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Fri May 27 02:27:10 SAST 2016

Climate change: French wine growers could be over a barrel

AFP | 23 March, 2016 06:40
Woman holding bunches of grapes.
Image by: Thinkstock

Climate change has pushed French wines into uncharted territory, and could force producers to relocate or abandon the grapes that helped to make their vineyards famous, scientists say.

Since 1980, growing conditions in northern climes such as Champagne and Burgundy, as well as in sun-drenched Bordeaux, have fundamentally changed the "harvest equation" that defined these storied regions, they reported in Nature Climate Change.

"For much of France, local climates have been relatively stable for hundreds or thousands of years," said Elizabeth Wolkovich, co-author of the study. "But that is shifting with climate change."

Many ingredients go into great winemaking: soil, grape variety, slope, exposure to the sun, along with savoir faire in the vineyards and the cellar.

But exceptional vintages have historically also required an early harvest produced by abundant spring rains, hot summers and a late-season drought.

Droughts helped heighten temperatures just enough to bring in the harvest a few weeks early, said lead author Benjamin Cook.

"Now, it's become so warm thanks to climate change, grape growers don't need drought to get these very warm temperatures," Cook said.

Using records dating back to 1,600, Cook and Wolkovich found harvest dates had moved up by two full weeks since 1980 compared to the average for the preceding 400 years.

"If we keep pushing the heat up, vineyards can't maintain that forever," said Wolkovich.

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