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Tagged articles : Winemaker

Making and ageing wines in Alsace


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

 

Meet an organic winemaker in Alsace, France

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

Vine tending experience day in Alsace, France

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

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

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

Aromas workshop in organic wines from Alsace, France

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

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

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

Vinification and tasting experience day in Alsace, France

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

Tasting organic white and red wines from Alsace, France

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Understanding the wine-making process in Burgundy


We met up at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy last weekend for a Vinification Experience Day to learn about what happens to transform the grapes into wine and the subsequent ageing process of the wines in oak barrels.

After a welcome coffee and brief introduction to the day and the idea behind the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, Jean-François and Simon Chapelle recounted the history of their family and explained the structure of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

Meet an organic winemaker in Santenay, Burgundy

They told us how the vineyards had been organised, and the transition of the commercialisation of wine from merchants to the winemakers who took the step to bottle and sell their own wines.

The wines from Domaine Chapelle are organically certified, and Jean-François talked to us about his reasons for embracing organic winemaking and the challenges that it entails.

We then embarked on two different workshops:

One of the workshops taught us how to taste wines and put our noses to the test.  We tried to name the different fruity and floral aromas and the tertiary aromas that are brought through ageing in oak barrels.  It’s a much more difficult task than you at first think.  We also tasted four different solutions that were acidic, sweet, salty and bitter to explain the importance of balance in a wine.

Wine aromas workshop at the winery in Burgundy, France

We then made our way into the fermentation hall and admired the different sections that had been created by the successive generations of the family from Jean-François’ grandfather, his father and then the work that he carried out to extend the hall and re-organise the way that the grapes are worked during harvest time.  We learnt about the vinification process before heading down into the vaulted cellar below, where the wines are aged in oak barrels.

The wines are put into the barrels once the alcoholic fermentation has finished, and stay there for 9 to 12 months depending on how they evolve.

Cellar visit gift box in Burgundy, France

The choice of barrel is very important and varies from winery to winery depending on the taste and objectives of each winemaker.  Various factors come into play such as where the oak comes from, how the inside of the barrel was toasted, and the age of the barrel.  The skill of the winemaker is to choose a mix of different barrels that enable a harmonious wine to be produced.

To illustrate the impact of barrels, we compared the same wine that was in the process of ageing in different types of barrel, and marvelled at the big differences aromatically and taste-wise.

Once the ageing period is over, all of the various lots of wine from the same plots will be blended together to prepare the wines for bottling.

The bottles will then be labelled at a later date depending on the regulations of the country that they will be sold in.

After a busy morning absorbing lots of new knowledge, we enjoyed the aperitif in the vinification hall.  To quench our thirst, a Santenay Saint Jean white wine with gougères, a local cheese shoe pastry speciality. 

Wine gift idea: wine tasting and winemaer's lunch in Burgundy

For lunch we continued the regional theme with some parsley ham, Gaston Gérard chicken, Burgundy cheeses and a three chocolate dessert, accompanied by some of the winery’s red wines, including the Clos des Cornières red chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

It was difficult to get going again after lunch!  But the walk in the vineyard was good for the digestion!  We went to the Clos des Cornières vineyard and visited our adopted vines.

Organic vines adoption and day at the winery in Burgundy, France

Simon explained the different plots within the vineyard.  Originally, there were three distinct zones.  The oldest one saw the vines removed last spring, and is currently lying fallow until 2021. The two remaining plots were planted in the 70s and 90s.

Vine tending workshop in Burgundy, France

We then returned to the cellar for a final wine tasting session of the 2018 Clos des Cornières vintage that is still in the ageing process.  We tasted wines from the two different plots to better understand the impact that the age of the vines has on the characteristics of the wine.

It was then time for this day, rich in information and tasting, to draw to a close.  We left with a few bottles that we’ll appreciate differently now that we know a little more about what goes on to make wine, and having met the people responsible for making it!

We hope that everyone had a good time, and we look forward to welcoming you again soon!

 

Learn how you can adopt some chardonnay or pinot noir vines at Domaine Chapelle and participate in the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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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.

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The organic wines from our Wine Experience rewarded by the 2019 wine guides


The organic wine makers with whom we work are carefully chosen, among other criteria, for the quality of their wine. This is directly linked to their talent and passion for their profession, in both the vineyard and cellar. And so, when the 2019 wine guides were published, we weren’t surprised to see them well referenced!

 

Château de la Bonnelière

Another good year for this winery which received praise from many of the guides. Bettane+Desseauve selected 4 of their wines with ratings between 15 and 17 out of 20.  The Guide Hachette gave their top pick award to the Chinon Chapelle 2016 wine.

The Gilbert Gaillard guide chose the Chinon Rive Gauche white and the 2016 vintage of the Clos de la Bonnelière, the red wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey for the adopt-a-vine experience. The wine guide gave it a rating of 88/100, describing its deep colour, woody nose with ripe red fruits, and on the palate as having a good tannic structure, fresh fruit, and an elegant woody finish.  A great wine to go with a roast.

The Gilbert Gaillard My Wine Guide 2019

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

Once again, the winery is picked out as being one of the remarkable wineries in Alsace. The Pinot Gris Rosenberg, Gourmet Odyssey’s chosen wine was selected with 13 others from the winery for inclusion in the Bettane+Desseauve guide.

The Bettane+Deseauve Guide 2019

Château Coutet

The Carité guide of organic wine gave four hearts (out of five) to the 2015 vintage of the Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, the wine made using the plot of Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines. The guide describes its subtle nose, which develops to reveal peppery, leathery and spicy aromas. It has a good level of concentration, packed with black fruit and a touch of grilled chocolate. A rich and intense wine to carafe 2 to 4 hours before serving. Ideal with an entrecote cooked over vine branches.

The Carite Organic Wine Guide 2019

Domaine Chapelle

As usual the winery seduces the guides with 2 stars in the Guide Hachette for its Aloxe Corton Les Petites Lolières, and 1 star for the Santenay Beaurepaire Premier Cru.

The Carité organic wine guide also selected the two wines that Gourmet Odyssey has chosen for the Wine Experience: the 2016 Santenay Village white was awarded 4 hearts (out of 5) and the 2013 Clos des Cornières red, 3 hearts.

The Hachette Organic Wine Guide 2019

For the Santenay Village blanc, the guide appreciated its elegant woody and smoky nose that is the epitome of the gourmand Chardonnay in these buttery and seductive soils. Full and honest on the palate, it evolves with a nice roundness.  Very good structure and a great white wine.

For the Clos des Cornières red they wrote that it had an elegant and distinguished nose. Subtle and silky with strawberry and cherry aromas. It’s a powerful aromatic wine that will pair well with pink meats and duck.

Domaine Allegria

The Guide Hachette selected the 2017 Dolce Vita rosé wine for its delicate redcurrant nose, soft and suave spices, with a good level of acidity. It’s an elegant and complete wine.

The Hachette Wine Guide 2019

Domaine de la Guicharde

The biodynamic wines from Domaine de la Guicharde were selected by the Glouguide and featured in the Terre de Vins and Elle à Table magazines.

The Terres de Vins Wine Franch Magasine


As we predicted when tasting the wines from our partner wineries, the quality has once again shone through and the 2019 wine guides confirm it!

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Gourmet Odyssey partner winemakers win medals at the Challenge Millésime Bio 2018 organic wine competition

The organic wines of our partner winemakers selected by the 2018 wine guides

Learn more about adopting vines and following the making of your own personalised bottles of wine with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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The entries for the final of the My Vine photo Competition


During the Wine Experience days at our partner wineries, our customers have the chance to see and work their adopted vines. It’s also the opportunity to take a few pictures for our annual “My Vine” photo competition, and at stake is the hope of winning a magnum of wine from the winery where their adopted vines are located. Once again we have had lots of great moments shared together and many laughs. Thank you for all of the wonderful photos that we received!

We have picked 25 for the competition final, and there will eventually be two winners. One will be chosen by the Gourmet Odyssey team for the most original photo, and the other winner will be the photo that receives the most likes on our Facebook page. So it’s now up to you to vote for your preferred photo!

Take a look at the finalists and vote for your favourite photo on the Gourmet Odyssey Facebook page before 12:00 (French time) on the 10th December. Be careful to like the individual photo and not the whole album!

Photos from the wine courses at irganic wineries in France with Gourmet Odyssey

 The two winners will receive a magnum of wine from the winery where they have their Wine Experience.

Come back on the 10th December to see the winning pictures!


The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience days are hands-on wine courses at our partner wineries, where you learn all about the hard work that goes into making a bottle of organic wine. Depending on the type of day, you can get involved in working in the vineyard to prune the vines, participate in the harvest, or learn about the work in the cellar to ferment, age, blend and bottle the wines. Follow this link for more information about our wine courses.

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Discover the organic wines from our partner wineries at one of the upcoming wine fairs in France and Belgium


We’re now entering the final stretch of the year, and with it the annual end-of-year wine fairs. Our partner wineries will be travelling throughout France and Belgium to share their delicious organic wines. And Gourmet Odyssey will also be present at the Vinibio salon in Paris just before Christmas. We’d love to see you there!

Here are all the dates for the rest of the year:

  

The Salon des Vignerons Indépendants wine fair in Lyon, France
Salon des Vignerons Indépendants – Lyon, Halle Tony Garnier – 25-29 October 2018

The Salon des Vignerons Indépendants wine fairs promote independent wineries that directly manage the whole process from working in the vineyard, through harvesting the grapes, working in the cellar, bottling the wines and selling their wines themselves. Domaine de la Guicharde, from the Côtes du Rhône region, will be on the stand B62.

Download your invitation here.

Salon Ô l’Amour - Mulhouse, DMC – 27- & 28 October 2018

This is a fair held in Alsace that is dedicated to weddings. You’ll perhaps find your happiness among the wines of Domaine Stentz-Buecher to accompany your wedding banquet.

 
Sous les Paves la Vigne, natural wine fair in Lyon, France

Salon Sous Les Paves La Vigne – Lyon, place de la Bourse – 3-4 November 2018

This natural wine fair in Lyon unites 60 winemakers from all over France and a few from countries further afield. Domaine de la Guicharde, from the Rhone Valley, will be among the wineries present.

Salon des vins et des produits de terroir – Annecy, Sévrier  - 9-11 November 2018

Organised by the Annecy Lac Lions Club each year since 1998, this year’s wine fair includes 98 winemakers and gourmet artisan producers from France and abroad, who will present their best wines. Our Burgundy partner, Domaine Chapelle, will be there.

 

The Salon des Vignerons Indépendants wine fair in Lille, France

Salon des Vignerons Indépendants – Lille, Grand Palais – 16-19 November 2018

The Lille version of the Independent Winemakers Fair will welcome Domaine de la Guicharde on stand B71.

Download your invitation here.

 

Salon des Barricades, organic wine fair in Bordeaux, France

Salon des Barricades – Bordeaux, Espace Darwin – 17-18 November 2018

This organic wine fair presents sees 60 winemakers serve their wines with local gourmet produce. Château Coutet, our partner winemaker in Saint-Emilion, is among the participating wineries.

Private Tasting with Domaine Chapelle – Paris, Hôtel Napoléon – 21-23 November 2018

As usual at this time of year, Domaine Chapelle will present their organic Burgundy wines in the Hôtel Napoléon, just next to Paris’ Champs-Elysées. The Domaine Remorquiet and Domaine Coste Caumartin will also be present.
Entrance by invitation only. Contact us.

 

The Salon des Vignerons Indépendants wine fair in Paris, France

Salon des Vignerons Indépendants - Paris, Porte de Versailles – 29 November -  December 2018

The Independent Winemakers Fair makes its stop in Paris at the end of November. Among the participating wineries, you’ll find our partners, Domaine Stentz-Buecher on stand M 4, and Château de la Bonnelière from the Loire Valley on stand F 14.

Download your invitation here.

Alsace Christmas Market -  Paris - Parvis de la Gare de l’Est - 1-16 December 2018.

To get into the Alsace Christmas spirit without leaving Paris, just go the Gare de l’Est. Authentic Alsace winemakers and producers provide all of the Alsace Christmas gourmet food and wine treats that this great culinary region has to offer. Domaine Stentz-Buecher awaits your visit!

 

Capvin, wine fair in Mouscron, Belgium

Salon Capvin – Belgium, Mouscron – 7-9 December

Domaine de la Guicharde, from the Cotes du Rhone region will present their biodynamic wine at the wine fair in Belgium that also helps to raise funds for Cap48.

 

Vinibio, organic wine fair in Paris, France

Salon Vinibio - Paris, Portes de Versailles – 14-16 December 2018  

This excellent organic wine fair has partnered with the « Noël en bio » organic Christmas gift wine fair in Paris. Our Bordeaux partner winery from Saint-Emilion, Château Coutet, will present their wines, and Gourmet Odyssey will also have a stand to present our original Christmas gift ideas for wine lovers.

Download a free invitation here.

Gourmet Odyssey and our partner winemakers look forward to welcoming your to our stands!

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Harvesting the Cabernet Franc grapes in the Loire Valley


Last weekend saw us travel to Chinon in the Loire Valley for the latest of the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience Days.  Marc Plouzeau, our host winemaker, was eagerly awaiting arrival to harvest the “Clos Neuf” vineyard of Cabernet Franc vines.

 

adopt a vine and meet the winemaker experience in France

After a quick introduction to the winery and some pain au chocolat, we were all set to head out into the vineyard and get stuck into harvesting the grapes.

Rent an organic vineyard in Chinon, Loire Valley, France

The Clos Neuf vineyard is located on the left bank of the River Vienne, as are all of Château de la Bonnelière’s plots. The soil of this plot is made up of sand and gravel, a terroir that favours the lighter red or rosé wines of those that the winery produces. This year the grapes from the Clos Neuf vineyard will be used to make rosé.

At the start of the summer, the harvest looked as though it would be very early, but the dry and hot weather had slowed down the vines.  The grapes were however in great shape, and packed full of the sugar needed to make a good wine!

Hrvest Experience day at Chateau de la Bonneliere

The grapes are picked and then put into crates, so that the grapes remain as intact as possible before being put into the press. After a few instructions of which grapes to pick, and which to leave, as well as a few safety tips, the team was ready. In pairs we spread out amongst the rows to start the harvest. Our crates quickly filled with the picked bunches.

Rent and harvest an organic vine in france

We stopped mid-morning for a harvester’s snack of rillettes and a glass of Chinon to keep the spirits high for the last few snips of the secateurs!  We managed to pick the whole plot over the weekend, and with no cuts whatsoever!  

Typical harvest day in a french winery as a gift box

We then returned to the winery for a spot of lunch and a tasting of the different wines produced by the château, including the 2016 vintage of the Clos de la Bonnelière. This gave us an idea of the wine to come, as it is the one chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

Wine lover gift box in the Loire Valley

After lunch, we visited the adopted vines, to encourage them in the last stretch before being ready to harvest. The lack of water had slowed down the maturing process of the grapes, and we will have to wait almost two weeks before they are fully ripe. We’ll see next year when we taste the wine, whether our sweet words had any effect!

Harvest gift box for organic wine lovers

To end our harvest day, we followed the grapes that we had picked in the morning to the press. To make the rosé wine, Marc had decided to press the grapes slowly to extract a nice pink colour from the skins.

Harvest experience gift box in France

We also learnt about the start of the fermentation cycle for making the rosé, white and red wines, and finished by tasting some of the white grape juice that had already started the fermentation process, as well as cleaning the material, ready for the next day’s harvest.

We can’t wait to come back next year for the Vinification Experience Days to learn about the next stage of ageing the wines and getting them ready for bottling.

Interested in picking the grapes in the Loire Valley during the harvest or giving an adopt-a-vine gift to someone special?  More information on the Wine Experience.

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An excellent harvest of the 2018 pinot noir grapes in Burgundy


We had magnificent weather for the Gourmet Odyssey Harvest Experience weekend at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy. As for most of the summer months, it was hot and dry, and the reason why the harvest was earlier this year than normal.  We harvested the grapes from the Clos des Cornières vineyard on the 7th, 8th and 9th September.

The harvest is always a busy time for the winemakers and their teams, but Jean-François Chapelle had set aside three days to explain the work at harvest time, to recount his family’s history with the winery, and to share his organic work philosophy.

Wine making experience box in Burgundy France

After a welcome coffee in the harvesters’ refectory, we were introduced to the day ahead in the garden of the château. Jean-François also told us a little about the history of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

Adopt a vin experience in Burgundy france

We then made our way to the Clos des Cornières vineyard to catch up with our adopted vines. As usual, the cameras clicked away, as the participants tried to capture the most original photo for the annual My Vine photo competition. Don’t forget to send in your entries!

Wine gift box to meet the winemaker and harvest the grapes

It was now time to get down to the serious business of the day. Equipped with a pair of secateurs each, Jean-François briefed us in how to be the perfect harvester. We learnt that the grapes to pick are only to be found between the first two training wires, and only those bunches which are of a uniform blue colour. Anything that isn’t ripe is left on the vine.

Wine lover perfect gift for making organic wine

As the year had been particularly hot and dry, the grapes on some of the bunches had become a little withered. These we kept, as they help to give character to the wine. However, the berries that had completely dried out were removed from the bunch before being put into the tray.

Grapes harvest experience day in Santenay, Burgundy, France

And so we started to harvest in perfect conditions. About an hour and a few plasters later (being an apprentice harvester isn’t as easy as all that!), the trays were full and the vine rows perfectly harvested.

Harvest experience gift box

The harvest this year is of an exceptional quality. Beautiful, healthy grapes, uniformly ripe, and a yield that is plentiful compared to the last few years!

Unforgettable wine gift in Burgundy, France

We then followed the grapes back to the winery where they were emptied on to the sorting table for the second check of the quality before being put into the vats. Here any grapes that aren’t of a good enough quality and any leaves are removed. The remaining grapes then fall into the de-stemming machine for the berries to be separated from the stems. The grapes then make their way by trolley to a conveyor belt that carries them up into the fermentation vats.

Organic Burgundy wine tasting as a gift

By this time it was now time for the aperitif. We tasted a Santenay 1er Cru Gravières white wine, accompanied by some traditional Burgundy gougères.

Day at the winery and harvesters' lunch in a gift box

Lunch was served in the harvesters’ refectory. A Burgundy tourte for starter, followed by veal medallions and mushroom crumble, a local cheese platter, and raspberry desert. These delicious dishes were accompanied by three of the red wines produced by Domaine Chapelle, a 2016 Burgundy red, a 2015 Santenay “Clos des Cornières”, and a 2013 Chassagne Montrachet “Morgeot” Premier Cru.

Oenology course during the harvest in Burgundy, France

After lunch we returned to the fermentation hall to put the grapes into the vats, and to learn about the fermentation process that will turn the grape juice into wine, and how the vats are worked during the maceration period to extract the colour and tannins from the skins

It was a fun and informative day. We had all worked hard, and progressed from our status of apprentice harvester. We now have to wait a while before tasting this very promising 2018 vintage that will surely be one of the great vintages. We’ll be able to check when we come back for the Vinification Experience Days at the beginning of 2019.

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Update of the 2018 vintage so far


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

Replenishing the water tables and keeping the frost at bay

Vine adoption 2018 vintage

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

Tending vines during the 2018 vintage

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

Vine growing in France in 2018

The flowering vines and the harvest to come

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

Harvest dates and vine flowering in France in 2018

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

Harvest forecast in France in 2018

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

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

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

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Leaf removal to protect the vines from mildew


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

 

Wine gift box in a French vineyard in the Rhone Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green harvesting the vines in the south of France


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

 

Organic Vine adoption in Pézenas, Languedoc, France

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Learning about organic wine-making in the south of France


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

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

Vine adoption at Domaien Allegria, Languedoc, France

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

Vine renting and day at the winery in Languedoc,France

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

WIne gift box day at the winery in Languedoc france

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

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

Wine box oeonology class in France

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

Vineyard visit and winemakers' lunch in France

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

Organic wine tasting and winery tour in Languedoc, France

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

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

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

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


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

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

Vineyard tour in Chinon, Loire Valley, France

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

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

Pruning course as a wine gift box in France

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

Winemaking experience gift box in a French vineyard

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

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

Wine tasting and winemaker lunch at the winery in France

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

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

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

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Pruning the pinot noir vines in Burgundy


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

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

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

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

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

Vine tending course gift box for a wine lover

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

French vineyard and winery visit gift box

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

Organic wine tasting in Santenay, Burgundy, France

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

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

Wine gift box Cellar and winery visit in France

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

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

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Making and ageing Santenay red Burgundy wine at Domaine Chapelle


We were warmly welcomed to Domaine Chapelle last weekend by Jean-François, Yvette and Myriam, for the first of the Vinification Experience Days for the 2017 vintage.  The aim of these interactive oenology courses is to learn about the wine-making process and the decisions that the wine-maker takes in the cellar, picking up where we left off after the harvest through to the time when the wine is ready for bottling.

After a welcome coffee, we started the day with an introduction to the winery by Jean-François. He told us about the history of his family, how the Burgundy wines are classified using the Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) system, and the geology that defines the different Burgundy vineyards. We learnt that even before the grapes are transformed into wine, the terroir enters into play, differentiating the wine that comes from different vineyard plots. 

These precious nuggets of information set us up for the rest of the day that would be dedicated to learning about the wine-making process and tasting wines.

One group stayed with Yvette for a fun sensorial workshop to identify the aromas and balance on the palate of Burgundy wines. This was an important step in preparing for the wine tasting to follow.

Oenology lesson in a French winery in Santenay Burgundy

The other group went with Jean-François to visit the fermentation hall and cellar where the wines age in oak barrels. Jean-François explained the work in the cellar during the ageing process and to better illustrate the influence that the barrels play on the aromatic and gustative characteristics of the wine, we tasted the same Santenay Gravières Premier Cru wine, the only difference being the type of barrel in which it was ageing.

Wine aageing process in Burgundy France

Surrounded by the large wooden vinification casks, we enjoyed a Santenay Saint-Jean white wine accompanied by the famous local gougères for the aperitif. 

We then sat down to lunch with other local delicacies. Jambon persillé, poulet Gaston Gérard, a selection of local cheeses and chocolate desert, accompanied by three different wines, the Santenay Clos des Cornières, Santenay Premier Cru Beaurepaire and Chassgane Montrachet Premier Cru reds.

After lunch we headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines and immortalise the moment with some photos. Jean-François pointed out the different areas of the Clos des Cornières vineyard, planted with three different ages of vines, the grapes from which are used in the making of the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience. The oldest plot of vines will shortly be cleared and replaced.

Having different ages of vines in the same plot is often used to manage the longevity of a particular vineyard so as to not have to replace all of the vines at once, and thus be deprived of the wine for several years. It takes roughly 5 years before the vines will produce grapes that can start to be used to make wine.

Wine gift Box with a daay at the winery in Santenay, Burgundy, farnce

We then returned to the fermentation hall for a final wine tasting to compare the impact that the age of the vines has on the wine. We tasted the wine from the three different plots that make up the Clos des Cornières vineyard. They are each made and aged separately, until they are blended, shortly before bottling. We could taste the difference for ourselves and also noted that tasting wines that have not yet finished their ageing process is not always the easiest thing to do!

Ageing is a very important phase for softening the structure of the tannins and developing the aromatic complexity. Patience is needed, and a little imagination to try and foresee how the wine will turn out after a few more months ageing.

The time had come to end this great day learning and exchanging about wine. We’d had a privileged insight into the secrets of making wine, and we can’t wait to taste the final result of this 2017 vintage!

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A look at the ageing process of red wines


After the first stages of fermentation that followed on from the harvest, the red wine in most wineries is now approaching the start of the ageing phase. What happens whilst the wine is ageing and what keeps the winemaker busy in the cellar?

The start of the ageing process

The ageing process refers to the time and work carried out by the winemaker once the fermentation has finished, up until the wine is bottled. It can last for just a couple of weeks in the case of primeur wines that are made quickly to be drunk young, or up to several years for more complex wines that are crafted to be laid down and drunk in the future. It all depends on the type of wine that the winemaker wants to produce.

All begins once the fermentation has finished and the wine is racked to separate it from the larger lee particles of solid matter and dead yeast cells by transferring it to a new container where it will stay during the ageing period. This new container could be a vat, barrel, earthenware jar, or another type of recipient.

Fermentation process course in a Franche Winery

Recipients used for ageing wines

Wine is typically aged in a vat or a barrel. The choice of recipient the winemaker decides upon depends on the style of wine that the winemaker is striving for (see our article The role of vats, barrels, and other types of container in making wine).

The main tasks of the winemaker, whatever recipient is chosen, are to allow the wine to mature whilst protecting it from oxidation, to develop the taste of the wine, and to stabilise it. That means that although the wine remains in its recipient, it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening during the months of ageing.

Protecting the wine from oxidation

Air is an enemy of wine. If a wine is left in contact with the air, it will oxidise and become vinegar. When a wine is aged in wooden barrels, the winemaker has to pay particular attention to not let too much air stay in contact with the wine.

First of all, when a barrel is filled, the wood will soak up some of the wine. This is more marked when new barrels are used for the first time, and the wood can absorb as much as 5 litres of wine. In addition to this waste, whilst the wine is lying in the barrel, micro-oxygenation happens as the staves of the barrels naturally let a tiny bit of air to get inside the barrel and some of the wine evaporates in the opposite direction, often referred to as the angel’s share. Between the wine that is soaked up by the barrel and the wine that evaporates, a void is created at the top of the barrel as the level of wine decreases. To avoid this pocket of air from staying in contact with the wine, the winemaker regularly tops up the barrel to keep it full, a process known as ouillage. If the air was left inside the barrel, the bacteria that transform the ethanol in the wine to acetic acid will develop when combined with oxygen, and the wine will turn to vinegar.

Wine making course gift box

To top up the barrels, the winemaker takes out the stopper on top of the barrel, and pours in wine using an ouillette, which is a sort of watering can with a long thin spout. The same wine that was racked from the fermentation tank is used. The winemaker keeps aside some of the wine for this purpose, and it is stored in a small vat with a floating cap which adjusts to the level of wine remaining, thus keeping the air at bay.

Maturing the wine

So once the wine is no longer at risk from the oxygen, how does the winemaker develop the desired taste and character? The winemakers have many different techniques available to them that they will choose to use or discard as they taste and monitor the wines during the ageing process.

As the wines rest and age, the lees fall to the bottom of the recipient. If the winemaker wants to bring more depth and aromas to the wine, he can stir the lees to put them back into suspension in the wine. This is easiest done for wines ageing in barrels whereby the winemaker will open the stopper, put a long baton into the barrel and mix up the lees. This is known as batonnage. You can also find barrels that are fixed to a rotating support that allows the winemaker to turn the barrel, thus achieving the same objective.

Vine adoption gift box oenology course in France

Conversely, if the winemaker decides that the wine already has enough character, the wines will be racked to separate them from the lees.  This is done by pumping the wine into another recipient, leaving the lees at the bottom of the initial recipient. This action also clarifies the wine, which can still be a little cloudy at this stage.

Winemaking gift box in a Franche vineyard

Getting ready for bottling

Once the wine has matured sufficiently, there are a few steps necessary to stabilise it before it can be bottled. It first needs to be clarified further. The aim isn’t just to make the wine more visually attractive, but also to remove any particles that, if left in contact with the wine, may cause the wine to deteriorate after bottling.

The wine can be clarified by filtering or fining. Filtering consists of passing the wine through a filter to remove the particles. The winemaker needs to be careful when using this technique to not diminish the aromatic qualities or structure of the wine.

Fining works by adding a substance to the wine, traditionally egg white, but nowadays other elements are used such as bentonite or gelatine. Each of these substances work by attracting the particles held in suspension in the wine, which then stick to it as the veil slowly falls through the wine. Once it has settled at the bottom, the wine is then racked in the usual way.

At this stage, the wine is almost ready for bottling, a delicate operation for the wine which will be exposed to the air again and so the risk of oxidation rises once more. This is why most winemakers will add some sulphites to their wines just before bottling, adding it in the form of a tablet or powder.

Stabilising wine during a vinification and ageing day aat the winery

Sulphur is an anti-oxidant and an anti-septic that helps preserve the wine once it has been bottled, minimising the risk of oxidation, further fermentation in the bottle, or it being otherwise spoiled. All wines naturally contain some sulphur, because even if no SO² was added during the vinification or bottling stages, the enzymes secreted by the fermenting yeast cells produce SO² from the sulphites naturally present in the grapes.

So now the wine is ready for bottling and almost in your wine glass. Just a few more things for the winemaker to do. Choose the type of cork, cap or stopper used to seal the bottle, reserve the bottling lorry if the winemaker doesn’t own an in-house bottling line, label the bottles and pack them in the cases, or make room in the cellar for storing the unlabelled bottles of the new vintage, prepare the tasting notes for each wine, and organise the wine fairs and events to present the new wines. A winemaker’s work is never done…

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The role of vats, barrels, and other types of container in making wine

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