The 2012 grape harvest in France looks set to be the lowest in 20 years after a wretched spring and variable summer.
Wine growers are expecting an “exceptionally small” harvest, which is estimated to produce just 42.5 million hectoliters of wine compared to 51 million last year. This will make it the “smallest harvest since 1991,” said the minister of agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll, during his first meeting with members of the French wine sector since taking his new ministerial role.
The industry blames the fall in volumes to “weather conditions over the last few months that did not spare the vines, some of which were destroyed by frost and hail.”
“Last year, we had a bumper crop – it was the harvest of the century. This year, we’re looking at an average harvest [in terms of volume] but only if the weather is kind to us,” said Pierre-Henri de la Fabregue, a wine grower in Roussillon where the grape harvest started in August.
While volumes are down, “the vintage looks promising,” said fellow Roussillon producer Emmanuel Cazes of Domaine Cazes. “It’s looking good.”
The meeting with the agriculture minister was also an opportunity for members of the wine industry to voice their concerns about taxation, the reform of the agricultural sector and, in particular, the abolition of planting rights.
Le Foll announced that he would be working with other wine-producing countries, including Italy, Spain and Germany, to renegotiate the issue at the European level.
The 2008 European wine reform states that planting rights will be abolished in 2015. “In the absence of any scheme to regulate production volumes, the decision to abolish planting decisions would be harmful for France and would damage our quality wine producers,” claimed Le Foll, a former member of the European Parliament.
"It is not a possible option for France," he added.
Currently, it is necessary to gain an authorization – known as a planting right – to create new vineyards. The measure aims to curb overproduction of wine in Europe, however French wine growers are afraid that the abolition will upset the already fragile balance between supply and demand.