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French wine harvest to be smallest for decades, says forecast

Devastating frosts and problems with mildew fungus mean France is facing a 'historic' low in terms of 2021 harvest size, according to a preliminary forecast.

A French government forecast shows the 2021 wine harvest could be the smallest vintage for at least 50 years.

Production will vary between grape varieties and regions but is likely to fall by between 24% and 30% overall versus last year, said Agreste, the statistics arm of France’s agriculture ministry.

That would mean a total of between 32.6m and 35.6m hectolitres, making 2021 the smallest French wine harvest since at least 1970, Agreste figures show.

There is still some way to go before grapes are picked in several regions, and the preliminary forecast focuses primarily on quantity rather than quality.

Yet it highlights the damage caused by severe spring frosts in many French wine regions earlier this year.

The agriculture ministry likened the French wine harvest in 2021 to that of 1977 in terms of frost impact, but also pointed out that France has fewer vineyards today than in the 1970s.

Frost was a particular problem for grape varieties that begin their growing cycle relatively early.

Chardonnay and Merlot were among the worst-hit varieties, said the agriculture ministry.

At the time of the frosts, winemakers in Burgundy said they had greater concerns for Chardonnay versus the later-budding Pinot Noir.

Some regions were hit harder than others by frost. In Champagne frost destroyed around 30% of first buds, mostly Chardonnay, said the agriculture ministry report. While the Champagne harvest may shrink versus 2020, producers here can use reserves to make up for shortfalls in production, it added.

Further east, Alsace escaped relatively lightly; its vineyards further back in the growing cycle on the whole. Yet Alsace was facing a harvest smaller than the five-year average due to fungal diseases in the vineyard, brought on by warm and damp conditions.

Mildew has also been causing significant challenges in Champagne and parts of Bordeaux, according to the agriculture ministry.

However, the impact of extreme weather can vary even by vineyard location within a particular region and so the agriculture ministry report only provides a broad guide.

In Bordeaux, two waves of frost in April and early May had a ‘very variable’ impact on the region’s vineyards, said the report.

Sauvignon Blanc was particularly badly affected and this is expected to hit white wine production at some estates, although the frost overall inflicted less damage on the region than in 2017.

The agriculture ministry forecast is normally updated at the start of September.

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Frost damage in French vineyards linked to climate change

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