Climate change “has fundamentally altered French wine harvests”

By Tobias Webb

The above makes a worrying headline on a few days ago. The news, they say, comes according to NASA and Harvard.

According to Dana Nigro, writing on the site: “After looking at more than 400 years of harvest and climate data from France and Switzerland, researchers from Harvard University and NASA have concluded that in recent decades, warmer temperatures have pushed wine grape harvests in those countries more than 10 days earlier than in the period from 1600 to 1980—regardless of whether the growing seasons brought damp conditions or drought.”

This, unfortunately, is allied with what winemakers have been telling me all across Provence, from Les Beaux to Bandol to further east towards and in Nice, recently.

I’ve heard the same story in Faugeres, in Bordeaux, and in Piedmont in Italy too, in the last couple of years. The ten day figure seems quite consistent across the country, based on what around 30 wine makers have told me since 2012. (Continues below)

Huglin index

We’ve seen this kind of headline before. What struck me as interesting about the WineSpectator article in particular is this excerpt:

“This insight has important ramifications—good and bad—for future wine quality. In analyzing vintage ratings for Bordeaux and Burgundy from 1900 to 2001, researchers found that higher-quality wines have been typically linked to early harvests in the cooler regions of Europe. The best wines came from years with above-average rainfall early in the growing season, a warm summer and a late-season drought or dry conditions that generated a heat spike and shifted the focus of vine growth from leaf production to grape maturation.”

And here’s the scary part, again from the well-written article:

“Climate change is the reason we’ve had so many great vintages of Bordeaux in the last 20 to 30 years. It’s also the reason you might not get a good Bordeaux in the next 50 years. Take this forward: We’ve only experienced a small proportion of the warming we have created and will see in the next 50 to 80 years, and that will have radical consequences for wine regions.”

You can read the rest here.

All this makes Monty Waldin’s comments (not just those below) in my previous post ever more relevant:

“…What is required is to help soil become as spongy and water-retentive as poosible.

To do this one needs to boost the carbon level of the soil by composting plants which have captured atmospheric carbon dioxide. These plants can be vineyard weeds or forage plants eating by animals such as cows, horses, mules who ideally will work on the vineyard. Adding compost to the soil increase the soil’s humus content, humus being the “soil within the soil” and this in turn encourages worms and micro-organisms (beneficial fungi, bacteria, protazoa) to move nutrients around.

This helps vines so they stay stronger, they hydrate better, they root more deeply, and they are naturally more resistant to pests and disease. The microbes create tiny air pockets in the soil which allow rainfall to penetrate the soil and to remain there. This reduces erosion, and as soil erosion causes flash flooding by blocking drains it reduces home insurance bills, too. You get better wine, a nicer environment, and have more money in your pocket.”. Read the rest of the interview here.

Further reading, from 2012:

Source: Data from Service technique Inter Rhône, published in a report by the Centre national de la recherche scientifique; both organizations in France. From:


SWR Logo

Sustainable Wine is the free online magazine of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable (SWR).

Join 130+ companies in collaborating to define sustainable wine. Click below for details.

Find out more

About the author

Tobias Webb

Toby Webb is co-founder of Sustainable Wine. He is also founder of Innovation Forum, a leading platform for change in sustainable supply chains. He has spent 20+ years working in business and sustainability and has spent ten years teaching the subject at various London universities. He advises a number of companies large and small on sustainability. Businesses he has worked with include Patagonia, Interface, Bayer, SOK Group, Boots/Walgreens, Metro, Unilever, Nestle, Reckitt Benckiser, Sainsbury’s, and many others. He co-authored the UK’s national CSR strategy for David Cameron from 2006-10. He has been organising events, advising, teaching writing, blogging and podcasting on sustainable business since 2001. His (non-wine) blog is at