top of page

The wine industry under threat

Dernière mise à jour : 29 juin 2023

PART 1 : The weight of the wine industry in France

France is the world's leading wine exporter, before Italy and Spain. It records impressive surpluses: 15.7 billion euros in exports, or 18.5% of the world market share, and a positive balance of 12.4 billion euros in 2019. (To learn more, read our article: relocating the supply of plants). Wine employs more than 800,000 people in France, with 16 out of 22 regions producing wine. Languedoc is the largest and most productive wine region, Provence the oldest and Burgundy the richest.

The wines that are exported the most are the wines of Bordeaux. Their exports exceed the 2 million hectoliters mark and a turnover of 2 billion euros.

The top three wine producing countries in Europe and worldwide are, in order, Italy (50 million hectoliters), France (44 million hectoliters) and Spain (35 million hectoliters).

France recorded a 16% increase between 2021 and 2022, while Spain recorded a 10% drop in annual volumes. This is due to extreme weather events in Spain with scorching temperatures and drought even more intense than in France.

Figure 1: Infographic on French viticulture. Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty.

Globally, 767 liters of wine are consumed every second, according to the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV). In 2014, 5 countries consume half of the world's wine consumption: the United States (13%), France (12%), Italy (9%), Germany (8%) and China (7%). In France, which is the second largest consumer of wine in the world, consumption has been falling sharply for several years, and is now at 12.5 L of alcohol per year per inhabitant over 15 years old, half as much as in the 1960s. This is due to an intensive government policy to reduce alcohol consumption in general. Drinking habits have also changed and the French now prefer to drink little wine, but of good quality. Regular consumption has thus given way to occasional consumption.

Wine is the second most popular alcoholic beverage in France, just behind beer and ahead of champagne (which is also a wine but sparkling) (c.f Fig.2)

Figure 2: Histogram of French people's favorite alcoholic drinks in 2022. Source: Statista.

Did you know that? The winegrower is in charge of the cultivation of the vine. He takes care of the planting, growth and well-being of the vines. His role is to produce the best grapes possible in order to make a quality wine.
The winemaker is involved in the entire process of making a wine: from the maintenance of the vines to the bottling. He then manages the marketing of his vintages. We can also divide the winemaker's job into two: the winemaker and the wine merchant.
In practice, the distinction is less pronounced and winegrowers can call themselves winemakers even if they only work with vines.
The oenologist has undergone training. He is specialized in the study of wine making, conservation and tasting techniques. He must be able to extract the best from the raw material at his disposal. Oenologists are often cellar masters and take care of the wines and spirits stored in a cellar.
The sommelier is the professional in charge of the cellar (purchase, conservation), the advice and the service of wines in a restaurant.

PART 2 : The environmental impact of wine

Conventional viticulture is one of the agricultural activities that consumes the most phytosanitary products. Indeed, the vine is a plant very sensitive to diseases, especially in case of high humidity, conducive to the development of fungi (mildew, oidium, black rot, ...). However, viticulture uses mainly copper, which is a biological product, heavier than other phytosanitary products.

Between 1950 and 1990, the vines were systematically treated all year long in a rather intensive way. Nowadays, the quantities used and the number of times they are sprayed are more controlled and are often localized to the areas of the vineyard most at risk.

For grapes to be transformed into wine, they go through numerous stages that require large quantities of water: grape sorting, tending, pressing and fermentation. In total, from the cultivation of the grape to our 13 cL glass, 120 liters of water are required, according to the NGO Water Footprint Network.

Figure 3: Graph showing the results of the Bordeaux carbon footprint established between 2007 and 2012 with the firm Carbone4. Source : Ni bu ni connu

The top three energy expenditure items for the Bordeaux industry represent 76% of the carbon footprint of wine production and are :

  • Incoming materials: materials used in the production and transportation of wine (glass, plastic, cardboard, etc.)

  • Freight: road, sea and air transport (excluding passenger transport)

  • Energy: energy used for wine production (electricity, fuel for agricultural machinery, etc.)

In 2020, the total carbon footprint of the Bordeaux industry is 768,000 tons of CO2 equivalent per year, the equivalent of the carbon footprint of 76,000 French people.

PART 3 : Adapting the wine industry to reduce its environmental impact

Viticulture seeks to renew itself in the long term by: reducing pesticides, fighting against dieback and finding solutions to climate change.

In 2008, the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB) set the objective of reducing the carbon footprint of the industry by 15% in 5 years and 75% by 2050. However, in 2020 we observe an increase of 6% of emissions due to the more important work of the soil with fuel consuming tractors in order to reduce the use of phytosanitary products.

In 2015, the OIV adopted a resolution to standardize the system for calculating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in viticulture worldwide. The ADEME puts forward an average value of 1.1 kg eq CO2 per 75cL bottle for France. The packaging of the bottle (more or less heavy bottles, corking and over-corking, ...) accounts for between 40 and 50% of these emissions. The share of transport in the final carbon footprint varies greatly depending on the volume and distance of the wine exported.

In Champagne, important work has been done to reduce the energy impact of the bottle. By redesigning the bottle to reduce its size while supporting the high pressure inside a champagne bottle, the champagne committee was able to reduce its mass by 20%. Other initiatives were born to reduce the impact of the bottle. For example, the company Oé for good has launched a deposit system for its bottles. Other methods of packaging wine have emerged: Bag-in-Box (BiB), bulk wine, can. Systems that work well in Anglo-Saxon countries but have difficulty establishing themselves in France. However, the can has a very low carbon footprint. It does not contain plastic and is easy to recycle. These alternative models are not recommended for a long conservation of wine, however 80% of the wines are consumed just after their marketing.

In the European Union, 73% of glass, including wine bottles, was recycled in 2013, saving 7 million tons of CO2.

In 2019, the French wine industry is committed to reducing its use of plant protection products by 50% by 2025, in accordance with the directive for the use of pesticides compatible with sustainable development set by the European Union.

Organic viticulture does not use synthetic organic molecules, in order to favor the natural fight between species.

The organic viticulture represents 9% of the vineyard in 2016, that is 70,740 hectares, cultivated by 5263 wine farms and is expected to increase to 14% by 2022. The problem is that this same organic agriculture is not always the least polluting if, for example, the treatments are multiplied and therefore the expenses in diesel are greater, as we have seen in the case of the Bordeaux area. Indeed, organic farms must work the soil more often in order to reduce their use of herbicides. This tillage requires tractors that consume a lot of fuel. It should be noted that some organic farms use animal traction on their plots to replace the tractor. This practice is not very profitable and is still minimal. Finally, the phytosanitary products used in organic farming are called contact products (as opposed to systemic products used in conventional farming). Contact products remain on the surface of the leaves without penetrating the plant. They act by preventing pathogens from entering the leaf. Unfortunately, contact products are washed off in case of rain and do not protect the new shoots during the growth of the vine. Therefore, they must be applied more often than systemic products.

Between 2010 and 2016, the turnover of organic wine has increased sixfold to reach 792 million euros. This meets the demand of consumers who are waiting for a more environmentally friendly agriculture and food.

Other avenues are being studied and tested by certain estates and interprofessions to improve their carbon footprint. These initiatives are varied and concern multiple subjects:

  • Development of CUMA (Cooperative for the use of agricultural equipment) in order to pool equipment rather than buy it

  • Reduction of the number of treatments

  • New agronomic practices: agroforestry, organic viticulture, ...

  • Transformation of wood waste into pellets (ex: vinea energie)

  • Ban on the use of candles during frost episodes

Finally, the wine industry relies more and more on quality labels such as the HVE label, the organic label or the Vignerons Engagés label. To learn more about labels, read our comic book: Tom Astuce presents the quality labels.

PART4 : Problems faced by winegrowers

The Climate

With climate change, the years are warmer and the harvest is earlier. On average, the harvest takes place about 15 days earlier than 40 years ago.

The increase in temperature and greater exposure to the sun makes the grapes sweeter. They will then produce wine of the same nature, which induces a higher percentage of alcohol. Patrick Bertuzzi, director of the Agroclim unit at INRA, suggests an increase in the order of "one degree every ten years in the vineyards of the south of the country, and about 0.5 or 0.7 degrees in those of the north".

This phenomenon of warming also leads to a weakening of the stocks. With a vine that buds in March, the risks induced by the frost can only reach it since they last until May. Some naturally early grape varieties will be particularly affected by the increase in temperature. This is the case for Gamay, Chardonnay or Sauvignon.

Finally, the heat has a great impact on the wine workers, making their work more difficult, leading to more frequent breaks and therefore production losses. Also, in order to avoid the grapes being too hot at the time of harvesting (which denatures the wine), the harvest is done at night or early in the morning.

Frost is a random natural phenomenon that, with climate change, can be devastating. If winter frosts are mainly impacting young vines, spring frosts can have harmful consequences on the current production. There are several types of frosts depending on the season:

  • In autumn, we talk about early frosts: if the temperature goes below -2.5°C, young vines, whose leaves have not yet fallen, are impacted. The early loss of leaves weakens the young vine for the following year and will impact its production. The frosts will also trigger the premature dormancy of the other vines, and the plants will present a bad drying of the wood if they had not accumulated enough reserves. This phenomenon is less and less frequent with climate change because the first frosts are later.

  • In winter, frosts can be fatal for the vine, even if it is in dormancy. Below -15°C, frosts affect all the organs of the vine and can cause its death. However, it is a rare phenomenon because the vineyards are generally located at low altitudes and not very frosty.

  • In spring, frosts cause direct damage to the grape production in progress. Frosts below -2°C are more detrimental to the yield than to the durability of the plant. If the drop in temperature is progressive, the vine will better withstand the frost. The greatest risk at the moment is that a mild winter will cause a premature recovery of the vine, followed by a sudden return of the cold leading to the destruction of the buds or the necrosis of certain branches. Spring frosts have increased significantly due to climate change.

What is scouring? Scouring is the process of hardening tree branches and twigs before winter.

Hail is another weather event that has a significant impact on the vine. Hailstones hitting leaves, branches and bunches, can strongly affect the photosynthetic potential of leaves, the resistance of shoots and the integrity of grape berries. The increase in the number of severe weather events, including hail with larger hail sizes, is a consequence of climate change.

Some hot regions (South of France, Australia, California), are also more prone to fires which can be hard to control because of the strong winds and destroy many vineyards.

Climate change could lead to the disappearance of more than half of the world's wine-producing regions because of an arid climate and a lack of water. Grapes are very sensitive to temperature changes. Even if heat is one of the main problems, it is the lack of water that will have the greatest impact on vineyards. The problem is therefore urgent for the wine world.

The diseases

Several diseases can affect the vine. Among the fungal diseases we find :

  • mildew

  • powdery mildew

  • black-rot

  • wood diseases: esca, eutypiosis, black dead arm

  • excoriosis

  • botrytis

The best known disease and the number one enemy of the vine is mildew. Late blight was imported from America in the 19th century. It is a disease caused by a pathogenic fungus, Phytophtora viticola, which develops mainly from April to June and then in the fall in humid weather when the temperature oscillates between 17 and 25°C. This fungus develops on leaves that have fallen to the ground. It emits mobile zoospores which are carried on the host plant and spread the infection.

mage 1: Downy mildew on leaves. Source :

The mildew of the vine can attack the bunches, more or less late and will cover them with a whitish down. On the leaf, the mildew will form "oil spots" on the upper face, which corresponds to a whitish down on the lower face of the leaf. Finally, on the buds and branches, there will be a curling up and a whitish down. The control strategy against downy mildew is to treat at the right time to block the development of the disease.

246€/ha: this is the average investment of a winegrower in France in 2012 for his fight against mildew.

As with all plants, insect pests attacking grapevines can cause significant damage in vineyards if not controlled. The main pests of grapevines are: the green leafhopper, the trodeuse, the flavescence dorée leafhopper, the drosophila and especially the phylloxera.

The phylloxera is a biting insect related to the aphid. Originally from the eastern United States, it appeared in France in the 19th century. Today phylloxera is present in almost all vineyards in the world, except in Chile and Cyprus due to their geographical isolation (mountains, sea, desert). On the lower part of the leaf blade, the phylloxera sting causes the formation of galls which contain thickened hairs, the insect and its eggs. The galls, by compromising the photosynthetic potential, induce a decrease in the accumulation of sugars in the berries.

Phylloxera can attack the roots by forming nodosities and tuberosities. At the site of the puncture, growth stops while the surrounding tissues proliferate. Phylloxera develops under the periderm causing a proliferation of micro-organisms responsible for rotting, which leads to the death of the vine.

Image 2: Gall on a vine leaf due to Phylloxera. Source IFV.

There is no specific phytosanitary treatment against phylloxera. However, vineyards are fighting it by injecting non-toxic chemical substances into the roots of the vines, such as carbon sulphide (which is not very effective on deep roots), by suffocating the insects by submerging the vineyard, or by using hybrids from American species that are more resistant to phylloxera (but which result in poor quality wine).

The method used all over the world and which allowed the different vineyards to survive is the grafting of classic vitis vinifera grape varieties on rootstocks from American species (vitis berlandieri, riparia, ...). The American species having evolved during centuries on the American continent in contact with the aphid have become resistant to the latter. By using these American vines as rootstocks, the vines have the root system resistant to phylloxera and the aerial system (and therefore the grapes) of the proper varieties of our different vineyards


Trump taxes have led to a 30% drop in exports to the United States in the last quarter of 2019. These taxes originate from the aeronautics dispute between Airbus and Boeing that dates back to 2004. In retaliation for the preferential treatment that the European Union would have given to Airbus, the Trump administration had then applied customs duties of up to 25% on European wines of less than 14°. This tax had a heavy economic impact on the French wine industry. However, in June 2021, this tax was suspended for five years.

Contrary to what one might have thought, the Covid-19 crisis has not had much impact on the wine industry. World wine consumption has fallen by only 3% in 2020, which is less than the estimates made by the OIV, which predicted a decline of 10%. However, strong variability has been recorded by country: while some countries have maintained a stable consumption of wine as France and Germany, others have recorded increases (+7.5% in Italy; +18.4% in Brazil) and others decreases (-6.8% in Spain; -19% in South Africa).

In France, to counter the closure of bars and restaurants, winemakers have set up online wine sales platforms. 67% of winemakers and wine merchants intend to continue to exploit the new distribution channels and services they have set up during the Covid.

PARTIE 5 : What solutions?

Adapting plots to climate change

Current varieties can be replaced by more resistant varieties that can survive a warmer climate. These changes could avoid half of the losses in case of a 2°C increase, and more than a third in case of a 4°C increase.

Mathematical models have also determined where each variety would do best based on temperature increases. By changing certain varieties, winemakers can reduce potential losses. For example, Grenache and Mourvède could replace Pinot Noir and Merlot, indicating that the varieties used in the Pays d'Oc would be better suited to the Bordeaux region with climate change. In Burgundy, there could be a replacement of Pinot Noir by Mourvèdre or Grenache. In Alsace, Riesling could be replaced by Trebbiano. These changes will have legal and legislative consequences, especially due to the appellations of origin.

In order to face the different consequences of climate change, the IFV, the Rosé Center and the Var Chamber of Agriculture have launched an experimental project to study the impact of vine shading on water stress, microclimate and berry ripeness by installing vertical nets.

New technologies

The most affluent châteaux use drones and robots to facilitate the work of winegrowers and to adapt their production to the challenges of climate change.

For example, there is a straddling robot capable of mechanically weeding the rows of vines, thus avoiding the use of herbicides. Some robots can also analyze field data: plant temperature, nitrogen level, humidity. The automation of this information collection has advantages in terms of cost and optimizes the time of the winegrower who can devote to other tasks. Drones can be used to monitor vines and detect diseases or evaluate the vigor of the plants. Thus, phytosanitary or nutrient treatments are targeted on the parts of the plot that need it.

The Farm3 solution

Farm3 works on young grapevines to prepare them for transplanting into the ground.

Following two studies carried out on Chardonnay grape varieties, Farm3 has obtained good results on the habituation to hydric stress of young vine plants which are then replanted in the ground.

Image 3: Experiments conducted on grapevines in the Farm3 phenotyping center in Besançon. PHOTO : FARM3

The study carried out under different irrigation conditions revealed specific water conditions (D and E) favoring root growth and colonization of the pot after transfer (c.f image. 3).

Image 4: Irrigation scenarios applied to vine plants in Farm3 growing room according to root length in cm and photo of roots in pot. Source: Farm3

Currently, Farm3 is conducting experiments in its Besançon research center on their young vine plants (coming out of the nursery) in order to get them used to the dryness of their plots. The feasibility study in an industrial growth chamber allows stratification, growth and storage in the same structure with transplantation to the plot. The accustomed plants can then be progressively integrated in the vineyard during the complantation or the renewal.


35 vues0 commentaire


bottom of page