Climate change sees earlier harvests

By Nicki Bourlioufas

This year’s Champagne grape quality was ‘excellent’, says the Comité Champagne, in part thanks to the drought in France, as global warming challenges winemakers to maintain the finesse of their wines and keep alcohol levels down as harvests are brought forward.

A new temperature record was set in 2019 for the Champagne district (42.9°C/109.2°F), and July 2020 was the driest ever recorded, according to the Comité Champagne, the trade association for independent Champagne farmers and producers.

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While there was much rainfall at the start of 2020 (February received the most rain ever recorded for that month), heat and drought conditions from mid-March saw vines budding 16 days ahead of the 10-year average.

As a result, the weight of berries harvested in Champagne was lower than average, but “their condition was excellent”, the association said.

The soaring temperatures have brought forward grape harvests all over France and Europe. In Champagne, the harvest took place the earliest recorded since it started taking records in the 20th century.

In Bordeaux, winemakers have seen one of the earliest starts to harvest in recent memory, with white wine grapes in Pessac-Léognan among the first to be brought in, according to Decanter magazine.

Wines to get more alcoholic

According to Bordeaux’s local tourism group, Millésime Privé, climate change and global warming is arguably the most important question for winemakers globally. In Bordeaux, it is on average 2 degrees Celsius warmer today than it was in 1950, according to Météo-France. 

“The warmer temperatures, and as importantly the increasingly extreme weather, with drought, hail, forest fires, heavy rainfall and storms are major concerns for winegrowers all over the world,” says Millésime Privé.

“Grapes are delicate and the process of making a wine that is consistent year after year extremely sensitive. How are the winemakers in Bordeaux impacted by this? And what are the future outlooks?

“2019 is also extremely promising, with a super-hot and dry summer followed by cooling temperatures and rains just in the nick of time through-out most of the Bordeaux vineyards. The same positive trend is seen in other winegrowing areas such as Champagne, Burgundy, Barolo in Italy and Mosel in Germany.

“However, one immediate effect of the hotter and dryer climate is that harvesting takes place earlier and earlier, because the grapes ripen quicker.

“In Burgundy … records show that the harvest dates today in Burgundy are the earliest in the 700 years that they have been keeping track,” says Millésime Privé.

“Earlier harvesting might be a working remedy at times, but if the ripening is too quick the sugar-to-acid ratio in the berries will be skewed. This means sweeter berries that will render a wine that is higher in alcohol but with less structure, acidity and freshness.” 

This detailed interactive presentation in the New York Times details how climate change is affecting global wine production and grapes, an especially sensitive crop.

According to NASA, the 2019-20 winter in Europe was the warmest on record, with little snow. The spring was also drier and warmer than normal, with a historic heat wave in the middle of May.


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