France heatwave shrivelled vines

Heatwave blowtorches French vineyards

July 1, 2019
By Alana House

Winemakers in the south of France are reeling after their vines were severely burned by record temperatures.

The mercury in the Gard region hit an all-time high of 45.9C on Friday – hotter than in California’s Death Valley.

“The heatwave has also hit the vineyards of Herault, widespread damage observed,” Jerome Despey, a wine producer in France’s southwestern Herault region and head of the local chamber of agriculture said on Twitter, posting photos of shrivelled grapes.

In a tweet, Despey added that he intended to “activate the emergency unit” at the departmental chamber of agriculture, to get a clearer picture of the damage as soon as possible.

He added: “Vines usually resist heat, but with the levels reached on Friday, winemaking is paying a large price. This is something that I have never lived through. I have been a winemaker for 30 years. I have never seen a vine burned by a heatwave like this; it’s impressive.”

Shrivalled grapes France heatwave

Despey said that small wildfires across the Gard had also wreaked havoc for several farmers and winemakers.

Languedoc Roussillon winery Le Chai d’Émilien posted photographs of its shrivelled vines on Facebook (main) and wrote: “Today is a day of suffering for us winemakers. In the last 48 hours, the fire of the sky went down on our work tool, totally destroying a part of our harvest, without distinction. Mother Nature is putting us back to the test.”

Motpellier Winemaker Catherine Bernard told Yahoo News she blamed global warming: “It’s a warning.

“If we cannot grow them in the south of France, we must accept that we cannot grow anything else here either and that humans are no longer in their rightful place here.”

Emilien Fournel, a winemaker in Sussargues, told Yahoo News he estimates he lost half of his 35-hectare harvest.

“We’ve never seen the like of it,” he said.

The vines on the edges of his vineyard, as well as those on higher ground, looked like they’d been hit by lightning, with the leaves singed and shrivelled.

Meanwhile, winemaker Catherine Bernard from Montpellier blamed global warming: “”It’s a warning. It’s a red card telling us to reassess the way we have been living these past 50 years.”

However, winemakers in the southwest Bordeaux region welcomed the heat as a remedy for mildew left over after a wet spring.

“Two of three days of heatwave in Bordeaux at this time, it’s magic!” Philippe Bardet, head of the Bordeaux Wine Council, told AFP at the onset of the so-called Saharan bubble.

Heat comes after devastating frosts

In May, winemakers were using helicopters and fire used to protect delicate buds from late frosts

“We had to do it,” Philippe Raoux, owner of Château d’Arsac, told news website 20 Minutes. “At 6:22 this morning [Sunday], it was -2°C and the three helicopters did their job well, even though the effectiveness of the operation will not be measured for three to four days.

Two years ago, the estate lost 90% of its harvest when five days of frost ravaged vineyards across large parts of the country.

“We didn’t hesitate because we didn’t harvest in 2017, we didn’t want to take any risks,” Raoux said.

“It’s scary, for the last four or five years, we’ve had a sword of Damocles over our heads because of the climate change and there’s not much we can do about it.”

Several vineyards in the Bergerac wine region of Dordogne lit fires between their vines in a bid to keep the frost off.

“These periods of spring frost are a real anguish for me,” Sylvie de Bosredon of Château Belingard de Pomport, told France Bleu. “A time of panic, of terror. We don’t want to relive what we experienced two years ago, in 2017, when we lost all our crops because of the frost.”

Meanwhile, in the Alsace region, winemakers laid down straw bales to set on fire in case the mercury fell below zero and threatened to freeze grape buds.

“If the sun hits frozen buds, there will be a magnifying effect, it will then burn. The harvest may be compromised,” Thibault Specht, a winegrower in Mittelwihr, told France 3.

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