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Climate change leaving Beaujolais in fear of being priced out of the market by cereal and milk

Published:  11 March, 2019

The temperature is rising in Beaujolais, leaving producers to worry their products will be edged out of consumers’ repertoires by rival crops.

Persistent dry spells and hail has already doubled the price of organic grapes in the region over the past few years.

An uncharacteristically dry period in 2018 from mid-July to the middle of November saw average temperatures increase as a much as 15 degrees.

Hail meanwhile, has caused problems for producers like Julien Sunier.

Sunier’s self-titled domaine lost 75% of its crop to hailstorms in 2016, despite spreading his vines over 13 parcels in three different villages.

Although hailstorms are usually localised, 12 parcels were affected in 2016 and 11 in 2017.

Increased demand as well as low numbers of organic grape growers in the region has helped to push up prices.

However, Sunier warns of further inflation if climate unpredictability continues.

“We’ve had a few dry years over the past couple of years, but we’ve but still had some rain. In Europe however, if we have three or five dry years in a row, everyone would be concerned. Milk and cereal are everyday crops, but wine is a luxury,” he said.

Sunier spoke as part of a climate change focused talk at last week’s USA-France Parallels Trade Tasting at Roberson Wine.

He also highlighted a wider problem with the approach to farming in France and Europe and a lack of emphasis on the premium end of the market.

For example, “A lot of people are aren’t selling things like milk at the right price, but they’re still producing crazy amounts. This all affects climate: tractors and herbicide and emissions, and for who? Why? Why not  reduce sizes and do it in better way?”

Dealing with climate change is also much more challenging in a price-obsessed market place.

While markets like the UK to US get “the cream” of what is exported, Sunier said, the reality is that 80% of production is sold in bulk, and of the 20% that is bottled, only 3% of that is organic.

“The sad thing in Beaujolais is that the best slopes with altitude aren’t being used because they are harder to grow and farm. Instead, producers are focusing on flat surfaces which are a lot more affected by global warming. If we could explain to consumer that it costs a lot to do it properly, maybe things will get better.”

Several measures are now being taken in the region to mitigate climate challenges.

For example, altitude is “no longer enough” to guarantee against oxidation even at 750m above sea level, leading to an increased reliance on temperature control.

Other varieties are also being trialled.

This includes Syrah, which has begun to creep out of the northern Rhône, thanks to climate change, with reported success.