Bordeaux’s Smoking Pine Forests: Local Winemakers Ponder the Impacts
Current wildfires could have longer-term impact.
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The sight of smoke drifting over the vineyards is something that every winemaker dreads, from California’s sun-drenched slopes to Australia’s rugged winelands. It can mean wildfires, and that means problems. If the current experience in south-west France is anything to go by, Europe’s winemakers will have to get used to dealing with these issues with increasing regularity too.
Smoke taints everything
It’s not just the direct damage that such uncontrolled burning can do to crops and machinery - to say nothing of the danger to vineyard staff – there’s also the more insidious impact of the smoke itself. And smoke taint can devastate an entire harvest. The volatile compounds given off by burning wood can be absorbed by grapes, binding to their sugars and locking unpleasant, ashy or even medicinal aromas inside. Like other so-called flavour precursors, these often only become apparent later in the winemaking process, during fermentation, for example, or maturation. It can be hugely problematic for winemakers and difficult to control.
Precious pine forests in peril
But in Bordeaux, the current wildfires are threatening another, longer-term impact too. The region’s southerly climate, as every student of wine knows, is moderated by the Atlantic Ocean. This same maritime influence however also threatens the vineyards with strong, salt-laden winds which can damage vines and their precious fruit.
It’s the Landes Forest – the same pine forest currently on fire – that protects Bordeaux’s vineyards from the full impact of these harmful blasts. This vast man-made forest, stretching all the way to the Spanish border, was initially planted in the nineteenth century to help stabilise the area dominated by marshland and moving coastal sand dunes. Precisely what significant damage to these precious pines might mean is not yet clear. But as one prominent local winemaker confirmed, it’s certainly giving the Bordeaux wine industry a lot to think about for the 2022 harvest and the future of their growing environment as well.
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