Burgundy’s current generation of winemakers are facing hotter, drier summers more often than their predecessors, says a new study examining climate and harvest data back to 1354.
‘Outstanding hot and dry years in the past were outliers, while they have become the norm since the transition to rapid warming in 1988,’ said researchers writing in the journal of the European Geosciences Union.
Warmer temperatures have led to earlier harvesting dates across Côte d’Or vineyards, they said.
‘From 1354 to 1987, grapes were on average picked from 28 September,’ said the researchers, which analysed and cross-checked harvest data for Beaune stretching back nearly 700 years.
‘During the last 31-year-long period of rapid warming from 1988 to 2018, harvests began 13 days earlier.’
The study follows a summer of record-breaking temperatures across much of France.
The researchers drew a link between a higher frequency of hotter, drier summers in Burgundy in the last decade and melting Alpine glaciers.
They also reported a correlation between early harvest dates and ‘high pressure over western–central Europe and atmospheric blocking over Denmark’, which they said was associated with high temperatures.
Heat spikes don’t always mean early harvests
Intense heat doesn’t always mean an early harvest, however, as many winemakers know.
‘The most outstanding heat and drought years were not necessarily the earliest in the ranking of harvest dates,’ said the researchers.
‘It is concluded that grape development slowed down or even stopped during very long rainless periods and extreme maximum temperatures, such as in 1540 and 1473,’ they said.
Harvesting in Burgundy in 2019 has already begun for grapes that will produce Crémant de Bourgogne sparkling wines, but the main harvest was due to get underway around mid-September.
A spokesperson for the Burgundy wine bureau, the BIVB, told Decanter.com that much of the grape picking for still wines was expected to start from Monday 9 September, although some growers would begin sooner.
Harvest in the Côte de Nuits was expected to begin between 12 and 15 September.
France was expecting a 12% drop in its wine harvest size in 2019, due to a mixture of extreme weather conditions, from sunburnt grapes to frost in several areas, according to the latest government forecast.