2017 has been a catastrophic year worldwide for grapevines, between spring frost in Europe and burnt buds and grapevines in California. Historical year as it is, in France we have had the lowest ever seen wine production since 1945, with less than 37 million hectolitres. Without being able yet to measure the economic consequences, we have to think about three crucial points in Occitania : lack of water, ways to resist deseases, and weather changes. Those points lead us to think about which vine-growing for tomorrow, conventional or organic, which production mode, industrial or artisanal, to satisfy consumers in terms of quality, variety of wines, alimentary safety ? Visible effects of climate changes- earlier harvest, higher alcohol degree of the wine, lower productivity- as well as questioning about dryness and watering, the use or no use of pesticides, the uncertitude about the use of glyphosate in Europe, are examples of why we need to think about our environment. Modify cultural habits of wine-growers, pollute less, be more careful about water supplies, the necessary biodiversity, producer's health as well consumer's, stakes are high ! Grapevines represent 3,7% of agriculture area, but use 20 % of pesticides in France. Therefore, Languedoc AOC have signed in october 2017, an agreement over three years for their 38 controled designations, over 43 000 ha. The first point to be questionned is the map of grapevines variety. Within Languedoc, pioneer in all sorts of experiments throughout history, up to agricultural biological culture, soon met by Gers and Tarn, all sorts of ideas have been raised in order to save production. Favour late vines varieties, like piquepoul, clairette, mourvèdre, manseng, cabernet-franc and other tannat ? That idea is logical, as they suffer less from dry and hot summers, and beneficiate of september rains. But for how long ?
Change grape varieties ? French wine institute of grapevines and wines (IFV), which keeps the genetic sources of our grapevines and creates new varieties, and the National research institute in agriculture (INRA) work in that direction. Languedoc AOC study the possibility of planting greek and italian grapevines, more resistant to heat. Laurent Audequin, in charge of the research and development department at IFV, explains that assyrtiko « bears high temperatures, weak rains, and keeps a stunning freshness ». They think about solutions with better tolerance to hydric stress graftings. Crossbreed grape varieties in order to improve them ? It's always been. Marselan and caladoc, Chasan and arinarnoa, conceived in Montpellier, are hybrid.
Create new varieties, resistant to drought, as well as deseases ? Searchers interbreed our vines varieties, Vitis vinifera, with other american or asian varieties, containing better resistant genes. The objective is to keep production levels in spite of climate changes, and lower pesticides use, currently used up to 80 % to fight two diseases, oïdium and mildiou. This is a big job for scientists who are up to the 5th generation of hybrids. They are working on creating 30 resistant varieties to be commercialised within 10 years. This looks promising, although there is a total uncertainty about resistance durability against diseases. But progress is on the way. Three varieties are in the french catalogue since june 2017. 60 wine-growers are volunteers for trials in 2018, just like those conducted by la Colombette domain in Beziers, to study the vines. Young Picpoul de Pinet AOC thinks about a resistant variety able to adjust to trimming new conditions. There are leads to find varieties giving a lower alcohol degree. As Laurent Audequin says, « the big challenge is to adjust them to climate changes ».
Come back to old grape varieties. As of today, 6 grape varieties dominate worldwide production. Today are planted terret and black piquepoul, vine varieties from the 18th century at Saint-Georges d’Orques domain (Herault) or at Clos de Centeilles (Aude), manseng noir from cotes de Saint-Mont (Gers), or prunelard re-discovered by Robert Plageoles in Gaillac (Tarn). A european research, GrapeOnFarm, drew up an inventory of these rare vine varieties, designed in order to preserve them from disappearing. « Traditionnal grape varieties resist to hydric stress » says Christophe Miron, president of Herault muscats. As a proof, clairette, the oldest grape variety planted in Narbonne area, has lost in production in 2017 between 5 and 10%, against 30% at least on the worldwide grape varieties. Tendancies lead toward old grape varieties even if this is a niche market. Associations such as À la rencontre des cépages modestes, Wine mosaic , trade shows (in november in Chabeuil), books such as the one from André Deyrieux meet a huge success and interest from the public. What if future belongged to them, when you know that France has about 600 grape varieties ?
A futuristic vision of research that sequences vine genes, and a vision focused on past, both agree toward the fact that simplification of grape varieties lead to exhaustion. From diversity tastes and grapevine variety happen. Protection of that heritage occurs in Gaillac (Tarn), Espiguette (Gard) and at Vassal domain (Herault) with its 2 700 grape varieties coming from 54 countries. Wine-grower having the desire to plant old grape varieties have met there searchers. Those searchers are looking at varieties resisting to deseases. Pouydraguin conservatory, Sarragachies vineyard classified by historical monuments (Gers) are tested for a resistance to climate change as well as diseases.
Gers and Tarn have saved vineyards that existed before Phyllozera. Languedoc has modified many times the way it planted grape varieties, from the 18th century up to the 20th, when it created its IGP and AOP. Is Languedoc better prepared to fight that new environmental threat ? Will we keep these grape varieties ? Which ones will be planted in a hundred years in Languedoc ? No one can tell. INRA's scenarios imagine mediterranean grape varieties planted in Britany by 2040, or later, nomadic vineyards on wheels... After all, are french vineyards future relying on research, or on its heritage reinstatement ? A story that more consumers listen to with interest and worry about what's in their glass.