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France Reclaims Top Production Title | Wine-Searcher News & Features

Most of the news this week has been around the imminent harvest, but there’s always room for some Grammy updates, too.

© Image by Peter H from Pixabay | France is on the way to becoming the world’s largest wine producer again, according to a report released this week.

Harvest news dominates this week’s stories, not least due to France’s Agriculture Ministry releasing its harvest report early in the week. Harvest is still a few weeks away from getting into full swing but there’s no doubt 2023 has had challenges for much of Europe, not just the big three (Italy, France and Spain). 

And there’s also some news from the light entertainment front. Read on…

France announces provisional harvest forecast

The French agriculture ministry this week announced the country’s official harvest forecast with overall volumes in 2023 set to be between 44 and 47 million hectoliters (4.4-4.7 billion liters). These forecasts were provisional, underlined the report from Agrest (the ministry’s statistics body), which underlined the “uncertainty surrounding mildew depredation in the vineyards of Bordeaux and the South West“.

Beyond Bordeaux, the South West and a drought-hit Languedoc-Roussillon, “the situation in the other vineyards remains generally favorable – with soils having good levels of water in most catchments,” said the report (via news agency AFP).

French wine news website Vitisphere.com took the opportunity to ask whether this could mean a return to the top of the pile in global production terms.

The website said a predicted 44.5 million hectoliters would be “enough to restore France to the title of world’s leading producer, [a title] lost to Italy since 2015”.

Pointing out that Italy, too, has been heavily hit by mildew this season, Vitisphere quoted Italian agricultural union Coldiretti as saying that 2023 has been “one of the worst years in the history of Italian vineyards for a century, along with 1948, 2007 and 2017”.

But, as reporter Alexandre Abellan pointed out, this news is bittersweet given the country’s overproduction issues (and the backdrop of current crisis distillation – to ease oversupply – under way).

“While, once again, it becomes the number one wine producer in the world, the French wine industry is, above all, undergoing the challenges of becoming the number one marketer of wine,” concluded the report.

France: state of the nation

With the publication of the Agrest harvest forecast and harvest already under way in Roussillon, both AFP and Vitisphere took the opportunity to present a run-down of the state of play in the nation’s vineyards.

First, the good news: Champagne, the Loire, Corsica, Cognac, Jura and Provence are all set to have a good harvest should the season keep on an even keel. Alsace, Burgundy, the Rhône and Savoie too, as long as mildew (the undeniable bête-noire of French vineyards in 2023) is kept in check.

“The potential is promising, with a good number of bunches, despite occasional mildew pressure,” Agrest said of Burgundy, via AFP.

But it has not been easy year. As regular Sunday readers will know, the harvest in the South West will be “amputated” (in the words of Vitisphere) by mildew: Bordeaux, Bergerac and wider Gascony (Madiran, Irouléguy Jurançon, etc.) have all been hit, with some even getting hail damage to the bargain. The question remains just how badly yields – and quality – will be affected.Initial estimates set the overall damage across the wider region at around 30 percent.

“Mildew has strongly [affected] the yield,” said the Bordeaux wine trade body’s Christophe Château. According to AFP, Château added that harvest in Bordeaux would likely get under way in early September for Sauvignon Blanc and mid-September for Merlot.

As well as the seemingly ubiquitous mildew pressure, some parts of southern France have battled drought through major portions of the growing season. Vineyards in Provence, southern Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon had, in some cases, emerged from winter already worryingly low on groundwater reserves.Rains have helped but it is clear from previous reports that, in some areas, vines have shut down completely.

Nonetheless, France is officially still on course for an average vintage in volume terms. 

Spanish wines on show at Latin Grammys

A major Jumilla-based wine producer has been announced as the official wine of the 24th Latin Grammy Awards, set to be held in Seville, southern Spain, in November. According to the Murcia-based La Verdad news website, Viña Familias Gil – also a major national producer – will pour a number of wines at the event.

As well as its home winery (Bodegas Juan Gil) in Jumilla, the company oversees numerous estates across the country. The wines poured at the first Latin Grammys to be held outside of the United States will reflect this.

On the list to grace the tables of attendees are the likes of Bodegas Tridente Tempranillo (from Tierra del Vino de Zamora), Flor de Goda (Campo de Borja), Shaya (Verdejo from Rueda), Lagar da Condesa (Rias Baixas), Rosario Vera (Rioja), Honoro Vera (Garnacha from Calatayud) and the Juan Gil Plata label from the family’s home estate in Jumilla. “All of them will be protagonists at different moments during the great event,” said La Verdad. “For instance, Rioja Rosario Vera, will be present at the Leading Ladies of Entertainment segment.”

Although the guest list has yet to be confirmed, it is understood Italian singer Laura Pausini, who was one of the hosts of last year’s awards, will receive the Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year award at the event.

Heat prompts early harvest in Spain

More harvest news – this time from Spain where heat and drought, particularly in the southern Spanish region of Andalucia (home to, among a host of denominations, Sherry), has seen harvest get under way early. Initial reports, from the country’s OIVE wine trade body state that, although small in volume, quality is high.

The organization noted that harvest began two weeks ago in the inland Montilla-Moriles region with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo and Moscatel all coming in to the wineries. Pedro Ximenez – the area’s most planted variety and the backbone of most Sherry production – is not due to be harvested for another week or so.

The region has experienced severe drought conditions although official reports indicate only yield has been affected.

Further north, the little-known region of Cebreros, just south of Ávila in the Sierra de Gredos (80km/50 miles west of Madrid), which is best-known for its potent red wines from old-vine Garnacha, began harvest on Tuesday this week – albeit with the white Albillo Real variety. This is one of the region’s earliest recorded harvests and, while drought and high temperatures have been a factor, rains in May and June helped the vines in a tough (but again, potentially high-quality) season.

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