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Tagged articles : Winemaker

A wine-making gift experience in Burgundy to discover the work in the cellar to make a great organic wine


We welcomed some of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients to the stunning Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy for a Vinification Experience Day.  This wine-making gift explains all the work in the cellar to make, age, and prepare wines to be ready for bottling.  We get to taste wines that are still in the ageing process, something that winemakers don’t normally share with people outside of the winery.  It’s a real treat to get behind the scenes and learn first-hand.

 

A winemaking experience day at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy to learn about making organic wines

 

After having introduced us to the day Jean-François, the owner of the winery, recounted his family’s history at the winery and the evolution of the Burgundy wine-growing region.

Then in smaller groups, we visited the cellar where Jean-François explained all of the work involved between the harvest and bottling during the fermentation, maceration, and ageing stages to mature the wines in oak barrels.

 

Visiting the cellar

 

Myriam, Gourmet Odyssey’s wine expert, then explained how to taste wines using our different senses, and the difficulty in analysing the sensations that we encounter.  She gave us a few tips to better train our nose, and we now know that to do so, we have to poke our nose everywhere!

This theoretical step prepared us for the tasting of wines that are still in the ageing process.  We compared the changes that two different types of barrel can have on the same wine, and noted that there was indeed a big difference!  The new barrels have a bigger impact on the tannins and bring more woody aromas than the barrel that had already aged two wines.

 

Tasting wines in the ageing process

 

We also tasted the difference that the age of the vines has on the characteristic of the wine.  The Clos des Cornières vineyard, where the vines for the Gourmet Odyssey red wine grow, has different plots within with different aged vines.  The wine form each of these plots is aged separately before being blended, and so were able to compare two ages.  The younger vines which are stronger, give a more structured and concentrated wine, but the older vines bring more finesse.  When blended together they make a more complex wine than either of the two wines alone.

We noted that the wines that are still in their ageing process have not yet reached their optimum balance, hence the importance of maturing the wines to fully develop their expressive qualities.

We ended the morning with an aperitif of Santenay Blanc, accompanied with the famous Burgundy gougères!

We continued the Burgundy specialities with a lunch of parsley ham, Gaston Gérard chicken, and trio chocolate dessert.  We enjoyed the dishes with a 2020 Ladoix, 2019 Santenay Clos des Cornières, and a 2016 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru.

 

Wine tasting over lunch

 

After lunch, we went for a little walk in the vineyard to meet up with our adopted vines and take photos from all angles for the My Vine photo competition.

 

Meeting up with our adopted vines

 

Before ending this lovely day, we returned to the winery to discover the stages involved to prepare the wines for bottling and how they are then commercialised.  We discussed a little more with Simon and Jean-François and asked many more questions covering topics such as the choice of corks and labels for the bottles.

 

Simon explains the bottling process

 

Many thanks to all of the participants for their good cheer and enthusiasm which helped make the day so special.  We hope that you had a great day with the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience and that we’ll see you again for another day in Burgundy or at one of our other partner vineyards!

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Wine making course in Burgundy to discover the work in the cellar


In October we welcomed some of the apprentice winemakers to Domaine Chapelle in the charming Burgundy village of Santenay for a couple of Vinification Experience Days. These wine courses are dedicated to the work in the cellar to learn about the fermentation and maceration stages, how the wines are aged, and then prepared for bottling.

 

Learning how to make wine during the Vinification Experience Days at Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy

 

François Chapelle, the winemaker at the winery, explained the history of his family, his journey as a winemaker, and his philosophy behind making organic wine.  We were then ready to immerse ourselves into the intriguing world of all that goes on in the cellar.
The first workshop with Jean-François enlightened us about the fermentation and maceration stages, and the subsequent ageing process of the wine in oak barrels.

We learnt that making wine requires a lot of technical skill, coupled with experience.  The choice of barrels, where they come from, their age, and how they were toasted can have very different impacts on the characteristics of the final wine.

The ageing stage is very important to produce a well-balanced wine on the palate, and to harness the aromatic potential.

 

Visiting the cellar to learn the impact that oak barrels have on wine

 

The second workshop with Myriam, the Gourmet Odyssey wine expert, enabled us to better understand the sensorial characteristics that are so important to enjoying wine, and to find the equilibrium between acidity and soft tannins.  
We also spent time exploring our perceptions of different aromas, classifying them into primary, secondary, and tertiary depending on the grape varietal, terroir, fermentation techniques, and ageing methods used.  The aroma of a wine is in constant evolution.
It was time to put our newly honed theoretical knowledge to the test, and so the next workshop centred around the tasting of various wines at different stages of the vinification and ageing process.  We were able to identify the impact that different types of barrels have on the wine.

 

Tasting wines to better understand the decisions taken by the winemaker

 

We continued tasting some of the winery’s finished wines during the aperitif and meal of traditional Burgundy dishes, comparing the Santenay Villages and Burgundy Chardonnay white wines, and the Santenay Clos des Cornières and Santenay La Comme Premier Cru red wines.

After the excellent lunch, we headed out to meet our adopted vines in the Clos des Cornières vineyard for the red wine clients and Les Craies vineyard for the white. It’s always a fun moment and lots of photos are taken to immortalise the moment!

 

Visiting our organic adopted vines

 

Before ending the day, Jean-François explained the work that is done to prepare the wines for bottling, the process of doing so, and how the bottles are corked and labelled. So after a great day, full of information, we now knew a lot more about what goes on in the cellar and the process of wine-making.

We thoroughly enjoyed the day and hope to see you again soon for one of the Discovery Experience Days next year, when we’ll learn about all that goes on in the vineyard to nurture the vines and grow the best possible grapes for next year’s harvest.

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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!

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The wine-making and ageing process for Chinon wines


We were able to organise the Gourmet Odyssey Experience Days in June and meet up again with our adopted vines!  After more than a year’s wait for some, we were eager to learn more about the art of wine-making and ageing wines at the winery.

Marc Plouzeau, the wine-maker and owner of Château de la Bonnelière, welcomed us over a coffee, and introduced us to his family history at the winery, which covers some 30 hectares, spread out along the left bank of the Vienne River.  The wines are all made organically, most of them falling into the Chinon appellation.

Winery tour with the winemaker in Chinon, France

We had a busy programme in store, and to start with, we split into two groups.  The first visited the chai with Marc, and the second stayed with Louise for an initiation into the art of wine tasting.

To better understand how the wine-making techniques that Marc chooses to use impact the wine, it’s good to learn or refresh our wine-tasting skills, and so we tasted two different wines, breaking it down into steps to analyse our use of sight, nose and taste.

Wine making experience at the winery in france

We then tried to link that up with Marc’s explanations in the chai.  He covered all of the steps and work done during the fermentation and ageing phases.  Each wine is made to bring out the best of the terroir where the grapes are grown, and Marc explained the different choices he makes to age the wine in vats of barrels.

We headed to the fantastic cave beneath the Chinon fortress. At the entrance, we enjoyed lunch in the sun, pairing different Touraine Sauvignon and Chinon wines that Marc makes with the courses.

As tempting as the siesta was, we then went into the cave to put into practice what we had learnt in the morning.  Marc uses the cave to store and age his barrels of wine, as the conditions are ideal for a cellar, the temperature and humidity remaining the same all year round.

Wine tasting in a cellar in Chinon, Loire, France

We had the privilege of tasting the 2020 wines that are still in the ageing process, comparing wines aged in a vat, new and old barrels, and a press wine.  We noted how even though the wines hadn’t yet finished their ageing process, they each had very different characteristics.

Many thanks to Marc for sharing his vast knowledge and sharp wit!

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Learning how to make wine in Saint-Emilion


At the end of May and beginning of June, we were finally able to meet up again for some Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Days at Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion to learn more about the work of a winemaker after the harvest, right up until the wine is ready to be bottled.  Mathieu ad Adrien, the winemakers, welcomed us over a coffee and croissant to start getting to know each other.

The winery has been in the same family for over 400 years, and is full of great stories.  The Vinification Experience Day is the last in the Gourmet Odyssey cycle, and concentrates for the most part on the art of making and tasting wines.

 

Wine Experience gift at an organic winery in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux

 

We started the days with a visit of the cellar where the wine-makers picked up where they had left off during the Harvest Experience Days.  The old buildings at Château Coutet take us back in time and we learn about the artisanal wine-making methods that have been passed down the generations to make and age wines in the oak barrels.

The cellar tour had opened up our taste buds and we were ready to start tasting the wines.  Benoît, Gourmet Odyssey’s oenologist, taught us the basics to better taste wines, and then we got down to business as we discovered the wonderful aromas and tastes of the wines that are currently still in the ageing process.

We got to better understand the role of the wine-maker and tasted different blends to learn what each different grape varietal brings to a wine, and how they interact with each other to create something entirely different again.

 

Tasting organic French wines

Now that we were expert wine-taster, we moved on to the finished wines, starting with the Claret de Coutet for the aperitif.  This wine, between a red and a rosé has a lovely fresh finish and is packed with red fruit.  Delicious!

 

We then sat down to lunch in the shade of the trees.  As the different courses were served, we discovered the wines from the chateau.  The 2017 Belles Cimes, a Saint-Emilion wine made from the estate’s young vines paired wonderfully with the Landaise salad.  We stepped up a notch in strength whilst maintain the finesse with the 2017 Château Coutet, which went with the main course of steak bordelaise brochette.  We then compared the wine to the 2016 vintage Château Coutet, which is slightly more mature having had an extra year ageing in the bottle.  These wines can age for 25 years in a good cellar no problem.  Mathieu and Adrien then give us the honour of discovering the 2017 Demosielle wine, made from the old vines on the limestone plateau that are worked by hand and horse.

 

Organic rent-a-vine gift

We then set off again to visit our adopted vines, climbing the hill until we reached the limestone plateau, surrounded by grand cru classé vineyards.  The view is magnificent, and we each took a moment to admire and take a photo of our adopted vines.

The day ended in the storage room to talk about bottling, corks, and labels which are the last steps in producing a bottle of wine.  We feed off Mathieu and Adrien’s passion.

Warm thanks to the winemakers for these very informative days, and the very enjoyable time spent together.

 

 

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An original organic Christmas wine gift, personalised and delivered to you


Are you looking for a special wine-related Christmas present this year?  Adopt some vines in France and give a unique experience for a wine lover.  With the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience you can get behind the scenes, become an apprentice organic wine-maker for a year, and discover the work that goes into making your own personalised bottles of organic wine. And by doing so, you’ll also be supporting small, independent organic winemakers.

Special Christmas gift for wine lovers: adopt a vine

What’s included in the Wine Experience Christmas gift box?

Choose from the different options available and order your adopt-a-vine Christmas gift on our website. You can choose the region, the winery (all organically certified), the number of vines to adopt, and how many wine experience days at the vineyard to include.  We’ll send the welcome gift pack to you, or directly to the recipient to open on Christmas day, containing a personalised vine adoption certificate, some wine accessories, and an access code to the private customer portal to get the adventure started straightaway.

The recipient will then receive news, photos, and updates from the wine-maker as the vines grow, the grapes are harvested, and the juice made into wine in the cellar. At the end of the wine-making year, his or her organic wine, made from the grapes in the vineyard where his or her adopted vines are located, will be bottled, complete with personalised wine labels denoting the name of the wine that your lucky recipient chooses!

It’s also possible to go to the winery, meet the wine-makers, and participate in wine experience days to learn about the key stages involved in the making of your wine. The Wine Experience Days can be included in the Christmas gift pack, or added later.

Oenology gift for Christmas: rent a vine

The Wine Experience Days take place on the weekends from 09:30 to 16:00, with wine tasting and lunch included for two people. There are three different choices. The Discovery Experience Days concentrate on the work in the vineyard before the harvest, the Harvest Experience Days get you involved in picking the grapes and teach you about the first stages of fermentation, and the Vinification Experience Days are made up of practical workshops to hone wine-tasting skills, and to learn about ageing, blending and bottling wines. You also learn how the wine-makers work organically, and what’s at stake in doing so. They are fun, informative, and moments rich in sharing that make you think a little differently when you open your next bottle of wine.

What makes the Wine Experience an extra-special Christmas gift?

Not only is it an original Christmas gift for a wine lover, it’s a present that supports independent organic wine-makers and small business, something that’s appreciated even more during these challenging times!

rganic wine gift box for Christmas

We’ve chosen to only work with organically or biodynamically certified wine-makers, all of whom have had their wines selected and awarded by the leading wine guides and press. We picked them for their friendliness, and enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge and love of their profession, essential factors needed to ensure an exceptional and unforgettable experience.

But don’t just take our word for it, read the customer feedback. For over 10 years now, we have developed and delivered a quality service, creating strong bonds and friendships with our partner winemakers and customers alike.

And it’s a no risk Christmas gift, because if you’re not sure which Wine Experience to choose, the recipient can always change the winery, type of day, or vintage by contacting us. The Wine Experience Days can also be carried over to the following year if needed.

Order your Adopt-a-Vine Christmas Gift in a few clicks

No need to go to the shops! Order your Wine Experience Christmas gift online, and we’ll take care of the rest:

  • The welcome gift pack will be sent out within 24 hours, Monday to Friday
  • The vine adoption certificate and activation code will be sent by email to the buyer
  • Gift wrapping and personalised message option available
  • Option to pay in 3 instalments
  • Flexible. The recipient can change the options or carry days over if needed

The Christmas Wine Experience welcome pack will be sent to the address of your choosing, containing a few wine accessory gifts; a DropStop, re-usable glass wine stopper, wine cooling bag, vine adoption certificate, and a personalised guide to get the present started!

Find out more about the Wine Experience Christmas present

Visit our website for more information about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience or to place an order.

Any questions? We’re available from 09:00 to 18:00, Monday to Friday by phone on 01 46 27 05 92 within France, or on +33 1 46 27 05 92 from outside France, or through our contact page.

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Make your own organic wine in the Terrasses du Larzac vineyards of southern France


We’re delighted to add a new partner winery in the Languedoc region of the south of France. You can now adopt your own organic vines in the beautiful Terrasses du Larzac wine-growing region as Château de Jonquières joins the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience!

The magnificent Château de Jonquières is one of the oldest family-run wineries in the Languedoc, and has been in the same family for over 900 years!  Charlotte and Clément de Béarn, the winery’s 32nd generation of winemakers, took over the running of the vineyard and wine-making operation at Château de Jonquières in 2014 from Charlotte’s parents, and continue to strive to make the best possible organic wines from the different vineyard plots that surround the listed château.  It’s the perfect place, with the perfect hosts, to learn more about all of the hard work and skill that goes into making great organic wines.

We got together with Charlotte and Clément to prepare this profile that we share with you so that you too can get to know our new partner winemakers.

New adopt-a-vine experience in the Terrasses du Larzac

Charlotte and Clément, how long have you been wine-makers?

Charlotte : I grew up here in Jonquières and then studied business in Paris, Ireland, Athens, Reims and then closer to home in Pezenas for the wine-making studies.

Clément : I grew up in Montpellier, where I also studied, before working in Marseille, Lyon and Sydney.
After a summer working together to manage the table d’hôte at Château de Jonquières, we decided to take over the wine-making operations at the age of 24, just after our studies ended. When we decided to do so, Clément had never stepped a foot into a vineyard, and it was less than two years that we had been together. When we announced our intentions to my parents, they were very pleasantly surprised and accompanied us as we set out on our journey, whilst remaining very flexible and letting us know that we would always back track if needed.

Looking back, we don’t regret for one second having started so young.  We were full of energy, even if we were definitely a little naïve!

What has been your journey since you took over the winery?  

We took over from Charlotte’s parents in 2014 by buying the vineyards, buildings, material, and stock. We live with our two daughters in the old estate manager’s quarters of the château. We’re completely independent of Charlotte’s parents, but all 6 of us live in the same place, together with the vines, our vegetable patch and chicken coup.

We became organically certified and produce 30 000 bottles or red, white, and rosé wines, which we sell to wine-merchants, restaurants, private customers and export.

We have introduced commented guides for the château and its history, the cellar and wine tastings. We also offer an ephemeral bistrot each summer for the last 4 years in the courtyard, and organise a concert or play every two years. We have also taken some bookings for corporate seminars.

What is your best memory so far concerning the winery?

We are already very fortunate to have a job that is varied and hands-on, where we don’t notice the time fly by. We’ve also successfully managed to create an environment that allows us to live independently, and to welcome our visitors and clients to the winery.

But our proudest moment is the first harvest from the plot of Grenache blanc that we planted in 2017.  A fantastic moment with our baby vines!

What are your principal projects or challenges for 2021?

We’re looking to further develop the White Label cuvée, a wine that is completely off the charts that we launched on a small scale two years ago. It’s a wine made using 100% Carignan grapes that were planted by my great-grandmother 80 years ago.  The wine is then aged in oak “demi-muid” 500 litre barrels, a type of large barrel that was originally used to transport wine. Like a vinyl record that is pressed in a very small number of copies, the White Label, is for the moment a very limited series wine.

We also have plans to replant a vineyard using massally selected vines, taking cuttings from our best vines to transmit their genes, rather than using cloned vines. We’ll use our older vines that are more than 40 years old, because they have a richer genetic make-up.  It will enable our vines to be hardier and to redevelop some of the characteristics that have been lost little by little with the use of cloned wines.  For example we’re hoping they’ll benefit from maturing more slowly, and being more resistant to coulure during the flowering period.

There are also a few challenges to contend with.  After two years with harvests 40% less than usual, we worry about the changing climate and what impact that will have.  We’re also worried about wine sales in light of the Covid-19 situation and the international market which is struggling.  But we’ll get through it, adapt, and continue to refine our wines to try and express who we are through them.

A question that our clients often ask. What do winemakers do when they have a little time to themselves?

Clément : I like to cook. Bread, cakes, bœuf bourguignon, and other dishes that I like to pair with wines that I’ve discovered in other regions during my travels!

Charlotte : I started jogging a year ago.  I’ve done my first trail and want to do more!

Learn more about adopting vines at Château de Jonquières

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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.

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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!

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The 2020 harvest in Burgundy ends with the Pinot Noir


The Chapelle family and their team of harvesters awaited the Gourmet Odyssey adopt-a-vine owners for three days of harvesting pinot noir vines in the Clos des Cornières vineyard in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay.  It’s the plot where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located to make the Santenay red wine of the same name, and as we were to find out, to produce a wine of this quality, there’s lots of work to do!

The harvest this year in Burgundy was very early, starting on the 19th August at Domaine Chapelle, and finished with the Gourmet Odyssey team on the 30th August. We were eagerly awaited, as we were the ones to pick the last grapes, put them into the vats, and close out the harvest of the 2020 grapes! As soon as Jean-François Chapelle had introduced us to the winery and the surrounding area, we headed out into the Clos des Cornières vineyard, which is located just next to the winery.

Harvest Experience Day Wine Making Experience Burgundy

It’s called a “clos” because the plot is surrounded by a wall on three sides. The clos has two distinct areas, each with different ages of vines. The winery’s team of harvesters picked the grapes from the younger vines in the lower part of the vineyard, whilst we took care of the older section. Jean-François explained that the harvest from the two areas would be kept separate in different vats and aged separately until the end of the ageing process, when they will be blended together to form the Clos des Cornières wine.

Adopt a vine and meet an organic winemaker

This year, the quality of grapes is exceptional thanks to the warm and dry weather. Even if the grapes are small as a consequence, they are in great condition and of a very homogenous maturity. Jean-François directions were therefore very straight forward; pick everything!

Harvest Experience Gift in Burgundy

We quickly got into the groove. Spread out among the rows we quickly filled up the crates, and once full, we brought them back to the beginning of the rows to exchange for an empty one. The crates were then loaded into the van to transport the grapes back to the winery.

Harvest your own organic vine in Burgundy

The winery harvest team used a person with a basket on his back to collect the grapes from each of the harvesters. The basket contains more grapes than the crates and gets very heavy. The porter then empties the basket into a trailer by climbing up a ladder and pouring the grape bunches over his head. The trailer is then emptied back at the winery. It’s a slightly different process, and we would see later that the grapes which arrive in the trailer are not treated in the same way as our grapes in the crates.
Once we’d finished picking the grapes, we went and had a look at our adopted vines in the Clos des Cornières vineyard for the clients of the Santenay red wine, and in the Les Crais vineyard on the other side of the road for the Santenay white clients. Jean-François then explained the different terroir that make up the Burgundy wine growing region and how that determines the lay out of the vineyard plots, before making our way back to the courtyard where we tasted a well-earned glass of Santenay white wine!

Winery visit and tasting in Santenay, Burgundy

We continued tasting the wines from Domaine Chapelle over lunch, before heading to the winery building where the grapes we harvested were waiting for us. It was now time to sort the grapes, and as Yannick, the Technical Director, said, the task was made relatively easy because we had worked so hard in the vineyard and the grapes were in excellent condition! To sort the grapes, we tipped out the crates onto the sorting table, which has a vibrating conveyor belt to shake off any water when it rains. We removed any damaged grapes or ones that weren’t yet ripe enough, as well as any leaves, snails or other stowaways from the vineyard!

Harvest and grape sorting exprience in an organic winery in France

The grapes then fall either into a destemming machine or directly into the vat. The grapes from the winery’s harvest team were separated from the stems before being put into the vat. The bunches harvested by the Gourmet Odyssey clients were put directly into a vat because the harvest took place over 3 days. If we had separated the grapes from the stems we would have pierced the skin of the grapes a little, the juice would have fallen to the bottom of the vat, and would have risked starting to ferment before the vat was full, which would be more difficult to control. Putting the whole bunches into the vat produces a stronger, more tannic wine. It will be aged separately from the other vats, and then blended with the other wines from the Clos des Cornières vineyard later to produce the final wine.

Organic winery visit and harvest course in Santenay, Burgundy

We also saw the press used for the white wines. The grapes used for the whites are sorted and pressed as soon as they arrive back at the winery. The juice is then put into a vat before the fermentation process begins. The grapes from the Les Crais vineyard were harvested on the 24th August, as the thinner skinned chardonnay grapes had reached their optimal maturity before the pinot noir. The fermentation had already begun for the Santenay Village white!
The fermentation period will also be the maceration phase for the red wines, where the wine will extract the colour and aromas from the skin and pips.

Wine-making and vine adoption experience in France

Jean-François explained how they manage the fermentation by regulating the temperature. The winery doesn't use any added yeast, relying solely on the yeast cells that are naturally present on the grape skins, so it is more difficult to predict when the fermentation will start and how it will evolve. If the temperature is too low, the fermentation has a hard job getting started, but if the must gets too warm, the yeast cells will die and won’t finish transforming the sugar into alcohol. The temperature is controlled using immersion heaters that are placed into the vats and have either hot or cold water pumped through them to heat or cool the must as needed.
Over the next few weeks, the team in the fermentation hall will be on tenterhooks as they monitor the progress of the different fermentations. The next step will be to rack the first wines to separate the wine from the solid matter of stems, skin and pips, but we’ll cover that in more detail during the next Vinification Experience Days at the start of next year.
Many thanks to all the team at Domaine Chapelle for welcoming us and for replying to our numerous questions with passion and good humour!

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Picking the grapes in the Rhone Valley for the 2019 harvest


The 2019 grape harvest season continues, and last weekend, it was the turn of Domaine de la Guicharde, in the Côtes du Rhone region, to welcome the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience clients to participate in the harvest.  As we were to learn, there is much more work at harvest time than just picking grapes!
After the introductions to the winery and day, we headed out past the olive grove into the vineyard.  Our first stop was the Miocène vineyard, home to our adopted vines. We took a few minutes to find our micro-plot of vines and immortalise the moment with a few photos.
Organic vine adoption in the Cotes du Rhone vine growing area
It was then time to get down to the serious business of the day. We listened intently to the instructions of how to pick the grapes, which ones to pick, and which to leave. But as we could see, the quality of the grapes this year was excellent and the vines were laden with full bunches, so there were hardly any grapes that needed to be sorted.  
Equipped with a bucket and pair of harvesting secateurs, we split into twos, each pair taking a different row of vines.  To make picking the grapes easier, the first task was to remove the leaves from in front and around the grape bunches.  We then cut the stem just above the bunch, letting the grapes fall into our hand, before being put into the bucket.  
Harvest Experience in the Rhone Valley region
With the nice large bunches, the buckets soon filled up, and we then passed them from row to row to be emptied into the trailer.  We were harvesting Grenache Noir, the grapes that are the last to mature at the winery.  The harvest had started on the 31st August with the white grapes, and the harvest of the Syrah grapes had started two week ago.  The winery is nearing the end of the harvest, and all the grapes should be picked in the next couple of days.
Grape picking Experience in the Rhone Valley region
Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the morning, and we had managed to fill three trailers, which was a great effort from our team of apprentice winemakers!  Having washed hands and cleaned up, we enjoyed a nice refreshing glass of the winery’s 2018 white wine, “Au tour de la Chapelle”, in the courtyard.
We continued the tasting over lunch, the rosé 18 accompanying the millefeuille of aubergine, goats cheese, sundried tomato and courgette coulis starter.  The fruity 2018 Pur Rouge Côtes du Rhône red went well with the roast veal and mushroom risotto, before we tasted the 2015 Terroir de Miocène Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux, the wine chosen for the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, with cheese.  Our tasting ended with the 2016 Genest  Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux, served with the chocolate mousse.
Harvesters' lunch in a French Orgnic winery
After lunch we followed the journey that the grapes take to the fermentation hall.  We watched as our trailers were emptied and the grapes fell into the de-stemming machine.  Here the berries are separated from the stems, and the grapes then continue their journey into the vat.
Chai visit during the haarvest in the Cotes du Rhone area
Inside the fermentation hall, Laurence explained the process that will take place over the coming weeks to transform the grape juice into wine.  Laurence showed us the mustimeter that she uses daily to monitor the sugar density and temperature of each of the vats.  We also learned about the important role of pumping over the wines throughout the maceration period to extract the colour and tannins from the grape skins.
Wine and grape juice tasting during the harvest
We ended the day by tasting the juice from the grapes we had picked, and compared this to the juice from grapes that had been harvested a week earlier, and was now in its fifth day of fermentation.  It was impressive to see the difference that just a few days make.
We’ll be back at Domaine de la Guicharde next year for the Vinification Experience Days, where we’ll pick up from where we left off, and learn more about the rest of the fermentation process, blending, ageing, and bottling.  There’s still lots to be done, but for now the winemakers can sleep a little more soundly knowing that the harvest is safely in the fermentation hall!

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The 2019 harvest of Pinot Noir grapes in Burgundy


We were welcomed to Domaine Chapelle in Santenay on a gloriously sunny weekend for the Harvest Experience Days of the Clos des Cornières vineyard, the grapes from which will be used to make the personalised organic red wine for the clients of the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

 

Meet the winemaker of an organic winery in Santenay, France

In the garden in front of the chateau, Jean-François, the owner briefly recounted the history of Burgundy wines, and explained the evolution of the production and commercialisation of the wines over the last 100 years, focusing on the decisions that he had taken, notably in converting the winery to becoming organically certified.

Vine adoption in Santenay, Burgundy, France

We the made our way to the Clos des Cornières vineyard and the Crais plot opposite to meet our adopted vines that will make the red and white wines. Having taken a few photos and whispered some sweet words to them, we met up again in front of the vine rows that we were to harvest. We were to harvest the pinot noir grapes from the Clos des Cornières plot, the chardonnay grapes from the Crais having already reached optimum maturity and so having already been picked a few days earlier.

2019 Harvest quality in Santenay Burgundy

As with the team of professional harvesters, we listened intently to the briefing for the day, and the instructions of how and what to harvest.  Jean-François explained which bunches to pick, those that are found between the training wires near the bottom of the vines.  The smaller bunches higher up are not sufficiently mature to produce good quality wine. We were also to leave the bunches that had been attacked by mould, and those that had dried out and had no pulp inside them. With the extremely hot weather this summer, quite a few of the bunches unfortunately contained little or no juice.

Harvest Experience Day in Burgundy, France

Armed with a pair of secateurs and a harvesting crate, we started to pick the grapes.  In pairs facing each other we each took a side of the vine row to make sure that we didn’t leave any good grapes behind.  By the end of the morning we had finished our work and filled a fair few crates, some with a little plaster on their cut finger!  The work of a harvester isn’t always as easy as all that!

Grapes picking experience in Burgundy, France

The time for the aperitif beckoned, and well deserved it was too!  Back in the garden, we enjoyed the Saint-Jean Santenay white wine, accompanied by the famous Burgundy gougères.

Organic Burgundy wine tasting, France

We then savoured the regional lunch, accompanied by three red wines, the Burgundy, Santenay Clos des Cornières, and Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières.

Grape sorting Experience in Burgundy

After lunch we went to see how the grapes are sorted and put into the vats. The sorting table is a crucial step in ensuring the quality of the grape juice that will then start fermenting. At the beginning of the table, the crates are emptied one by one onto the conveyor belt.  Either side of the table, 6 to 8 sorters remove any grapes that aren’t of a good enough quality and any leaves that might be present.  At the end of the table the grapes are separated from the stems mechanically and then fall into the fermentation hall below, where a trolley catches them, before being trundled to a another conveyer belt that lifts them up and into the vat.

Chai visit and wine tasting in Burgundy

There is no pumping at this stage so that the grapes arrive in the vat intact, helping to keep a higher degree of freshness to the future wine.
The day ended with an explanation of the fermentation process which will start in the next few days, and the work involved during this time.  It will be the first stage in the vinification and ageing process, more of which will be explained at the start of next year.
So the time to leave arrived, Jean-François and Myriam thanking us and looking forward already to our next visit!

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Nurturing the pinot noir vines to prepare them for the harvest


The quality of wine is determined largely by the quality of grapes that are picked at harvest time. And to ensure the best possible grapes, the winemaker is kept busy in the vineyard, especially at this time of year, when the vines are growing rapidly. We spent a fascinating Discovery Experience Day at the stunning Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy to find out more.

 

Vienyard Discover Experience Gift
In the winery garden, surrounded by vines, Jean-François, the owner of Domaine Chapelle, briefly introduced us to his winery.  The temperature was already beginning to rise with the very hot end of June that all of France has been enduring, so we quickly headed out to the vineyard just below the chateau, and home to our adopted vines.  We spent a few minutes to locate our micro-plot of vines, and encourage them as the grapes start to grow.
Adopt-an-organic-vine in Burgundy, France

Jean-François and Yannick, the Technical Director, then explained the work that has already been carried out in the vineyard during winter and spring to prune and de-bud the vines.  These are both critical tasks to control the quantity and quality of grapes that will be produced. Decreasing the number of grapes and branches, helps the vines to concentrate their energy on the fruit bearing branches.

The short flowering season has recently finished, and we could see the first grapes starting to form.   This is known as fruit set.  For the next few weeks the grapes will gradually get bigger.  This combined with the growth of shoots and leaves, causes the branches to fall into the middle of the rows which isn’t good for a number of reasons.

Vine-tending course in Burgundy, France
Firstly, it makes it very difficult to walk down the rows, let alone drive the tractor.  To do so would damage the branches, and so makes it impossible to treat the vines.  This is particularly important in organic wine-making, as the treatments used to protect the vines from mildew and odium get washed away when it rains, so they need to be re-administered.  Secondly the branches that touch the ground would act as highways for fungi spores to spread from the soil to the vines, again putting the vines and grapes at risk.  Thirdly the weight of the foliage and fruit might cause the branches to break.  For all these reasons, and to ensure more sunlight gets to the vines and that there is a better airflow around the grapes, the vines need to be trained using a trellis system.
Meet a French organic wine producer in Burgundy

Having watched Yannick and Jean-François show us how to train the vines, we spread out among the rows and had a go ourselves.  First we raised the training wires on either side of the row, and then clipped them together using a small bio-degradable clip.  We then ensured that all of the branches were growing between the wires, and were supported as best as possible.  Rewarding work, because when you looked back down the rows where we had been, everything was much more orderly than before!

Wine-making experience in Burgundy, France

We then headed back to the shade of the garden where we learnt more about the jobs that need to be done in the vineyard between now and the harvest.  The conversation then turned to other topics as diverse as the history of the winery and the introduction of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system in Burgundy, something that Jean-François’ ancestors were involved in lobbying for.

All of the work and talk had made us thirsty, so to quench it, Jean-François served us a nice chilled 2017 Santenay Saint Jean organic white wine, accompanied by some gougères, a delicious local cheese shoe pastry delicacy.  

Organic wine tasting at Domaine Chapelle, France

Lunch was enjoyed in the relative cool of the harvester’s refectory.  We tasted three of the wineries red wines, starting with the 2017 Burgundy, then the 2015 Santenay Clos des Cornières, and ending with the 2013 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru.

Cellar tour at Domaine Chapelle, France

After lunch, Yannick took us on a tour of the fermentation hall and cellar.  Here we were introduced to the wine-making side of the profession, and we marvelled at the site of all the barrels and bottles resting in the vaulted underground cellar.  We’ll be spending more time in the fermentation hall during the Harvest Experience Days in September as we put the grapes into the vats, and we’ll get to taste some of the wines that are in the ageing process during the Vinification Experience Days early next year.

Many thanks to Jean-François and Yannick for giving us a fascinating glimpse into the life of a winemaker.  We’ll appreciate the next bottle of wine we open that little bit more!

Learn more about how to adopt a vin in Burgundy

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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.

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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

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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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The Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience

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