Signs good for fine (and early) French wine crop

Many wine-growing areas are predicting high-quality wines this year due to good weather conditions which have led to early harvests around France.

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Unlike many other crops, hot dry weather does not harm vines - au contraire national estimates are for the volume of grapes to be up by 21% compared to last year (a return to average volumes after a poor 2017 harvest).

Early starts are reported in Burgundy, Beau­jolais, Cham-pagne and Alsace, with growers under pressure as some seasonal workers who usually harvest the grapes were not yet available.

The hot summer is the main reason for an August 20 start in Alsace (it is typically a month later) and some vineyards in nearby Jura also began then.

In an average year hot southern regions like Provence and Corsica start in late August, Bordeaux and Burgundy in mid-September and Champagne and Alsace later in the month.

Burgundy wine representatives the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne said their harvest was set to start at the end of August.

“It is partly to do with the good weather and the heat but more because this year we had an exceptionally early flowering,” said spokeswoman Cécile Mathiaud. She added there were signs of a good concentration of flavours. “We’re very optimistic about the quality.”

Growers in the Berry region in central France were expected to start in late August, up to a month earlier than usual. The August heatwave, after extensive spring rains, meant the grapes were already starting to colour in the first week of August, an exceptional event.

The first Champagne harvests got underway on August 20, with wine body CIVC reporting “a very fine 2018 vintage”. The CIVC has spoken of an “exceptional season” with all the signs being good: the right amount of sun and warmth to ripen the grapes and healthy plants.

In Bordeaux a spokeswoman for the Organisme de Gestion des AOC for Saint Estèphe in the Medoc said the harvest for merlot would start on September 10, however this was not unusually early for their area, she said.

“It was hot due to the heatwave but here we are used to having hot spells most years.

“We are almost always all in full harvest by the second week of September.” Growers there were optimistic for the quality but would not know for sure until they harvested, she said.

The minimum start dates in each AOC area are set, per commune and per grape variety, in a declaration called le ban des vendanges. Partly out of concerns for quality, ensuring grapes are not picked before optimum maturity, the dates are agreed between representatives from the body that oversees a specific AOC, national quality labels body INAO and the local prefecture. However the concept dates from medieval times when local lords would tell their tenant farmers when they could start.

After the start date wine growers pick their grapes at the time that suits them but if, exceptionally, their grapes are ready before the date they can ask for a dérogation (exception) to the rules.

With all the signs set for a good year for many wine appellations, there is also good news from the Cognac sector, with figures showing exports at a record high for the fourth consecutive year.

It now represents a quarter of France’s wine and spirits exports, with a value of €3.2bn. Some 206 million bottles were exported from August 1, 2017 to August 1, 2018, up 8.2%. The rise is linked to increasing demand from China and the US.