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Update: Fears of frost damage in French vineyards

Winemakers from Bordeaux to Burgundy have lit candles and even launched helicopters to help protect the young 2021 vintage from plunging temperatures, but there have been early reports of severe damage to some vineyards.

Temperatures continue to drop across France as more winemakers report concerns of frost damage in the vineyards.

The Inter Rhône trade body reported that the whole of the Rhône has been hit dramatically and that ‘some plots are affected 100%.’

‘We already know that some sectors have been affected in their entirety,’ said Philippe Pellaton, President of Inter-Rhône.

‘We will not be able to measure the real impact of this frost episode until the next 24 to 48 hours’.

The French council for appellation wines (CNIV) are concerned the worst is not yet over, stating that ‘temperatures have dropped to -7 ° C in places and further episodes of frost are to be feared in the days to come.’

‘It is still too early to know precisely the extent of the damage, but 80% of regions have been affected’, said Jean-Marie Barillère, President of the CNIV.

Thursday 8th April

There were growing fears that frost may have caused significant damage to French vineyards in several regions this week. 

Many winemakers have lit candles and controlled fires next to rows of vines in order to help protect the emerging 2021 crop from a sudden drop in temperatures. Aerial photos on social media showed hundreds of candles lit across vineyards.

Some producers also launched helicopters to fly above their vineyards, a method that can help to prevent frost by encouraging warm air to circulate. 

There were particular concerns on Thursday (8 April) about vineyards in Bordeaux and Burgundy, although winemakers cautioned that the full picture was still unclear.

Bordeaux’s regional wine council, the CIVB, said damage was still being assessed but that ‘it is already certain that this spring frost will severely impact the volume of the 2021 harvest’.

Preventing frost at Domaine Belleville in Burgundy

Fires lit to prevent frost damage on Domaine Belleville’s vines in ‘les Cloux’ premier cru in Rully. Photo Credit: Domaine Belleville.

In Burgundy, Jean-Luc Vitoux, of Domaine Belleville in Rully, told Decanter, ‘The last three nights, with temperatures between -3°/-6° [Celsius] and the snow on the night of  the 6/7 April, very seriously damaged the vineyards of Chardonnay at Domaine Belleville, even if candles burned during these nights to try to protect them.’

Vitoux, who is also director at the sister estate, Domaine de la Commaraine, said the estate’s Pinot Noir vineyards of Clos de la Commaraine in Pommard and also in Côte de Nuits appeared to be less damaged.

‘All Bourgogne, from Chablis to Mâcon, has been affected by this episode of extreme cold to varying degrees, depending on the state of the [vines’] vegetative cycle,’ said Thiébault Huber, president of the Winegrowers of Bourgogne union (CAVB). 

‘We think that the Chardonnays, which are further ahead [in the growing cycle], will have been affected much more than the Pinot Noirs, which had not yet completed their bud break,’ he told Decanter. 

‘It is currently impossible to assess the actual damages. They will really show in a few weeks.

‘Bourgogne winegrowers did what they could to fight, but each period of frost was too long and the temperatures were too low. Nature has been stronger than us.’

He added, ‘From now on, we hope that this episode will be the last and that the secondary buds will be strong enough.’

He said producers would remain vigilant, particularly as temperatures are expected to drop again next week.

Checking vineyards for frost damage in Bordeaux

Winemakers have been keeping a close on vineyards. This photo shows anti-frost efforts at Château Lapourcaud in the Bordeaux area. Photo credit: Vincent Gas.

In Champagne, temperatures fell to minus seven degrees Celsius for two nights this week, according to the local chamber of agriculture for the Marne area. 

It said on Twitter that Champagne vines had ‘not been spared’ from frost but the impact varied. It reported some damage to early budding Chardonnay, but also ‘little to no impact’ on later varieties, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, so far.

In a follow-up tweet, it added, ‘To date, it is difficult to quantify the damage because this episode of freezing is not over and the symptoms will only be visible within a few days. To be continued…’

In Bordeaux, many winemakers also lit fires and did what they could to limit the impact of the sub-zero temperatures. 

Fires lit in Bordeaux to help fight frost in April 2021

Fires were lit in Bordeaux vineyards to help fight against frost and sub-zero temperatures. This shows one fire at Château Lapourcaud. Photo credit: Vincent Gas.

News station France 3 reported damage to vineyards in the Graves area, but again the full extent of any impact was not yet known.

As reported above, Bordeaux wine council, the CIVB, said the impact of frost was severe across large parts of the region’s vineyards – but it cautioned that damage was still being assessed.

‘The entire industry wishes to express its solidarity with all these women and men who found themselves powerless in the face of this exceptional frost,’ said CIVB president Bernard Farges.

Chateau de L’Hospital, in Graves, said on Facebook that, despite its efforts in the face of temperatures ranging from minus three to minus six Celsius, ‘the vines did not resist, notably in our Merlot parcels’. But the estate added full damage wasn’t yet clear. ‘We are not giving up.’ 

On the other side of the country, France Bleu reported significant damage to some vineyards in the Arbois appellation in Jura, too.

Updated at 3:50pm on Thursday 8th April with comments from the CIVB in Bordeaux. Additional reporting by Ellie Douglas. 


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