As harvest season was just getting underway on August 22, this was the forecast by the French agriculture ministry. But a hot, dry summer promotes quality, sometimes over quantity. Grapes this year often have thick skins and less juice than normal.
A decisive moment
Securing sufficient sugar levels in grape pulp, whilst achieving peak phenolic ripeness (skin tannins), retaining the right amount of freshness (acidity) and complying with any administrative authorisations (publication of official harvest dates) - these are the basic requirements wine growers have to meet. Sometimes, teams of pickers also have to be gathered at the right time because although machines are used, nearly 300,000 contracts with grape pickers are signed every year. Some regions, such as Beaujolais and Champagne, have in fact made hand picking mandatory. Elsewhere, the size of wine estates, the steepness of the terrain or deliberate choices by wine growers make picking by hand a must.
South-East: Picking often started at the end of August in drought conditions. The berries are small and powdery mildew is widespread.
Languedoc-Roussillon: Drought is very prevalent and worsened by drying winds. The berries are very small leading to a forecast 9% volume shortfall, but fruit is healthy.
Loire Valley: Dry weather finally prevented the spread of mildew but frost at the end of April led to delayed canopy growth and above all, a 35% drop in output.
Alsace: A large crop, up 18%, is expected, partly due to low volumes in 2015.
Champagne: A poor spring was responsible for a delay in canopy growth and strong pressure from mildew. Production is expected to fall by 32%. Harvesting is now underway.
France will therefore not rank as the world’s leading wine producer in 2016, even though the 7% drop on the five-year average is relatively marginal. Working with small crops in many wine regions, the wine makers themselves will make all the difference although fruit harvested so far is of a high standard.