The SW Summary: On rain, drought, Champagne’s harvest action plan, and more

By Hanna Halmari
British weather forecast: Rain, rain, and more rain

A new report from the World Weather Attrition group predicts that Britain will increasingly see ‘monsoon-like rains’ over the next decade, along with more hailstorms and ‘mini tornadoes.’ UK regions with higher average temperatures such as southern and Central England are likely to be hit the worst. In the drinks business, Sarah Neish explores what this means for English winemakers and how they can start putting contingency plans in place.

English viticulture has largely benefitted from a warming climate over the last few years. Nicola Bates, CEO of trade body WineGB, has referred to 2024 as a crucial year in which English wine will start to become a mature market. However, the downsides of global warming are becoming increasingly apparent in UK viticulture, as vineyards are at risk of increased flooding and significant mildew attacks.

Adaptation measures include adopting disease resistant varieties such as Rondo and Dornfelder. Big data will also play a key role in enabling growers to identify particularly disease-prone areas in vineyards. Many growers are prioritising reforestation and drainage measures to future-proof their vineyards against flooding. Nicola Bates has confirmed that the trade body is “committed to supporting [its] members in navigating the ups and downs of growing grapes in a marginal climate.” Read the article here.

Climate concerns throughout Europe

Many European wine regions are facing a challenging growing season. Following months of drought, the Catalan region of Penedès was hit by a violent hailstorm in early June. Up to 1,500 hectares of vineyards were hit, and the worst affected areas will likely be unable to harvest any grapes at all, reports Noah Chichester in Decanter. The country has been under severe drought alert for months and Spanish wine production will face a significant decline this year as a result, says Vinetur.

In Wine-Searcher Oliver Styles takes us over to France, where growers in the Rhône have reported a higher than average risk of mildew. One winegrower shares how he’s already sprayed six times, “whereas in a normal year two would have been enough.” Chablis was hit by a severe hail storm in early May, but luckily the damage has not been as destructive as initially reported. A new report from the Burgundy wine trade body BIVB indicates that there will be a harvest and wines made from the 2024 vintage. Whilst certainly a relief, many growers remain nervous as the harvest is not yet over.

EU Commission to set up expert group to support winegrowers

In light of the changing climate, the EU Commission has committed to set up an expert task group to support the European wine industry. As reported by Meininger’s, this promise came out of a recent Council for Agriculture and Fisheries session, a monthly meeting between EU agricultural ministers and the Commission. The next meeting is scheduled for the end of June, after this article’s publication.

During the meeting the Commission was prompted to commit to establishing an expert group, but no updates have yet been formally announced. Cem Özdemir, the German Minister for Food and Agriculture, shares: “To rebalance the market, an EU-wide vineyard removal program coupled with a halt in new plantings can be beneficial – that’s what I advocated for in Brussels. The Commission’s decision to establish an expert group is a good initial step, but solutions must not be delayed. What’s important are swift and concrete outcomes.” 

Read the full article here.

All Together for the Champagne Harvest?

This is the name of the action plan sent out by the Comité Champagne (CIVC) to all its members earlier in June. In their video message  Maxine Toubart and David Chatillon, co-presidents of the CIVC, elaborate on the action plan, noting how it has been informed by over 100 meetings with various stakeholders with a focus on four pillars: recruitment, health and safety conditions, accommodation and contracting. The plan includes a detailed toolbox available to all CIVC members that concretely provides harvest guidance and checklists for the four pillars.

Caroline Henry’s article on Substack provides a clear overview and frank commentary of the action plan. The toolkit for the 2024 harvest follows the tragic 2023 harvest, in which numerous human rights abuses were uncovered in the region. Henry notes how last year “Champagne dragged its feet by trying to ignore the problem and pretend it’s a one-off (hence conveniently forgetting the 2018 cases).” However, “the early release of the toolbox – at a time flowering barely had begun – therefore shows the CIVC learned from previous mistakes and is now trying to come across as proactive.”

The toolkit is all encompassing and clear in its information and guidance. What’s missing, however, is concrete ways to enforce the valuable guidelines. Whilst “it is impossible for anyone reading these documents to be unaware of illegal practices and what they should watch out for…the million dollar question is how many grape growers will read and analyse these documents?” Overall, Henry seems sceptical. Although the toolkit is certainly a step in the right direction, she argues that the toolkit’s “real function is [to give] the impression that something concrete is being done to prevent further mishaps.” Read the full article here.

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About the author

Hanna Halmari

Hanna Halmari is the editor at Sustainable Wine and the head of conferences at Innovation Forum. Hanna specialises in sustainability research and events across various industries. She holds an MSc in international development from Kings’s College London, where she developed a strong interest in political economy and post-communist transformation. Hanna speaks Finnish, Bulgarian and English. In her spare time she is a dedicated Radio Lollipop volunteer at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, enjoys travelling, and tasting new wines.