Champagne winegrowers crack under pressure from mildew

Tuesday July 20 2021 by Vitisphere

 One word sums up the general feeling across Champagne after torrential rain fell on vines already badly affected by mildew – unprecedented. One word sums up the general feeling across Champagne after torrential rain fell on vines already badly affected by mildew – unprecedented. - Photo credit : Chambre d'Agriculture, Bulletin de Santé du Végétal du 15 juillet.

Last week, I said that this week would either be a saving grace for everyone, or we’d be in over our heads”, comments Franck Mazy who manages Viti-Concept in Epernay. “People are giving up! We have no more resources to fall back on and getting into vineyards is challenging. With this level of infection, we don’t need rain! Dew is enough”. With 100 mm of rainfall between 12 and 15 July, Champagne is water-logged, and onsets of downy mildew have been rampant over large swathes of vineyards. The areas around Bar-sur-Seine, the Côte des Blancs and the Sézannais, which had been less affected than others, are also beginning to be impacted. Mildew attacks are so strong in some vineyards that winegrowers or negociants will probably not harvest them. “I've been in this business for 32 years and I've never experienced anything like this”, continues Mazy. “It's worse than 1997 and 2016. In 1997, the rains came later and at the time, no tillage was used. It was easier to get into the vineyards. Organic farmers, many of them in the switch-over phase this year, are particularly affected. Some of them are wondering whether they should continue...”

We have witnessed three phases of contamination, with rain at the beginning of June, then thunderstorms from 18 to 20 June and now a spell of three days of continuous rain”, says Christophe Didier, viticulture consultant at Nicolas Feuillatte. “To make matters worse, temperatures are quite mild. We will see the extent of the damage at the end of July and beginning of August. What is surprising is that the foliage is already at the end of August stage”. Didier noted disparities on the same hillside: “side-by-side spraying is more effective than use of boom sprayers”. He too commented on the despondency felt by some organic winegrowers in the conversion phase. “Some organic growers have already sprayed 16 times with disappointing results. It's a pity, because the rate of conversion in Champagne was very dynamic”.

Torrential rain over the last few days has caused damage, with flooding in wineries and runoff in vineyards. In Ecueil, in Marne, a plot of vines collapsed on Tuesday 13 July. “The vines have gone down a hole, it's a big loss”, said the plot’s winegrower Eric Dravigny to the local newspaper L'Union. “The ground had already fallen by one metre 8 or 9 years ago”. This time, the difference in level has reached several metres, making it impossible to farm the vines.

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