It seems that everywhere we turn nowadays that there’s another consequence on the cards regarding climate change. And whether you subscribe to the global warming theory or not, there’s no denying that our planet is going through a pretty rapid episode of climatic change.
So, what does this mean to grape crops and the future of eaux-de-vie?
Well, according to Jean-Pascal Goutouly, a researcher at the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRS), quite a lot, actually. In fact, he’s warning that if no provisions are put in place, that in 100 years’ time there will be no cognac in Cognac!
Mr Goutouly has been on a mission over the past few years to bring awareness of what climatic change will mean, not only to cognac, but to the future of the wine industry as a whole. In the South West of France the average temperature has risen by one degree Celsius over the last 100 years. Now, that might not sound that much, but when you begin to study the facts then you can begin to see a far more worrying pattern.
The problem, in relation to the vines, is that in the hottest time of the year (August), average temperatures are now 6 – 8 degrees Celsius higher than they were a century ago. And the hotter it gets, the faster the vines grow and the fruit matures. The BNIC reports that the harvest is now on average 21 days earlier than it was in 1976.
Now, whilst this temperature increase is actually beneficial to certain types of wine – Bordeaux, for example, the effect of this on grapes destined to become cognac are rather devastating.
For grapes to be suitable to be used to make cognac they need to be low in sugar and only have a certain level of acidity. But the hotter it gets, the quicker the grapes ripen and the sugar and acidity levels rise. Fruits such as these produce cognac with a far lower melange of flavours and intensities.
Various solutions are being considered, one being simply that the vines will mature at the end of September or beginning of October. But then the problem of rainfall needs to be taken into the equation.
Another solution, and one that’s being trialled in other countries such as Spain and Australia, is to change the direction in which the vines are planted. Currently the vines are planted from north to south. This allows for direct sunlight to bathe the fruits and vines throughout the day. However, by planting east to west this would minimise the amount of direct heat absorbed, so slowing down maturity.
Of course, a lot depends on whether the climate will now stabilize or if it will continue to get warmer. And it’s essential to be looking at the various choices to be made now, rather than waiting another 30 or 40 years when it might well be too late.
Today, 30th January 2012, sees Jean-Pascal Goutouly lead a conference entitled ‘The Evolution of the Vine with Climate Change.’ He will present his findings and solutions at the general assembly of Vitibio – The Organisation of Organic Wine Growers of the Poitou Charente.