Here is a recent update on the most recent effects of climate change in France and Germany
Germany, July 13, 2021:
Catastrophic floods devastated the Ahr region, famous for its Pinot Noir. Most of Germany’s flood deaths and flood devastation occurred in the Ahrweiler district (In the center of the Ahr River Valley). Of an estimated 180 deaths in Germany, at least 112 occurred in the Ahrweiler, as of July 20th*.
According to the German Wine Institute (DWI), “The economic devastation that accompanied the floods was particularly hard felt by the region’s more than 38 wineries, many of whom lost their facilities, cellars, machinery, wine barrels, cellared inventory and more, destroying entire wine-producing businesses and livelihoods. It will likely take weeks to quantify the number of wine-growing businesses affected as well as the severity and extent to which the disaster will affect the entire Ahr region and its 563 hectares of vineyards.1”
Why was the severity of the flooding attributed to climate change? The flooding was the worst in at least 100 years and maybe in recorded history. “For years, scientists have warned climate change will mean more flooding in Europe and elsewhere. Warmer air holds more moisture, which can translate into heavier rainfall. A warming climate that can supercharge rainstorms and European disaster plans that focused on major rivers, rather than the lower volume tributaries hit hardest by the storms2.” The July storms arrived seemingly suddenly catching most victims by surprise, dumping 6” of rain in 24 hours.
France, April 5, 2021
An early frost has destroyed an estimated 30% of the 2021 harvest was lost. In Northern Burgundy, losses have been as high as 80%. Still, prices are not expected to rise much, if at all, because of reduced worldwide demand due to the ripple effects of the COVID virus.
“With temperatures in early April as low as 22°F, and following an unseasonably warm March, this year’s frost damage may be the worst in history for French winegrowers. Every corner of France reports considerable losses, from Champagne to Provence, and Côtes de Gascogne to Alsace. As a result, there will likely be very little French wine from the 2021 vintage reaching U.S. shores. In fact, “this year’s frost damage may be the worst in history for French winegrowers.3”
How has global warming contributed to frost damage in April? March (and February, too) was unusually warm. The growth cycle in the vines sped up leading to an early budbreak. “At the time these frosts hit, the buds had already burst,” says Friederike Otto, associate director of the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute. “And so the frost did damage the vegetation quite a lot.4”
According to Euronews, “The result was an estimated €2 billion in economic damage described by French officials as ‘probably the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century.4’”
In 2018, The National Institute of Appellations of Origin (INAO) considered changes to the appellation rules for the large Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations (AOC). For years, growers in Bordeaux have petitioned both their local Commission d’Agreements and the INAO to allow the planting of new varieties better suited to warmer climates. Finally, on March 22, 2021, the INAO announced an major change in the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur AOCs formalized on March 30 with the publication of the official Cahiers des Charges6 or AOC rules.
“One particularly newsworthy approach to adapting to warmer climates is the region’s recent authorization of new grape varieties allowed within Bordeaux AOC. Concerns like the quick ripening of core Bordeaux varieties like Merlot have urged the region to approve these new plants, and allow growers to plant a range of grape varieties for their blends that have different ripening periods spread over time. There have been several criteria for expanding the authorized varieties while still keeping an eye to preserving the typicity of the fruit quality and finished wines.
The seven varieties recently approved for planting in Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur AOC are red varieties Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan, and Touriga Nacional, and white varieties Alvarinho, Liliorila, and Petit Manseng. These varieties have been chosen specifically to give winegrowers more options when adapting to climate change, but they’re limited to 5% of the planted vineyard area, and they cannot constitute more than 10% of the final blend. Also, keeping with the legal regulations for labeling, wineries may not list these varieties on their wine labels.5”
- German Wine Institute, “The Terrible Flooding in Germany’s Ahr Wine Region and Help for its Wineries,” July 20, 2021
- Science, Warren Cornwall, “Europe’s deadly floods leave scientists stunned,” July 20, 2021
- Beverage Industry Enthusiast, Nils Bernstein, “French Winemakers Try to Save 2021 Vintage From Late Frost” April 12, 2021
- Euronews, “Climate change 'a factor' in frost that decimated France's vineyards, say scientists,” June 15, 2021
- Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) or Bordeaux Wine Council, “How Bordeaux is Adapting to Climate Change” May 6, 2020
- INAO “Cahiers des Charges” Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur, March 30, 2021
**Picture was taken by Arnie Millan in Bernkstel on the Mosel on April 1, 2011. Ernie Loosen is pointing out the marker from a historic flood on the 2nd floor from 1784.**