Spring frosts: Loire and Burgundy hit hard

Severe Weather Europe © Silvan Rossr
Severe Weather Europe © Silvan Rossr

Although it’s still too early for a full report, the long-feared spring frosts have taken their toll in northern Burgundy, as well as in the Loire appellations of Chinon, Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil. We bring you a dispatch from the front line.

Given the mild winter and the early appearance of the buds, growers were already on the alert. And their fears were well-founded: the spring frosts hit a number of French vineyard regions hard, mostly (but not all) in northern France.

In the Loire, the Chinon, Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil appellations experienced frosts comparable to those of 1994, or even 1991 (a year in which nearly the entire harvest was lost). During the night of Tuesday 26 to Wednesday 27 April, temperatures plunged to -6°C, with the vines in mid-débourrage; that is, just as the buds were starting to break… or in other words, an extremely sensitive moment for such conditions to occur. According to Jean-Martin Dutour – grower and President of the Chinon syndicat – nearly half of the harvest may be under threat. The situation looks delicate for producers, especially since low volumes in previous years had made it difficult for them to accumulate “emergency” stocks…

And the situation in Burgundy isn’t any better. In Chablis, growers were doing their best to fight back with arrosage (water spraying), and some were even using heaters. The effects of the frosts were felt as far south as the Côte Chalonnaise, taking in a number of prestigious appellations in the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits along the way. The BIVB (Burgundy Wine Board) pointed to the rarity of a phenomenon this widespread, affecting plains and hills alike. The following night, the frosts even reached as far south as the Mâconnais. Although it’s still too early for the full picture to be clear, the BIVB estimate that up to 80% of some parcels may be affected.

Maison Joseph Drouhin, one of the biggest names in Burgundy, put out a press release with an update on its vineyards. The Chardonnay vines in particular were still very fragile and sensitive to sub-zero night-time temperatures, especially with high humidity levels. “The impact on the Meursault, Chassagne and Puligny area has been fairly substantial, given the earliness of the Chardonnay,” the press release stated. “In Chablis, probably 20% of the vines have been affected, despite the implementation of frost protection measures.” The picture is more nuanced for the reds, particularly in the Côte d’Or, where “the Corton hill and the Chambertins coped somewhat better. However, the Chambolle area was more badly affected, with significant losses.” The only good news: both reds and whites were spared at the Clos des Mouches, where there was minimal damage.

Lastly, even parts of the South of France were affected by the spring frosts. The Aude region was severely damaged, with up to 100% of Cabardès and Corbières parcels affected. It remains to be seen whether a new generation of secondary buds will emerge to save the harvest… Lastly, the damage in the Coteaux Varois and Côtes de Provence, which had seen no frosts in the last decade or so, may have been more localised, but could still reach 50-60%.

As one old adage puts it, “When Saint-Urbain is past, the grower rests at last.” Saint Urbain’s Day falls on 25 May this year… so until then, let’s join the growers in crossing our fingers…


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