Helpline set-up for ‘traumatised’ mildew-hit Bordeaux winemakers
A helpline has been set up by the local agricultural body in Bordeaux to help “traumatised” winegrowers deal with the devastating impact of a second bout of mildew.
According to The Telegraph, the French authorities felt the hotline was necessary due to the impact of two spells of humidity which have hit the wine-growing areas of Bordeaux, hitting Merlot and red varieties in particular.
The publication spoke to Nicolas Morain from MSA Gironde, the local department of France’s agricultural social mutual organisation, who has been working on the line since it launched on Wednesday.
He said there were calls from people “who are really in distress” and one of the grape-grower’s wives had called him in tears. Some of the operators on the line are social workers, it said, and those requiring professional help are directed to psychologists.
“Some have lost everything already.” he said, “We have never seen this – mildew spared no one this year” and that some wine-growers were even considering their careers due to the mildew, and it was “very traumatic” for those trying to control it.
Last year, the “extreme climate events” also hit the vineyards, which led to some “significant losses in some cases”, and yields of AOC wine produced roughly 11% below the ten year averages, at 4.1 million hectolitres.
The extremely hot, dry and sunny weather last summer produced a great Bordeaux vintage for 2022 though, according to the official vintage report by the CIVB said, partly as a result of vignerons building greater resilience into the vineyard, but volumes were lower than average.
This year, a statement by the Chamber of Agriculture Gironde agreed with this prognosis of 2023 challenges, saying some “winegrowers have lost everything already,” and it had “never seen this – mildew spared no one this year.”
Another winegrower told broadcaster France 3 that they had “never known a year like this” and Allan Sichel, president of the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) said that the mildew meant for grape-growers that despite all the hard work, “they can lose complete control”.
But Sichel was more optimistic as the analysis was of just 86 lots, although he agreed that the “unprecedented” weather made it much less reliable and predictable as the past.
The news, comes after a first wave of mildew which dried out, but this second tranche hit the area in the final week of June, when significant rainfall was followed by warm weather and a lack of wind, has caused issues.
Head of the Cérons Winegrowers’ Union, Aurélia Souchal-Caumont told French publication, Vitisphere, that there was high levels of humidity and it wasn’t drying out.
It remains to be seen with variable weather if the disease will progress onto the stalks of bunches and if it can be ultimately contained, consultants have said.
According to Souchal-Caumont, red grape varieties were the worst impacted by the weather, in particular Merlot, and the publication said that growers had said some plots were already lost to mildew — although it remains to be seen if the disease will progress into the final part of the growing season pre-harvest.
In June 2022, Olivier Bernard, director of Domaine de Chevalier, said “global warming has been good for Bordeaux – the worst is in front of us.”
He warned wine producers would have to “learn to put the foot on the break” and winemakers in Bordeaux would have to reconsider their mix of grapes to continue to make balanced wines if temperatures continue to rise, while noting that the future of whites from the region could be under threat.
“A warm terroir with 60-70% Merlot is already too much: Merlot was great when Bordeaux was looking for maturity,” he said, referring to the fact this grape ripens earlier than the other major grape in the region: Cabernet Sauvignon.