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‘Unprecedented’ French heatwave affects vineyard work

Vineyard workers have faced extra-early starts as France braces for an ‘unprecedented’ June heatwave that also looks set to sweep across much of western Europe.

French officials have issued a public health alert ahead of expected record June temperatures, set to hit 45 degrees Celsius in southern areas.

Exams have been postponed and designated ‘cool rooms’ were being opened in public buildings as authorities seek to prioritise vulnerable citizens, mindful of the 2003 heatwave that killed thousands of people, particularly the elderly.

In the vineyards, work schedules are being adapted to cope.

‘Members of my team in the vineyards have to start very early in the morning before dawn and need to finish before noon before the heat becomes unbearable,’ said Antoine Malassagne, winemaker and fourth generation co-owner at Champagne AR Lenoble.

It’s a similar story in Burgundy. Domaine Faiveley has asked teams to work from 5am until midday latest, according to Erwan Faiveley, the seventh generation of the family to run the domaine. ‘We try to be as accommodating as we can. Bodies are suffering under those conditions,’ he told Decanter.com.

In nearby Chablis, France’s BFMTV reported vineyard workers beginning shifts up to four hours earlier than normal to avoid the worst of the heat.

Impact on vineyards

Faiveley said he did not expect a major impact on vines, because the heatwave was forecast to be short-lived.

Malassagne said, ‘A heatwave later in the season – in July but especially in August – is more problematic as it creates the possibility of water stress, as well as l’échaudage des raisins – where the grapes are scorched by the sun.’

Back in Burgundy, Domaine AF Gros winemaker Mathias Parent said that heatwaves at this time of year could reduce disease risk in the vineyard.

But, he added that prolonged hot weather could also dry out soils and raise the risk of ‘dieback’ for vines grafted onto rootstock ‘161-49’, which is widely used in several French regions and susceptible to ‘thyllosis’ – where sap becomes blocked.

More frequent heatwaves

Weather group Météo-France has called the predicted heatwave ‘unprecedented for June’ based on records dating back to 1947.

It said that only a heatwave in 2005 between 18 and 28 June came close to present conditions.

Both 2017 and 2015 saw heatwaves in June and July respectively and Météo-France said that such spates of hot weather have arrived twice as often in the last 34 years, versus the period of records before that.

It predicted that heatwave frequency would double again by 2050 and emphasised the need to control carbon emissions.


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