Sad to report extensive damage across the Occitanie region from Roussillon through the Aude, Hérault and Gard which took place last Friday, June 28th. A heatwave (canicule) had been widely forecast but the ferocity of the heat that day still took everybody by surprise. In the Gard a recorded temperature of 45.9c is the hottest ever recorded in France. I was driving back from Spain and in the early evening the temperature was showing at 44c from Perpignan to Béziers. Those temperatures are recorded in the shade, in full sun the vines were enduring searing heat, combined with strong, hot, southerly winds.
Some hot weather can be beneficial in drying up mildew for example but this was new ground. Reports began to filter through of the damage done to vines. Friends such as Bernard Isarn (Domaine Cadablès in Gabian) were reporting extensive damage, he was joined by others. Some reported losses up to 50% in some parcels.
This would be difficult enough to accept but it is the fourth year in succession where the climate has dealt a blow to production. Mildew in 2018, drought in 2017, frost and hail in 2016 all brought economic and agricultural damage. 2019 had begun so well until recent days, many people I spoke to, including Bernard, had been excited by how well the vines were progressing. So, I can only imagine the heavy hearts of vignerons whose vines were burned ‘as if by a blowtorch’ .
The combination of heat and wind was the crucial factor, others played a part. Languedoc vines are long used to great heat, years such as 2003 were hot but never with this damage. One difference is that the heatwave was early in the growing season. The younger growth was less hardy, more susceptible. This might also explain why so many of those affected were organic producers. Vines grown with lots of nitrogen and nitrates are further advanced in their growing cycle, perhaps the organic vines were more vulnerable because they were relatively immature.
Another reason put forward is the use of sulphur treatments. This is one of the organic vigneron’s tools, from a toolbox smaller in scope than conventional producers. With oidium menacing last week many organic producers sprayed with sulphur to combat the fungus. Unfortunately the combination of sulphur and hot temperatures leads to burning. Jeff Coutelou resisted spraying last week because of the forecast, he is thankful for having made that decision.
However, these explanations are tentative, enquiries are going on. Bernard reported that vines damaged included those not sprayed for 20 days. Ill fortune must be a factor. One other curious feature is that many report that the vines most damaged were the traditional, local varieties such as Carignan, which might be expected to resist heat better.
Whatever the reasons, it is extremely sad for those affected and my sympathies go out to them all. Local producer Catherine Bernard published her heart felt thoughts and they are well worth your time to read. The climate is raising questions which we all need to address urgently, vignerons seem to be in the front line of the struggles ahead.