France

After lunch, Stéphane explained the work that remains to be done in the vineyard between now and the harvest, and how the winemaker chooses when the grapes are ready to be harvested.  We also learnt what is involved in being an organic winemaker.

Winery tour and wine cellar visit in Alsace, France

The day finished with a visit to the cellar to see where the wine will be made once the grapes have been picked, something that will be covered in much greater detail during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.

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The 2016 harvest gets under way!


Now that September has arrived, harvest season is upon us once more. During the summer months, the grapes have been left to slowly mature, but now the activity in the vineyard and cellar is accelerating again as the harvest starts for some, and for others the preparation begins. The first of the 2016 Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Days took place last weekend under the sunny blue skies in the Languedoc.

Last minute preparations

The wineries have been ramping up the work again over the last couple of weeks. The teams of harvesters are being put in place, and are now eagerly awaiting the starting orders. The harvest will generally last between 10 and 20 days according to the size of the winery, the weather, and how the grapes are harvested. Harvesting by hand takes considerably longer than by machine.

Cellar tour at the winery in the Languedoc area, France

The cellars and fermentation halls, or chais, have been cleaned and tidied to be ready for the new harvest. Many of the wineries have also been busy bottling previous vintages to free up space in the vats for the first fermentation of the new wine to come.

Oenology course in France with the winemaker at he winery

Our partner winemakers are now prowling the vineyards each day, observing and tasting the grapes to see how ripe they are. They also scrutinise the weather reports and combine these with their estimations of when the grapes will reach optimum maturity to try and predict a date to start the harvest.

The harvest dates differ from region to region

This year we are in a more usual cycle, and the first of our partner wineries to pick their grapes are Domaine Allegria and Domaine la Cabotte in the Languedoc and Côtes du Rhône wine regions, where the high summer temperatures and long hours of sunshine allow the grapes to mature faster.

Tours in the vineyard and wine-making experience in France

The wineries a little further north will then follow with our two Burgundy partners, Domaine Chapelle in Santenay, and Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis, hosting Harvest Experience Days the last weekend of September and the first weekend of October. Château Beau Rivage in Bordeaux, Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace and Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley will then finish the round of Harvest Experience Days during the following two weekends.

Generally speaking, spring was cool and wet, but the beginning of summer was very warm, so the ripeness of the grapes is neither late nor early. We'll be keeping our fingers crossed for good weather right until the very last grapes have been picked! It's been a difficult year for some with hail storms, flooding, and some very hot spells in some regions, so it would be nice to avoid any further climatic challenges. And a little sun is always appreciated to welcome our adoptive vine parents to the Harvest Experience Days!

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Training the vines in the Rhone Valley


What a great day we had last Saturday.  A clear sky and the last wisps of the Mistral to bring a little freshness to help us in our work in the vineyard.

The adoptive vine parents at Domaine la Cabotte arrived punctually, coming from near and far.  From the Var, the other end of the Vaucluse, Paris, Geneva and Brsitol.  And yes, after the Brexit vote, four brave British clients reported present to show their support for good French wine!

After a quick coffee and croissant to give us strength, we climbed to the top of the estate to help with the work in the vineyard at this time of year.  The vines are currently growing rapidly, and need help to support the weight of the grapes and leaves by means of a trellis.  Our job was to raise the training wires and ensure that the vines pointed up towards the sky by clipping them between the wires.

Biodylanic wine experience gift in the Rhone Valley, south of France

Eric Plumet, the winemaker explained how to do it, and then we spread out between the rows, pockets full of coloured clips.

In biodynamic wine-making, we don’t trim the tops of the vines.  The extremity of each branch is left alone because it is the apex that allows all of the force of the aerial environment to penetrate the sap and enter the grapes.  The leaves will stop growing on their own accord when the time is right for the vine to concentrate its energy exclusively on the fruit.

Once we had finished our mission, we went and had a look at the part of the vineyard where our adopted Grenache vines are to be found.

Rent-a-vine gift experience to learn about the art of winemaking

Here the vines are completely different, as the Grenache are pruned using the “gobelet” technique and so do not need the support of a training wire.  We each went on the hunt for our adopted vines, and with the height of the vines, we were soon out of sight of each other as we disappeared into the forest of vines.

We then headed to a plot of Syrah vines to observe the differences between the grape varietals, the leaves, how the grapes form, and the orientation of the plot.  And from here, we had a great all round view of the estate, surrounded by the woods of the Massif d’Uchaux.
By now, it was already lunchtime.  Marie-Pierre awaited our return in the shade with some welcome cold refreshment!

Wine tasting gift experience with the Cotes du Rhone winemakers

The Colline rosé, a delightfully fresh and tasty wine opened our taste buds for the lunch and tasting prepared by Marie-Pierre and Jacqueline.

Two poultry and dried fruit terrines prepared by the winemaker and some Greek “Cabotte” stuffed vine leaves prepared by Jacqueline, were accompanied by the Garance and Gabriel red wines.

We finished the meal with a nice glass of Châteauneuf du Pape which we enjoyed with some goats cheese made at a neighbouring farm, and a homemade red fruit clafoutis.

The warmth of the southern summer threatened our energy levels, so the winemakers quickly ushered us into the coolness of the chai.  We talked some more about the vines and the wine, and noticed that in June the majority of the vats are empty, but the bottles are now full!

In front of us were cases full of freshly picked horsetail, yarrow and oak bark.  Eric explained how they are used in the different biodynamic preparations, and we also discovered the cow horns and how they are used to transform cow dung into rich natural fertiliser.

The questions flew, and Eric tried to clearly explain the answers.  The time passed all too quickly, but hopefully we all learnt a little more about the passionate but complex world of wine-making and biodynamics.  And so it was time to say our goodbyes, a bottle or two under the arm to take away as a souvenir of the day.

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Just a few weeks left to find the perfect gift for Father’s Day


An original gift that is personalised, fun, organic and participative... If these are your criteria for an ideal Father's Day gift and your dad is a wine lover, then Gourmet Odyssey has the perfect wine present for you. Adopt some organic vines in France and give an unforgettable Wine Experience gift.

More than just a wine course or wine tasting gift. By adopting some vines, your dad will become an apprentice winemaker and follow the making of his own organic wine at one of our partner wineries in France.

Learning how to prune vines during a day at the winery

Our Wine Experience gift pack will allow your dad to keep up to date with the news and work at his winery, and keep track of what his happening to his adopted vines via the newsletters and photos. At the end of the wine-making year, your father will receive a bottle of wine for each adopted vine. He can even choose the name of his wine and personalise the wine labels!

Wine gift box to harvest one's own vines

And for an even more participative experience, include one or more of the days at the winery to meet the winemakers, see the adopted vines, and get involved in working in the vineyard, the harvest, or one of the wine-making workshops.

Adopt-a-vine gift for Fathers' Day

Each day is a full day, lasting between 09:30 and 16:00, and includes lunch and a tasting of the wines from the winery. They are each valid for two people, so your dad will get to share a good moment over a glass or two of wine!

All of our partner wineries are chosen for the quality of their wine, the passion of the winemakers in sharing and talking about the art of winemaking, and they are all organically or biodynamically certified.

To have something for your Dad to open on Father's day, each gift pack contains a sommelier's apron, a DropStop, and vine adoption certificate. Standard delivery takes two working days in France, and between 3 and 6 days for the rest of Europe. For last minute Father's Day gifts, we can also send a copy of the adoption certificate by email .

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De-budding the vines in the Côtes du Rhône


We had a marvellous Discovery Experience Day at Domaine la Cabotte in the southern Côtes du Rhône region. After a few days of the mistral wind blowing, the good weather set in and we enjoyed a wonderful sunny day, perfect for spending the morning in the vineyard.
Vine adoption in the Rhone Valley

Over a welcome coffee, Eric and Marie-Pierre introduced us to the day. On the agenda was some work in a nice plot of Mourvèdre vines, where we would have a go at de-budding.

Vine life cycle and de-budding course at the winery

Our hosts explained how to de-bud, and then in pairs, we got stuck in. The demonstration that Eric gave us looked fairly simple. All we had to do was to remove some of the unwanted shoots to help control the yield that each vine will produce.

Wine gift vine de-budding course at the winery

But when you have to do it yourself, it's not quite as easy as it appears. No two vines are the same, and you end up asking yourself lots of questions. Is this shoot the one that needs to be removed? We didn't yet have Eric's expert eye. We de-budded a couple of rows each, which took us a little more time than it would have done Eric!

Vineyard tour wine gift in the Rhone Valley

Eric then took us on a walk through the vineyard, explaining on the way a whole host of things such as why some vines were pruned using the "gobelet" method and others using the "cordon de royat" technique.

Biodynamic wine making in the Cotes du Rhone

We took a little detour so that Eric could show us the biodynamic preparations that they use on the vineyards, notably the biodynamic cow manure compost, which nature transforms from a foul smelling matter into rich compost that encourages the microbial life in the soil. After a couple of weeks this compost is put into cow horns and then buried for a few months before being diluted and dynamised with rain water before being sprayed throughout the vineyard. Then the magic does its work!

Wine tasting at the winery in the Cotes du Rhone

Back at the winery, a nice cool aperitif awaited us in the shade of the trees. We tasted a 2015 Côtes du Rhône rosé and a Côtes du Rhône red wine from the same year. Marie-Pierre presented the wines, explaining their blends and how they had been worked in the chai.

Winemaker meal at the Domaine la Cabotte Rhone Valley

Marie-Pierre than invited us to sit down for an al fresco lunch that she had freshly prepared: a lentil salad, tomatoes and pumpkin seed salad, duck and nut terrine, local goats cheese and a delicious cake. During the meal we tasted the range of wines that are produced at the winery, the "Garance" and "Gabriel" Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d'Uchaux wines and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 red.

Vine adoption gift box France Rhone Valley

After lunch, we went to meet our Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines, giving us the chance to immortalise the moment by taking a few photos. Eric then told us about the specificity of the Uchaux terroir and how it differs from other areas in the Rhône valley.

Biodynamic winemaking course at Domaine la Cabotte

We then headed to the chai, where Eric briefly explained how the wine is vinified and the differences between the biodynamic methods they use from conventional. He showed us some of the plants that are used to make the treatments such as horse tail and fennel. He told us how the dynamiser works and the impact of the different biodynamic treatments on the vineyard.

The 2016 harvest is still a long way off, but the day enabled us to better appreciate the importance of the preparative work that is done beforehand throughout the year by Eric, Marie-Pierre and their son Etienne to ensure the best possible grapes.

The path is still long before we can taste the "Garance" 2016 wine, and we'll have to be patient, whilst hoping that Mother Nature is as kind as it was in 2015. Warm thanks to Marie-Pierre and Eric for their generous welcome and to all of the participants for a great day!

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Learning about the work in the vineyard in Alsace


Much of a wine’s quality is the direct result of the work that is carried out in the vineyard to manage and nurture the vines, and as we were to learn during the Discovery Experience Day at Domaine Stentz-Buecher, there is much more to do than you would at first think!

Original wine experience gift.  Adopt vines in Alsace and make your own personalised bottles of wine

After the introductions to the Alsace wine growing region and a brief history of the Stentz-Buecher family, we made our way to the Rosenberg vineyard, where our adopted vines are to be found.  We took a few minutes to introduce ourselves to our vines and to encourage them to work hard in producing a good harvest for this year’s vintage!

Adopt-a-vine gift in france for wine lovers.

But then time to get down to the serious business of the day and to learn about the key stages involved in preparing the vines for the harvest.  To do so, we were joined by Jean-Jacques, who passionately explained the different aspects of this complex, demanding, and, often, highly manual profession.

Organic wine gift.  Work in the vineyard alongside the winemaker

Pruning, de-budding, trellising, planting new vines, fighting against diseases and so on, the questions and topics covered were varied and numerous.  We also talked about the differences between organic and conventional farming methods used to weed the vineyards and treat the vines, and how the life of a winemaker and the local community has changed over time.  Jean-Jacques is extremely passionate about his profession and given the chance would have kept us in the vineyard forever!

We then headed back to the winery, making a quick stop at a plot of vines lower down on the plain that had recently been damaged by frost and which will have a severely reduced yield as a result.  Difficult to believe given the glorious sunshine and blue skies of the day, but a reminder that however good and dedicated the winemaker may be, Mother Nature can have other plans.

Wine tasting gift in Alsace at an organic winery

We tasted a range of the different wines produced by Domaine Stentz-Buecher, starting with an unusual wine, called Who Am I? that is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling.  We then moved onto a more classic Riesling Tradition 2014, followed by the 2014 vintage of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, the Pinot Gris Rosenberg.  We then tasted a more complex Riesling, the Tannenbuehl 2011, and an unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011.

We tasted a Crémant d’Alsace “brut de nature”, made from 100% Chardonnay grapes with no added liqueur before sitting down to lunch which had been prepared by a local caterer.

In the afternoon, we visited the cellar to get a brief overview and appreciation of the wine-making side of things.  Stéphane showed us the wine press, and the vats and barrels that contain the wine during the fermentation and ageing processes.  We finished the day in the “vinothèque”, an impressive room used to showcase some of the older vintages.

Winery tour gift in Alsace, France

We’ll get to see the press in action during the Harvest Experience Day and will spend more time in the cellar during the Vinification Experience Days, but until then, there is still much to do in the vineyard, as the day hopefully taught us!

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The 2015 harvest nears the end in Alsace


The penultimate weekend of Harvest Experience Days saw us travel to Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace. With the very hot summer that the region endured, the harvest has been uncharacteristically early this year, and is almost over. The winery had kept back a plot of pinot noir vines for us to pick that will be used to make the winery's "Ambre" white wine, something that they only do every couple of years when the quality of the grapes allows them to do so.

Vineyard experience, Alsace, France

The day started with us heading out into the vineyard. We followed the tractor and the materiel we needed for the harvest until we reached the plot of pinot noir vines that we were to pick. Céline and Jean-Jacques gave us our instructions and equipped us with a bucket and a pair of secateurs each. We then set about harvesting the grapes, being careful to only pick the ripe bunches!

Adop a vine, Alsace, France

We emptied the buckets into the trailer, and some of us also had a go at being porter, collecting the harvested grapes in a big basket worn on the back.

Wine lover git, Alsace, France

Once the basket was full, the porter then had to climb a ladder and tip the grapes over the shoulder into the trailer.

Wine experience, Alsace, France

After we had finished harvesting the plot, we proceeded to the Rosenberg vineyard, where our adopted vines are located. We took a few minutes to visit our vines and to take some pictures for the "My Vine" photo competition.

Rent a vine in France, Alsace

We then followed the grapes back to the winery and met up with Stéphane, who had been busy working in the cellar during the morning. We emptied the grapes into the press by tipping the trailer up, and helping the grapes slide down using a fork.

Unique wine gifts, France, Alsace 

Down below in the cellar, Stéphane explained how the press works to extract the juice from the grapes, and how it is then transferred to the vats.

Wine making experience in Alsace, France

Céline then gave us a wine tasting session of a range of the organic wines produced by the winery. We started with an unusual wine for Alsace, a 2012 blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling, called "Who Am I?". We the tasted a Riesling Ortel 2012, before tasting three different Grand Cru wines; a Riesling Steingrubler 2008 Grand Cru, a Pinot Gris Hengst 2006 Grand Cru, and a Gewurztraminer Hengst 2008 Grand Cru.

We then continued the tasting over lunch with a Pinot Blanc 2014, a Pinot Noir 2011, and Sylvaner Vielles Vignes 2011.

Wine gift packs in Alsace, France

After lunch, we headed back down into the cellar, where Stéphane explained how the work at harvest time isn't finished once the grapes are picked. We had a go at "pigeage", a job that involves punching down the cap of grape skins and pips into the juice, using a big plunger. This helps extract the tannins and colour from the grape skins during the maceration period.

Original wine gift, Alsace, France

In the fermentation hall, we learnt all about the process to turn the grape juice into wine as we listened to the gurgling of the vats that had already started to ferment.

Personalised wine gifts, France, Alsace

We finished the day with a final tasting of a couple of grape musts, at different stages of fermentation. We'll pick up from here next year during the Vinification Experience Days where we'll learn about the decisions that the winemaker takes during the rest of the fermentation and ageing periods.

Wine tasting gift, Alsace, France

A final stop in the room where the older wines are stored, and then it was time to say our farewells. Many thanks to all of the family at Domaine Stentz-Buecher for welcoming us, and letting us in behind the scenes during harvest time!

Other articles relating to the 2015 harvest

The 2015 harvest gets under way for our partner wineries

The 2015 harvest. What happens next in the cellar?

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What to get the person that has everything ?

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

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