Changement climatique : quel avenir pour nos vignes ?

Climate change: what future for our vines?

“Exceptional” climatic events , such as frost or heatwave, are increasing , and will perhaps one day even become common. The climate is becoming hotter and hotter , and above all less and less stable . These climatic events will have consequences on the vines and vineyards of France and the world. So, what future for vines in this context of climate change?

What role does climate change play?

First of all, the increase in temperature impacts the vineyards. In fact, winters are generally getting milder and summers are getting hotter. This notably leads to anticipation of all stages of vine development . Compared to the 1980s, the bud burst period (period when the buds open and release the first leaves) has moved forward by one week. The harvest period, and therefore the maturity of the grapes, has advanced by two to three weeks since the 1980s.

The second major element that presents a risk for our vines is the change in rainfall . Indeed, increasingly high temperatures cause an increasingly greater need for water for the vines, without being able to meet this need. The vines are then faced with a water deficit, particularly in the south of France.

Then, extreme phenomena , previously exceptional, multiply. Heatwaves, heatstroke or even torrential rains can destroy vines and soil. Frost episodes, for their part, should decrease, but they could also arrive a little later. As budburst occurs earlier, the vines will potentially be more vulnerable to these late frost episodes. As for heat stroke, they are also dangerous. In June 2019, in Gard and Hérault, the temperature was above 46°C for several hours. These high temperatures can roast the leaves and bunches and completely destroy the harvest. The problem with these episodes is that they are increasingly unpredictable.

Finally, the last element which impacts wine production brings together all the impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity . The mushrooms, the surrounding landscapes, the increasing fires... all of this affects the wine.

What impacts on wine?

The first impact of climate change on wine, and the easiest to understand, is yield . Rising temperatures, or even drought, associated with a lack of water do not allow the berries to fully develop: the grapes are smaller, and therefore give less juice.

Contrary to what one might think at first glance, climate change also has significant consequences on the taste and therefore the quality of wine . The climate impacts the composition of the grape itself: the sugar level in the berries increases, while the amount of malic acid decreases. The higher the sugar level, the higher the alcohol level . In the 1980s, wines produced in Languedoc had an average alcohol content of 11%, while today the average is 14%. Of course, this increase in alcohol levels is not completely linked to climate change, but experts estimate that half of it is.

Which regions are most impacted?

For the moment, in France, the South is the region most impacted by climate change . The Mediterranean climate of the Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence regions, characterized by mild winters, dry summers and heavy rains, will become more pronounced. Winegrowers will have to adapt to maintain the vineyards. Some winegrowers already know the levers and practice certain techniques to limit the consequences of climate change.

The South-West regions could ultimately switch to a Mediterranean-type climate. Winegrowers will therefore have no other choice but to adapt. The eastern and northeastern regions, such as Alsace, will also see their temperatures increase sharply.

The Bordeaux region, for its part, due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, should not experience too strong a change in temperatures. However, episodes of heavy hail are expected to become more frequent.

Other regions will perhaps see the potential to plant vines . Brittany for example, with a projection of +3 to +4°C by 2070 could become a wine-producing land. The first Breton vineyards could thus see the light of day quickly. England, Germany or even Poland and Russia could also become wine-growing lands and produce more wine.

However, certain wine-growing regions could eventually disappear... The South of Spain could experience climatic conditions making vine cultivation and wine production more and more difficult.

What are the adaptation levers?

Changes in grape varieties are being studied and will surely be expected. Winegrowers will have to change direction and favor grape varieties that are more resistant to drought and later, to fight against the advance of the stages of development of the vine, and to postpone the harvest. Ultimately, it may be necessary to turn to grape varieties from other wine-growing regions, or even other countries. Climate change risks upsetting our system of protected designations of origin (AOP and AOC), which is closely linked to the grape varieties and practices of each terroir.

Another adaptation lever would also be to modify the density of the vines . With a lower density, the vine has access to more water. This will nevertheless have the disadvantage of significantly reducing the yield per hectare. And particularly in regions like Burgundy where the price per hectare is very high.

Winegrowers will surely have to review their soil management , in order to strengthen water retention . This is already the case in Santorini, for example, which is a wine-growing region with very low rainfall. The vines are at ground level and in a “crown cup” configuration which allows water to be collected in the volcanic soil, and ensures better retention and redistribution of humidity.

Agroforestry can also be a solution. This method of exploitation consists of combining trees on the edge or even in the middle of a plot of vines. Trees play a very effective buffer against climate change.

We talk a lot about vines, but we can also imagine changes in oenological methods . It may be necessary to remove alcohol, acidify the wine, or even use yeasts, which are less effective in transforming sugar into alcohol but more effective in developing certain aromas.

In conclusion

Overall, in France, by 2070 - 2100, we will be able to continue producing wine . It's good news ! And this, even in the South of France, even if winegrowers will have to adapt because they will not be able to maintain their current yield. Compensating for the drop in yield will surely initially result in a better valuation of the wine and therefore an increase in price.

But one thing is certain: you have to prepare... changes are to be expected!

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