French harvest down on 2007

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  • Wednesday 10 September 2008

The 2008 harvest in France will be smaller than in 2007, due to poor weather conditions and an ongoing uprooting programme.

Haut-Brion white harvest

This year’s crop will be 5% down on 2007, according to the National Fruit, Vegetable, Wine and Horticultural Office (Viniflhor) which predicts the quantity of the harvest throughout the growing season.

Viniflhor initially predicted a harvest of 45.8m hectolitres (hl). This was recently revised in its ‘state of the vineyards’ report, after rain and hail storms fell on the majority of regions throughout France in July and August.

The organisation now expects the harvest to produce 43.6m hectolitres (hl).

Last year’s yield (46.5m hl) was already low in comparision to the national average of around 55m hl.

As well as what Francoise Brugiere, head of the Viniflhor studies division, calls the ‘health and weather factor’, ongoing uprooting programmes, ordered by Brussels to counter overproduction in the 1980s and reinstated in 2005, continue to dent production.

‘We’ve been uprooting 14,000 hectares (ha) per year, which represents 800,000 hectolitres,’ she told news agency AFP.

The poor weather, however, remains the most influential factor on the harvest.

‘From Bordeaux to Provence, freezing conditions hit the vineyards on the night of the 6-7 April – a critical period when the buds were very vulnerable. The Nantes region was also severely hit,’ said Brugiere.

In later-ripening regions such as Champagne, Burgundy and Alsace, grape development was not at a stage where the vines could be affected. In the Rhone, precocious conditions meant most vineyards had already passed the critical phase of development and were also unaffected.

However, damp weather throughout the summer months has plagued vineyards across the country.

Both Bordeaux and Languedoc-Roussillon are expected to produce around 7% and 2% less AOC wines than last year respectively.

In Bordeaux, top producers have battled all year against the elements and have lost a large amount of fruit in the process.

‘You can’t say we’re drowning under grapes,’ said Rémi Edange, assistant manager at Domaine de Chevalier in Bordeaux’s Pessac-Leognan region. ‘It’s been a vintage where winegrowers have had to be very thourough, very precise and not let go.’

Edange said that health-wise, his grapes were in perfect condition, but that he would have to wait 10 more days before beginning the harvest. He also hinted that 2008 would not be a great vintage.

‘A great vintage is where there is nothing to do,’ he said.

The Rhone has also been hit by the weather.

‘In the Rhone Valley, Grenache and Syrah, the main varieties, carry less grapes than usual,’ said the report. ‘Grenache was greatly affected by rains and temperature fluctuation. Vegetation, where it has been protected from mildew, black rot and oidium, has remained active up until recently, thwarting maturation.’

The 2008 Rhone harvest is expected to be the latest vintage of the last 30 years, although ‘a degradation of the health of the grapes could accelerate their picking, especially in the Rhone Valley which was hit by heavy rains since the end of August and in the first week in September,’ added the report.

Regions that can boast a decent 2008 so far include Alsace and the Jura (‘situation: satisfactory’), Champagne (‘under control’), and Burgundy (‘appears satisfactory’).

Although Viniflhor also said that sunny weather at the end of the growing season will determine the quality of the vintage, some areas including the Languedoc-Roussillon and Bordeaux, have already started picking.

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