Frost, snow and ice are eagerly anticipated during the winter months. The extreme cold helps kill off any bugs that may be lurking around the vineyard and ensures that the vine is truly in its brief hibernation stage.
Winter 2015-6 has been exceptionally mild in France and, as a result, this year’s bud break was relatively early.
(N.B. This is supposedly due to long-term climate change and winemakers are expecting to see this occur more and more frequently.)
However, on the night of 26-27 April, temperatures got bitingly cold. Google gave me the temperature in Paris… but out in the French countryside, France profonde, it was even worse. The lowest temperature recorded was -6°C (21 Fahrenheit) in some parts, but -2 and -3 was widespread.
The problem is that once bud-break has occurred, the vines are exceptionally vulnerable and a hard frost at this stage is devastating. Unfortunately, the reason for this blog post is that Tuesday night saw the worst damages for 25 years and even the most conservative reports suggest that 50% has been wiped out.
The worst-hit vineyards are in the Loire Valley (especially Bourgueil, Chinon and Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil) and Burgundy (Chablis and all the way through the prestigious Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune) but it is in no way limited to just those particular appellations.
Winemaker-friends-of-mine such as René Mosse (in Saint Lambert du Lattay, Anjou) announced that at least 80% of their 2016 production will have been lost as a result of this frost.
Thierry Puzelat (in Les Montils, between Touraine and Cheverny) added that his vineyards have been similarly affected.
Going west, 70% of Pascal Lambert’s vineyards (Chinon) have been hit.
Further afield, Frédéric Niger from Domaine de l’Écu (Muscadet) reports that some of his plots have been completely wiped out.
And so I could go on…
But, so as not to end this blog post with even more doom and gloom, the one bit of good news is that the Champagne region and the Loir-et-Cher seems to have very narrowly missed Tuesday’s wrath.
It’s not over though, because temperatures are due to stay worryingly low for the rest of the week. For winemakers in the northern half of France, it’s a nervous waiting game.