France gears up for early harvest

A number of French regions are facing the prospect of an historically early start to the harvest this year, with several key regions beginning to pick this week, after one of the warmest springs on record and with a big crop to bring in.

As was reported last week, Alsace has announced its harvest is likely to begin in earnest by the end of the month and several other regions seem as though they will largely be following suit this week, with some having started already.

Bordeaux meanwhile is currently on track to be harvesting 15 days earlier than the five year average with picking for the whites starting this week and early September for the reds. The loire is also harvesting earlier than last year.

Frédéric Drouhin, managing director of Maison Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy, said that the harvest there was likely to start this week on 20 August.

He said the Chardonnays were looking ready, “showing lovely golden hues” but the high temperatures were causing problems for the Pinot Noir.

“The high mercury in recent days has caused rapid wilting of the vines, more pronounced for the Pinot Noir. The bunch weight is falling and the sugar content is increasing while the acidity is constant,” he said.

Up in Champagne, Vitalie Taittinger, CEO of the eponymous Champagne house, also announced that harvesting would begin on the 19/20 August [just now confirmed as the 20th], starting in the Aube which was the “most developed area.”

Elsewhere, she continued: “In Marne, the harvests will proceed a little later with a noticeable difference between varieties: the Chardonnays in Côte des Blancs may be ready by around 22 August before we end on a high note in Montagne de Reims and its Pinots.”

Down in the Northern Rhône, meanwhile, Nicolas Jaboulet, reported that matters were not quite as urgent. He predicted that harvesting of the white varieties would likely begin during the week of 24-29 August and the reds a little later.

Of the three he was the only one to report any significant challenges during the growing season, with high mildew pressure at the start of the season, high and unpredictable winds, powdery mildew pressure halfway through, high temperatures and the threat of sunburn on the grapes.

All of his parcels, whether planted on limestone, granite or pebbles are, he said, “parched”.

“The vineyards have turned into a kind of desert,” he said. “There’s no movement at all during the day, but fortunately the nights aren’t too hot and the plants are able to breathe by drinking up the occasional shower and the smattering of morning dew. While the plant’s lower leaves are dry and yellow, the upper leaves on the vines continue to play their photosynthetic role and the grapes are growing more and more each day.”

Despite all of this, he added that if 2020 reaches it full potential, it could be one “we end up talking fondly about for many years to come”.

The French Ministry of Agriculture meanwhile has predicted that, bar any last minute disasters, the 2020 harvest could see an increase of 6% to 8% on volumes brought in last year.

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