BFM interview | Spring frost in the vines, investment opportunities in the Southern Rhône

BFM

Angélique regularly appears on French TV channel BFM Business, where she presents the current state of the fine wine market. This month, she spoke about the impact of frost on the price of wines and the names to look out for in the Southern Rhône.

  • The first two weeks of May are a crucial time of year in France’s vineyards, with many concerns about Spring frost threatening the current harvest. What exactly are the risks for the current vintage?

The past few days actually marked what we call the ‘Ice Saints’, the period from May 12 to May 15, which is often believed to bring a brief spell of colder weather in many years, including the last nightly frosts of the spring (St. Mamertus, St. Pancras, and St. Servatius, so named because their feast days fall on these days in May).

The last watershed date for the vine is Saint Urbain, the 25th May. A viticultural proverb is also linked to the end of the month: “After Saint Urbain, the winemaker is reassured.”

Interestingly, the life cycle of the vine has changed, with budburst – the first leaves and buds bursting – happening earlier in the year. The frost therefore could harm the youngest, most fragile growth on the vines.

  • Have French vineyards been badly affected by frost this year?

It’s still too early to say. The cold weather hit certain parts of Bordeaux’s vineyards (5 to 10%), Cognac (some parcels were completely destroyed). In the Loire, the damage was extensive, with some producers losing more than 50% of their harvest. In Burgundy, Champagne and Alsace, winegrowers are vigilant, worried that the same could happen to them.

In 2017, the late April frosts were behind the loss of 22% of the entire vineyard, up to 39% of Bordeaux.

  • What effect does frost have on the value of wines?

In 1991, the harvest was minuscule, and some properties were unable to make any wine. Winemakers often referred to 1991 during the 2017 frost. Prices for the 1991 vintage are even more attractive because it was an excellent year and the wine that was produced of excellent quality. A vintage that’s been hit by frost isn’t necessarily a vintage to invest in as its mired with climatic problems, but it can be an excellent bargain for wine enthusiasts who buy wine with a view to drinking it.

  • So, 2017 isn’t a year good for investing?

It’s still too early to say, not all regions were affected in the same way. On the other hand, we’ve noticed with the 2018 Primeurs in Bordeaux, that estate and market analyses refer not to 2017 but rather 2016 when comparing the price of wines.

  • Now let’s warm ourselves up and head to the South. In the Rhône Valley, particularly the southern Rhône, and the Languedoc, are there any good opportunities for investment?

Two incredibly exciting regions, that both deserve the growth that we’ve been seeing. We’ll focus on the Rhône, which traditionally has an important role in auctions. It’s the top region after Bordeaux and Burgundy, representing 11% of wines traded on the iDealwine platform, up 3% from 2017. This region definitely has its place in an investment cellar. Last year certainly saw the north of the region reaching record prices (in Hermitage, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie), but we shouldn’t forget about the south.

  • Châteauneuf du Pape?

Yes, these wines have an international reputation, especially thanks to Robert Parker, who contributed to making them known on the American market. Some producers sell all – or almost all – of their production outside of France.

Châteauneuf offers an extraordinary variety of styles, with top producers who have developed the appellation’s renown. In order of importance, the volumes exchanged on iDealwine last year – which of course corresponds to the label’s prestige – Château Rayas, Henri Bonneau, Château de Beaucastel, and Clos des Papes.

  • They’re the stars…

Yes, and there are other, less known signatures which are becoming more and more sought after, for instance Domaine de la Janasse, de la Mordorée, du Pegaü.

Other wines which performed well at auction were those from Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Domaine de Marcoux, Le Vieux Donjon, Beaurenard and Domaine André.

  • As well as in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, are there other interesting wines in the region?

Yes, the following two appellations stand out:

– Vacqueyras, with domains such as Sang des Cailloux, Roucas Toumba or La Monardière

– Gigondas, with domains Santa Duc, de Boissan or Château de Saint-Cosme

What’s also interesting is wines without AOCs, produced by truly fascinating winemakers.

  • Why do they produce wines without an appellation?

Sometimes it’s a choice they make so that they don’t have to obey the appellation’s rules, to produce wines that they find interesting, using less orthodox methods. These ‘Vins de France’ can be real gems.

For instance wines from Domaine de L’Anglore, Eric Pfifferling’s 7-hectare, biodynamic domain. It produces natural wines with no inputs whatsoever. The wines are sold as ‘vin de France’ in the Tavel and Lirac appellations.

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