Parched in Provence


With southern France Frying, a winemaker fights to save his infant vines

Jean-Marc Espinasse rolls out of bed at 4:30 a.m., slips on a pair of faded swim trunks and a t-shirt, and prepares to work by day's first light.

This summer, Espinasse is dedicated to an urgent mission: saving his newly planted vineyards from the two-month drought and summer heat wave that has been baking southeast France.

"Every day I look at the forecast, and for the last six weeks it says it will rain next week, but then the rain doesn't come," says Espinasse, sitting in his rustic farmhouse kitchen and dunking a piece of baguette in his predawn cup of coffee. "I don't want my vines to die."

The 48-year-old former Rhône winemaker, who followed his dreams to coastal Bandol, has been planting vineyards from scratch for the past two years and farming them organically. His goal is to focus on making rosé at his stunningly picturesque Mas des Brun. (Read my previous blog on Espinasse, "Bandol—The Hard Way.")

But while dry summer spells are often welcomed by producers with mature vines, they can be disastrous for fledgling vineyards.

Last year, a wet, cool season provided ample water for the 1.5 acres of vines he planted, with only about 1 percent loss. The vast majority are now vigorous, and some are even prematurely producing fruit.

This year, however, Espinasse's planting of an additional 2 acres was followed by one of the driest seasons in years with no rain on Espinasse's property since a 5-minute sprinkle June 10. Temperatures have since climbed daily into the 90s and occasionally past 100° F.

Espinasse estimates that he could lose 5 percent of the 6,000 vines he planted in March. So by 5:30 a.m. every morning, he is in the vineyard trying to keep casualties to a the full blog at