“We were surprised, [las uvas] They started to ripen very quickly in the last few days.”explained Francois Capdellayre, president of the Dom Brial wine cooperative in Baixas, near Perpignan (southeast).
“Never in thirty years have I started my harvest on August 9,” said Jérôme Despey, owner in the L’Hérault region.
The grape dries up
Like many other farmers, French winegrowers have been gradually adapting to the new climatic reality.
But this year’s exceptional drought, with a month of July that broke the previous record of 1961and heat spikes have sped things up.
Only 10% of French vineyards use artificial irrigation systems, which can be very expensive or very complicated to install.
Vines are particularly resistant plants, whose roots penetrate deep into the ground in search of water.
Historically, winegrowers prefer the sun to excess rain because water stress favors the level of sugar in the grape. And the rains outside the natural cycle of spring causes the appearance of fungi.
But the current situation exceeds expectations.
When water is excessively scarce, the vine protects itself by losing leaves and ceasing to supply nutrients to the grapes, which interrupts their development.
“Not a drop of water has fallen in two months”explained in Alsace Gilles Ehrhart, president of the regional association of winegrowers.
“We are going to have a very, very small harvest,” predicts this veteran farmer.
When the temperature exceeds 38º C, “the grape dries up, loses volume and quality suffers” he explains.
The sugar level becomes excessive and this causes an alcohol level “too high for consumers,” adds Pierre Champetier, president of the Protected Designation of Origin of the Ardeche region, south of Lyon.
Champetier started picking the grapes last Monday. “40 years ago we started around September 20”he explained.