Unprecedented cold snap wreaks havoc across France’s wine regions

Monday April 12 2021 by Vitisphere

 Two regions seem to have come out unscathed – Alsace and Pyrénées-Orientales. Two regions seem to have come out unscathed – Alsace and Pyrénées-Orientales. - Photo credit : Chambre d'Agriculture de l'Hérault

A high pressure system descending from Iceland swept across all of France’s wine regions from Monday 5 to Thursday 8 April. Initial feedback after field visits in the early morning of April 6 did not bode well. “We recorded an average of -3°C at 5 am at the Sencrop weather stations located in the vineyards of Vouvray where Chenin was well advanced in the growth cycle”, explained Benoît Gautier, the appellation’s chairman. In Burgundy, Chablis was undeniably the worst hit by the first night of frost. “The sprinkler system is still on this morning”, said Damien Leclerc, managing director of the Chablisienne co-operative winery, at 9am on Tuesday. “We went from summer with 25°C last week to an ice-cold winter last night with temperatures plummeting to -7°C”.


By April 7, the first damage was visible in the vineyards of Nantes and Maine-et-Loire when temperatures dropped to -4°C around 6.30 am. In Champagne, Basile Pauthier had just spent another night outside. Temperatures were as low as -8°C at 50 cm from the ground, while snow had fallen on Easter Monday and again on Tuesday. “And it's going to freeze again tomorrow (April 8) and next week”, lamented the head of vineyard projects at the Champagne wine marketing board CIVC.

In the Arbois area of Jura, the mantle of snow over the vines from the previous day persisted overnight on 7 April. Some winegrowers, including Hervé Ligier, did not turn on their heaters so as not to melt the snow, hoping that it would protect the buds. The same night, frost reached the vineyards of Bordeaux and Cognac.


On 8 April, winegrowers in Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Rhone Valley and the South of France had just experienced their worst night since the beginning of the cold snap. “Everyone rallied round by burning straw or lighting candles. Winegrowers in Hermitage also sent up helicopters. Apart from in Tavel and Lirac, no vineyard escaped the frost”, said Tristan Perchoc, wine consultant at the co-operative wine institute. After already being hit by frost last year, the vineyards of Provence are expecting major damage in the centre and eastern part of Var. In Languedoc, too, the damage is significant. Around Lézignan-Corbières and Ouveillan, some vineyards are reported to have 90 or even 100% damage, despite the use of burners. Only certain areas along the coast, such as Fitou, were spared. In Bordeaux, Cédric Coubris, chairman of the Bordeaux independent winegrowers, claims that the region suffered between 50 and 70% losses after these three ice-cold nights. In Gers, Joël Boueilh, chairman of Plaimont, expects to harvest half a normal crop at best.


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