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‘Fatal’ frost hits Champagne vineyards

Champagne makers fear that they have again lost a significant amount of their potential grape harvest after plunging temperatures caused severe late-spring frosts in France's premier sparkling wine region, as well as in other vineyard areas of the country.

  • Frost fears across France after sudden drop in temperatures after bud-break

  • Champagne vineyard managers report losses of more than 20% in some areas and 50% in others

  • Growers face pressure after ‘fatal’ frost in late April for second year in a row

Temperatures have dropped below zero overnight in most of France this week, causing nerves to fray in the vineyards. Champagne has been no exception, and frost damage seems to be omnipresent in the region.

The worst hit is probably the Côte des Bar in the Aube department, although a full damage report was still being compiled. Last year the region suffered similar losses after the severe frosts of 27 April.

This means that local growers could face intense financial pressure, because as overall reserves in the region are at all-time low.

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Olivier Horiot, a winemaker in Les Riceys, estimated that 40 to 50% of the potential 2017 harvest in the region has been wiped out.

‘Last night, temperatures dropped to -6 degrees celsius in some places, and they remained this low for most of the night. This combination of prolonged severe frosts is fatal for the young buds.’

Early damage assessments still need to be clarified, but Horiot said that he feared that the prolonged cold also potentially damaged the second-generation bud development. If so, that would mean no fruit on the affected vines.

Johann Merle, vineyard director at Champagne Roederer, told Decanter.com that the house estimates it lost 23% of the potential 2017 vintage in the Côte des Blancs, 35-40% in the Montagne de Reims and 15 to 20% in the Vallee de la Marne.

However, he believes the frosts were less severe than the ones the region suffered in 2003.

Benoit Tarlant, from Champagne Tarlant in Oeuilly, did not agree with this. ‘We lost just about all of our Chardonnay last night, and had big losses in our Pinot Noir vineyards as well. Our first impressions are a potential loss of 70%, which is more than we suffered in 2003.’

Frédéric Minière, who is based in Hermonville, also reported losses up to 80% in his Chardonnay vineyards. However, he added that the real damage will not be known until the end of the week.

Benoit Gouez, cellar master at Champagne Moët & Chandon, said that we will have to wait till the beginning of next week to be able to correctly evaluate the real damage the frost has done.

Temperatures again dipped below freezing on Thursday night (20 April).

Horiot said that he believed frost issues will continue in years to come, because of the global warming. ‘It is not the frosts which are later than they traditionally have been, it’s the mild weather in March which has caused the vines to develop earlier than in the past.’

Editing by Chris Mercer. 

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