Wednesday, August 4

French winemakers calculate the cost of the “worst frost in decades” | France

French winemakers are calculating the cost of several frosty nights this week that threaten to decimate grape harvests in some of the country’s best-known and most prestigious wine-producing regions.

The government is preparing an emergency rescue package after the rare freezing temperatures that could cause some of the worst damage in decades to crops and vines.

From Bordeaux to Burgundy and from the Rhone Valley to Champagne, winemakers were in their fields on Friday inspecting the destruction.

“It breaks like glass because there is no water inside,” said Dominique Guignard, a winemaker in the Graves area near Bordeaux, as he rubbed the first shoots on his vines.

“It’s completely dry, there’s no life inside,” said Guignard, who runs a group of growers in Graves, which is known for its robust red wine.

Many industry experts say the damage from temperatures as low as -6 ° C may be the worst in decades, in part because frost followed unusually warm weather last week.

“It’s a national phenomenon,” said Jérôme Despey, general secretary of the agricultural union FNSEA and winemaker for the Hérault region. “You can go back in history, there have been [freezing] episodes in 1991, 1997, 2003, but in my opinion it is beyond all of them. “

In the Rhone Valley, the director of the local wine producers’ body, Philippe Pellaton, said it would be “the smallest harvest in the last 40 years”, with losses of 80-90% compared to normal. Winemakers are “devastated, desperate,” he said, and the Côte-Rôtie area has been hit particularly hard.

Frost covered vines in Chablis, France.
Frost covered vines in Chablis, France. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

In Burgundy, which produces some of the best white wines in the world, the director of the local producers’ association estimated that “at least 50%” of this year’s harvest had been lost.

The Champagne region was not spared, and the director of the national association of winemakers CNIV, Jean-Marie Barillère, said there was “a lot of damage”.

To protect themselves from frost overnight on Tuesday and Wednesday, farmers across the country lit thousands of small fires and candles near their vines or fruit trees.

Some wealthy vineyards hired helicopters to try to keep the heat close to the ground.

The burning was so intense in the southeast that it created a layer of smog over the region, including over Lyon.

In addition to the vine, the producers of kiwis, apricots, apples and other fruits have been seriously affected along with the farmers of other crops such as beets and rapeseed.

During a visit to the Loire wine region, French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said it was “an episode of extreme violence that has caused extremely significant damage.”

The government has declared an “agricultural disaster,” which means it will start offering financial support to farmers, and Denormandie called on banks and insurance companies to join the effort.

He said that several hundred thousand hectares of agricultural land had been reached.

Many winemakers are not insured against the effects of frost due to the cost of coverage, and many producers were already struggling financially.

The Covid-19 pandemic has depressed the demand for wine globally due to the closure of restaurants and bars.

Exports to the United States have also been affected by French wine tariffs imposed by former US President Donald Trump, while the vital British market has also been affected by Brexit.

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