How French wines adapt to global warming
In France’s Bordeaux wine region, an experiment to help some of the world’s most beloved drinks weather the ravages of climate change is starting to pay off. On a small southwestern estate where Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon reigned supreme for decades, several non-native grape varieties cultivated by researchers over the past 10 years have taken root.
The idea of ââcultivating Touriga Nacional from Portugal or Saperavi from Georgia in Bordeaux would have seemed heretical to purists behind the strict appellations of wines from France just a few years ago.
But with experts warning that the region that gave the world Chateau Margaux could be one of the hardest hit by the climate emergency, the race to find grape varieties that can withstand extreme heat has intensified.
“In 2050, the climate of Bordeaux could resemble that of Seville,” Bernard Farges, president of the Bordeaux Wine Council, told AFP, referring to the Spanish city located more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) away. South.
âIf we don’t do something about the grape varieties now, we risk losing what makes our wines unique,â ââhe said.
A study published in the American Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 came as a shock with a warning that climate change could wipe out up to 86% of wine production in Bordeaux, as well as in the Rhone Valley, in four decades.
Five years later, France took a radical step: it relaxed the rules governing which grape varieties can be used for which wines in a given region, thus making it possible to experiment with new varieties more resistant to extreme weather conditions.
Bordeaux was one of the first regions to seize the opportunity by allowing producers to use some of the more rustic new grape varieties in their blends from the 2021 vintage. The southern Languedoc and central Beaujolais regions are also experimenting with new ones. grape varieties, and producers in the northern Champagne region, increasingly prone to devastating late spring frosts, are looking to follow suit.
With temperatures in the south of France regularly reaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the summer, the problem has become increasingly urgent. Harvests were scheduled for up to a month earlier than the norm for early September, and the resulting wines lack the acidity necessary for balance.
“Thirty years ago, wines came out with an alcohol content of 11-11.5%, whereas today it is more like 13.5-14 percent”, said AgnÃ¨s Destrac-Irvine, agronomist. at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment. (INRAE).
Merlot grapes, which make up 65 percent of the vines planted in Bordeaux, are particularly sensitive to rising temperatures.
Destrac-Irvine is one of the leaders of a decade-long experiment led by INRAE ââand other partners close to Bordeaux with grape varieties selected from all over Europe. From an initial sample of 52, six were selected for experimental use in small quantities for Bordeaux and Bordeaux SupÃ©rieur wines over the next 10 years, including the late maturing Portuguese varieties Touriga Nacional and Alvarinho as well as the Marselan grapes. originating from the Languedoc region. .
The Beaujolais vineyards, famous for the new wine released with great fanfare every November, are also introducing more heat-resistant grape varieties, such as Syrah and Viognier, which are generally found further south in the RhÃ´ne valley. .
“In the next 10 years, due to global warming, the grape varieties best suited to the south (of France) will also be the best suited to the north,” predicted Pierre-Olivier Sauvaire, director of the ChÃ¢teau de Varennes estate in the Beaujolais. .
Other practices tested in Beaujolais include planting taller vines with reduced leaf cover to reduce photosynthesis and delay grape ripening and covering the vines with hail protection nets which also provide shade from the sun. .
For Sylvain Paturaux, producer of Beaujolais Fleurie wines, the challenge is also to find vines that are more respectful of the environment which require less fungicide to fight against the mildew which regularly afflicts the French harvest after heavy summer rains.
âWinemaking is a long-term business. We are planting now for the next 30 years, âhe said.
Read all the latest news, breaking news and coronavirus news here. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Telegram.