A hot and dry summer forces the early start of the Champagne harvest in France

MAREUIL-SUR-AY, France, Aug 25 (Reuters) – Champagne pickers had to start harvesting earlier this year as climate change forces French sparkling wine makers to rethink how they make the coveted sparkling wine.

High temperatures and the worst drought on record have sparked massive wildfires and led to water use restrictions across France. But they also boosted the maturity of the grapes.

A harvest in August, rather than early September last year, was once a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Champagne, said Charles Philipponnat, president of the family-owned Philipponnat Champagne winery which produces several hundred thousand wines. bottles per year. Not anymore.

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“It’s quite clear that global warming is having an effect now,” he said at his vineyard in northern France.

Around him, pickers hired for the short harvest season and paid on what they picked scurried through temperatures well above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) as the sun beat down on the steep hillside where the precious Pinot grape variety.

It is important to pick grapes before they become overripe and overloaded with sugar.

“I think we are at a turning point,” said Philipponnat. “So far, global warming has helped: harvesting in good weather conditions without rain, without too much cold, with maturity and little rot.

Growers across France expect this year’s crop to produce a good quality vintage when it hits the market, a relief after frost and mildew fungus attacks ravaged vineyards in 2021 , which the hot, dry weather helped prevent this year. Read more

“What’s happening now is maybe overripe grapes,” Philipponnat said. “Perhaps too dry summer seasons which will pose other problems, to which we will have to adapt. We will have to adapt our viticulture, and adapt our oenology – the way we make wines.”

One of the first steps was to pick the grapes earlier than in decades past, and not just for Champagne.

Harvest season this year was around two weeks earlier this year in most major wine regions of France – which should be a lasting trend, winemakers said.

“Wines can become different and we may have to adapt to other grape varieties or growing methods that are a bit different from what we are doing now,” said Laurent Pinson, wine producer from Chablis in Burgundy, in the center -east of France.

While harvesting there was around October in the 1980s, it has gradually advanced so far that harvesting in early September is now the norm, with occasional cuts in August, Pinson said.

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Reporting by Pascal Rossignol, Yann Tessier and Sybille de La Hamaide Editing by Ingrid Melander and Alison Williams

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Elisha A. Tilghman