Late frost wreaks havoc on French wine production

Heavy frosts across France this week have severely damaged buds and flowers in vineyards and fruit orchards and will reduce grape harvests in some areas by 90%, according to growers and farmers’ organizations.

“It was like winter coming to spring,” said Didier Delagrange, whose family has made wine from grapes grown on the slopes of Volnay in Burgundy for seven generations.

“There has been considerable damage, but we have not yet fully assessed it,” he says. “The Chardonnay was more affected because the [shoots] were more advanced. About half of Burgundy vines have been damaged, according to local producers.

In Chablis, to the north, winemaker Thierry Mothe said the temperature had dropped to -7 ° C and 90-95% of the potential harvest would be lost. “There will be very little harvest in 2021,” he said. “It was like a winter frost, not a spring frost.”

After a series of other issues, including US tariffs on wine imports linked to a trade war with the EU and the closure of many restaurants and bars around the world in the wake of the Covid pandemic- 19 – “there are areas today which will be in very serious difficulty”, said Mothe.

The use of heaters is expensive and inadequate to counter a very severe frost. Winegrowers can afford to protect only the vines for their best wines © Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

same Bordeaux in southwest France was hit by frosts, which also damaged the growth of fruit trees such as apricots, peaches and nectarines, and field crops such as rapeseed and sugar beet. The impact was particularly severe as the frost followed several days of hot weather which accelerated plant growth.

Julien Denormandie, Minister of Agriculture, said that a state of agricultural calamity would be declared to mobilize financial support for farmers. “It’s a very exceptional situation,” he told Franceinfo radio. “The losses are considerable.” The CNIV, which represents wine producers, called the disaster “one of the worst in decades”.

Social networks in France were tagged this week by strange night images of smoked braziers lighting up vineyards across the country as growers sought to heat the air and limit damage to their crops, but the method was expensive and inadequate to deal with a very severe frost.

Delagrange said he would have needed 4,500 paraffin heaters to cover all of his 15 acres at a cost of almost € 50,000 for the two worst nights, and the winemakers could afford to protect only the vines for their best wines.

“In many regions, from north to south and east to west, the damage is severe for winegrowers and fruit growers,” the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions said in a statement. “There is also great distress for the farms. The impact on rapeseed, at the time of its flowering, is dramatic, as for the sugar beet plants: many producers will have to replant more than half of their crops.

The late frosts are not without precedent, but many French farmers attribute to global warming some of the erratic weather patterns they have suffered in recent years, including droughts and floods.

Shorter winters, higher summer temperatures and faster ripening are changing the character of French vintages, and the grapes are now being harvested up to three weeks earlier than a few decades ago.

Temperatures have also dropped below freezing in northern Italy, after weeks of sunshine and hot weather. Winemakers from Nebbiolo, Moscato and Barbera in Piedmont said between 50 and 80 percent of their annual production was destroyed by frost.

In Piedmont and further south, in Tuscany and Lazio (the region that contains Rome), crops of apricots, peaches and kiwi have also been lost, according to local media.

Additional reports from Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli in Milan

This article was modified after its publication to include the Barbera winegrowers of Piedmont

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