How France’s vineyards are benefiting from the heatwave

Torrid temperatures across much of France have made the past few weeks unbearable for many, but with grape harvests kicking off this week, the country's winemakers say the heat could not have come at a better time.

How France's vineyards are benefiting from the heatwave
Photos: AFP

“Grape vines like the sun,” said Bernard Farges, president of the wine grower's association for the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur appellations.

“It rained a lot last spring in nearly all winegrowing regions, especially in the south… so the vines aren't suffering from the drought,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert told AFP on Monday that this year's grape output was expected to be “higher than average” after production was hit by weather-related losses last year.

Quality-wise, 2018 should also be a good vintage, he said.

Many growers were worried about another year of anaemic production after a series of hailstorms battered fields across France in May.

Besides damaging the fresh shoots, the storms left damp conditions in their wake which increased cases of damaging mould as summer temperatures rose — a problem in particular for the increasing number of growers shunning pesticides.

The recent dry heat has helped most vineyards fight off the mould but without growers feeling the need to harvest the grapes early to avoid the sun shrivelling up the fruit.

So far only parts of the Champagne and Alsace regions in the northeast are planning early harvests later this month.

“So far things are looking good overall, the vines are in excellent health, the grapes are maturing normally for a harvest which is nonetheless extremely early,” said Frederic Bach, head of the Alsace winegrowers' association.

In the southern region of Fitou along the Mediterranean, usually one of the first to begin harvesting, this year's harvest which began on Tuesday came two weeks later than last year's.

Europe's wine production dropped to levels unseen since World War II last year as extreme weather hit top producers Italy, France, Spain and Germany.

A late cold snap in the Bordeaux region last year, for example, slashed the 2017 harvest by 40 percent.

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Cold snap ‘could slash French wine harvest by 30 percent’

A rare cold snap that froze vineyards across much of France this month could see harvest yields drop by around a third this year, France's national agriculture observatory said on Thursday.

Cold snap 'could slash French wine harvest by 30 percent'
A winemaker checks whether there is life in the buds of his vineyard in Le Landreau, near Nantes in western France, on April 12th, following several nights of frost. Photo: Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

Winemakers were forced to light fires and candles among their vines as nighttime temperatures plunged after weeks of unseasonably warm weather that had spurred early budding.

Scores of vulnerable fruit and vegetable orchards were also hit in what Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie called “probably the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century.”

IN PICTURES: French vineyards ablaze in bid to ward off frosts

The government has promised more than €1 billion in aid for destroyed grapes and other crops.

Based on reported losses so far, the damage could result in up to 15 million fewer hectolitres of wine, a drop of 28 to 30 percent from the average yields over the past five years, the FranceAgriMer agency said.

That would represent €1.5 to €2 billion of lost revenue for the sector, Ygor Gibelind, head of the agency’s wine division, said by videoconference.

It would also roughly coincide with the tally from France’s FNSEA agriculture union.

Prime Minister Jean Castex vowed during a visit to damaged fields in southern France last Saturday that the emergency aid would be made available in the coming days to help farmers cope with the “exceptional situation.”

READ ALSO: ‘We’ve lost at least 70,000 bottles’ – French winemakers count the cost of late frosts