Adopt a Vine and Make Your Own Wine

with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

Visit www.gourmetodyssey.com for more information

Tagged articles : Vineyard

De-budding the vines in Alsace


Céline, the wine-maker at Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace, welcomed us to the winery for a Discovery Experience day to learn about the work carried out in the vineyard.  The weather was sunny and warm, as it had been in the region for a few days, meaning that the vines were flourishing, and so there was lots to do keep their growth under control.

 

Meet the winemaker in an organic French winery

 

We listened with great interest as Céline introduced us to the Alsace wine-growing region and the winery, which she took over with her brother Stéphane from their parents to become the 4th generation of wine-makers in the family.  

She then took us into the vineyard where she explained the terroir and layout of the plots of vines.  The winery has 12 hectares of vines spread out over 74 different plots.  It allows Céline and Stéphane to work with all of the 7 Alsace grape varietals on different types of soil, and to achieve a great diversity in their wines.  The winery has the good fortune to boast 3 Grand Cru plots in the Steingrubler, Pfersigberg, and Hengst vineyards.  But it also means that there is much more work for the wine-makers to do, as they are constantly moving around to manage the different plots.

Stéphane brought us up to speed with the work carried out in the vineyard since the last harvest, such as pruning using the guyot double method, pulling the cut branches away, and attaching the remaining ones to the training wire.  With a yield of just 45 hectolitres per hectare on average, and as low as 17 hl/ha for the old vines, compared to the 60 hl/ha authorised by the AOC, the winery voluntarily reduces the amount of grapes produced with the aim of producing exceptional quality grapes.

After pruning, the soil is tilled to loosen and aerate it, which also helps it to soak up the rainwater.  Despite a month of continuous rain in the spring, with the return of the high temperatures, some of the vines lower down on the plain have started to suffer from drought.

Vine adoption in an organic vineyard in Alsace, France

We then headed to the Rosenberg vineyard to see our adopted pinot gris vines.  The Rosenberg vineyard is fairly large, and is cut into lots of small plots.  The name means the rose hill, because traditionally lots of roses were planted at the beginning of each row to warn against mildew.  We took a few photos of our vines, and saw how the vines had grown so far.

The vines flowered some 3 to 4 weeks later than the last 3 years, but is more in line with a “normal” year.  The branches have grown lots, and so they have been placed in between training wires, and the unwanted non-fruit-bearing branches removed.

It’s important to ensure the vines are contained between the training wires to make it easy for the tractor to pass through the rows, to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis, and to reduce the risk of disease if the leaves remain wet.  At Domaine Stentz-Buecher the training of the vines is done by hand.  It can be done by machine as we saw in a neighbouring plot, but Stéphane prefers not to as it can break many of the young shoots.

Vine de-budding session in an organic vineyard in France

We remove the young shoots that won’t become fruit-bearing as they drain energy from the vines.  In a plot next to our pinot gris vines, there were some unwanted shoots growing from the vine trunks, and so that became our mission for the day.  Stéphane explained that we needed to remove any shoots growing from ground level up till around 20cm.  Above 20 cm, we leave the branches because they can be useful for becoming the new branch left after pruning next year, useful if a branch breaks or has become too old and unproductive.  Any branches that remain are held between the training wires so as to not fall across the row where it would be at risk from being damaged.

To remove the branch, we slide our finger into the hollow between the branch and trunk, and push downwards until it falls away.  We then spread out to de-bud a row each.  It’s not a very complicated task, but when you’re bent over under a blistering sun, we quickly understood why Stéphane prefers to do so at 5am, and how long it must take to do all of the winery’s vineyards with just 2 or 3 people!   Especially so at the moment, as the vines can grow a couple of centimetres a day, and in a month a whole new branch may have grown and so you have to start again.

adopt a vine and come to help the winemaker in the vineyard

We worked diligently and then returned to the winery for a very well earned wine tasting session.  To start with, Céline served a naturally sparkling Crémant, made using the same method used in champagne but without any liqueur added, making for a drier than normal Crémant.

Visit and tasting in an organic winery in Alsace

We then tasted a Riesling Ortel, a Muscat, and a Pinot Gris Rosenberg to appreciate the diversity of the Alsace grape varietals.  We finished with a Pinot Noir Granit, one of the red wines made at the winery.  We then continued the wine tasting over lunch of a traditional Alsace baeckeofe, regional cheeses, and blueberry tart.

After lunch, we headed into the coolness of the cellar.  It had been redesigned to work using gravity as much as possible from the moment the grapes are put into the press and vats.  We saw the grape press and the room where the wines ferment in century old wooden casks, and the barrel room where the red wines and some of the whites are aged.

Cellar visit and adopt a vine experience in France

The day ended in the wine library where the oldest vintages are stocked, before concluding the day.  We learnt much about nurturing the vines, the winery’s philosophy behind making organic wines, and we met some fascinating people.  Many thanks to Céline and Stéphane for this great moment shared.  We’ll be back for the harvest!

Add a comment

A year of climatic extremes for the 2020 vintage


2020 will be a year to remember for organic wine-makers in France!  As everywhere else, the virus impacted the human activity in terms of working conditions and sales. The vines also had an unusual year, with exceptional climatic conditions.
In the autumn of 2019, the heavy rain that fell over much of France enabled the vineyards and water tables to build up their reserves.  And thankfully so, because the vines would depend on this later on.  A very mild winter, and mainly dry for the most part of France’s wine-growing regions, followed by a hot spring. At Domaine de la Guicharde in the Côtes du Rhône wine region, we saw roses in bloom in January!
Vine adoption gift box in alsace France
As a result, the vegetative cycle started in January and February which is earlier than normal, and developed rapidly in springtime, giving the wine-makers some sleepless nights as they worried about late frosts that could be catastrophic for the young buds.  At Château de la Bonnelière, in the Loire Valley, the large candles that are used to keep the frost at bay were set up in the vineyards, but fortunately not needed.  Luckily, spring remained mild and warmer than usual, but by the end, we could sense that the vines were at risk from a lack of water.    

The south and south west of France were the only regions to have any rain during spring.  It wasn’t very heavy, but fell regularly, meaning that the organic wine-makers had to treat the vines more often to protect them from mildew, the fungus that thrives when the weather is both hot and wet.  At Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion, at Domaine Allegria in the Languedoc, and at Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhône Valley, the tractor could be seen often in the vineyards treating the vines as the copper and sulphur based sprays used in organic wine-making are contact products that protect the vines from the outside and don’t penetrate into the plant, and so they are washed away and need to be replaced after each rainfall.
Vineyard discovery day in Burgundy
The vines flowered early during the warm spring, appearing as early as the 19th May at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay, Burgundy, something which usually happens around the beginning of June.  Fortunately it wasn’t too rainy, and the coulure was minimal for most of the vineyards, meaning that the flowers were for the most part able to fecundate and produce grapes normally.  The end of spring and summer was extremely hot and that was when the lack of water began to be felt with the veraison being blocked, which is the moment when the grapes start to change colour.  In some cases, the grapes were scorched by the hot sun, shrivelling and drying up.
Vine renting gift box in the Rhone Valley, France
As a result of the combination of all these factors, the grape harvest in France was on the whole very early.  The wine-makers needed to harvest before the grapes became too concentrated in sugar, which would lead to wines that are too strong in alcohol, and before the grapes started to dry up, reducing the volume of wine that would be made.  In Alsace, the vineyards around Wettolsheim and Eguisheim, including the vines at Domaine Stentz-Biecher benefited from some rain in August, allowing the grapes to finish maturing in the best conditions.
Harvest experience in an organic winery in Saint-Emilion
The first of our partner wineries to begin harvesting was Domaine Allegria in the south of France, who started on the 17th August.  It’s not unusual to start harvesting in August in the Languedoc, but it’s very rare to do so in Burgundy!  Domaine Chapelle in Santenay began on the 19th August, when they would normally do so in mid-September.  In the Loire Valley, Château de la Bonnelière started in mid-September instead of in October.
Adopt-a-vine gift box for wine lovers
The good news is that with the warm and dry weather, all of the wineries are in agreement that the quality of the grapes is excellent this year.  No infections, good levels of maturity, and apart from a few dried out grapes, nothing to sort!  For some wineries the harvest is a little smaller due to the summer drought which meant that the grapes were more concentrated, but the quality is very promising…

We’ll be following the next stages closely as all of the fermentations finish, the wines start the ageing process, and we get to taste them during the Vinification Experience Days next year!

If you’re interested in learning more about organic wine-making and want to get involved in next year’s grape harvest, adopt some organic vines and come and work with the wine-maker at one of our partner wineries with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

Add a comment

Participating in the harvest of the Chenin grapes in the Loire Valley


2020 was a warm year for the most part, and so the harvest was early, taking place on the 19th and 20th September for the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers, which is almost a month earlier than usual.

Marc Plouzeau, the owner and wine-maker at Château de la Bonnelière, a few kilometres from the charming town of Chinon, had started the harvest with his team, a week earlier with the grapes used for the rosé and white wines, the red grapes needing some rain before being picked.  As with each year, this first week allows Marc and his team to warm up and find their marks again for the harvest, a gentle real-time training before the really busy period that follows as the quantities are much bigger for the Cabernet Franc red grapes!

Marc already had lots to do in the chai, so after the welcome coffee and introductions, we headed into the vineyard with Noémie, the vineyard manager, and Louise the Gourmet Odyssey wine expert.

After a quick visit of our adopted vines in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, we were ready for the harvest. 
Our grapes hadn’t yet quite reached optimum maturity, so we crossed the road to pick the plot of Chenin blanc.  Our mission for the week-end was to pick the entire plot!

Harvest Expeirence Day in the Loire Valley

Many people don’t know, but the Chinon wine appellation exists for red, rosé and white wines.  Made using the Chenin grape varietal, as for the nearby Saumur and Anjou white wines, the Chinon white wine has a very limited production, accounting for less than 2% of the total appellation.  10 years ago, it was even less, but thanks to the efforts of some winemakers, they have brought the white wines to life too.

Wine gift Box for harvesting your vines

In 2014, Marc replaced a plot of red with Chenin vines.  This half-hectare vineyard produces the grapes used for the Silice white wine.

Half a hectare in two mornings was a do-able but tough challenge, particularly with the weather not being on our side, especially on the Sunday.  

Harvest your own adopted vines in France

Leaving a few rows for Marc’s team, we learnt which grapes to pick, and which ones to leave.  The majority of grapes were in perfect condition, but some had been attacked by rot.  Noémie also gave us some tips on how to not have a bad back at the end of the day!

Visit and tasting at the winery in Chinon, France

After the harvest, it was time for the aperitif, followed by lunch to gather our strength for the work in the chai!  Amongst the wines we tasted, Marc opened a few bottles of the Silice wine from previous vintages, so that we could see the potential of our morning’s harvest.

Harvest Experience in the Loire Valley

Despite the good cheer at the table, we had to think of the grapes and get up to see to them.  With Marc, we discovered how to fill the press, and then Marc explained the different stages to follow; the settling, alcoholic fermentation, racking, ageing in barrels… There was lots to learn, and everyone hung off Marc’s every word.

Meeting an organic winemaker in France

As Marc is very talkative, the time flashed by.  Fortunately many of the group will be coming back soon to discover the work in the cellar during the Vinification Experience Days!

The Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, where the adopted vines are located, was harvested on the 1st October, as usual being the last vineyard to be picked. The grapes were perfectly ripe, so we should be in for a great vintage!

Add a comment

Harvest Experience Day in the Languedoc


Today was a special day at Domaine Allegria.  It was lovely weather for the Gourmet Odyssey apprentice winemakers to harvest, something that is not uncommon, but it was the first time that we were to harvest the new plot of Grenache vines that had been massally selected.  As opposed to buying young vines from a nursery, Ghislain and Delphine had chosen to take cuttings from their best vines.  This is known as massal selection, and helps preserve the genetic lineage of older vines, with the aim of improving the quality of the grapes and the vine’s natural resistance to disease.

After the introductions, we headed out into the vineyard and listened attentively to the instructions on how to harvest.  We carefully picked the grapes and put them into crates that could hold 15 kg of grapes, which we then stored in the shade of the vinification hall.  The temperature quickly rose, but we remained in good cheer.  The grapes that we tasted as we picked confirmed that the harvest was a very good one, and that we should be able to look forward to a good vintage from the wine made using this plot.

Harvesting the Grenache plot

As with many wine-growing regions of France, this year has been great weather-wise because the sun and summer heat allowed the grapes to reach optimum maturity, without being infected by any disease of rot.  This made our job of harvesting that much easier too because there was practically nothing to sort!

Sorting the grapes

Once we had finished the harvest, we followed the grapes journey into the vats.  First of all we removed any leaves that had inadvertently made their way into the crates, and some dried out and shrivelled grapes that had been burnt by the sun.  The remaining bunches were then put into a de-stemming machine that separates the berries from the stalks which, if left in the vat during the maceration period, would make the wine too strong and would bring unwanted herbaceous aromas. Sometimes, in certain conditions, we can choose to leave some of the stems during the maceration period, but that remains a choice for the winemaker to make!

After the morning’s hard work, the aperitif was very welcome, with a tasting of a magnum of the 2019 Dolce Vita rosé.  We then sat down to a nice lunch prepared by Delphine, which was accompanied by other wines from Domaine Allegria.

Visiting the adopted vines

In the afternoon, we headed back out into the vineyard, for a digestive walk, and to find our adopted vines in a plot of Syrah.  The grapes will be blended with some Mourvèdre grapes to create the Tribu d’A wine once they have sufficiently aged.  We’ll learn more about these stages of winemaking next year during the Vinification Experience Days!

Add a comment

De-budding the organic vines in the Languedoc


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

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

Organic vine adoption in Pézenas, France

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

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

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

Work in the vineyard gift box in Languedoc, France

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

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

Organic wine tasting in France

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

Many thanks to all for this great wine discovery day!

Add a comment

Summer work in the vineyard in the Loire Valley


The beginning of summer is a hectic time in the vineyard. Everything grows quickly and the winemaker has lots of work to do to keep everything under control and safeguard the quality of the future harvest as we were to find out during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley.
Adopt-a-vine experience in Chinon, France
We started the day in Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard, next to the château.  This is where our adopted vines are located, and we took a few minutes to find our vines, encourage them to produce a good harvest, and immortalise the moment with a few photos!
Rent-a-vine experience in the Loire Valley, France
The winemaker, Marc Plouzeau, then explained all of the work that has been carried out in the vineyard so far this year, and in particular the vital task of pruning, so important in controlling the yield and improving the potential quality of the grapes.
The wet end to spring, followed by the warmth and sun of the past couple of weeks has meant that the vegetation has thrived and everything is growing really quickly.  There is way more than enough to keep the winemaker busy, and so Marc was very welcome of our help for the day!  He had set aside three different jobs for us to do.
Meet-the-winemaker experience in the Loire Valley, France
At this time of the year, the vines can grow more than 10 centimetres in a week.  To protect the branches and future grapes, they need to be trained behind the training wires.  This helps the vine support the weight of the branches, leaves, and future grapes, and keeps them out of the way of the tractor when it drives up and down the rows.  First we had to raise the training wire on each side of the row, being careful not damage the floral caps of the vine flowers, and then we clipped the wires together.  Finally we ensured that all of the branches were contained between the wires and as evenly spaced as possible to help improve the air flow around the leaves, something that is important to help the foliage dry more quickly following any rain, thus reducing the risk of disease.
Wine-making course in the Loire Valley, France
Despite the best efforts to prune the vines, there are always unwanted shoots that grow, either as double buds or from low down on the vine trunk.  These shoots drain energy from the vines to the detriment of the quality of the grapes.  By hand or with the help of a small spade, we removed any shoots that grew from the trunk.  Marc also explained the way that vines are grafted onto root stocks that are resistant to phyloxera, and showed us the difference in the shoots that grow from the grafted vine or directly from the root, shoots that are known as Americans in reference to the origin of the roots.
Wine-making course in Chinon, France
It’s not just the vines that are growing quickly.  The grass and wild flowers are also thriving.  The tractor had recently been put to work in the vineyard, lightly ploughing every other row to remove the grass and flowers.  The unploughed rows had been mowed to keep the grass short and stop fungi from spreading to the vines.  When ploughing, the tractor carries a special mechanical plough that does a fairly good job of ploughing around the vine stocks.  It however struggles if the gap between two vines or between a vine and a training post is too small.  In such instances, the only way to remove the grass and flowers is by hand with the help of a hoe.  This was the third task Marc had reserved for us, and so hoe in hand, we got stuck in!
Vine tending course in Chinon, France
After our busy morning, we had earned our aperitif!  Marc served us a nice fresh glass of “Perle Sauvage”, his naturally sparkling wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes, accompanied by local rillettes, and homemade goats’ cheese cake and gougères.  We continued the tasting of wine over lunch, the crisp 2018 Touraine Sauvignon “Bonnelière” pairing well with the fish terrine starter.  We then tasted the reds with the Tagine main course, cheese and desert, starting with the fruity 2018 Chinon “La Roche”, then the more complex 2017 Chinon “Clos de la Bonnelière”, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, and finishing with the full-bodied 2016 Chinon “Chapelle”.
Organic wine tasting in the Loire Valley, France
In the afternoon, we went for a short walk through the vineyards to a plot that Marc had recently planted.  He explained how the vines are planted and the implications on production quantities involved.  Before planting a new plot, another crop is planted to replenish the soil with lost nutrients. The new vines won’t produce any grapes for making wine in the first three years, followed by several years of low quality grapes.  Replanting is something that it takes time to reap the rewards from!
Organic vine tending lessons in the Loire Valley, France
Marc also took time to explain how the vines are cared for organically and the implications that it entails.  
Organic Winery visit in Chinon, Loire Valley, France
We ended the day in the cool of the vinification hall.  Here Marc gave us an introduction to what happens when the grapes are received at harvest time, and how the juice is turned into wine.  We’ll be spending much more time here during the Harvest and Vinification Experience Days.
Many thanks to all for a great day.  We look forward to coming back for the harvest at the end of September or beginning of October.

Find out more about how you too can adopt vines and get involved in making your own bottles of personalised organic wine.

Add a comment

Flowering vines in the Côtes du Rhône


Early June is a critical time in the vineyard as we were to find out during the Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience Day at Domaine de la Guicharde in the southern Côtes du Rhône region. We joined the winemakers, Arnaud and David, to learn first-hand about the care and effort that is needed to nurture the vines to enable them to produce the best quality grapes, and to understand the principals and challenges of organic and biodynamic wine-making.

  Wine-making expeirece in the Rhone Valley in France

After the introductions, we walked past the olive grove and up into the vineyards.  From the top of the hill, Arnaud told us about the unique terroir of the Massif d’Uchaux, the land having never been covered by the sea which brings a freshness to the wines not usually found in southern Côtes du Rhône wines.

Meet teh winemaker in a French biodynamic winery in the Rhone Valley
Arnaud and David explained the work that has been undertaken so far to prepare the vines for this year’s campaign, showing us the pruning methods used, the need to de-bud the vines, and how the soil is tilled to remove the grass and weeds.
We then continued our walk into the next vineyard on top of the hill.  Arnaud pointed out the two different grape varietals grown here.  On the left, the Syrah vines, and on the right Grenache.  The leaves of the Syrah were more silvery and were slightly furry on the underside compared to the more lush green and smoothness of the Grenache.
The plot of Grenache is where our adopted vines are to be found, and so we took a few minutes to visit our micro plot of vines, and encourage them to produce a great harvest this year!
Vine rental in the Rhone Valley, France
A wonderfully delicate fragrance filled the air.  On closer inspection, we could see that there were lots of tiny white flowers on each of the vines.  This happens for a short period each year, lasting just a week, and is one of the most critical periods in determining the quantity of grapes that we will pick at harvest time.  Vines are self-pollinating plants, the pollen falling directly from the anthers of the stamen to the stigma.  The weather is crucial for this to happen properly.  If it is rainy, then the pollen sticks and cannot fertilize the ovaries, and if there is too much wind, pollen is carried away from the vines.  Fortunately, the conditions were perfect the day that we were at the winery.  Sun, a little wind, and not too hot.
Organic vine tending class in the Rhone Valley, France
The vines grow very quickly at this time of year, and there had been around 30-50cm of growth from the last time we were at the winery a month ago.  To help maintain order in the vineyard and to help the vines support the weight of the foliage and grapes to come, we train the vines using a trellis system.  This was our task for the day!
After receiving a quick lesson in how to train the vines, we split into twos and raised the training wires, being careful to not damage the flowers, and ensuring that the branches were supported between the wires.  To keep the wires in place, we used a biodegradable clip.
Vineyard visit gift box for organic wine lovers
By this stage we had built up an appetite and a thirst, so we headed back to the winery and the shade of the courtyard.  As an aperitif we tasted Le 18 rosé and Autour de la Chapelle white wines, and over the delicious lunch prepared by a local restaurant, we tasted some of the red wines, the 2016 Pur Rouge Côtes du Rhône, the 2015 Terroir du Miocène and the 2018 Genest Massif d’Uchaux wines.
After lunch we headed back into the vineyard to learn about the work that will be carried out between now and the harvest.  We also took the time to listen to Arnaud explain how the vineyards are managed organically and biodynamically, a topic which generated lots of questions and gave rise to much reflection as to how it is possible to work in harmony with nature.
Vine adoption gift box for French organic wine lovers
The day finished with a quick tour of the vinification hall to see where the wine is made and aged.  We’ll be spending much more time here when we come back for the harvest in September, and during the Vinification Experience Days next year.

Add a comment

Training the organic vines in Bordeaux


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

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

Vineyard tour in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

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

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

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

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

Vine tending lessons at a French winery

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

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

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

Organic wine tasting in Saint-Emilion, France

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

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

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

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

Add a comment

De-budding the vines in Alsace


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hands-on vineyard experience gift

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

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

Organic wine tasting with the winemaker in Alsace

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

Cellar tour with the winemaker near Colmar in Alsace

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

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

Find out more about adopting vines in Alsace.

Add a comment

De-budding, a critical task in producing good quality grapes


We met up with Mathieu, winemaker at Château Coutet, over a coffee and pain au chocolat. We were in Saint-Emilion for a Gourmet Odyssey Discovery Experience day to learn about all of the work that the winemaker undertakes in the vineyard. Mathieu is the 14th generation of winemaker to nurture the great vines at Château Coutet.

 

Vineyard tour in Saint-Emilion, France

Château Coutet is on the right bank of the Bordeaux vineyards, the kingdom of the Merlot grape varietal. The limestone terroir of Saint-Emilion produce wines that have stood the test of time, and as we climb the hillside through the vineyards, Mathieu shows us the changing soil types.

On the way, our path crosses a little robot, invented by Mathieu’s uncle. It automatically cuts the grass in a given vineyard, allowing the grass to be kept short and avoiding it being destroyed by turning the soil. Turning the soil too much can disturb the microbial life in the soil, which is the natural habitat of worms, essential to maintaining the vitality of the soil.

Vine-adoption experience in Saint-Emilion France

We visited our adopted vines in the Peycocut vineyard situated on the limestone plateau, the best terroir in Saint-Emilion. Here we are surrounded by the prestigious wineries that have helped write the history of the Saint-Emilion wines.

Wine lover ideal gift in Bordeaux, France

De-budding is one of the most important jobs in the vineyard during spring. We have to select the shoots that we will keep on the vine. Some will produce the grape bunches for this year, and others will produce the branches for next year. This task is therefore vital in ensuring this year’s production and in safeguarding the future production.

Wine-making courses near Bordeaux, France

The difficulty lies in choosing which branches to keep. Mathieu clearly explained the theory to us, and then it all came to life as we had a go ourselves, worked with him in de-budding the vines.

Organic vine tending experience near Bordeaux, France

We then returned to the winery to enjoy tasting some of the wines, starting with the 2016 Château Belles Cimes. It’s the winery’s second wine, made from the grapes from the young vines and some of the press wine. It’s a fairly fruity wine which is ideal for the aperitif.

Lunch was served in the dining room, overlooked by the portraits of some of Mathieu’s ancestors. The 2014 Château Coutet, which is the main wine, accompanied the starter. It’s a blend of the different terroir and grape varietals, offering elegance and complexity. We then went up a notch with the 2015 Château Coutet. Blended from the same terroir and grape varietals as the 2014 vintage, the 2015 has a more evolved aromatic character, and has more power and length on the palate. Mathieu spoiled us over cheese, serving the 2014 Cuvée Demoiselle. It’s a very select wine made from the winery’s best and oldest vines that are worked using horses.

Winery visit gift box in France

After lunch Mathieu explained the family’s commitment to organic wine-making, and we visited the vinification hall and the family cellar where the old bottles are stored. We go back in time as we imagine tasting a wine from 1953.

The day at Château Coutet drew to a close. Many thanks to Mathieu for welcoming us so warmly. We left having learnt that there is much more to wine-making that you would think.

Learn more about adopting a vine in Saint-Emilion.

Add a comment

De-budding the vines in Burgundy


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

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

Vine adoption in Santenay, Burgundy, France

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

Organic vineyard visit in Burgundy France

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

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

Adopt-a-vine experience at Domaine Chapelle in France

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

Organic vine tending in Santenay, Burgundy, France

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

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

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

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

Add a comment

The biodiversity is under threat in the very near short term


That is the conclusion of the summary of the global assessment of nature published on the 6th May 2019 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent organisation made up from over 130 member states.  More than a million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction within decades according to their report made after three years of research in more than 50 countries.  However the report also presents the solutions available to avoid such a catastrophe.

 

What are the principal conclusions of the report?


The first and most important is that humans are directly responsible for the decline in nature, with an average of around 25% of animals and plant being threatened.  The rate of destruction is alarming, and is tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years.  

Among the main causes of the extinction of the species are the changing uses of the sea and land (e.g. deforestation), the exploitation of certain species (e.g. overfishing), climatic change, pollution, and invasive species introduced by man in unsuitable habitats which then threaten the natural biodiversity (e.g. ragweed).

Rare tulips in the vineyard at Chateau Coutet

 

How will we be affected in the short term?


The report warns that most of nature’s contribution will not be completely replaceable.  For example more than ¾ of the world’s crops rely on pollinisation by animals.  Foods such as fruit, vegetables, coffee and chocolate could quickly become in short supply if the animals that pollinate the plants become extinct.  And it’s not just food, many medicines rely on plants that are at risk of disappearing.  

Another worry is that the number of conflicts linked to natural resources is already very high, some 2500 happening at the moment.  This number will increase as the world population increases, putting even more pressure on the natural resources available.

Humans are directly responsible for the decline in nature

 

What can we do now?


The good news is that we can reverse the trend.  To do so we need change and positive actions on a local and global scale.  We can use more sustainable agricultural methods, and enforce quotas on resources used on a global scale, for example by ending subsidies for intensive farming, fishing, deforestation, or the mining of fossil fuels.

On a local level, we can all make an impact by the choices we make to move around, heat our homes, and feed ourselves.  For example reducing the amount of meat and fish that we eat and by choosing producers that respect biodiversity.

we need change and positive actions on a local and global scale

 

How are we concerned at Gourmet Odyssey?


Gourmet Odyssey only works with organically certified producers.  It’s a choice that we made when creating the company 10 years ago, convinced that we could also help support agriculture on a human scale which preserves the environment and biodiversity.  Our partner, Château Coutet is a good example, a family run winery which has preserved the biodiversity in its vineyards for more than 400 years, having never used chemical products in the vineyards at the winery.

When choosing presents for friends and family, or activities for corporate events, we can make our choice by limiting our impact on the environment and helping to support the producers who fight to preserve the living.

More information on the criteria used to select Gourmet Odyssey’s partners.

 

Add a comment

End of year wine competitons and gifts


This month we had the pleasure of organising two events to win some gifts to put underneath the Christmas tree or to share a good time with friends and family.

This month we had the pleasure of organising two events to win some gifts to put underneath the Christmas tree or to share a good time with friends and family.

Our annual My Vine competition rewards the winners of the most original photo and the one that received the most votes on our Facebook page.  The photos were taken during the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience Days at our different organic wineries and submitted by the adoptive vine owners.

This year the prizes went to Philippe and Coraline.  A magnum of wine from the winery where their adopted vines are located is on its way to each of them!

Day at the winery for making ones own organic wine

 

Christmas wine gift box for making your organic wine

And at the ViniBio organic wine fair we organised a prize draw to win some adopted vines at Château Coutet, our partner winery in Saint-Emilion.  The visitors to the stand had to try to identify the aroma contained in a small bottle.

Congratulations to Maxence who correctly identified strawberry, and who will be able to come and pamper his vines at the winery during the 2019 vintage!

And talking of gifts, it’s not too late to spoil someone special with an adopt-a-vine gift this Christmas  ! Click here to learn more about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and the Christmas gift delivery date limits.

Add a comment

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

Add a comment

Nurturing the organic vines in Saint-Emilion


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

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

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

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

Vineyard tour with the winemaker in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux

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

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

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

Learning the life of a winemaker

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

Protecting the vines from mildew

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

De-leafing the vines in Saint-Emilion

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

Hands-on wine course in Saint-Emilion, France

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

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

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

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

Organic wine-making course and gift in Saint-Emilion

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

Cellar tour in Saint-Emilion with the wine-maker

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

Add a comment

Leaf removal to protect the vines from mildew


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

 

Wine gift box in a French vineyard in the Rhone Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add a comment

Share |
RSS

About the blog

The perfect gift for a wine lover

Adopt a vine in France and let them follow the making of their own wine !

From € 169

Tags

Adopt-a-Vine Ageing Biodynamic Blending Burgundy Experience Fermentation Gift Grapes Harvest Making Organic Pruning Tasting Vine Vines Vineyard Wine Winemaker Winery

All Tags

Categories

Archive

Last Comments

Links