Mildew Threatens French Grape Harvest

The flooding has taken lives, devastated houses and inundated vineyards across parts of France and Germany.
© AP | The flooding has taken lives, devastated houses and inundated vineyards across parts of France and Germany.
Flash flooding in parts of Europe have brought another threat to France's already troubled growing season.
By Oliver Styles | Posted Sunday, 18-Jul-2021

With summer holiday season just around the corner, the news has taken something of a predictable turn with an almost daily (it seems) article on rosé, for instance. This week we learned that Lionel Messi's only winemaking instruction in the production of his L10 label was that "my wine has to be better than [midfielder Andrés] Iniesta's".

It hasn't all been rosy and lightweight, hoever, as Campari and Moet announced the were joining forces push ever harder into an online sales platform, while shoking images of flooding in Germany's Ahr region were all over the news recently.

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Blenheim, in New Zealand's Marlborough region also saw flooding shut several cellar doors over the weekend, while the gradually building threat of California wildfires has seen ever more anxious questions asked of regional firefighters, insurance companies and local aid funds.

Here, however, are some of the stories you might have missed this week.

Record rainfall brings mildew threat

It never rains but it pours – literally and figuratively for France in 2021. After frost, hail and tornadoes, now mildew rears its head in the north of the country. Following a deluge in Alsace – the likes of which hasn't been seen in more than a century – coupled with summer temperatures, fungal infections, and powdery mildew in particular, have exploded in the region.

While it is important to remember that viticulturists rarely need much of an excuse to prophesize doom, it's hard not to see the latest reports as anything but concerning. National news outlet LCI noted that one grower claimed as much of 80 percent of his crop was damaged, while regional news service France3 quoted the president of the Alsace wine trade body, Gilles Ehrhart, saying that mildew damage could hit up to 70 percent of the crop in some areas.

"Mildew has been completely established in all parcels for three weeks now," said Ehrhart, who is based in Wettolsheim. "I've talked with other family members and they've never seen anything like it."

The reports indicate that, while copper sprays remain at the disposal of organic growers, the latter (and those practicing biodynamics) will be most at risk.

Furthermore, the same report indicates that other viticultural areas in France are also in danger. France3 quoted a horticulture report from the Auvergne-Rh?ne-Alpes region saying the mildew situation was "out of control".

Two weeks ago, French wine news website vitisphere.com also highlighted potential infections in Champagne, as well as risks in Burgundy. However, it noted that the other northern French region, the Loire, appeared less affected.

Plane crashes into Napa consultant's vineyard

In horrific scenes on Friday, three people suffered a fatal crash after the small aircraft they were in came down in a vineyard just outside Angwin Airport, in Napa Valley's Howell Mountain wine region. The aeroplane – a Beechcraft 35 Bonanza – burst into flames immediately on impact and despite vineyard workers witnessing the crash, no one survived.

The vineyard in which the crash occurred is the Lucia Abreu site of famed Napa Valley viticultural consultant, David Abreu. Abreu's offices are just down the road and the vineyard is named after his daughter.

At time of going to press, the victims' names had not been released. The crash is the second small aircraft crash in California in as many days. On Thursday a light, twin-engined aircraft crashed into a Monterey residence after taking off from Monterey Regional Airport, killing the pilot and passenger. The owners of the house were not at home when the crash occurred.

Dijon to host OIV

Well, the pundits called it. When we first covered the International Office of Wine and Vine's (OIV) rehoming project last month, we highlighted certain murmurs that Burgundy was best placed politically. And so it came to pass this week that the French government announced its approval of Dijon's application to house the international wine body.

Although it was ostensibly a toss-up between three candidate cities – Bordeaux, Reims, and Dijon – the latter was the last to submit its entry to the race (at the very end of last month). Nonetheless, should ratification by the OIV's international delegations occur without a hitch, Dijon it will be.

The OIV's new home, which comes after a metropolitain soujorn in Paris' 8th arrondissment, will likely see the organization take up lodgings in the Burgundian city's remarkably grand 17th Century Hotel Bouchu de Lessart (also known as Hotel d'Esterno). According to local newspaper Le Bien Public, the cost of doing-up the offices for the move will hit a princely €7 million ($8.26m).

Canary Islands open first wine route

"La Ruta del Vino de Gran Canaria" (The Gran Canaria Wine Route) was officially unveiled as the Canary Island's first official wine tourism route this week. The circuit spans much of the northern and western quarters of the Atlantic island and, as well as 10 wineries, as also takes in 11 restaurants, numerous hotels and agricultural establishments as well as specialist shops.

Underwater aging plumbs new depths

Two stories this week at different ends of the production scale, both perhaps illustrating that we might be approaching saturation point in terms of aging wine under water. 

First up is Ocean Fathoms, a project associated with SuperSomm and winemaker Rajat Parr, who age their wines for a year in waters 70 meters deep, one mile off the Santa Barabara coast. The bottles are hauled up, replete with encrusted barnacles and sold at a premium, due to their "patented ocean aging process”.

As reported in the LA Times on Thursday,  Ocean Fathoms has attracted the ire of the California Coastal Commission and is in the process of trying to reach a settlement. The Commission's outlook was perhaps best summed up by the newspaper: "In effect, the agency said: The ocean is not your private wine locker, guys. So get the wine out of the water."

Ocean Fathoms is contesting this. However, perhaps the most cutting line came from Susan Jordan of the California Coastal Protection Network. “For those of us who work in ocean and coastal protection," she said, "the sight of a wine bottle encrusted with dead marine life is not a plus."

And so to the coastal Vendée in northwest France where Rum producer Les Rhums de Ced took 450 bottles of rum that had been aged in a fomer blackthorn liqueur (the local "trousseminette") barrel and chucked them in a salt marsh for a month. It looked like they had fun getting the bottles out of the water although the algue-covered vessel didn't have quite the wow-factor of Ocean Fathoms' dredgings.

Still, if nothing else, all the splashing about shows that messing about on the water still manages to catch people's attention – and gets publicity.

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