Successive nights of freezing weather late last week resulted in early morning frosts, which caused considerable damage to vineyards across France – in some areas, it has been termed “catastrophic” – with the damage still being evaluated. Other crops, including fruit trees, were similarly hit.
Damage appeared to be worse in Burgundy and the Northern Rhone than it was in coastal Bordeaux, although no area appeared to be totally spared. The CIVB – the Bordeaux Wine Council – reported damage there was spotty, although some vineyards in vulnerable areas were hard hit.
In recent years, the potential devastation of frost has loomed in France as global warming has resulted in mild winters and the subsequent early budding of the grapes, which was especially the case this year. In some areas, budbreak occurred up to two weeks earlier than what had been considered normal.
Traditionally, grape farmers have used small fires from vine clippings or liquid fuels to ward off frosts, and photos from the regions last showed Halloween-like scenes of hundreds of blazes throughout the vine rows. Increasingly, the counter-intuitive measure of mounted sprinklers spraying the vines with water, allowing a coating of ice to protect the young buds, is being employed. And as air movement can also work in preventing frost to a few degrees below freezing, wind machines and even hovering helicopters have been enlisted to keep the air moving.
The early April frosts compounded problems that have plagued the French wine industry over the past year, including all the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as tariffs imposed on wines shipped to the U.S. as a result of a trade war.
In a call to French wine lovers in America, Cecile Ha, head of communications for the CIVB, said, “Our winemakers will really need support as the damage is already very serious. I rely on you to strongly encourage all Americans to drink and enjoy our wines.”
Feature photo is of vineyards in Burgundy.