Climate Change Is Disrupting Centuries-old Methods Of Winemaking In France

Posted: Nov 06, 2019



In France, climate change is already affecting one of the country's most emblematic industries — winemaking. French vintners say heat, drought and erratic weather are altering the landscape and their centuries-old way of working.

Brothers Remi and Gregoire Couppé are fourth-generation winemakers who craft a top vintage, grand cru St. Emilion. In the past few years they've been confronted with some new challenges. Remi Couppé, 44, says there's no denying the weather is getting hotter and drier.

"Because of the grapes. They show us the change," he says. "Especially in alcohol. The alcohol level has been getting higher in the last five years." These days, the alcohol content by volume can reach 15%, he says; when he was a boy, "it was maximum 12 [% ABV]. It's causing me some problems when I start the vinification process, because I have to use new yeast to avoid too much alcohol. It's really new for me."

The higher alcohol levels come from increased sugar in the grapes because of more sun and heat. What's also new are some of the plants sprouting up between the vines. Couppé picks a flowery-looking weed, holding it up to the blazing sun. "This plant is from the south of Europe and I never saw it here in my life before four years ago."

Couppé says they have to be careful when using the mechanized harvester now, because such plants can get mixed in and add a taste to the grapes.

The brothers say that in the past three years they've stopped a process called "stripping," where most of the vine leaves are removed just before the harvest. Now they need the leaves' shade to keep the grapes from burning on the vine. Couppé points to a shriveled, sun-exposed cluster of grapes next to the dark, plump ones still shaded by the leaves.

Harvest time is also arriving earlier across all French winemaking regions. At Chateau Smith Lafitte in the Graves wine area of Bordeaux, dozens of pickers head into the rows of vines with their buckets and baskets. Vinemaster Nicolas Poumeyrau says it's not just the heat and drought that are causing problems.

"It's the more drastic episodes of weather conditions," he says. "So when it rains, it rains a lot. When it's cold, it's colder maybe a little bit longer, especially in the beginning of spring. So more severe conditions than before."

By Eleanor Beardsley
November 5, 2019 
Source and complete article: NPR.org



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