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Frost in Austria destroys thousands of hectares of vines

Widespread frost in Austria earlier this month caused serious damage to vineyards, according to the Austrian winegrowers' association.

Niederösterreich: temperatures dropped to -5°C

Temperatures as low as -5°C overnight from 17-18 May damaged some 6,000ha of vines, particularly in Lower Austria (Niederösterreich).

Around 4,000ha of vines lost this year’s crop and 2,000ha were partially damaged, Josef Pleil, president of the association said.

It is too early to estimate accurately the cost, Susanne Staggl, marketing manager of the Austrian Wine Institute said, but Austrian media have quoted losses of up to €20m in Lower Austria, €4m in Burgenland and €1m in Steiermark (Styria), although that includes losses in other sectors such as strawberries and sunflowers.

The brunt of the cold current hit Austria’s largest region for Grüner Veltliner, in the Pulkau Valley, along with the neighbouring South Moravian region.

There was also frost damage to young vines in other wine-growing regions of Niederösterreich, Vienna, Burgenland and Styria.

Thomas Klinger, managing director of the renowned Weingut Bründlmayer, told Decanter.com the frost mainly affected lesser terroirs: vines on higher ground were not as hard hit as vines near ground level, for example.

The Austrian Wine Institute estimates a reduced yield of between 30-50 million litres of wine.

But because Austria produced higher than average yields last year, ‘we can use some wine from that stock’ to make up for the loss, Staggl said.

At least two factors lead to the large scale of damage. Staggl said the rise in general average temperatures over the past few years has led to an earlier start of the vegetation cycle, making the vines more sensitive to such a late frost.

She also said that the regions hit by the frost this month had little or no vines 20 years ago.

Meanwhile in Germany, where frost was not nearly as serious a problem this year, a helicopter was used for the first time ever to raise temperatures on frost-stricken vines, said German Wine Institute spokesman Ernst Büscher.

Using a technique common in regions such as New Zealand, a military helicopter’s rotors were used to force warm air onto a vineyard in Sommerach (Franconia), but ‘this first test did not bring the expected results’, Büscher said.

‘We did not get the higher temperatures that we hoped for, but more experiments will be conducted, into next year as well,’ he added.

Last year in Germany, thousands of hectares were damaged by frost, especially Franconia was struck very hard.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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