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Tagged articles : Winery

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 the secrets of making and ageing organic wine in Burgundy


We were welcomed at Domaine Chapelle in Santenay for a Vinification Experience Day to learn all about the work of the winemaker in the cellar. The 2017 vintage has now finished its fermentation period and the wines have been racked and put into barrels to start their ageing process. The work is not yet over for the winemaker however, as there still remain a whole host of decisions and actions that must be undertaken to ensure that we end up with a great organic wine in the bottle.

 

Vine adoption and daay at the winery in Santenay, France

 

The sun was shining brightly, and so we made ourselves at home in the winery’s garden, overlooking the Clos des Cornières vineyard where our adopted pinot noir vines are located. 

Oenology lessons at the winery with Domaine Chapelle in Burgundy, France

Jean-François, the winemaker and owner at Domaine Chapelle introduced us to the winery and gave us a recap of the 2017 vintage. He also pointed out the different terroir found in the surrounding vineyards to get a better understanding of the geology and its impact on the hierarchy of the Burgundy AOC system. The surrounding area is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Wine gift box aromas masterclass at the winery

We then split into two groups, one of which went first with Jean-François for a visit of the cellar and to taste the 2017 vintage directly from the barrel, and the other group stayed with Yvette, Jean-François’ wife, to develop their senses that would be put to the test during the wine tasting to come. The groups then swapped over.

Wine experience and wine tasting in Burgundy, France

Jean-François explained how the sugar in the grapes is transformed into alcohol during the first fermentation phase after the harvest.  We also had the honour of tasting some of the 2017 wines that are currently still in the ageing process, drawing them by pipette directly from the barrel.

Yvette helped us discover and identify the aromas that can be found in Burgundy wines, and explained where they come from, whether it’s from the grape and quality of the grape, or from the vinification and ageing process. 

Vineyard visit box in Santenay, Burgndy, France

We then put our new found knowledge to the test as we tasted different wines from Domaine Chapelle, starting with a glass of the chardonnay AOC Santenay Saint Jean white wine.

During lunch we enjoyed some local dishes of jambon persillé, Gaston Gérard chicken, local cheeses and a chocolate and blackcurrant entremets desert, accompanied by three red wines from Domaine Chapelle, the 2014 Santenay Clos des Cornières, the 2011 Santenay La Comme Premier Cru and the 2013 Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru.

After lunch we headed out into the vineyard to meet our adopted vines, and see how they are preparing for the 2018 vintage. We encouraged them to continue their good work, and passed the baton to the adoptive owners of the 2018 vintage!

Vine renting at Domaine CHapelle, Burgundy, france

Jean-François explained the three different ages of vines that are used in making the Clos des Cornières wine. The 2017 vintage will be the last for a while to use the three different aged vines because the oldest plot of vines was uprooted earlier in the year.  It will be replanted with young vines, but it will take a few more years before any grapes will be produced.

Vina adoption box for a perfect to wine lovers

Back at the winery, we tasted the wines that are currently ageing from these three different aged vines, and so could see for ourselves the difference in quality. Each of the three plots is picked, vinified, and aged separately before being blended when it comes time to bottle the wine.  We noted that the tannins were much softer for the oldest vines, whilst they were still marked for the youngest plot. The winemaker can balance these different styles when blending the final wine.

We had spent a very enjoyable day in Santenay at Domaine Chapelle and can’t wait to taste the 2017 Clos des Cornières wine when it is finished!

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Original St Valentine’s gift for wine lovers. Adopt some organic vines!


Your other half loves wine? For the perfect Saint Valentine’s present, adopt some organic vines in an award-winning French winery and follow the making of your own personalised bottles of wine. It’s a fantastic way to learn about the art of wine-making and gives you a great excuse to get away and share a weekend break together in one of France’s beautiful wine-growing regions.

Your valentine will love following the progress of his or her adopted vines from the work in the vineyard at one of our organically certified vineyards to the bottling of the personalised wine bottles. The apprentice winemakers will receive newsletters, articles and photos to keep them updated and to learn about all of the hard work and skill that goes into make a quality wine. When you get to taste this unique St Valentine’s wine at the end of the experience, it sure to have a very special taste!

Personnalised bottles of wine for the Valentines Day

And if you’re looking for an original weekend break idea, visit the winery, meet the winemaker and see your adopted vines! You can add one or more wine experience days at the winery. Each day is valid for two, and you have the choice of three themes. The Discovery Experience Day teaches you about all of the work and care that goes into nurturing the vines, and gets you involved in working in the vineyard alongside the winemaker. The Harvest Experience Day enables you to participate in picking the grapes, and to learn about the work in the chai at harvest time. The Vinification Experience Day explores the choices the winemaker takes in the cellar to ferment, age, blend and bottle the wine through a series of interactive workshops.

Wine course in a French vineyard for wine lovers

Each of the wine experience days enable you to learn directly from the winemakers and their teams, and last the whole day from 09:30 to 16:00, the time necessary to get to the know the winemakers more and learn about the complexities of wine-making. You will also taste the wines from the winery and share lunch to sample other local delicacies.

Adopt-a-vine Valentine gift in a French winery

We are very particular when it comes to choosing our partner winemakers. They are selected not only for the high quality of their wine, but also for their warmth and hospitality in welcoming you to their winery and in explaining their profession. We have also chosen to work exclusively with organically certified wineries, and it’s fascinating to learn about all they do to enhance the quality of the environment around them, and protect the health of their family, employees, neighbours and customers.

We promise you a fun, enlightening, and thought provoking experience to learn more about the world of wine.

More information about the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience.

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Raising our glass to 2018


Another exciting year draws to a close and a new one full of promise begins in the world of wine and at Gourmet Odyssey!

For the 2017 vintage, we welcomed Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion to the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, and Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone valley begins the adventure with the 2018 vintage. As with all of our other partner wineries, they are both organically certified and Domaine de la Guicharde is also a biodynamic winery. Discover the magic of these two wineries by adopting some vines and participating in one of the Wine Experience Days in the vineyard and cellar.

In the vineyard, 2017 was finally a good year.  After a few scares and scrapes with frost in April, and then the dryness of the summer months, the 2017 harvest was picked in great weather conditions, and the first impressions are very good, as you might have read in our summary of the 2017 vintage.

We are getting ready to welcome you for the 2018 vintage and are impatient to discover what the year holds in store!  We hope that it is a fine vintage and year, full of great moments shared in the vineyard, and around a bottle of wine.

We wish you all an excellent 2018!

Mark, Marie, Louise, Myriam et Jacqueline

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Wine experience days in the vineyard: the 2017 finalists for the My Vine photo competition


Once again this year, the adopted vine owners snapped away during the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience days, in the quest to take the most original photo of their vines at our partner wineries. Many thanks to all for your enthusiasm!

We have selected 25 photos to go through to the final of the 2017 My Vine photo competition, and now it is up to you to vote for the one that you think is the most original!  There will be two winners, one for the photo that receives the most “likes” on our Facebook page, and one for the photo chosen by the Gourmet Odyssey team.

View the finalists and vote for your favourite photo on the Gourmet Odyssey Facebook page before 12:00 (French time) on the 11th December!  Be careful to “like” the individual photo that you want to vote for and not the whole album!

The two winners will each receive a magnum of wine from their Wine Experience partner winery.

We’ll announce the winning entries on the 11th December!

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Winemaker profile. Isabelle and Arnaud Guichard at Domaine de la Guicharde


Continuing the series of our Gourmet Odyssey partner winemaker profiles, we recently asked a few questions to Isabelle and Arnaud Guichard, who run the Domaine de la Guicharde in the Rhone Valley village of Mondragon.  It’s a biodynamic winery surrounded by wooded hills and bushland, where they make wine with passion and care.

Adopt-a-vine experience in France, Cotes du Rhone

For how long have you been winemakers and why did you create the winery?

Whilst looking for a few hectares of vines to set ourselves up with, we stumbled across the Guicharde, hidden away in the heart of the Massif d’Uchaux in the Haut Vaucluse region of the Rhone Valley.

The property was for sale and our surname is Guichard.  It just seemed the right place to put down our city dweller bags and settle in this Provençal villa, surrounded by vines and woods.  And so the adventure began in 1988.

The first harvest was fun. Complete philistines that we were, we had everything to learn. We didn’t yet know where we were headed or what type of wine we wanted to make, but we knew that we had made the right choice. Our relationship with the terroir and the vines slowly developed over the days, the seasons, and the years.

This slow journey led us naturally to turn towards organic winemaking.

 

What is your best memory at the winery?

The first steps of the winery towards becoming biodynamic.  Thanks to a wonderful encounter with a delightful man, we started our biodynamic conversion in the autumn of 2010.

Virtuous and caring, this marvellous approach to farming re-enchanted our daily life and our vines.

 

For the 2016 vintage, that you are in the process of ageing, what is your favourite wine and its short story?

Terroir du Miocène. The newcomer amongst the wines at Domaine de la Guicharde, the Terroir du Miocène was born the previous year with the 2015 vintage. A few young grenache and syrah vines that thrive in the white limestone marl from the beginning of the Miocène epoch.

From the nursery to the vineyard, the vines have only ever known what it’s like to be cared for biodynamically. The vines have reached the age of reason, and even if they are still young, the potential of this wine is already evident, because the quality of the terroir can already be discerned in the wine.

 

What are your challenges, wishes or projects in the coming months?

Biodynamics has made our wines become more refined. They are less sun-drenched and exuberant, and more elegant. The aromatic palette has become more developed. In the vineyard, the soil is softer, the vine branches flourish and they have become a nice golden mahogany colour. We would like to learn more and further develop our biodynamic approach to wine-making.

We would also like to create new wines. It’s always fun to try new things at harvest time. In 2010, we made a very exclusive wine called Petites Mains. Using grenache grapes from some old vines that had been carefully picked, placed in small crates, sorted grape by grape and then lightly crushed, we aged the wine in some large 600 litre demi-muid barrels for a few months before bottling. It was a successful test. We used the same technique again in 2012, only using syrah grapes this time.

 

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

When nature allows us and the vines take a breather, we take a few days rest to climb mountains and marvel at the snow-capped peaks.  Arnaud is a great lover of downhill skiing and walking. Isabelle prefers taking a small rucksack and walking the paths that lead to Saint Jacques de Compostelle.

Wine and the love of nature are never far away. Arnaud is actively involved in the winemaker associations and Isabelle has written two books on the harvest and biodynamics. Recettes de vendangeurs (Harvesters recipes) was published in 2012 by the publisher, Rouergue, and Précis à l’usage de ceux qui pensent que Demeter n’est qu’une déesse grecque (A summary to be used by those who think that Demeter is just a Greek Goddess) has just been published by L’Epure. Two different works about the daily life of being a winemaker.

 

Interviews of our orther partners

Marc Plouzeau from Château de la Bonnelière in the Loire Valley

Eric, Etienne and Marie-Pierre Plumet from Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhône Valley

Jean-François Chapelle from Domaine Chapelle in Burgudy

Delphine and Ghislain d'Aboville from Domaine Allegria in Languedoc

Adrien David Beaulieu from Château Coutet in Saint-Emilion

 

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


The 2018 wine guides and reviews have once again selected and awarded medals to the organic wines from the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience wineries. Our adopt-a-vine partners were rewarded for their hard work in the vineyard and cellar to produce another great vintage of their excellent wines.

Domaine de la Guicharde

Our new partner saw 3 of their wines selected by the Bettane+Desseauve 2018 wine guide (internet version), the Genest 2015, Pur Rouge 2016 and the Terroir du Miocène 2015. The Terroir du Miocène is the wine chosen by Gourmet Odyssey for the vine adoption wine experience. It received a rating of 13.5/20, and was described as being “a little shy at first, but opens up once aired. It’s a no-nonsense fruity wine that is very drinkable.”

Château de la Bonnelière

The Bettane+Desseauve 2018 wine guide chose 5 wines from Château de la Bonnelière, including the 2015 vintage of the Clos de la Bonnelière wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey for the Wine Experience, which received a 15/20 rating. “A full and gourmand wine, this bottle opens it arms to you.” Other wines selected include the 2015 Roches Saint-Paul and 2015 Rive Gauche.

The 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins Bios organic wine guide gave a star to the 2015 Chapelle wine, which it recommends pairing with a lamb confite.

Domaine Chapelle

The 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins 2018 selected 6 of Domaine Chapelle’s wines, the 2014 Morgeot Premier Cru, the 2014 Petites Lolières, as well as the 2015 Santenay Saint-Jean white wine, the 2015 Beaurepaire Premier Cru, and the 2015 Gravières Premier Cru which each received a star. For the Santenay Saint-Jean wine they noted that it is “an elegant wine with aromas of white fruit, citrus fruits, fresh butter and white flowers, aromas which are amplified in the mouth with this smooth wine with good levels of acidity”.

These wines were also included in the 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins Bios organic wine guide.

Domaine Stentz-Buecher

The internet version of the Bettane+Desseauve guide chose three 2015 wines, the Gewurztraminer Hengst scored 16/20, the Pinot Gris Pfersigberg 14/20 and the Muscat Rosenberg was noted 14/20.

Domaine Allegria

The 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins and the organic wine version, praised both the 2015 and the 2016 vintages of the Dolce Vota with 2 and 3 stars respectively.  It’s a real darling of the guide with its “powdery pink colour…  refined, complex, the nose reveals roses, then citrus fruits, before showing more acidic notes of redcurrant and red fruits. Gentle on the palate, smooth and deep, it remains lively thanks to the acidity. It’s a gourmand and elegant wine.”

Domaine la Cabotte

The 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins and Guide Hachette des Vins Bios organic wine guide awarded 2 stars for the 2015 Gabriel wine.  “Once opened up, this wine reveals hints of blackcurrant jam and blueberries, with some smoky notes. Velvety on the palate, with elegant black cherry and spicy aromas, supported by perfectly matured tannins. A wine that will please everyone.”

The 2018 Bettane+Desseauve web guide rated the 2016 Colline white wine 13/20, and the 2015 Gabriel 15/20. For this last one, they wrote that “on the nose it reminds you of fresh green pepper, and in the mouth it is juicy and floral, packed with red and black fruit. The tight tannins give it body and a rustic style that suits it well.”

Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard

The Revue du Vin de France picked 3 wines from the Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard for the 2018 Guide des Meilleurs Vins de France wine guide. The 2016 Chablis, 2015 Chablis Premier Cru Vau de Vey, and its top pick, the 2015 Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume, which it noted as being “expressive, rich and well structured, it sets itself apart by the depth of flavour and its saline finish. Well balanced, it is an excellent Chablis that can be enjoyed by all.”

The 2018 Guide Bettane+Desseauve 2018 selected no less than 14 wines from the winery, including Grand and Premier Crus, and the 2015 Chablis Sainte-Claire, the wine selected by Gourmet Odyssey for the 2016 and 2017 vintages, which was rated 14/20. 

The 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins 2018 and the Guide Hachette des Vins Bios wine guides selected 2 wines ; the 2015 Domaine Brocard obtaining 2 stars, and the 2014 Côte de Lechet, 1 star.

Château Beau Rivage

The 2015 Benjamin, red wine was hailed in the 2018 Guide Hachette des Vins, who recommend serving it with roast guinea fowl. “The nose is floral and fresh, whilst being full and lasting on the palate, revealing juicy ripe fruits and silky tannins.”

So another good year for the Wine Experience partner winemakers, who were rewarded for their talent and hard work in the cellar and vineyards to produce another great range of 2015 and 2016 organic wines!

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A recap of the 2017 wine vintage so far


Now that the 2017 harvest is well behind us, we took a little tour of the French wine growing regions to ask each of our Wine Experience winery partners to give us their first impressions of this vintage. Not all is finished of course as there is still lots of work to do in the cellar, but we can already take stock of where we are, now that the work in the vineyard has ended.

The frost in the beginning of the year

The beginning of 2017 was fairly cold with regular rainfall to build up good levels of water reserves in the vineyards. Spring however was much harsher on the winemakers, with many of France’s wine-growing regions hit by frost at the end of April.

Our partner wineries in the Languedoc, Bordeaux, Loire Valley, Burgundy and Alsace reported alarming news about vines that had been damaged by frost in their regions, but fortunately they were spared or only lightly impacted thanks to different ways that they work to protect against the frost.

Christmas gift box wine making experience

The end of spring and the beginning of summer were then sunny in most of the regions, allowing the vines to flower without too much coulure and for the vegetation to grow well. By the end of June, most winemakers were already predicting an early harvest such as at Domaine la Cabotte in the Rhone Valley or at Domaine Chapelle in the Côte de Beaune.

The summer drought

The following summer months were generally very hot and dry, with virtually no rain in most of the regions. A few showers in July in the Loire Valley and in Burgundy, and in the beginning of September in Saint-Emilion enabled the vines to grow and the grapes to mature nicely.

Elsewhere, not only were the days extremely hot, but the nights too, causing hydric stress in the vines from August onwards. This meant that the grapes were small and they quickly saw the sugar concentration levels rise in the south and east of France, indicating an early and small harvest.

Oenology course in France gift idea

The advantage of the hot and dry weather was the very small amount of fungal disease in the vineyards. No mildew or odium of any significance, and so much fewer treatments were needed. Alsace reported some fruit fly, but by picking the grapes earlier, they didn’t have time to affect the quality of the grapes.

The 2017 harvest

The high level of sugar concentration and the small amount of juice, combined with the early véraison when the grapes change colour, meant that the start of the harvest was exceptionally early this year.

Our partners at Domaine Allegria in the Languedoc and at Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône wine-growing regions opened the harvest on the 16th and 25th August respectively.  Just behind them, and much rarer for these regions, were Domaine Stentz-Buecher in Alsace on the 29th August, almost a month earlier than usual, and Burgundy on the 1st and 4th September at Domaine Brocard and Domaine Chapelle. The Loire Valley followed in mid-September, again almost a month earlier, and in Bordeaux where the final ripening of the grapes had slowed down to delay the start of the harvest.

Harvest Experience Day at the winery

We noticed something else at most of our partners. The harvest was also very short, lasting just 3-4 weeks compared to 6 in a more normal year.  Due to the lack of juice and the hot weather which lasted into September, most of the winemakers were worried about there not being enough juice, and therefore not enough wine. They therefore chose to pick the grapes as early as possible to try and make the most of what little juice there was before the grapes dried out further.

In the vineyards that were impacted by the frost earlier in the year, the grape skins were noticeably thicker, which meant that the winemakers had to adapt in a couple of ways. In the vineyard, they had to wait as long as possible to wait for the optimum maturity to be reached, and in the cellar they had to avoid extracting too much tannin and colour from the skins during the maceration period for the red wines.

In the cellar

Generally the winemakers are in agreement that the quality of this year’s vintage is very good due to the near perfect condition of the grapes at harvest time. Their good health and maturity also helped the fermentation to start well, meaning that the musts needed little work. The first tastings seem promising, even if there is still a long way to go.

Vinification experience in France gift idea

So despite a problematic year weather wise throughout France, we can rejoice in the overall quality of the 2017 harvest. Even if there wasn’t as much as we would have liked everywhere, the quality should shine through once the vinification and ageing have finished.  We can’t wait to taste the 2017 wines!

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Working in the vineyard during a Wine Experience Day in the Loire Valley


We had a sunny weekend in the Loire Valley last weekend to welcome the participants of the Discovery Experience week-end at Château de la Bonnelière.

  Vine-Adoption and winery visit in Chinon, France

It was the first visit to the winery for this new season of apprentice wine-makers, and so Marc Plouzeau, the owner and wine-maker at Château de la Bonnelière told us about the history of the winery, and introduced us to the characteristics of the Chinon wine appellation, particularly the Left Bank wines, where all of the 30 hectares of Marc’s vineyards are located.

One of the principal aims of the Discovery Experience Day is to participate in the life at the winery and to help work in the vineyard. The plan was to help out with the de-budding during the week-end to remove some of the unwanted shoots, which in turn will help control the amount of fruit produced. In Chinon, the appellation charter stipulates that there should be no more than 14 grape bunches per vine.

Oenology and wine-making course at the winery, Loire, France

Unfortunately Mother Nature hadn’t been very kind to the Loire Valley wine-makers for the second consecutive year.  The château’s vineyards had been hit by two frosts in April.

The first was a “black frost” where the temperatures fell to as low as -7°C during the night in some areas of the Chinon appellation. In Marc’s vineyards, the temperatures didn’t fall as low as in other parts, but a second frost hit the following week, this time being a “white frost”. Here the cold temperatures see frost form around the vines, creating a magnifying glass effect for the early morning sunrays that then scorch the moist buds and leaves.

Wine lover perfect gift vine-adoption in the Loire Valley, France

Despite trying to protect the vines by lighting paraffin candles in the vineyards to raise the temperature by a few degrees, the frost still impacted some of Marc’s plots of vines.  But fortunately the vines are fairly hardy plants, and there were some good surprises, notably in the Clos de la Bonnelière vineyard where the vines resisted well.

As the number of shoots had already been reduced from the impact of the frost, we decided to get involved in another activity, less glamorous, but essential nonetheless; hoeing! It’s a physical activity and gave us a good work out as we removed the weeds and grass growing around the vines that the plough had difficulty in reaching.

Get involved in the making of your own wine in Loire, France

Marc answered our many questions regarding the different aspects of working in the vineyard, and took us on a tour of the chai.

Wien-tasting at Château de la Bonnelière, Chinon, France

By this time, we had earned our aperitif and lunch, which was accompanied by a tasting of the different wines from the winery, including the two new Chinon white wines.

Vineyard tour and winery visit in the Loire Valley, France

In the afternoon, we took a walk in the vineyard, and visited the chenin blanc vines which are used in the Chinon white wine and which are pruned using a different technique. We also visited a plot of cabernet franc vines dating back to 1929, which are used in the “Vindoux” red wine, a name which hides the strength if this cuvée!

The day finished with the sun still shining brightly. We look forward to returning to see the ripe grapes at harvest time

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From Vine to Wine. An unforgettable Mother’s Day gift.


Mother’s Day is nearly here again, and so the search begins to find a creative way to say thanks Mum. Replace the bouquet of flowers with some vines if your Mum loves her wine, and give her an original Mother’s Day wine gift by adopting some organic vines in France for her. She’ll follow their progress in the vineyard, learn how the grapes are transformed into wine, and she’ll end up with her own personalised bottles of organic wine.

This unique Mother’s Day present is much more than a wine course or wine tasting gift.  With the Gourmet Odyssey Wine Experience, your mum will follow all of the key stages in making wine through newsletters and photos from the winemaker.

Wine Gift Box for the Mothers' Day

You can also add one or more wine experience days at the winery for your mum to visit her vines, meet the winemaker and get involved in working in the vineyard or cellar.  It’s a good excuse to get away for a weekend break in France, and a fun way to learn about the secrets behind organic winemaking whilst exploring some of France’s great wine growing regions.

Vineyard and winery tour in France as a wine box

Each day is a full programme from 9:30 to 16:00 spent learning from the winemaker and their teams, tasting wines from the winery and enjoying a lunch of regional delicacies.  The day is valid for two people, so you might to get to go along too!

Wine-Making experience in a French Winery

At the end of the Wine Experience, your Mum will choose the name of her wine and will end up with one personalised bottle of her own organic wine for each adopted vine.  As she opens them over the coming years, she’ll be sure to remember this unusual Mother’s Day gift!

Read some of the feedback from our clients

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Vinification and blending of wines in the Languedoc


The sun was awaiting the participants at Domaine Allegria for the Vinification Experience Day, the last of the wine experience days for the adoptive vine parents of the 2016 vintage.  The aim of the day was to discover what happens in the cellar after the grapes have been picked at harvest time up until the wine is ready for being bottled.

  Wine gift box to adopt vines in a Languedoc vineyard, France

We started the day with a quick visit to the vineyard to see our adopted vines, where we took a few souvenir photos.  We also learnt about what has been happening in the vineyard at the moment, what work has been done since last year’s harvest, and how the vines have come back to life in the spring.

Vineyard tour at Domaine Allegria Languedoc France

We learnt how the vines had been pruned, a long task that had finished three weeks earlier. The cut branches had then been pulled from the vines and left between the rows to be crushed.

Vine-adoption as a wine gift box in France

When we returned from the vineyard, we visited the cellar from top to bottom.  The questions flowed.  What is a wine without sulphites, why do you use selected yeasts, and many more such topics.  We talked in detail about the different processes between making red and white wine.

We then tested our sense of smell with the help of 12 bottles containing different aromas.  This exercise would help us find some of the words to describe the wines that we were to taste later. 

Lunch was served in the sun on the terrace.  The winery’s rosé Dolce Vita 2016 wine was served in a jeroboam for the aperitif.  We tasted different wines, paired with local charcuterie and a lentil salad; the Cinsault Abuelo 2015, a Carignan Gourmand 2015, and the Cousu Main 2013 in a magnum.  With the goat’s cheese from the nearby Mas Roland, we tasted the Tribu d’A white 2015, which goes perfectly with cheese.  We finished the meal with the Grande Cuvée La Belle Histoire 2015, a great vintage for Languedoc wines.  With the delicious almond cake and profiteroles, we enjoyed a coffee.

Wine-tasting at the winery, Pézenas, Languedoc, France

After lunch, we returned to the cellar to taste three of the wines from the 2016 vintage that are still in the ageing process.  Each of the wines was of a different grape varietal, enabling us to learn the different characteristics of Cinsalut, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  The wines are still young, and full of carbon dioxide following the fermentation.  But they were also very soft considering the stage that they are at, and already enjoyable to drink.

Having tasted these different wines, the next exercise was to have a go at blending them together.  We learnt that blending the different grape varietals together gives a deeper and more complex final wine.
By the end of the day, we had learnt many new things about wine, and will have a few stories to recount when we open the next bottle!

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Attaching the vines to the training wires


We spent last Saturday at Domaine Chapelle in the picturesque Burgundy village of Santenay. We were there to learn about the winegrower’s work in the vineyard and to help attach the vines to the training wires.

The day started in the warmth of the winery where we listened to Simon, the son of the owner and who will one day succeed Jean-François, talk about the history of the family and introduce us to the classification system of Burgundy wines.

In the vineyard there has already been lots of work done to prune all of the vines, and with the arrival of spring, there is no let-up in the winegrower’s workload!  It’s time to get back out into the vineyard.

Adopt-a-vine experience in Burgundy, France

We make a quick stop to meet our adopted vines, and take a few photographs. We start to talk about organic winemaking, Domaine Chapelle having now been organically certified for several years. Simon explained the philosophy and principals applied in the vineyard. We also learnt of his desire to work biodynamically, and 5 hectares of the estate are already worked biodynamically to test the different method of working.

Vineyard tending stage in Buegudy as a gift

Simon brought us up to speed on the work carried out in the vineyard so far for the 2017 vintage, notably the different pruning methods used. For the most part, 5 to 7 eyes are left on each of the branches and 2 eyes on the short spur. The longer branch will produce the fruit for the coming year, and the shorter spur will prepare the vine for next year’s pruning.

Oenology course at an organic winery in France

Now that the pruning has finished, the next stage is to bend the branches and attach them to the training wires. This helps to better spread out the foliage and in the coming months will also mean that the grapes are better spaced, limiting the risk of mould developing.
We each had a go at this delicate operation. It’s quite stressful because the vines make a cracking sound when the branches are bent.

A perfect wine lovers gift with a vine adoption and tending box

The April showers started to fall a little harder, so we then headed back to the shelter of the cellar for a nice Burgundy aperitif!

We tasted the Santenay Saint Jean white wine, accompanied by the famous Gougères, a delicious Burgundy speciality. We then tasted three different red wines during the meal which included an excellent beef bourguignon.

Vineyard and winery visit in Santenay, Burgundy

The sun was out again after lunch, so we headed back out into the vineyard to visit the Beaurepaire Premier Cru vineyard which had been replanted two years ago.  It enabled us to better understand how vines are selected and nurtured, and the work and time that it takes before the first full harvest can be reaped.  From our vantage pot, we admired the view of the surrounding vineyards and the village below.

We finished the day with a quick tour of the cellar where the wines are aged and stored. Our wine isn’t yet there, but we’ll be back in a year’s time to see how it is getting on during one of the Vinification Experience Days. But before then, we also have the Harvest Experience Days to pick the grapes!

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Learning to prune the vines in Burgundy


The Spring sun was out to welcome us for a Discovery Experience Day on the 12th March at Domaine Chapelle, in the Burgundy village of Santenay. This hands-on wine course at the winery was dedicated to the work in the vineyard, and at this time of year, the principal task is pruning the vines.

    Learn about the Burgundy vineyards in Stanenay, France

After a welcome coffee, Jean-François introduced us to the winery and winemaking in Santenay. He took us out into the garden to explain the local geology and its role in defining the classification of the surrounding vineyards.

Adopt-a-vine in France as a gift for a wine lover

We then headed to the Clos des Cornières vineyard, where the Gourmet Odyssey adopted vines are located. It gave us the chance to meet our vines and to take a few pictures for the “My Vine” photo competition!

Learn how to prune the vine in a winery in Burgundy, France

Yannick, the technical director, then started to explain the work in the vineyard to get the vines ready for harvest. It’s the end of the pruning season at the moment, so he showed us which branches to cut, and which to keep. He also explained how the number of buds that are left on each vine will help determine the quantity of fruit produced. The questions flowed, and we also had a long discussion on organic winemaking and the philosophy in implementing it at the winery.

Oenology course at Domaine Chapelle, a winery in Santenay, France

But enough talking - it was then time to put the theory into practice!  We quickly learnt that when it was our turn to prune, it wasn’t as easy as the explanations. The vines all grow slightly differently and there seemed to be an exception to every rule!  But it was a fun time, and everyone obtained their pruning diploma!

Wine and course tasting in a French winery, Santenay, Burgundy

Back at the winery, we enjoyed a typical Bourguignon aperitif in the sun. To accompany the Santenay Saint Jean white wine, we enjoyed some gougères, which are a local specialty. And we continued the wine tasting over lunch of beef bourguignon with three of the winery’s excellent red wines.

Learn how to tend a vineyard in Santenay, Burgundy

After lunch, we took a stroll in the vineyard to visit the Beuarepaire premier cru plot of vines. On the way, Yannick explained the different terroir that we could see.  We learnt about the work involved to replant a vineyard, the costs involved and its impact on the production.

The grapes are green harvested for the first two years which means picking them, but not using them. This helps the vines to develop their root system. The grapes will be picked and used from the 3rd year, but the wine that will be made will be classed a level down until the vines are about 10 year’s old and the grapes start to express the quality of the terroir.

We then returned to the winery for a quick tour of the cellar before finishing this informative and interesting day. The vineyard is where the hard work begins, and we look forward to coming back to learn more from Jean-François and Yannick during the Harvest and Vinification Experience days.

Many thanks to our hosts who once again welcomed us warmly! 

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Wine-making in the Côtes du Rhône region at Domaine la Cabotte


Today is a festival for our taste buds! We're going to taste and re-taste all of the wines at Domaine la Cabotte in the Côtes du Rhône Massif d'Uchaux region during a Gourmet Odyssey Vinification Experience Day.

The 2016 vintage wines are still slowly finishing the vinification process in the vats. The weather is a little unstable, and the arrival of the rain sees the participants put on our boots. The vines are delighted and all of the young buds get ready to soak up this lovely spring rain.

Adopt-a-vine gift box in a French vineyard

Marie-Pierre and Eric, the owners take us to meet our adopted Grenache vines that are used in making the Garance wine. The cameras come out and click away to immortalise the moment.

As the first drops of rain start to fall, we head for cover in the chai. Here, Marie-Pierre had prepared a long table with wine glasses, bottles and spittoons. We each take a seat as Eric explains how the grapes are transformed into wine.

Oenology course in the Rhone Valley France

The questions flow and we cover lots of topics. We learn about the fundamental role of yeast, which is naturally present on the grape skins, and turns the sugar into alcohol. Each vat of wine ferments at its own pace, one of the wonderful mysteries of wine-making. We taste different wines that are still ageing to appreciate for ourselves how they are each developing.

Wine tasting and visit of the winery in Mondragon, France

We then head to the caveau to put our noses to the test. We try and identify the floral and fruity aromas that can be found in wine: blackcurrant, lime tree, blackberry chocolate truffle, raspberry, lemon, honey etc...

Aroma workshop as a wine gift in a French winery

There are two or three "noses" in the group who are very good at naming the different aromas, but for the majority of us, it's more difficult to put a name to them. That is until we're told what the smell is, and we hear a chorus of "of course it is!"

Winemaker lunch with wine pairing Domaien la Cabotte France

It is now lunch time, and we sit down to enjoy a pork confit, local goat's cheese and dessert. Each dish is accompanied by different wines, and we enjoy our glasses of Clairette, Colline, Gabriel, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Organic vineyard visit in the Rhone Valley France

In the afternoon the sky clears, and Eric takes us on a walk around the vineyard to better understand the Massif d'Uchaux terroir and its influence on the wine's style. The ground is very rocky and the vines share the plateau with trees and scrubland, giving the wine both complexity and freshness.

The day draws to a close, and we look back on the variety of tastes and smells that we have enjoyed and discovered. We also load the car boots up with a few bottles of our favourite wines to take a little piece of Domaine la Cabotte home with us!

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Pruning the vines in the Rhone Valley


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

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

Eric explains how to prune the vines

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

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

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

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

Enjoying lunch in the caveau overlooking the vineyard

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

Pruning is not as easy as it looks

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

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

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What to get the person that has everything ?

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

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