"2011: A Year to Reflect On" by Olivier de MoorAt first winter seemed pretty normal. However, there are details we must take into consideration: December 2010 was cold and rigorous, with temperatures dropping to minus 15 °C and snow covering our soils for 15 days. December 2010 will have been the coldest in 40 years. January and February were a little warmer, leading to a hydric deficit of 20%.
Spring was extraordinary. It was the hottest since the beginning of the 20th century. And just like winter, a lack of water persisted. The weather report for the region was as such:
March: +1,2°C hotter than the norm. -30% of water.
April: +4°C hotter than the norm. -70% of water.
May: +2,4°C hotter than the norm. I only collected 20mm of water this month, which for our region is very, very little.
April was the second hottest it's ever been in France, just behind 2007.
Summer, on the other hand was quite mediocre, alternating between very fresh and rainy days. This ended up "correcting" the lack of water from the last two seasons.
As vignerons, this brought up many questions, particularly on our work habits.
Easter is often, maybe too often, a reference point for a vigneron. It indicates the beginning of the vines' vegetation period. The weather during this week is also supposed to give you an idea of what to expect for the rest of the year. This year, the vegetation started well before Easter, and the previous weeks did not show any signs of what was to happen next. I will point out that it was a late Easter though, April 25th.
Their were many incidents with our dry and hot soils during the Spring. I found that the vines' growth seemed difficult; they even looked a little sickly at times. The microbial activity of the soil that nourishes the plant must have suffered from the lack of water. (at least this is my interpretation). Finally, these very dry soils were tough to plow. Weather reports indicated the soils were the driest they've ever been in 50 years.
If the work of a good vigneron is to do everything he can to work with the influences of climate, then 2011 proved to be a real challenge. Our Burgundian vineyard is structured to resist excess water. We are always looking for aeration, light and heat. Unlike our Mediterranean neighbors, we don't try to protect our grapes from excessive heat and sunlight. In the last few years there have been certain points were we were forced to work like vignerons from the South, even though our palissage system is not designed to do so: the vines aren't in high enough altitude and the rows are too close to each other...
Something else to consider: are the varieties we work with still adaptable to these type of climate changes? I doubt it more and more every day, especially when I take note the proportion of vines that are dying every year. Generations before us have adapted by modifying the varieties they used if necessary. I feel our generation must start asking ourselves this same question, because 3 to 5% of our vines are dying every year. This is not normal!
Flowering is also an important reference point in this line of work. Full flowering plus 100 days is supposed to give you the theoretical date when to begin harvesting. This year it was May 25, meaning we'd start harvesting late August or early September. It was looking to be yet another extremely precocious vintage, along with the mythical 1893, 1977, 2003 and 2007. I remember as a child harvests typically began in early October.
The freshness of July and early August seemed to have slowed everything down. I still have a hard time apprehending this. Today (August 10th), I don't think I've ever observed vines this precocious: I mean grapes that are all entirely ripening and thus accumulating sugar.
The "color change" was also early, even in the surly weather. The harvest seems like it will be generous and clean (no parasites). The plant actually benefits from the longer days, and the water that was lacking at the beginning of the cycle came back by June to accelerate the synthesis of the sugars. There are therefore certain forces of nature that are accelerating and others that are slowing down. I don't know which way the scale will tip; this is part of the bets we place in this line of work. We're gambling with nature.
As far as I was concerned, I told myself I would not harvest in late August like most of my neighbors. Firstly, I believe that every plant has a very natural and permanent reference point: the length of the day. It's an internal clock. People who work biodynamically also believe that the plant is also completely affected by lunar cycles and other cosmic influences. This is all very hard to interpret. A certain sense of demagogy makes me consider this calendar's validity. However, I like to remind myself that studies on the moon's influence on agriculture have existed since the days of Louis XIV, and nothing has yet to be scientifically proven. I am not saying one is right and the other is wrong. I don't have the resources to confirm either. I do feel that, as with many other problems, our current ability to study this subject in insufficient for us to truly advance.
Secondly, I like to harvest grapes exposed to the freshness of the fall. I feel this is beneficial to their aromatic expression.
In conclusion, I am simply observing what is happening around me. This year my gardens make me think of September. As if the entire cycle was premature. Even the trees have the color of September.
Yesterday I saw a praying mantis in my vines. That isn't exactly a typical sight around here. All of the pines are covered in armyworms. And I ate some wild strawberries in one of my parcels, even though you'd never usually find them this time of year.
What follows? We can only wait and see.