Belgium’s wine growers may have escaped the catastrophic damage suffered last week by their German colleagues, but heavy rain could still mean the loss of up to half of this year’s yield.
In the floods that ravaged north-western Europe last week, many German wine growers lost their entire annual crop. Dutch wine producers in Limburg are also feeling the effects of the flooding.
Belgian growers largely escaped major damage, but the heavy rain came on top of problems they were already suffering thanks to the cold, wet spring, according to an enquiry carried out by De Tijd.
“We had a lot of rain and the roads to Dinant were flooded. But because our vineyards are on the hillside, they were not flooded,” explained Jeannette van der Steen, the Dutch owner of the La Bonne Baronne domain on the banks of the Maas.
“It was a tense few moments. A colleague in Heerlaak near Maaseik also narrowly escaped.”
By contrast, Karel Henckens of the Aldeneyck wine estate on the banks of the Maas in Maaseik says he has not suffered any damage from the flooding.
Belgium had 198 wine growers in 2020, 29% more than in 2019. The increase mainly took place in Limburg and Liège provinces, with a total of 587 hectares of vineyards, up 33%.
Production was 1.85 million litres, an increase of 25%. Wallonia produces 10% more volume than Flanders because more sparkling wines are made, although Flanders has twice the area under vines.
Nonetheless, for the wine growers on the Belgian side the heavy rain in July came as adding insult to injury.
The spring was wet and relatively cold, and the summer has been disappointing so far. The result is that the soil remains saturated, and that is bad news for the vines.
“That high humidity affects both the young grapes and the new leaves, via the roots, causing much of the harvest to be lost. Fortunately, we sprayed the fruits against fungus just before the rainfall and just after. Grapes don't like wet feet. That causes mildew, powdery mildew or (the fungal disease) botrytis bunch rot.”
Patrick Nijs of Wijnfaktorij in Antwerp grows his grapes on the hillsides of the Maas valley, and also teaches wine-makers.
“Many Belgian wine growers make wine in the traditional way, but that no longer works now that the confused climate has made the weather more fickle,” he said.
“Wine growers need to prepare better rather than hope for better weather. You have to try to understand what it means when hail, rain, drought and frost alternate much faster throughout the year.”