Aims: The impact of water deficit stress on vine shoot growth, berry weight, grape composition and overall vintage quality was investigated in Bordeaux vineyards. Methods for assessing water deficit stress were compared.
Methods and results: Vine water status was assessed on three soil types during four vintages by means of stem water potential and carbon isotope discrimination measured on grape sugar. Regional water deficit was compared for a range of over 30 vintages by means of water balance modelling. It was shown that water deficit stress anticipated shoot growth slackening, limited berry weight and enhanced berry anthocyanin content. Berry sugar content was greatest when water deficit was mild. It was shown that stem water potential measurements and carbon isotope discrimination are accurate tools for assessing vine water status at plot scale. Seasonal water deficit at a regional scale can be correctly estimated by water balance models. Vintage quality in Bordeaux is determined by the intensity of water deficit stress rather than by the level of the temperatures.
Conclusions: Vine phenology and grape ripening are highly dependent on water uptake conditions. Mild water deficit stress enhances grape quality for the production of red wines. Vine water status can accurately be assessed by means of stem water potential or carbon isotope discrimination measured on grape sugars. Quality losses through severe water stress can be avoided through the use of drought-adapted plant material, appropriate canopy management, yield reduction or the implementation of deficit irrigation.
Significance and impact of the study: This study shows the key role of water deficits in the production of quality grapes for red wine production. Methods for assessing vine water status are compared and discussed. Among many existing methods, the accuracy of stem water potential, carbon isotope discrimination measured on grape sugar and water balance modelling are emphasized.
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