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FOOD & DRINK

Reader Question: Will French wine taste smoky this year after the wildfires?

After a summer marked by wildfires in France, wine fans across the world are curious whether there will be impacts on Bordeaux wines, many of which found themselves in dangerously close proximity to the flames.

Reader Question: Will French wine taste smoky this year after the wildfires?
A aerial view taken on July 29, 2022 shows burnt vegetation in forest areas after wildfires near Landiras, southwestern France. (Photo by Thibaud MORITZ / AFP)

Question: We all saw the pictures of the wildfires that hit France this summer and many of them were in wine-growing regions like Bordeaux – so will this affect how 2022 wines taste?

Wildfires in France reached record levels during the summer of 2022, with over 62,000 hectares having burned – six times the annual average 2006-2021, according to EFFIS data.  

The fires that ravaged the largest spates of land were located close to wine capital, Bordeaux. In Gironde, the major fires in La Teste-de Buch and Landiras destroyed 7000 and 21,200 hectares respectively. Of the 65 Bordeaux appellations, several exist in the South Gironde area, which was particularly affected by the fires. 

The Liber Pater estate – which produces the most expensive wine in the world – came close to being engulfed in flames during the July Landiras fire, but was saved thanks to a firewall that proved effective. 

Even though the vineyards survived the flames, oenologists and wine fans alike were worried about another threat: the possibility that 2022 vintages would carry a ‘smoky’ taste or otherwise taste different to normal. 

It is a known phenomenon that too much smoke can impact the taste of wine, as was demonstrated by 2021 vintages from California. Several had a distinct smoky taste, which many saw as ‘ruining the wine.’

Olivier Bernard, who manages, the Domaine de Chevalier estate, in Pessac-Léognan, told BFMTV that “the impact of too much smoke is not a myth.” 

So will French wine taste smoky this year?

Most likely not. While some say it is not possible to know for sure yet, the majority of wine experts believe that French wine will be spared from smoky flavouring this year. 

Vineyards got lucky – the prevailing winds came from the north, blowing the smoke away from the grapes and further toward the south. Additionally, the fires occurred while the grapes were still at the early stages of the ripening process. This means that the grapes did not have enough sugar for the molecules from the smoke to contaminate them, which would have led to a smoky taste.

If the fires had happened later in the ripening process, the results would likely have been different.

At the conference at the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences, near Bordeaux, on August 30th, experts tested the hypothesis that Bordeaux wine would be spared. They conducted over 400 tests to see whether the known compounds that cause a ‘taste of smoke’ in wine were present.

“We winegrowers are not at all worried,” said Dominique Guignard, the president of the Graves AOC, at the conference, adding that “we have a vintage that looks exceptional” in 2022.

Vincent Renouf, the head of the Excell laboratory involved in the testing, told TF1 that the “first analytical results [were] reassuring” and that the potentially contaminating compounds remain at “levels below the threshold of theoretical perception.”

However, further analyses will need to be carried out after the wine ferments to be certain. 

Are there any other worries?

The summer of 2022 has been an unusually hot one – the second hottest summer ever recorded in France – and many wine-growers had to begin their harvests earlier than usual.

This follows the general trend of the climate crisis, which is that the south of France is getting hotter and wine-makers are having to adapt their methods.

There were many reports of grapes shrivelled by the drought and the scorching temperatures so it’s likely that the grape harvest will be smaller than usual, so although the wine might taste good, there’s likely to be less of it.

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CULTURE

Victoria Beckham caps French makeover with Paris debut

Having turned to French experts to overhaul her struggling business, Victoria Beckham is seeking the highest validation of the fashion world with her first runway show in Paris on Friday.

Victoria Beckham caps French makeover with Paris debut

The former Spice Girl, 48 – who has been away from the catwalk for two years – joins Paris Fashion Week after a long stint presenting her clothes in New York and a brief dalliance with London.

Her sophisticated office and evening wear has been a surprise hit with fashionistas ever since her debut show in 2008, confounding those who expected her to be another celebrity dilettante.

But despite having 250 global outlets selling her clothes, 30 million followers on Instagram and one of the most famous husbands in the world, Beckham’s company has always struggled to turn a profit.

In a bid to turn things around, she has recruited top French talent: her chairman is Ralph Toledano, ex-president of the French Federation for Haute Couture and Fashion, and her CEO is Marie Leblanc de Reynies, former lead buyer at Paris shopping mecca Printemps.

“Victoria is not from the fashion world. She threw herself into the business and at a certain point, she needed to structure, organise and bring some order to the house, which is what we’ve been doing for the past four years,” Toledano told AFP.

Chic evening wear was always going to struggle during the pandemic, and reports this summer showed the label had €54 million in debt, and had to cut prices and staff to stay afloat.

But a successful cosmetics line, launched in 2019, has helped trim losses, and the team hopes to break even in the coming months.

Beckham has called her personal fame a “double-edged sword” for the business.

“Are other brands under the scrutiny that mine is under every time we file (results)? Absolutely not,” she told Vogue.

“But how many other brands have the luxury of getting the attention when they want it?”

Her team is upbeat: “We’ve defined a strategy, combined two pret-a-porter lines, found the right price-point… now it’s time to enter the big league,” said Toledano.

That means Paris — throwing Beckham into the loftiest and most scrutinised of fashion weeks.

“She’s a bit intimidated, she’s someone very humble,” said Toledano.

“There’s a lot of expectation. For someone who entered fashion without training, there’s a hope that Paris will be a sort of crowning moment,” he added.

Paris Fashion Week is a way for Beckham to validate her status “as a designer and not just a celebrity,” said Benjamin Simmenauer, a professor at the French Institute of Fashion.

London and New York are more focused on the commercial side of the business, as well as “audacious young designers”, while Paris “has a more creative and historical” side, Simmenauer told AFP.

It was a chance for her to shed the last of her image as an ex-Spice Girl, he added.

“Presenting in Paris is proof that she is truly dedicated to the project, not just trading on her past and present celebrity… that she has an original and relevant vision.”

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