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Champagne loses half crop to catastrophic freeze

Up to half the champagne crop has been destroyed in the worst frost since the catastrophe of 1985.

Temperatures in the region plummeted to –10 degrees celsius before dawn last Thursday (10 April), having been below freezing for at least three nights, wiping out the majority of the Chardonnay crop and decimating the Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir.

The Chardonnay has suffered most as it was more advanced than the later-ripening varieties. Fine weather in the weeks before had meant that buds were out when the frost hit.

The CIVC (Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne) said 50% of the first buds across all varieties had been destroyed.

Growers are now saying they have to wait until the second bud to see if it has suffered – although they are optimistic that they will be able to make good some of the damage, not least because their reserves from previous vintages will tide them over.

‘It is very serious,’ Nicolas Rainon at Champagne Henriet-Bazin told decanter.com. ‘But we won’t know exactly how bad it is until the second buds rise within four or five days. In any case, we are optimistic because we have reserves.’

Martine Lagache at Champagne Lagache-Lecourt near Epernay said, ‘We have lost most of our Chardonnay. The Pinot Meunier buds were too small to see if they were badly damaged or not.’

In 1985 temperatures went as low as –25 celsius, killing not only buds but entire vines as roots crumbled under the extreme cold. This year’s freeze has done a fraction of the damage, but is still highly unusual.

‘It’s the first time I have met with spring freeze,’ Marie Noelle Rainon at Henriet Bazin said, adding older Champenois remember great freezes of April 1957 and 1951.

For now, producers are keeping their fingers crossed that the so-called ‘Saints de Glace’, traditionally the coldest period of spring, from 11-13 May, will be kinder than April.

Written by Adam Lechmere17 April 2003

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