Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.
I read an interesting article this morning, from the iDealwine website, about the weather. Yes a British preoccupation but one shared by vignerons around the world. It was ironic timing as, returning to Margon yesterday (January 17th), I awoke this morning to flakes of snow falling!
Hardly the snowfalls I saw in December in the UK but surprising. Not enough of a cold snap however for the good of the vines. They need a period of cold to go to sleep. The sap needs to fall and concentrate at the heart of the vine, pruning (taille) can then remove the surplus wood from last year and prepare the vines for this year.
Instead, as the article points out, the winter here has been unusually warm, possibly the warmest since 1900. Temperatures in Montpellier were more than 3° above average in December and some vignerons have reported that as they have pruned they have seen sap running out of the vine, which means the vines are not resting. Indeed, even worse, the vines could be damaged by a sudden cold snap as the wood could break if the sap has not fallen.
As I drove south through France it was noticeable at the sides of the autoroutes that blossom was out on some trees, and if the vines follow suit and start to grow early then that could also bring problems. Finally, the lack of a cold spell does not help to fight diseases or the conditions in which diseases such as mildew can thrive.
The article supports what Jeff has told me about the situation in the Languedoc. There was also very little rainfall after September, next to none in fact. A few showers in January so far but that will not replenish the reserves in the soil. Some cracks in the soil are actually bigger than they were at the end of summer.
The vines have been too active and a lack of water is the last thing they will need. The 2016 vintage already faces significant problems, three weeks into the year!
Therefore, although today’s snow is welcome a sustained cold snap and steady rain would have been much more so. We may weather the weather, whether the vines will is another matter.
January 18, 2016 at 3:02 pm
As you probably know, December in the UK was the warmest ever, by a full 4C. Very strange, and really quite worrying. They can’t forever keep blaming El Nino. Let’s hope for lots of cold weather and lots of rain in Languedoc….. but I don’t want to hear you complain if that happens! 😉
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January 18, 2016 at 3:16 pm
Ha, I must admit I was a little grumpy this morning. Temperatures are due to rise to low teens as the week progresses.
January 20, 2016 at 11:38 am
Good to see you’re back in the Languedoc Alan. Have to say this comes across as a bit doom and gloom. Yes it’s been warm until last week but Jan/Feb are usually the coldest months. Perhaps the drought is more worrying, and chez Mas Coutelou does seem to have been particularly dry in recent years.
More a question, but I thought pruning was left until after the first cold and quite often runs on until the end of March. I guess in reality time constraints mean vignerons can’t wait forever.
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January 20, 2016 at 1:14 pm
Happy New Year Graham, loooking forward to having you two back here too.
Doom and gloom, perhaps. As I write it is 12C outside and the door is open. You are right, the lack of water is the most alarming thing, Jeff reckons a month of solid rain would just about bring things back to normal regarding water reserves. The plain from St Chinian to Béziers does seem to be particularly vulnerable to the lack of water I agree.
As we walked around the vineyards this morning (Margon) there were lots of people pruning, I think you are right it is simply a matter of timetable rather than climate. Ideally they should wait but as time passes the need to prune becomes more pressing. I mentioned on here that I saw quite a few vignerons pruning back in early November!