Wine Press – How does Coronavirus affect cellars in France? 3 winemakers discuss

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The coronavirus pandemic continues to affect almost every aspect of our lives – where we can go, where we work, where we eat and even how we walk on the street.

And although wine sales may be increasing in the United States due to the Coronavirus, I have been wondering for the past few weeks what effect this global pandemic has had on the people who make our wine.

While some industries may stop production for a few weeks or months, winegrowers do not have this luxury. Each spring, their vines bloom. And these winemakers have only one opportunity to get the right harvest each year.

This week, I contacted a few winegrowers that I have had the chance to visit in France in recent years. Below you will find the answers to my questions on how the Coronavirus affects their basement.

The winemakers come from three of the most emblematic wine regions of France – Burgundy, Champagne and Châteauneuf Du Pape in the Rhône region.

In particular, I wanted to know if they are still able to make wine and if they are still able to export their wine to the United States. The winemakers also discussed the development of this year’s wine season in their part of France.

Let me add that I sincerely hope that life will return to normal for all of us as soon as possible here and in France or wherever you read this article.

JOSEPH DROUHIN HOUSE

(Beaune, France)

Answers to questions from Véronique Drouhin, chief oenologist, Maison Joseph Drouhin

How does Coronavirus affect your cellar?

Directly in Beaune, the most affected part is the reception of visitors. We had to close all visits to our historic cellars. It is a shame because it is the time of year when we have a lot of people who come to see our beautiful historic cellars and taste our wines. The other part is of course the business we do with restaurants. For the moment, it is zero because all the restaurants are closed. However, we maintained our direct sales to consumers. We can always send or deliver wine anywhere.

Is your winery still able to export wines to the United States at this time?

Yes, we can still export to the United States.

Has your winery had to delay parts of the winemaking process because of the Coronavirus?

Fortunately no, we can take care of our wines without any problem but we are worried about the next harvest. We will have enough manpower and how will we manage social isolation?

Has the Coronavirus affected the way you treat this year’s grapes that are just starting to grow in the fields?

No, just like in the cellar, we can take care of the vines. It’s actually easier in the vineyard because people usually work alone.

How is this year’s growing season going?

So far, very good. We had some concerns at the beginning of April with some freezing episodes that caused some stress, but we hope we will have no more warnings.

The weather has been magnificent for five weeks and the vines love it. They are growing happily and soon we should see the future tiny clusters. Always an exciting time!

(Find out more about Maison Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy, especially about the wines of Maison Jopseph Drouhin de Meursault and Chambolle-Musigny.)

CHAMPAGNE TAITTINGER

(Reims, France)

Question asked by Claire Sarazin, communication project manager at Champagne Taittinger

How does Coronavirus affect your cellar?

We lost 90 to 95% of the activity

Is your winery still able to export wines to the United States at this time?

No wine is sold at the moment because the borders are closed.

Has your winery had to delay parts of the winemaking process because of the Coronavirus?

We were closed from March 16, part of the employees (sales and marketing / communication team) worked in home office mode, the wine team had to readjust their way of working but never stopped working. Currently, our 2 production sites have restarted production by adapting to all health requirements since April 13. This involves reinventing the way of working on a production site, but so far everything is fine.

Has the Coronavirus affected the way you treat this year’s grapes that are just starting to grow in the fields?

We do everything as before without doing anything as before, that is to say that the activities are exactly the same.

The vine continues to grow, our objective is to preserve and secure future harvests so we continue our activities but we have redesigned, reflected all our actions: closed meeting places, no changing rooms, no canteens, individual transport, distance in the vines. So, after having pruned and tied our vines, we are currently in a waiting phase for budding; it is generally a collective method generally organized at the level of a municipality and which this year will be organized individually. In addition we also work the soil because it is necessary to remove the grass under the row in particular, this grass is extremely competitive for the vine at this stage.

5) How is this year’s growing season going?

This season, the weather has been incredible and we expect an early harvest (our cellar manager Mr. Alexandre Ponnavoy talks about the end of August so far), things can change but at the moment if the weather season continues, which should be the case.

(Read about Taittinger and other champagne houses in Reims, France.)

ROGER SABON AREA

(Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, France)

Questions asked by Didier Negron, head winemaker at Domaine Roger Sabon

How does Coronavirus affect your cellar?

For the moment, the Covid19 crisis is of course affecting our commercial activity. No sales on the French market, we sent pallets to different export markets for a pre-crisis order.

Is your winery still able to export wines to the United States at this time?

For the moment, we are awaiting the position of the distributors, because this is the moment when our national agent offers the new vintage (2018). We have the ability to send pallets when needed to the United States, and I hope that despite the crisis, the distributor has a position to import certain cases with the fact that the Trump tax remains the same until August and with our alcohol levels, we have no tax increases.

Has your winery had to delay parts of the winemaking process because of the Coronavirus?

Luckily, this does not pose any problem to us, as we are a small structure very often, I work alone in the cellar. Before the crisis, our stocks were very low and we had the opportunity to practice several days of bottling, today we are more ready for the moment when the commercial activity will be better, not before the fall I think .

Has the Coronavirus affected the way you treat this year’s grapes that are just starting to grow in the fields?

In the vineyard, at the start of the season it is very often a mechanic working with a tractor. For the moment, our employees are working alone on the tractor and preparing the vineyard for later.

How is this year’s growing season going?

For the moment, not so bad in our region we had good rains at the end of 2019. Just a little problem of frost but not much in our vineyard of Vin de France. But the harvest period is long and we are paying attention to the 2020 vintage.

(Find out more about the Roger Sabon Estate and the Châteauneuf-Du-Pape wine region in France.)

Wine press by Ken Ross Appears on Masslive.com every Monday and in the Republican weekend section every Thursday.

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