Monday, August 8, 2022

How has the vineyard composition of France changed recently?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about long-term changes in the vineyards of the USA (How has the vineyard area of the US states changed over the past century?), comparing the vineyard area in the distant past with what it is now. Also, I had previously done a similar thing for the vineyards of France (France's changing vineyards) and Australia (Australia's changing vineyards), although covering only the most recent six decades.

Today, I will look at France again, but this time I will focus on the change in individual grape varieties. After all, More vineyard area does not necessarily mean more grape varieties. I have previously looked at individual varieties for Sicily (Sicily is deservedly in the wine spotlight these days), for example, but not for France Very remiss of me!

The comparison concerns the areas of the various red-grape varieties (only) grown in France in 1961 and and 2016 (55 years apart). The 1961 data come from Pierre Galet (1962 Cépages et Vignobles de France, as provide by the American Association of Wine Economists Facebook page. The 2016 data come from Kym Anderson and Signe Nelgen Database of Regional, National and Global Winegrape Bearing Areas by Variety, housed at the Wine Economic Research Centre. *

The main trick was to try to align the various varietal names between the two datasets (ie. identify the synonyms). There appear to be 60 distinct red-grape names involved (plus miscellaneous “Others”). Of these, 30 names were identical in the two sets, and 13 more were listed as synonyms. Another 15 could be deduced via online resources (eg. Lexicon, Wine-Searcher). The two remaining from the 1961 data are: “Morrastel-Bouschet”, which is apparently a cross of Graciano (Morrastel) and Bouschet Petit; and “Aspirans”, which is plural, apparently referring to several similar cultivars, all now uncommon in France. Another plural is “Gamays tenturiers”, which consists of: (at least) Gamay Teinturier de Bouze, Gamay Teinturier de Chaudenay and Gamay Teinturier Freaux. (Teinturier grapes have red flesh as well as skins.)

The 1961 data are clearly only rough estimates, in that they are presented to the nearest 50 or 100 hectares (250 acres), whereas the modern data are based on European Union records, to the nearest 0.1 hectare. The two datasets are shown in the graph. Each point represents one grape variety, located according to its vineyard area in 1961 (horizontally) and its area in 2016 (vertically). Only six of the varieties are labeled. The pink line represents equal areas in both datasets (anything above the line had more area in 2016 while anything below the line had more area in 1961).

Changes in French red-grape varieties

Since most of the points are below the line, more red-grape varieties decreased in area (41 of them) than increased (19) over the 55 years. This is in spite of an apparent 26% increase in total red-grape vineyard area during that same time. This implies a loss of what is referred to as Diversity, in the sense that fewer varieties are coming to dominate the national vineyards. This is generally a Bad Thing (Regional diversity of grape varieties is important for climate change); and France has not done all that well in this regard, compared to many other countries.

The biggest absolute increases in area involved Merlot (+93,500 ha), Syrah (+60,500 ha), Garnacha Tinta (+46,500 ha) and Cabernet Sauvignon (+39,500 ha), followed by Pinot Noir (+23,500 ha) and Cabernet Franc (+18,500 ha). None of these increases is particularly surprising, given the popularity of their resulting wines — success will out. Indeed, on a global scale these are also the biggest red-grape increasers recently, except for Garnacha Tinta, which is among the big global decreasers recently (The grape varieties that have increased and declined the most since 2000). The three points at the very left of the graph represent varieties that were very rare in 1961 but now have 2—3,000 ha (Caladoc, Muscat of Hamburg, Marselan), suggesting a new interest in them.

The biggest absolute decreases in area involved Aramon Noir (-159,000 ha) and Mazuelo (-153,000 ha), followed by Grand Noir (-40,000 ha) and Alicante Henri Bouschet (-32,500 ha). These are pretty dramatic decreases, indicating a pretty serious fall from favor. Mazuelo is also among the big global decreasers (The grape varieties that have increased and declined the most since 2000), while the others are not widely planted outside France. Actually, some of the 1961 varieties are now considered as close to being extinct (Abondonce de Doui, Canari, Gueuche Noir), with one now extremely rare (Gros-Verdot), and others now globally uncommon (Fuella, Teinturier du Cher, as well as the Aspirans mentioned above).

Of the common varieties, Tannat has maintained its area (it is on the pink line in the graph), as has Cinsaut (near the line). These are the exceptions rather than the rule. Another common global pattern is increases in varieties in one country only. The best-known example is Tempranillo, which has had far and away the biggest global increase in area since 2000, but almost exclusively (94%) within Spain (The grape varieties that have increased and declined the most since 2000). Tempranillo was not recorded in France in 1961, but had expanded to 659 ha by 2016.

These days, many grape varieties are international (Wine grape varieties: where in the world are they?), and we thus expect a great deal of similarity in the vineyard composition of both the Old and New Worlds (Which countries are similar to each other, in terms of their grape varieties?). Not unexpectedly, France is rather similar to Spain and Italy in this regard.

Nevertheless, the vineyard grape varieties of France have long been of interest to the wine industry, especially the red ones. Indeed, there was a time when their resulting wines were the gold standard to which others aspired. While this is no longer strictly true (just ask a Californian wine-maker!), the grapes are still of interest. Clearly, the French have not rested on their laurels, but are continuing to make deliberate efforts to move with the times, by changing their vineyard composition.

* Anderson and Nelgen also have data for 14 varieties in France in 1960.

No comments:

Post a Comment