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A Look at France's Grape Harvest 2012

A Look at France’s Grape Harvest 2012

Published on September 17, 2012
The grape harvest 2012 has begun since 1 month in South of France and will go on till late October all over the country. The meeting between the French Minister for Agriculture and wine field officials on August 30 enables to highlight the beginning and the outlooks of this harvest 2012.
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French Minister of Agriculture Reports on 2012’s Anticipated Vintage

French Minister for Agriculture, Food Industry and Forest, Stéphane Le Foll has announced a below-average year for the nation’s grape harvest citing this year’s unusual weather (a rainy July and an August heatwave). Following a meeting with French wine industry experts on August 30, Mr. Le Foll indicated that the 2012 grape harvest in France is expected to be low, with an anticipated wine yield of 42.5 million hectolitres produced (1.12 billion gallons).

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Display shelf of wine bottles
Source : French Ministry of Agriculture : Pascal Xicluna

A dynamic field: exportations in 2011 and 2012

French Minister for Agriculture, Food Industry and Forest, Stéphane Le Foll also praised wine field dynamism, citing strong exportations levels. Indeed, exportations of French wine saw an increase of more than 7 billion euros in 2011, representing 14 million hectolitres - nearly 370 million gallons! Reporting after the first seven months of 2012, exportations seem to be remaining stable. Wine exports thus far total 5 billion euros worldwide, with 13.1 percent increase from 2011 of exports to the USA.

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Grape pickers in a vineyard
Source : French Ministry of Agriculture

What is the grape harvest?

Grapes are harvested when they are ripe and their ratio of sugar/tartness is the best for wine production.

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The grape harvest
Source : French Ministry of Agriculture : Pascal Xicluna

When does it take place and why?

Grape harvests generally happen between July and October though various factors can affect the time of year:

The “ban des vendanges” is the administrative authorization to begin the grape harvests, and the date is decided by various industry officials. They base their decision to begin ’’ban des vendanges’’ on the following:

  • Climat factors: grapes more exposed to sun reach ripeness earlier than the ones less exposed.
  • Production region: considering the geographic location is vitally important as the soil type and climatic factors influence the grape growth.
  • Grape variety: (called “cépage”) considering the species of grape is necessary, as not every variety requires the same time to reach ripeness.
  • Finally, the wine type: depending on the qualities ultimately desired in a wine, the grape harvest can occur earlier or later on in the season. Various traits in species of grape, such as sugar level (which determines alcohol content in wine) are important to factor into beginning the grape harvest. Others include:
    • Acidity which decreases with the grape ripeness as bacteria destroy malic acid and tartaric acid during malolactic fermentation.
    • Color due to tannins in the grape skin, changes with ripeness too. Important in making red wines and “rosé”. It is called "phenolic maturity".
    • Finally, the aromatic compounds level changes also with the ripeness of grapes. They determine the organoleptic qualities of wines. Tasting grapes enables to have an idea of these future attributes.
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Wine grower in his vineyard
Source : French Ministry of Agriculture

Early grape harvest

Grape harvests traditionally take place in France between September and October, though sometimes they can occur earlier. An earlier harvest is called “vendanges précoces” which signifies that due to an unusual weather grapes have reached ripeness earlier than expected.

In the Languedoc-Roussillon region (south of France- eastern from Pyrénées mountains), the 2012 grape harvest began on August 9, just a little earlier than last year. Due to its geographic and climatic factors, this region is always the first one to begin harvesting.

To learn more :
- Article from L’Indépendant 10/08/2012
- Article from Le Monde 20/08/2012
- Agreste
- Terroir: What does this typical French word mean?
- Wine Quiz

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