The French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie will declare an agricultural disaster for the grape growers in wine regions that were hit this month with destructive frost. Freezing temperatures over the course of several nights during a critical vegetative phase have stunted the vines and farmers and vignerons are sorting out the damage.
Growers in the Bourgogne (Burgundy) region — along with Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, Champagne, and elsewhere — have applied defensive methods from their time-honored tool box and here they share the experience with Forbes readers.
Véronique Drouhin, head winemaker at Maison Joseph Drouhin, with vineyards throughout Bourgogne, explains:
“Over the years we see the spring season start earlier than normal which generates an early growth of the vegetation. Episodes of frost still arrive at the same time, in April, which would have no consequences if the vegetation had not started to grow so early. Sadly at the stage of advanced bud break or even with leaves out, most of these new fragile buds died under the severe cold conditions.
We tried to protect what we could with candles or fans but there is [only] so much you can protect. You need to put 400 candles per hectare (160 per acre) and need the human resources to light them. We had to make some choices and of course premier and grand crus had the priority.
It is really when the vegetation will start to grow again that we will know the extent of the damage. For now we pray we don’t get more of these intense frosts…”
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Julien Brocard, proprietor at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis, predicts that most of his crop will not recover, but says that preservation efforts are still underway:
“The frost destroyed 80% of the crop, on average, with some parcels at 100%. Pending the secondary buds which should appear within 15 days, the vineyard team are mist spraying the vines with Valerian. This plant destresses the vines which, as a result of the severe thermic shock they have undergone, tend to focus their energy on survival by aborting future fruit.”
Jean-Luc Vitoux, director of Domaine Belleville situated in Rully, and Domaine de la Commaraine in Pommard. reports:
“The vineyards of Domaine Belleville and Domaine de la Commaraine were severely damaged during the three nights of frost on the 5/6, 6/7 and 7/8 of April with temperatures between – 3° and – 7° [Celsius] and the snow during one night!
It seems that the Chardonnay are more damaged than the Pinot Noir but it is too early to have a precise view of the situation. “