Because the Cahors wine union authorizes winegrowers to irrigate for the first time

the essential
Last summer the Cahors wine defense union modified its inspection plan to allow winegrowers to irrigate during drought. A great first, on an experimental basis. And the result of a much more general reflection on the means to deal with drought.

The 2022 vintage is certainly to be marked with a white cross in the Lotto. Last summer, for the first time since the existence of the Cahors AOC wine defense union, some winemakers were able to irrigate the plots. A practice perhaps authorized by the specification but which has never been implemented. “We have always refused to do it, but last summer we had to face a phenomenal drought. In some sectors for more than two months, our sensors measuring water stress indicated that we were completely in the red,” recalls Sébastien Bernède, deputy – president of the union and also winegrower in Vire-sur-Lot. As required by law, in mid-July the union knocked on the door of INAO, the National Institute of Origin and Quality, to ask for help, with supporting data.

“The situation was too alarming. Not only is there no water in the vineyards, but there are no reserves and therefore the capital is in danger”, he adds. The green light is granted, on an experimental basis. Too complicated to modify the specifications: the new provision is included in the inspection plan. Of the 3300 hectares of the PDO, only 12 have been irrigated by winegrowers equipped with drip systems. “Water is a resource to be rationalised, we are experimenting with this curative and non-preventive irrigation as a means of adapting to climate change and if we realize that this does not have the desired result and that it is not virtuous then we will let it go”, he adds the vice-president.It is out of the question that the union should open the floodgates.

Two necessary requests, check…

“The water is drawn from reservoirs, artificial lakes and from the lost waters of the Lot, never from the aquifers”, reassures Lucien Dimani, vice president of the union and producer in Saint-Vincent-Rive d’Olt. This new practice is highly controlled at an environmental level but also at a regulatory level. “Once a year, winegrowers wishing to irrigate can now contact the union and tell us their capacity, their resources, the number of plots…” underlines Vincent Lamache, union technician. The winegrowers thus obtain a derogation. The INAO then gives its consent or not. If so, the winemaker sends a second request, 48 hours before the irrigation and again, the INAO decides in favor or not and according to the weather conditions. “The external checks are carried out by the independent body Qualisud and we also observe our sensors”, adds the technician.

“We can be tempted to press the button, it is true and to turn on the tap, Sébastien Bernède acknowledges, but we must be reasonable”. This new provision is part of a more general reflection of the union that is trying to fight against a drought that promises to be increasingly difficult. “We are thinking of carbon-free solutions to prevent frosts, planting densities and therefore water stress to limit the impact of drought, reducing the height of the canopy”, continues the vice president. To find the answers together, the Lotois, forerunners, are setting up an inter-professional committee which would bring together other APOs facing the same problem. A new generation that has heard the old ones say that good wine could not be made by irrigating and that knows today that without irrigation one can no longer make short wine.

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