Climate Change Leads Some Bordeaux Wine Producers to Plant Olives

Farmers in the western French department of Gironde have met with national production officials to discuss the future of olive oil production in the non-traditional area.

Saint Emilion, Bordeaux
By Paolo DeAndreis
Feb. 7, 2023 13:22 UTC
Saint Emilion, Bordeaux

In the south­west­ern French depart­ment of Gironde, olive grow­ers, pro­fes­sional orga­ni­za­tions and local insti­tu­tions are explor­ing poten­tial olive farm­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties in the region.

While Gironde, espe­cially Bordeaux, is glob­ally renowned for its vine­yards and wine pro­duc­tion, some grow­ers are begin­ning to plant olive trees. The new groves have mostly been the ini­tia­tive of wine pro­duc­ers and south­ern French farm­ers mov­ing to the region.

There’s a wine cri­sis in the Bordeaux region among small wine pro­duc­ers who are faced with an uncer­tain cash flow and unsold wine stocks… The olive tree could be a solu­tion for them.- Hélène Lasserre, con­ser­va­tion and research direc­tor, France Olive

According to France Olive, a pro­ducer asso­ci­a­tion, cli­mate change has turned Gironde into an inter­est­ing place to exper­i­ment with olive grow­ing and oil pro­duc­tion.

Here, just as else­where, we have been wit­ness­ing tra­di­tional south­ern cul­ti­va­tion going north, and the olive tree is no excep­tion to this rule,” Hélène Lasserre, the direc­tor of con­ser­va­tion and research at France Olive, told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:Farmers in France Confirm Grim Predictions as Harvest Gets Underway

Olive cul­ti­va­tion used to stop at the edge of Carcassonne, the medieval city north of Narbonne,” she added. In the last 18 years, ran­dom projects have qui­etly emerged in the Toulouse region, and now they have spread close to Bordeaux. The olive tree, if it does not freeze, seems to sus­tain the cli­mate from a phys­i­o­log­i­cal point of view.”

Gironde typ­i­cally fea­tures a tem­per­ate cli­mate. Temperatures rarely fall below freez­ing, and the region expe­ri­ences rel­a­tively cool sum­mers, with the warmest months sel­dom exceed­ing 30 ºC. Gironde is also mod­er­ately wet, with up to 355 mil­lime­ters of pre­cip­i­ta­tion annu­ally.

In 2018, Bernard and Françoise Saïn retired from their pre­vi­ous farm­ing activ­i­ties in south­ern France and decided to move to Aillas, not far from Bordeaux, where they planted a few hectares of olive trees.

In the fol­low­ing three years, they planted more than 600 Picholine, Aglandau, Cayon and Bouteillan trees.

According to local media reports, the cou­ple started to build an olive mill to pro­duce oil from their annual har­vest. Other local farm­ers are con­sid­er­ing fol­low­ing the same path.

Some of the new olive groves of the region come from the ini­tia­tive of wine pro­duc­ers who are strug­gling with the impacts of cli­mate change on the wine sec­tor. For them, olive trees are seen as a way to diver­sify.

There’s a wine cri­sis in the Bordeaux region among small wine pro­duc­ers who are faced with an uncer­tain cash flow and unsold wine stocks,” Lasserre said.

This mostly con­cerns the south­ern por­tion of the Bordeaux region, not the Médoc nor its grand crus,” she added. Given this sce­nario, many are start­ing to tear down the vine­yard and are look­ing for alter­na­tives and new agri­cul­tural prod­ucts.”

The olive tree could be a solu­tion for them as well as the almond tree and kiwi,” Lasserre con­tin­ued, adding how an esti­mated 15 per­cent of the vine­yards should be closed to keep the sec­tor afloat.

However, Lasserre acknowl­edged that the few olive grow­ers in the region face sev­eral chal­lenges, such as the lack of water man­age­ment infra­struc­ture in an area where irri­ga­tion for vine­yards does not exist.

The prob­lem is water man­age­ment, avail­abil­ity and the right of use in an area where it has not been a pri­or­ity in land use plan­ning,” she said.

We always think of Bordeaux as close to the ocean and, there­fore, a rather wet area, but this region is not spared by cli­mate change,” Lasserre added. The cur­rent sea­son is an exam­ple of this. It was a year of drought for the region as it was else­where. Therefore, grow­ing olives with­out irri­ga­tion in this area is unthink­able if one looks to pro­duc­tion and prof­itabil­ity.”


During the meet­ing, Fabien Bougès, a local farmer, noted how it is impos­si­ble to know before­hand how the olive trees he planted in 2019 would fare.

We planted 14 dif­fer­ent cul­ti­vars as a test to iden­tify which ones might be more suited for our region,” he said.

Bougès man­aged 34 hectares of vine­yards for a long time before diver­si­fy­ing as the wine cri­sis began to affect his farm. We have to deal with cli­mate change and try to plant species that come from the south, which might be more resilient to drought and the hot weather,” he said.

Lasserre con­firmed the chal­lenges posed by the region’s lack of an olive-grow­ing his­tory. It is not that we need to re-learn how to grow olives. Growers here have to learn how to from scratch,” she said.

One tech­ni­cal prob­lem is that we do not know how the olive tree reacts to this oceanic cli­mate – wet in spring and autumn, mild in win­ter – which is con­ducive to the devel­op­ment of foliage dis­eases such as pea­cock eye and cer­cospo­riose,” Lasserre added.

To me, the con­trol of this san­i­tary aspect is essen­tial for olive tree devel­op­ment and its pro­duc­tiv­ity, in short, for the suc­cess of olive grow­ing in Gironde,” she con­tin­ued. That is because the inten­sity of the healthy foliage derives the well-being and pro­duc­tiv­ity of the tree.”

The lack of olive trans­for­ma­tion facil­i­ties in the region is another chal­lenge for local grow­ers cited by Lasserre.

Furthermore, it is prov­ing dif­fi­cult to con­vince wine pro­duc­ers to put in years of time and cap­i­tal to grow olive trees and build a mill when the poten­tial prof­itabil­ity remains unknown.

Still, Lasserre argued that com­bin­ing wine and olive farm­ing might bring some ben­e­fits in terms of fos­ter­ing bio­di­ver­sity, enrich­ing the land­scape and pro­tect­ing the envi­ron­ment, a prac­tice that has taken place in parts of France since the Middle Ages.

Currently, France pro­duces approx­i­mately 4 per­cent of the olive oil con­sumed in the coun­try, a fig­ure that has not changed sig­nif­i­cantly over the last 20 years.

France Olive noted that while pro­duc­tion vol­umes are low, about 5,000 tons per annum in good crop years, the value of olive oil is high. Thirty per­cent of our groves are organic, and more than a quar­ter of those are Protected Designation of Origin cer­ti­fied,” Lasserre said.

In Gironde, the debate over the future of olive oil has started. So far, apart from a few pio­neers who are very few, we are at a stage where we share thoughts [about this pos­si­ble devel­op­ment],” Lasserre said.

That is why we had the meet­ing, to intro­duce those pio­neers to the French olive sec­tor and to the key facts to take into con­sid­er­a­tion while debat­ing about start­ing new olive groves,” she con­cluded.

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