The 2020 harvest in Burgundy was one of the earliest in history. Above average temperatures throughout the growing season prompted farmers to take action on the 12th. August to begin the harvest. This is a continuation of the trend whereby hot and dry weather has become the norm in this region, especially in temperate climates.

Climate change is having a significant impact on the vineyards and wines of Burgundy. When temperatures rise, it’s too hot in the best vineyards. Vineyards are at increased risk of spring frost, sunburn and drought. The resulting wines, once distinguished by their elegance, refinement and finesse, are getting riper every year.

Climate change is a fact, says Laurent Odeguan, agronomist and oenologist at the Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin (IFV). To reduce the impact on the style of Burgundy wines, look for clones that accumulate less sugar and ripen later. There are 47 official Pinot Noir clones, but in reality only a few are widely used. We could plant champagne clones or use the clones that have been neglected until now.

Leading Burgundy producer Louis Latour has partnered to conduct a mass selection or replanting of cuttings from existing vineyards and old vines against young nursery stock to identify the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones best suited to the current environment.

Since 2018, we have replanted these cuttings, paying close attention and choosing the one that produces less sugar and more acid, says Christophe Deola, director of the winery Louis Latour.

Christophe Deola, director of Domaine Louis Latour / Photo: Serge Chapuis

Besides selection based on clones, according to Audeguin, breeders should also look for alternative rootstocks that can delay ripening. He mentions the rootstocks of Vitis riparia that Bouchard Per and Sons experimented with for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines.

After five years of observing the growth of 333EM rhizomes and various laboratory analyses, we have decided to use [Riparia rhizomes] on some of our sites starting in 2021, says Walter Dausset, cultivation manager at Bouchard Père et Fils. And more tests have been done with 1103 Paulsen [Rhizome].

 

In addition to cloning and rootstock, Burgundy wine growers and the Burgundy Wine Board (BIVB) are exploring more extreme measures to mitigate the effects of global warming on their wines.

Account is taken of grape varieties that ripen later and accumulate less alcohol. This takes advantage of a national program launched in 2018 by the French National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO) that allows wine regions to research varieties that can withstand a changing climate. In Savoie, experiments with seven locally grown historical grape varieties led to the approval of six new varieties in Bordeaux.

According to the BIVB, a shortlist of varieties to be tested will be submitted to INAO next year. Deola thinks the list will include many forgotten Burgundian varieties, such as Aubin, Rublo, Sassi, Melon, Cesar and Tresso, some of which are already planted in small areas in the region.

We are convinced that many older varieties that were abandoned due to maturity difficulties can once again take their rightful place in our vineyard, says Deola. He produces Coteaux Bourguignons César under the Simonnet-Febvre label and also works with Aligote at Louis Latour. When we look at the few old varieties that we have on our old plots, we see some very interesting things with later ripening, higher acidity, etc.

We have about a dozen plants at a time, which is enough to observe their behavior and check their maturity, he says. We are really waiting for the green light from INAO to carry out other trials with these varieties in our new plantings.

While neglected or abandoned Burgundy grapes will likely play a role in the fight against climate change, Audeguin says the region needs to look beyond its borders to places like the neighboring Jura or even the Mediterranean.

Moshofiler0 Grape / Lyle Leduc for Getty

In the Côte de Provence, Moschofilero and Agiorgitico are being experimented with, while in the Languedoc, Montepulciano is being considered, Audeguen said. In Burgundy, Cab Franc or Syrah and a few others can be inspired, leading to wines with the same profile as Pinot Noir, such as Nebbiolo or Xinomavro.

However, growers are not so enthusiastic about foreign vineyard equipment.

I don’t believe in foreign tribes, Deola said. At least in life. Terroir is a matter of physical data, but also of history, and the transition to overseas varieties will be long.

It may take a little more persuasion to grow Nebbiolo in Burgundy.

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