Climate change threatens the vineyard. Philippe Mauguin, CEO of INRA, pleads for a rapid adaptation of the agricultural model.
The house is burning. And, to complete the famous formula of Jacques Chirac, the vines are on fire. Rising temperatures, drought, soil depletion … From old Europe to the New World, global viticulture is hit hard by climate change. In France, where wines and spirits are the world's second largest producer (in terms of volume, after Italy) and the second largest surplus in its trade balance, the stakes are as much heritage as they are economic.
L'Express: Is the French vineyard a masterpiece in danger?
Philippe Mauguin: We are not there, thankfully! But we must remain vigilant: based on the results of our researchers and the knowledge of stakeholders in the wine sector, we can no longer deny the impact of climate change in all our wine regions. And its effects will be accentuated.
Can you describe the situation?
In a century, the average air temperature has risen by 1.4 ° C in France. We could climb to + 3 or + 4 ° C before the end of our century, in pessimistic scenarios. Bordeaux, for example, knew, at the beginning of the twentieth century, three very hot days on average per year between flowering and harvesting. Today, we are four and we will rise to sixteen by the end of the century. In all the vineyards, there are dates of advanced harvest: Saint-Emilion, it is on average fifteen days earlier than twenty-five years ago, and in Alsace, twenty-six days earlier! This means that the grapes are ripe much faster, the sugar concentration and the alcohol content are higher, while the acidity drops, which obviously poses a problem for the balance of the wines.
How is INRA tackling the problem?
Our researchers are not above-ground scientists confined in laboratories to find purely technological solutions. On the contrary, we have contributed to a global approach that plays on all levers – scientific, social, cultural and political – to effectively adapt French viticulture. In 2012, a specific large-scale program called "Laccave" was launched. Since 2018, this program has been deployed in the field, particularly through research on grape varieties (grape varieties), cultivation methods and oenological practices. We are now in an exciting period where we are converging our work: on the one hand, the one we have been conducting for more than twenty years on the grape varieties resistant to powdery mildew and mildew, the two main pathologies of the vine which require phytosanitary treatments. On the other, the exploration of new varietals resistant to extreme hazards … These new grape varieties, obtained by hybridization, give extraordinary results: they allow to reduce 90% of pesticides, while presenting good adaptability and interesting aromatic profiles. INRA has already listed four varieties in its catalog, such as artaban (red) or floréal (white). In the end, we hope to market thirty.
How are your innovations welcomed by the winemakers?
The profession is in strong motion. Five years ago, she had little or no interest in the new grape varieties we offered them. Today, producers are in demand. But the marketing of these new grape varieties, fruit of twenty years of research, must be done in a very framed and joint way: the wine growers who plant them engage in a partnership with our researchers. It is a very virtuous device of participatory research on a large scale.
Does this varietal evolution not threaten the identity and taste of our wines?
We can change the specifications of certain protected appellations of origin without betraying the specificities of each terroir and taking into account also the tastes of the consumer. This will inevitably result in an evolution of the practices of the entire sector as early as 2025 to ensure an agroecological transition. There are many natural solutions to promote the resilience of vines to climate change and their resistance to disease: grass, organic matter on the soil, planting hedges to promote biodiversity, pruning techniques and stripping, etc.
By 2050, the south of England could produce champagne. Is not it worrying for the Champenois?
Thanks to the globally recognized designations of origin, our English friends, Brexit or not, will be able to sparkling (sparkling) if they want it, but never champagne. The fact remains that the wine growing potentials evolve with global warming by going back to northern areas, which can also benefit other French regions. But it is necessary to reorganize the plantations within the appellations: to redelimitate or to increase certain zones, to experiment new terroirs by playing on the altitudes and the exposures, as in Saint-Emilion or Banyuls, which benefit from a great diversity of exposures .
Are you optimistic about the future of French vineyards?
It must remain so. But let's not forget that global warming affects all regions of the globe. Our American and Australian friends, heralds of New World wines, produced in wineries modern, will also face some serious challenges. Because of the diversity of its terroirs, its climates, and the experience of its professionals, French viticulture has two real assets: its capacity for adaptation and innovation, which will have to take into account the evolution of consumers' tastes. .. In the way the wine sector has to adapt to climate change, INRA is the world's leading research organization. We work in all the wine-growing basins, in agreement with all the actors, to quickly deploy solutions.