Jul 29 2017

Ravages Of Vineyards By ''Black Frosts'' In The Spring, 2017

A Case To Fear And Dread As It Happened: Part 1. France

All this year across Europe winter was warm and kind; towards April vegetative growth had just started to show at its best and is flourishing ahead of time; everything is sprouting and there are buds, efflorescence and flowers in the vines and the trees.

Spring had arrived earlier, everyone was happy. The man on the land was also very happy as everything pointed to a good earlier harvest. Or so everyone thought.

Unexpectedly and unusual for the month of April 2017, in Europe, – France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, as well England were all struck by a mass of cold weather, coming across from the Arctic Ocean.

This combined with black frosts, cold winds and very negative temperatures subzero weather,  – 5 to – 6 degrees centigrade surprised everyone.

Temperatures not seen happening in Europe and elsewhere, for many years around this time of the year.

Images courtesy of  http://www.lemonde.fr/economie

Where To From Here: Nature against Man

Good and bad weather conditions can make or break people and businesses on the land. There are many constraints and enemies to farmers and land producers and challenges that they have to face in their life time, 24/365.

Forecasting the weather patterns and storms is something that is done every day. Though there are no assurances that these will be accurately predicted and, in case of severe cases, as seen in Europe this last April, one can’t always be ready for them.

In the case of land producers, only Nature can dictate in advance what is going to happen to their harvests, in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

Deciding and reacting to these natural events quickly and in appropriate time is of most importance. No more can this be seen, and with frightening results, than what has been happening recently to viticulturists and fruit and other crops growers in Europe.

The Odd Season: A Blessing that Can Cause Havoc

One of the biggest of these problems that viticulturists and other land producers face is forecasting the weather with certainty; every step of the way they are dealing with assumptions and presumptions and taking chances and risks in their decision making for the tasks to be performed on time.

When unexpected, very low and/or very high temperatures, stormy weather, snow, hail, wind, arrives, it brings with it quite often some sort of bad result. Losses in crop yields, great economical concerns to the workers and owners, even complete destruction of their farmland and their businesses.

Just last April, towards the end of the month, France, Spain Italy, Germany, Switzerland and England, among other countries, experienced the worse results possible to their crop’s production. Bad results not seen like this for many years.

Firstly the nice weather arrives by the approach of an unusual mild and warm winter that made trees, vines and all vegetation flower and set bud earlier; all ahead of their normal vegetative cycle and time.

Then the worse that could happen did happen in these countries. These trees that were flowering and sprouting beautifully, and vines full of buds booming and blooming, almost overnight, this young growth disappeared from sight. It turned overnight from bright green to paper brown. Icy temperatures reducing them to cinders overnight.


Part 1 – French Vineyards Decimated by Subzero Temperatures

As a result of these odd subzero temperatures, Bordeaux vineyards in southwest France could lose about half of their harvest this year after two consecutive nights of black frost damaged their crop at the end of April.  (AOC/AOP) wines of quality and distinction, from Domains and Chateaux in the Right Bank of Bordeaux too have been hit hard by these black frosts.
Médoc PauillacMargauxListracMoulisSaint-Julien, and Saint-Estèphe  South of Bordeaux, Graves (Pessac Léognan) are all excellent areas producing world famous vintage red and white wines.

Excellent vintage reds such as Cabernet’s Sauvignon, Franc, Merlot and malbec. White Sémillon and Sauvignon are the two main white vintages produced in Bordeaux.

Bordeaux is bordered by three rivers, in the Geronde District. An area of approximately 105 000 hectares, of which 53 quality wines are qualified AOC. An area of some  3000 touristic castles and the some of the most famous vineyards and forms an area of White wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, and reds Cabernet and Merlot suffer the most. Any areas that escaped or were less affected were situated on higher ground or had heat and water systems among other defensive implements on the ready to be used over the vineyards.

Viticulturist, fruit growers, farmers, the people hadn’t seen subzero temperatures and black frost of this kind for more than 25 years, so a great majority were caught unprepared. Unfortunately, some still are as they evaluate their losses and their futures.

Some French vignerons have lost their market share to a point that they are thinking of walking out from their wine business all together.

Others are keeping their heads high, saying very little, hopping that what lacks for quantity may be replaced for quality, or even a top year for 2018. The truth is that at the moment they trying to keep their wits and their hopes alive; hopping that better weather will come, a second germination will progress well, leading to a later harvest in the year.

Champagne Region 

Champagne’s territory extends and are part of the Districts of Marne, Aisne,  and Aube, and some other areas of Haute-Marne and Seine-et-Marne.  30% of vines are for allocated for Pinot Noir, 30% for Chardonnay (king of whites) called in French” blancs des blancs” or ”milésimes”) and 40% Pinot-Meunier. Very harsh calcium and marble hard soils with vine trunks penetrating as deep as 20 metres.

Champagne too was one of the worst hit regions by subzero temperatures. Champagne had been hit also in 2016 by several bouts of spring frost and hailstorms which culminated in great damage to vineyards in the area.
Wine and Champagne output could go down by as much as one third.

Latest estimations  about 8 000 hectares were affected by the negative weather conditions. A total of 14 % of the Champagne vineyards due to the the destruction of buds in 4.500 hectares. Bar-sur-Aubois and Haute-Marne, 1 400 hectares destroyed, the equivalent of 59 % of the area.

The Barséquanais  saw 2 615 hectares of their historic vineyards destroyed the equivalent of 48 % of total area. Aisne et la Seine-et-Marne, another 300 ha destroyed,or 12 % of in this area.

Bourgogne Region

The Losses in these areas were even higher. In the ‘Côte-d’Or’, 70 % of the vineyards were affected by the freezing conditions, an equivalent of 6000 and 7000 hectares affected. It was noted that damages to the vineyards and in particular to the buds and leaves varied according to the terrain and the measures and systems taken to try to curb the freezing temperatures day and night. Vineyards here too were seriously affected and lost any chance of being able to produce from first buds and new leaves due to shrivelling under the icy conditions these were subjected.

This cold snap has also cut production in many other areas of France.
In Burgoyne, Beaujolais and Charentes—where it is estimated some 3,600 hectares were affected and some vineyards destroyed.
Equally In Languedoc-Roussillon, in the south, where black frost hit and ruined some 2,000 hectares of vines; it is estimated that production could greatly fall with harvests of Chardonnay and some rose wines down some 40 percent.

Languedoc-Roussillon, comprises  a large area of French vineyards contributing to about 40% of French wine production. It is an area that produces  some 43 Appellations classified vintages.

The wines from Languedoc are manly Rosé and reds derived from vines such  as dark Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Cournoise and Grenaches Red and black, Syrah, including some table wines.


Despite that in Burgoyne viticulturists and other land producers are used to the minus temperatures, especially in the Northern areas, they didn’t see it coming off season. It is quite common the use of water sprinklers being used by viticulturists in these areas during the approximation of seasonal black frosts common in winter.

Bourgoyne’s vineyards form an extension of three Districts, Yonne, the Côte d’Or et la Saône-et-Loire. Approximately 250 km long from Chablis to the Mâconnais. It encompasses six main large areas  Chablis, Auxerre, Côte of Nuits, Côte of Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais. It accounts for close to (10o) one hundred, top white and red wines, of AOP classification. 

One thing for sure, or seems feasible that there will be gaps and opportunities to fill in the world for wine production markets; for Quality Wines, Champagne, Finos, Cognac, etc, as French, Italian, Spanish and other primary country wine producers and exporters are seriously affected.

The French wine and fruit growers call this a Climatic Catastrophe for the world of agriculture in general. A phenomena case scenario that they have no memory of seeing since 1991 and even then not as bad as this year.

All points out that they could lose considerable advantages in the export market this year and in the next years ahead.

Opportunities to enlarge production and increase exports by the New World wine community, including Australia and China seem now a reality if the conditions are to be suitable and these countries prepare and adapt and can accommodate the changes.

The French know in fact and are aware of who their main competitors in the wine industry are, and certainly Australia was, is not among this number in 2016.

Accordingly to a study by FranceAgriMer their main competitors positioned to compete in exports against France are : Germany, (not in a very strong position as is suffering also from black frost ravages in their vineyards in 2017), the United States, China and last the United Kingdom, (also affected by the subzero temperatures last April). Italy too was and is a main competitor in regard to the French wine exports, but doesn’t get to be mentioned by the FranceAgriMer Department in 2016.


In Part 2 – Ravages Of Vineyards By The Spring ”Black Frosts”

I will go into ”Laying Down The Statistical Costs for France for 2016/2017 and how these years tie up together.

Looking forward to write my next post.


Tags: Viticulture; oenology; black frosts; spring frosts; subzero temperatures; Bordeaux vineyards; Burgoyne vineyards; champagne vineyards; France exports. great losses; wine losses; Le Monde; vitisphera.

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