Getting a thirst for Belgian wine

Getting a thirst for Belgian wine
By Gregoire LoryDamon Embling
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It may be well known for its beer, but Belgium is now growing its wine industry.


It may be a country known for its beer, but Belgium's also growing its wine industry. The number of makers went up by around 10 percent in the country last year - producing just under a million litres of white, red and sparkling.

"Five years ago, we had about 80 hectares of vines for the whole of Belgium, we now have 350," explained John Collijs, a distributor of Belgian wines and spirits.

"So we have been able to multiply the area by five, the production also. Over the past five years, everything has been progressing, everything is going well."

John believes that climate change may partly explain the improvement in Belgian wine production.

But he also recognises that all the hot sunshine of this year will mean changes in the grape harvesting calendar.

"In my opinion, this will mean the harvest is advanced," he commented. "Normally the harvest in Belgium is from the second week of September to, maximum, the second week of October. I think many vineyards and winemakers will do the harvest this year in early September."

The Chenoy estate near Namur been in business for 15 years. It has 10 hectares of vineyards, seven of which are devoted to red wine - the largest area of its kind in Belgium. Bosses are sceptical about climate change.

"I'm very wary of this argument because first of all we don't know if there's a warming. For me, I prefer the words climate change so we don't where we are going. And I'm also wary of extreme events," said winemaker Jean-Bernard Despatures. 

"We have a year when everything is fine, it's nice, hot, like the Mediterranean. All Belgians are smiling, so am I. But that doesn't protect us from storms and hailstones. Of course we can see changes, there's that impression. But how do we know if in 30 years it won't go in the opposite direction."

Jean-Bernard thinks the growth in Belgian wine production is down to many factors, the vines are maturing and growers know their land better.

He said: "You have to have the climatic conditions, then you have to know how to do it, and that can not be improvised, you have to have theory but also a lot of practice. And with ageing vines, we start to have a Belgian wine ecosystem that really exists. This was not the case 20 years ago, 25 years ago. We felt very, very alone."

Belgium's production is just a drop in the wine ocean - producing a million bottles a year in a country that consumes three hundred million overall.

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