The favourable weather that has graced northern Europe since early spring has been a boon to Wallonia’s wine-growers who look set to smash all records, quantitative and qualitative, this year, according to Pierre Rion, head of the Association of Wine-Growers of Wallonia, AVW. Speaking to the Belga news agency on Tuesday, Rion said the grapes “have ripened nicely” and grape picking will start on average two to three weeks earlier than usual. More than a million bottles of wine should be produced this year, he forecasts.
Moreover, the vines have been spared this year from a health perspective since the mildew that often attacks them has stayed away, thanks in part to the drought and high temperatures. While the oidium fungus appeared on some farms with the few scattered rains, it was quickly wiped out after being sprayed with sulphur.
“I have not heard of any incident in 2018,” with the exception of very localized storms accompanied by some hail in June last, Rion stressed. On the other hand, the mid-August rains allowed the grapes to fill out, without causing them to burst.
The summer weather of the last few months will thus enable the growers to produce more than one million bottles from this year’s harvest, a figure that has never before been reached in the south of the country. New plots planted three years ago, about 15 additional hectares, have moreover yielded their first bunches this year. The 2015 harvest had already approached the one-million mark, while those of 2016 and 2017 had each yielded about 600,000 bottles.
Unlike the rest of the farm sector, which suffered from the drought, vines are less prone to water stress since they send their roots over 10 metres underground in search of water. “However, the young plants, with shorter roots, had to be watered,” Rion explained.
Grape picking will generally start around 10 September, two to three weeks earlier than usual. “Some plots of early Pinot Noir will even be already picked this week,” said the association president, himself a proprietor of vineyards in Walloon Brabant for close to 30 years now.
At Les Agaises vineyard, the largest in Wallonia and producer of the Ruffus cuvee, the expectation is “between 200,000 and 250,000 bottles for this exceptional year,” says Agaises’ Arnaud Leroy. The harvesting of the 23 hectares in production at the vineyard is scheduled for 7 to 10 September. The farm also has five hectares of newly planted young vines, amounting to a total of 280,000 plants.
Wallonia has about 100 wine growers in its five provinces for a total of about 165 hectares. Fifty of them produce significant yields, but only about 20 live exclusively off their production. “The trend is clearly towards diversification and organic cultivation, especially for the interspecific varieties” (disease-resistant hybrids), said the wine grower.
“While the 1990s saw the emergence of the pioneers, in the 2000s the professionals took over, then the investors in the 2010s: today we are seeing the advent of wealthy persons in the sector who want to specialize in the top of the line, and to lift the quality of Walloon wine higher,” Rion noted.