It’s becoming an all-too-familiar scenario: a beautiful springtime with plenty of warm sunshine but followed by a sudden dip and freezing temperatures.
A cold winter does marvels for the vineyard but once bud-burst has taken place, a cold snap can have catastrophic results.
You may remember that I wrote about this already in 2016.
In the Loire Valley, “at least 50%” of the 2016 production was lost due to frost. (info-tours.fr)
Unfortunately, 2017 has already hit hard. Loire, Burgundy, Champagne, Beaujolais… areas which are already fragile after successive poor harvests have been struck again.
Nicolas Reau (Anjou) reported this morning (on Facebook) that last night’s frost has caused him to lose 80% of his crop.
Benoit Tarlant (Champagne), similarly, has lost all of his chardonnay in the area around in village of Oeuilly.
They are far from being the only ones affected.
Whilst parts of northern France are now used to a late frost becoming an annual certainty, in Italy, it’s still relatively rare.
This year, however, the same cold snap has also affected the low-lying parts of Piedmont, Franciacorta and the Veneto. Producers with more than 15 years of experience are saying that they’ve never seen anything like it.
The photo at the top of this blog post, showing the potential destruction of frost, was taken in Davide Spillare‘s vineyard near Gambellara in the Veneto yesterday morning.
Now that it is becoming increasingly prevalent, what can a winemaker do to combat a late, hard frost?
In the New World (particularly New Zealand, Argentina and Canada) it’s fairly common to use helicopters. By staying low to the ground (flying at 15-20m) they circulate the warmer air and thereby prevent a frost from forming.
The area of Montlouis-sur-Loire has been hit by a hard frost in 3 of the previous 5 years, which caused considerable damage. In 2017, they too trialed the helicopter method (7th April 2017) and put the technique to use last night (19th April 2017.) (nouvellerepublique.fr)
At sunrise, 7 helicopters covered 300 hectares of vineyards (belonging to 30 different producers.) It may be effective, but it’s costly. The winemakers pay 200 euros per hectare and when you have a dozen or so hectares of land… the total cost is not an easy one to swallow.
More commonly in France, you see paraffin-wax candles. By keeping them alight all night, it keeps the atmospheric temperature a couple of degrees higher than otherwise. It doesn’t always work (when the temperature goes to minus 6, this technique is no longer effective) but it did, for example, save a large part of Noella Morantin‘s harvest in 2016.
Below is a video from Saint Andelain in 2016. Saint-Andelain is a small viticultural region in the Loire, just opposite Sancerre and adjacent to Pouilly-sur-Loire. It looks startlingly beautiful, but I also see a funereal element to it.
Alternatively, you can try a valerian infusion (favoured by Virginie Joly) or even simply watering the vineyards. The idea is that, at night, the water will turn to ice, ice maintains a constant 0ºC and that will protect the buds from being hit by any lower temperatures….
Ultimately however, these techniques – both labour-intensive and costly, not to mention environmentally-questionable – don’t do anything to change this weird climate of ours. If these hard frosts are to become more and more frequent, the viticultural community going to need to come up with something better…. or just keep praying….
Further reading (all in French):
“Watering protects the vine from frost” on France 3 in 2016.
“Never seen anything like it” on France 3 in 2016.
“Helicopters to fight the frost” on info-tours in 2017.