Drought warning across the vineyards of Roussillon

Wednesday July 28 2021 by Vitisphere

 “In April, frost was the only issue, but now we are expecting more [yield] loss due to drought”, sums up Julien Thiery. “In April, frost was the only issue, but now we are expecting more [yield] loss due to drought”, sums up Julien Thiery. - Photo credit : Chambre d'Agriculture des Pyrénées Orientales (grenache)

After mildew last year and now frost and drought this year, winegrowers are under great pressure”, summarises Anne-Marie Castagné, who heads up Domaine Rousdellaro with its 8 hectares of HVE-certified vines in Perpignan. With just 3 millimetres of rain over the last two months, the Catalan winegrower explains that her vines along the valley floor are suffering tremendously, irrespective of whether the soil is sandy-clay or pebbles. “Usually, it rains in April or May, which replenishes water reserves, but this time... nothing”, adds Castagné, who does not irrigate her vines, but rather strives to use foliar fertilisers to help them withstand water stress.

With veraison starting for the Grenache and Syrah – but not yet for the Muscats – predictions of small yields are widespread across the region, where the small size of the berries is making winegrowers shudder. “They look like blackcurrants”, concurs Julien Thiery, head of the viticulture department at the Pyrénées-Orientales chamber of agriculture. He predicts that the berries will struggle to grow with such a lack of water. According to the Perpignan weather station, only 233 mm of rain fell between October 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, compared with 576 mm normally.

Due to the uncustomary drought conditions, “we are starting to see defoliation in the driest plots with the highest-draining soils and lowest active water storage capacities”. The first losses of young vines have also been observed, with “unprecedented drying out of vines planted near metal posts and burning on vines facing the sunset”, explains Thiery. Although the fruit is generally healthy, the viticulturist has noted the emergence of symptoms of water stress over the last two weeks: "I was expecting the worst, but things are going to start getting tense…”

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