France expects lowest grape yield in two decades
France’s wine producers start harvesting in earnest in September. But particularly bad weather in 2012 means some areas anticipate shortfalls of up to 20%. It is likely to be France’s smallest grape harvest since 1991.
French wine producers expect this year’s grape yield to be the lowest in almost 20 years, as a result of exceptionally bad spring and early summer weather.
The harvest is being gathered in the coming weeks in what the French call “les vendanges”, a highlight of the country’s agricultural calendar.
But a mixture of late frosts, heavy rain throughout the spring and early summer, and higher than usual levels of mildew on the vines means that in some regions, especially in central France, the yield is expected to be down by as much as 20 percent from last year.
The latest figures from the French Agriculture Ministry estimate the country’s total output will be 42.5 million hectolitres [one hectolitre = 100 litres] compared to 51 million in 2011, a decrease of 15 percent and the lowest output since 1991. France exports some 15 million hectolitres of wine annually.
The situation is even worse in Italy, which expects a yield of 36 million hectolitres in 2012 compared with 52 million last year.
In France, some regions have been less affected than others, with the southern Cotes du Rhone and Provence regions - which have enjoyed more clement weather - expecting little change.
Nathalie Coquelle, head of the Independent Wine Producers Federation of the Var, Provence, said she would be “very surprised” if the local harvest proved to be as bad as in other parts of the country.
“We are expecting a good yield of high quality grapes,” she told FRANCE 24. “This part of France had the right mix of spring rain and a dry summer.”
Producers ‘will not see a price rise’
In many areas the harvest has been delayed up to two weeks to exploit a heat wave, which began in August, and the dryness that has continued into early September.
“The August heat wave raised some hopes, but we still expect the yields to be down,” said Christine Monamy of the Wine Producers Office in Burgundy, central France. “And there is no doubt this will have a big financial impact on many producers.
“But any type of farming comes with risks. You have good years and you have less-than-good years. You have to take the rough with the smooth.”
Sommelier David Ridgway of the Tour d’Argent in Paris, a restaurant known for having one of the biggest and most extensive wine cellars in the French capital, told FRANCE 24 that 2012 will prove to have been a particularly challenging year for producers in badly affected regions like Burgundy.
“When the weather’s good, anyone can produce a good vintage,” he said. “But when the weather is bad and unpredictable, getting it right is much harder work.”
Ridgway, an Englishman who has been a sommelier at the Tour d’Argent for three decades, said producers were unlikely to benefit from higher prices to compensate for this year’s anticipated shortfall.
“The price of wine is affected much more by the state of the global economy than it is by quantities,” he said, pointing out that much of last year’s output was still unsold and that distributors were not short of produce.
“In tough economic times like these, raising the price would be the wrong thing to do.”