Winemakers throughout the south of France are reeling from the damage caused by a record setting heatwave. Cries of “Je n’ai jamais vu çà!” (“I’ve never seen that [in all my life]”) are drowning the chant of cicadas that form the usual soundscape of this Mediterranean French winegrowing region.
And they have a lot to be upset about. The intense heat, which peaked on Friday June 29 at a 45.9°C (114.62°F) at Gallargues-le-Montueux and settled in the region for days, has scorched vineyards across the Languedoc and Provence. Sunburned grapes and leaves, shriveled grapes and wilting are all caused by direct sunlight exposure, overheating, and unfavorable moisture/dryness levels. Losses will be extensive for many, with one winemaker I know estimating the volume lost at 60%. And certain parcels are reported at 80% losses.
It is too soon to know whether the losses will be limited to this year’s harvest. There is a risk that damaged vines will perish, whether in the coming days or in the coming months: it remains to be seen whether weakened vines will have enough resources to surmount future conditions, including normal ones. And even if they survive until autumn, they may not have stored enough resources to make it through the winter.
The million-dollar question: is this an isolated, freak event or a sign of things to come as global warming shifts weather patterns? Many winemakers fear the latter. The grapevine is extremely sensitive to climatic conditions, and in many ways is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. This can be seen particularly strongly in the evolution of harvest dates, which are trending earlier and earlier since the late 70’s.
See some of the affects caused by the heatwave I recently took.