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France kicks off plan to grub up nearly 9% of Bordeaux vineyard

France has kicked off a plan to grub up nearly 9% of vineyards in Bordeaux, with winemakers able to file for aid from 20 November for a period of one month.

The plan provides for as much as €67m in aid for winemakers, the French agriculture ministry said in a statement on Monday. Shrinking the vineyard may help bring production in line with lower exports and falling domestic consumption, according to Stéphane Gabard, head of the AOC Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur wine syndicate.

Some growers in Bordeaux have stopped tending to vineyards that are no longer economically viable, and Bordeaux’s wine bureau, the CIVB, estimates 2,000 to 3,000ha of vines have been abandoned. Abandoned parcels can be reservoirs for the spread of diseases such as flavescence dorée, creating a need to grub up the vines as a preventive measure.

‘Winemakers who want to quit often decide not to grub up their vines due to a lack of funding, which multiplies the health problems,’ Gabard told Decanter. ‘Flavescence dorée isn’t picky about its vineyards. Even if the grand crus are doing well, the disease has an appetite for all the vines.’

Winemakers will be eligible for €6,000 per hectare in aid, either to help pay for uprooting their entire vineyard, or to convert part of their wine property to other agricultural activities.

The European Commission approved the aid plan earlier this month, after a preliminary phase to gauge the interest of Bordeaux winemakers. Winemakers will be able to file their aid request until December 20, according to the Gironde region, and Gabard said they should receive the first approvals to start grubbing up vines early January.

The government received around 1,000 preliminary demands for aid to grub up a total 9,300ha of vines, compared with Bordeaux’s total vineyard area of 108,000ha. Among the demands, 300 growers were looking to stop growing wine grapes entirely, according to Sara Briot-Lesage, a spokesperson for the CIVB.

The plan includes financing for uprooting as many as 9,500ha of vines, and lower-than-expected volumes this year may prompt some more winemakers to apply for the aid, according to Gabard. Bordeaux’s production of wines with a protected designation of origin is forecast to fall 7.7% this year from 2022, after vineyards were ravaged by downy mildew, according to estimates from the agriculture ministry.

Demands to grub up vines came from the regional Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations, as well as Médoc, Côtes de Bordeaux and Côtes de Bourg, Gabard said. Growers who receive aid to uproot their vineyard won’t be allowed to plant vines on the cleared land for 20 years.

Wine property prices in some of the Bordeaux appellations have fallen in recent decades, according to data from Safer, France’s rural property agency. The price for a hectare of vines in the regional Bordeaux appellation fell 30% in the decade through to 2022, while the average price of French wine property rose 15% in that same period.

Two-thirds of Bordeaux’s winegrowers are more than 55 years old, according to Gabard. Many may want to retire, but don’t have a successor or the possibility to rent out their land, and can’t find a buyer for their vines, he said.

Winemakers in Bordeaux are struggling with falling exports to China and changing consumption patterns in France, as well as the past impact of US taxes on wine, the Covid-19 pandemic and now inflation. The region also suffered a succession of weather impacts in recent years, with growers facing everything from frost and excess humidity to drought and hail.

‘In Bordeaux, we haven’t had a normal harvest since 2017,’ Gabard said. ‘We can see that in a year with normal weather, our production capacity is far greater than our ability to market.’

Gabard is considering applying for aid to grub up 20% to 25% of his vineyard of about 40ha, after he lost some merchant buyers.

‘When you don’t have a market, you sell on the bulk market, and the prices there are no longer covering costs,’ Gabard said. ‘I’m going to reduce my production potential to what I can sell.’

Gabard hasn’t yet decided what he would replace his vines with, though he said some colleagues are planning to cultivate saffron or kiwis, while others plan to hold livestock or grow grain.

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