The Romans were the first to start cultivating the grape in our climes. Winegrowing flourished in the Valley of the River Maas and edged northwards in the early Middle Ages. In the 14th century every town from Antwerp to Bruges had its own vineyards. Winegrowing went downhill in Flanders after the 15th century due to the Little Ice Age. Beer that was cheaper and easier to preserve became a big rival. In the Napoleonic era population growth meant land formerly used for vine cultivation was needed to produce food.
By 1970 Flanders was left with only one big winegrowing estate in Genoels-Elderen. Today there are 110 Flemish winegrowers active on 263 hectares of land. The top three grapes cultivated in Flanders are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
Wine steward Sepideh Sedaghatnia identifies a number of factors that have contributed to the wine renaissance in Flanders: “The public is interested and open for home-grown produce. The know-how is present too. Quality has increased enormously over the past two decades and that has boosted interest too.”
Climate change isn’t responsible for the Flemish winegrowing Renaissance.
Sepideh Sedaghatnia: “Winegrowing has always been possible here. As far as grapes are concerned our climate corresponds to certain winegrowing areas in Germany and the Champagne region of France. We do require more resistant grapes that can take greater humidity and bud later”.
Drier and warmer periods can result in better wines. Global warming could threaten cultivation in southern parts. As a result more and more wine businesses are investing in more northerly areas.