• France's news in English
The battle to reinvent French fizz in face of climate change
Photo: AFP

The battle to reinvent French fizz in face of climate change

The Local · 5 Aug 2016, 09:06

Published: 05 Aug 2016 09:06 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

"We are taking a very long-term view," says Thibaut Le Mailloux of the Champagne Committee, a trade association of independent winegrowers and merchants.

Climate change has already had an effect on the champagne production cycle.

The past 20 years has seen the harvest brought forward by about two weeks; grapes are bigger and the alcohol content has risen by around one degree.

For the time being these factors help production, but they could spell disaster if, as experts predict, average global temperatures rise by up to five degrees Celsius between now and the end of the century.

"We really must start researching now as in 25 years it will be too late," Le Mailloux says.

The Champagne Committee is looking to develop new, more resistant grape varieties while retaining all the properties of the "King of Wines".

Joining forces with the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and a winegrowers institute in the southern region of Montpellier, they have embarked on a 15-year programme to create grape varieties that will beat climate change.

The challenge is to cross grape varieties that are allowed for the production of champagne -- black Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and white Chardonnay -- with varieties that are naturally resistant to certain diseases such as downy or powdery mildew.

They are also looking for genes favouring late maturation, which provides natural resistance, the Champagne Committee says.

Environmental change can not only hurt harvests and degrade quality, it can also create microclimates that encourage grapevine diseases.

On the plus side, rising temperatures can lead to lower acidity levels.

In addition, they lessen the risk of frost damage. Champagne is France's most northerly wine-producing area, with warm temperatures not guaranteed even in summer.

Hybrid supergrapes

Hybrid grapes are not new to Champagne -- or for that matter most of France's winegrowing regions -- which used hybridisation as well as grafting to create varieties resistant to the phylloxera aphid that wiped out vast swathes of the country's viticulture in the second half of the 19th century.

"We are crossing highly resistant super-genitors with our varieties," says Arnaud Descotes, deputy technical and environmental director for the Champagne Committee.

Story continues below…

"We start out with a cluster of grapes just starting to flower which we fertilise with pollen from the variety that interests us. The first
cross-breeding took place in 2015, the second in June 2016," Descotes says.

"This is nothing to do with genetically modified crops, but hybrids obtained through technology," he is quick to add.

The hybrid seeds -- 4,000 of them -- will be ready in six years to be planted in experimental plots across Champagne.

The researchers hope to complete their analyses and tastings of the resulting wine by 2030, when they will be able to present the new varieties to the appellation authorities.

Throughout the programme, "maintaining the champagne style is a central goal," Le Mailloux says. "We are keeping up our tradition of innovation -- but champagne will always be champagne."

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Where exactly in France are Calais migrants being sent?
Photo: AFP

Here's where the 8,000 migrants in Calais are heading.

The annoying questions only a half French, half British person can answer
Photo: Beery/Flickr/AFP

Being half French, half British is means you get asked a lot of questions (and some of them can be a little annoying.)

Migrants bussed out of Calais Jungle to all corners of France
All photos: AFP

Hundreds of migrants are being bussed across France on Monday ahead of the demolition of the Jungle camp.

The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
A Prophet. Photo: YouTube Screengrab

Looking for something to watch?

The must-see French films of the millennium - Part Two
Rust and Bone. Photo: YouTube Screengrab

The newest French films you need to see before you die (or alternatively when you get some spare time).

Election Watch
Presidential hopeful reckons a pain au chocolat is 10 cents

So France happily takes the pastry out of him.

French ministry of defence officials die in plane crash
Screengrab: eddydeg/Twitter

The French Ministry of Defence officials were killed on Monday when a light aircraft went down on the island of Malta.

Revealed: The ten most stolen cars in France
A Smart car in Paris. Photo: JR_Paris/Flickr

Thieves in France are getting a taste for luxury cars, it seems.

Analysis - France migrant crisis
Migrant crisis won't end with Calais 'Jungle' closure
All Photos: AFP

The Jungle camp may be being cleared but this won't be the end of the migrant crisis in France.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie 'to sell their French chateau'
All photos: AFP

Want to live where Brangelina got married?

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available