Vinexpo 2019 – Act for change

Copyright BIVB Michel Joly
Copyright BIVB (Michel Joly)

A symposium on climate change and impact on the world’s vineyards marked the 20th edition of Vinexpo that was held in Bordeaux from 13-16 May 2019, reports the Bordeaux based wine professional Brinda Bourhis for Drinks & Destinations. 

The topic is constantly in the news; just a week before the opening of Vinexpo, we saw frosts that hit the Bordeaux and Cognac vineyards. During the fair itself, the leading Sauternes estate Chateau d’Yquem announced they are undergoing conversion to biodynamic viticulture. Chateau Latour 1st GCC growth was officially certified organic in 2018.

7.5 million hectares of vines are planted in the world, 10 000 grape varieties exist, 820 litres of wine is produced per second* – the world of wines and spirits is very sensitive to climate change. (*source OIV)

If we take just the Nouvelle Aquitaine region (which includes Bordeaux and Cognac) this represents 54 000 jobs in wine. Thousands of people whose actions can have a major impact on the environment at all levels.

Michel Jarraud, Scientist at the World Meteorological Organisation said at the symposium “We now have scientific proof that humans are responsible for global warming. Government bodies are reacting, for example with the Cop 21 Paris – an agreement that set out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. It is urgent to act now”

Although vines are adaptable, and for hundreds of years they have gone through dramatic climate change, the question is will they be able to continue to resist in the years to come or moreover will humans be able to resist?

Champagne Taittinger bought a vineyard in southern England a few years ago – is this sign that in several decades it will be too hot to produce champagne in the area of Reims?

What about other key wine regions in France, what is their approach to this major issue of climate change? Below are just some examples of what Bordeaux, Burgundy and Cotes du Rhone are doing to continue to produce quality wines while protecting the environment at the same time.

Allan Sichel – President of the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB)

photo credit JBNadeau_Vinexpo_2019_0268 - Allan Sichel President CIVB
photo credit JBNadeau_Vinexpo_2019_0268 – Allan

Allan Sichel simply compared the increase in the globe’s temperatures to how a human would react to such change. “ If our body temperature increases by 1% we can just about get around. If it increases by 2% we become very sick, we have to stay in bed and it can even be lethal”.

It is clear that for Mr Sichel, the subject of climate change is a priority for the CIVB.

2 million euros has been invested in research. The key points in the sustainability programme are as follows:

  • Monitoring current grape varieties in extreme weather conditions (for example the late frost that damaged a large proportion of the Bordeaux vineyards in April 2017). The CIVB are looking into how to adapt viticulture in this context
  • Testing of new rootstocks and the creation of new grape varieties that are more suited to extreme weather
  • Adapting viticultural practices today – e.g.. Revising pruning dates, nighttime harvesting in hot summers, shorter maceration periods…
  • Measuring carbon footprint: in 2013 it was reduced by 9% in the vineyards of Bordeaux, the objective is to reduce by 20% in 2025

The CIVB is also helping producers to act responsibly by following the Environmental Management System. This outlines a set of processes and practices that enable an organization to reduce its environmental impacts and increase its operating efficiency.

Philippe Pellaton – President of the Cotes du Rhone

“10 years ago, it was quite complicated to encourage producers to act to protect the environment, today this is no longer an issue. Everyone in the wine sector is totally aware of the urgency to adapt their winemaking and viticultural practices” stated Mr Pellaton.

For the Cotes du Rhone that is composed of 6000 winegrowers covering 55 000 hectares, several initiatives have been undertaken such as :

  • Reduction of weed killers in the vines with the objective of zero utilisation by 2024
  • Obligation for all estates to obtain HEV (High Environmental Value) level 3 by 2030
  • Help promote organic wines, 10% of Cotes du Rhone estates are organic.
  • Biodiversity development in the vineyards: planting hedges, introducing beehives…
  • Communication to the general consumers on the efforts made by producers in favour of biodiversity by affixing stickers on bottles.

Jean-Philippe Gervais, Quality and Technical Director for the Burgundy Wine Council (BIVB)”

“First of all, the Burgundians are not seeking to change their grape varieties facing climate change. Burgundy is home to Pinot noir and Chardonnay, and this will not change” clarifies Mr Gervais.

4 years ago the BIVB put into place a sustainability plan called ‘Bourgogne Plan 2020’.

Intense research is in process in partnership with the University of Wine (Bordeaux) for example on rootstocks that show resistance to extreme climatic conditions rather than seeking to plan new grape varieties.

The BIVB also aim to control carbon footprint which is an issue in Burgundy not only due to machinery in vines and cellars, but also due to high wine tourism. Thousands of visitors come every year to visit this famous wine region. Whilst tourism can generate employment and publicity, it also leads to an increase in carbon (tourism buses, energy consumption…)

Like other wine regions in France, the Burgundy Wine Council is encouraging domaines to obtain an environmental certification. 8-9% wineries are certified organic in Burgundy.

In terms of research, Mr Gervais explained that the BIVB are working with the Champagne region on studies to see how pinot noir and chardonnay (common to both regions) can be more resistant to disease such as mildew and powdery mildew.

These are just some examples on the measures being taken in three major wine regions in France. Elsewhere in the world, whether it be the vineyards in Australia, Spain, China or even India, the threats of the changing environment cannot be ignored. As discussed by experts during the Vinexpo Symposium it is time to act responsibly, to cooperate on a global level and more importantly for change to happen now, not in 10 or even 20 years’ time, when it might be just too late.

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