The Hautes-Alpes vines, a “pioneer front” in the face of climate change

Par Angela Bolis

Posted on October 17, 2021 at 3:11 a.m. – Updated on October 18, 2021 at 10:51 a.m.

Delphine and Emmanuel Berteloot are Burgundians. He devoted his career to wine trading in a large house on the Côtes de Beaune. At the time of retirement, the idea sprouted to cultivate their own vineyard… in the Hautes-Alpes. Opposite their plot, the lake of Serre-Ponçon, deep blue and sparkling, and all around, the mountains. It is here that in 2019 they planted their first vines on a 5 hectare site near Embrun, at the end of a steep path, 900 meters above sea level. “It’s wonderful working here, isn’t it? “, launches Mr. Berteloot, visibly overwhelmed.

Of course, there is the landscape, but above all the climate, which is of great interest in this time of climate change. “Because of the warming, it is essential to be located at these altitudes to benefit from more freshness, and a large thermal amplitude between day and night. This makes a wine that is not too heavy, not too alcoholic… like what we tasted before ”, exposes the winemaker.

In full sun, ventilated by the wind and fed by springs, its vines seem to be delighted. “They even give too much, we had to cut bunches to be more concentrated. And I hardly need to treat them ”, Emmanuel Berteloot is astonished. The harvest is about to end there, in mid-October, more than a month after the vineyards in the south of France. They will give wines called “Le Roc” or “Altitude 880”, which draw their inspiration from Switzerland and the Alpine arc.

Emmanuel Bertheloot checks the health of his vines in his Mont-Guillaume estate, in the Embrunais massif (Hautes-Alpes), on September 30, 2021.
The bunches reach maturity at the Mont Guillaume domain, in the Embrunais massif (Hautes-Alpes), on September 30, 2021.

The Hautes-Alpes vineyard is the highest in France, and undoubtedly one of the smallest, with some 150 hectares. But recently, a new wind has been blowing over these tall vines. In five years, three newcomers have joined the ten or so winegrowers who have established themselves there, in addition to an older cooperative cellar. The same impression runs through them: that of being in the right place, of taking a step ahead of global warming. “It is a region of the future, in ten years, everyone will be looking to plant at these altitudes, assure M. Berteloot. Moreover, people call us regularly to inquire … “

“Experiments for the future”

At the national level, the movement is however far from being in the majority. “Climbing in altitude is still marginal in the French wine landscape. But these entrepreneurs represent a lot in terms of experiments for the future, it is a pioneering front ”, estimates Jean-Marc Touzard, research director at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae). This relocation is also one of the options considered by the Laccave program (2012-2020) on the adaptation of vines to the future climate, which the researcher co-led. Without winning the support of the wine industry: no mention is made of it in its “strategy against climate change”, submitted on August 26 to the government. “The majority option is to stay in its terroir, and to renew the grape varieties, to irrigate, or to do corrective oenology. [pour désalcooliser ou acidifier le vin], summarizes Jean-Marc Touzard. But it is also possible to relocate vines within or on the edge of the same terroir, by playing on topography and altitude. “

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The Hautes-Alpes vines, a “pioneer front” in the face of climate change

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