Letter | Published:

Climate change decouples drought from early wine grape harvests in France

Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 715719 (2016) | Download Citation


Across the world, wine grape phenology has advanced in recent decades1,2,3, in step with climate-change-induced trends in temperature—the main driver of fruit maturation—and drought. Fully understanding how climate change contributes to changes in harvest dates, however, requires analysing wine grape phenology and its relationship to climate over a longer-term context, including data predating anthropogenic interference in the climate system. Here, we investigate the climatic controls of wine grape harvest dates from 1600–2007 in France and Switzerland using historical harvest4 and climate data5,6,7. Early harvests occur with warmer temperatures (−6 days °C−1) and are delayed by wet conditions (+0.07 days mm−1; +1.68 days PDSI−1) during spring and summer. In recent decades (1981–2007), however, the relationship between harvest timing and drought has broken down. Historically, high summer temperatures in Western Europe, which would hasten fruit maturation, required drought conditions to generate extreme heat. The relationship between drought and temperature in this region, however, has weakened in recent decades and enhanced warming from anthropogenic greenhouse gases can generate the high temperatures needed for early harvests without drought. Our results suggest that climate change has fundamentally altered the climatic drivers of early wine grape harvests in France, with possible ramifications for viticulture management and wine quality.

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The authors thank I. García de Cortázar-Atuari for help with the Daux data, H. Eyster, S. Gee and J. Samaha for extracting wine quality data and K. Nicholas for comments on an earlier draft. LDEO contribution no. 7976.

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  1. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York City, New York 10025, USA

    • Benjamin I. Cook
  2. Division of Ocean and Climate Physics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

    • Benjamin I. Cook
  3. Arnold Arboretum, Boston, Massachusetts 02131, USA

    • Elizabeth M. Wolkovich
  4. Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Elizabeth M. Wolkovich


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B.I.C. and E.M.W. conceived of the paper and contributed equally to the writing. B.I.C. conducted the climate analyses and processing of the harvest data, with contributions from E.M.W. E.M.W. performed the wine quality analysis.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Benjamin I. Cook.

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