2014 – the year of the drought?

Jun 20, 2014News

2014 – the year of the drought?

Jean-Dominique is worried. He is an agricultural engineer who consults to over 50 vineyards from Frontignan to Fitou and he has never seen a year like it. If 2003 was the year of the canicule ‘heatwave’, 2013 of the latest vintage in the last 25 years then 2014 is shaping up to be one of the driest the Languedoc has seen for a long time. 

It is only mid June but in terms of water stress, many vineyards are experiencing conditions usually found in mid August. In extreme cases this causes the vine to stop vegetative growth, leaves yellow prematurely and so there are not sufficient functioning leaves for photosynthesis to bring the crop to full ripeness. Vines may die. Many IGP vines have drip irrigation (there are many subsidies on offer to entice viticulters to install it) but AOC vines are not allowed to irrigate unless the year is exceptionally dry. 2014 certainly qualifies and in many AOCs growers are now able to apply for the right to irrigate. But practically, it can be difficult if there is no water source nearby.

Our vineyards at Lou Cayla look extremely healthy but vegetative growth is definitely more limited that in previous years. Water stress has also caused some coulure and millerandage, two weather related conditions which result in poor fruit set.

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Bunches are much smaller than previous years so yields will be lower – perhaps natures way of limiting the crop to the level that the vine can ripen. Even so, if the drought continues then we will have to reduce yields further by green harvesting. On the plus side, weeds are much less of a problem – a definite advantage in a vineyard where intervine weeding is done by hand.

Of course it is only June and we could still get a good downpour. That would put a smile back on Jean Dominique’s face.