France’s most famous export is getting the cold shoulder. Late severe frosts in April and May is threatening wine production in regions including Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy. In early April, vineyards in the area reported temps as cold as 19 degrees Fahrenheit. If this was the middle of February, it wouldn’t be such a problem. However, because spring is the start of the growing season, severe cold can kill already well-developed shoots.
“All areas of the Champagne are hit to very varying degrees,” explained Thibaut Le Mailloux from the Champagne Committee (CIVC) industry group to Reuters. “It’s too early to estimate the extent of the damage, but the frost impact is worse than last year’s.”
The frost could, in fact, be worse that the one that destroyed the 1991 vintages.
Le Mailloux shared that vineyards have been using candles, heaters and any other method they can think of – including hiring helicopters to fly over the vineyard – to warm up the vines.
Close to 25 percent of Champagne’s vine shoots have already been damaged.
Future Frost Problems
Frost is common in low-lying areas, but this time, it rose to the top of the slope of Puligny, effecting a large number of regions including Puligny, Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet — popular for French Chardonnay.
The problem is not just the cold, it’s the ice that forms on the vines. After the frost forms on a vine, it becomes a kind of magnifying glass for the sun. The sun shines on the ice and frost and reflects back onto the leaves, essentially burning them and the small clusters of flowers and fruit that are just starting to form.
While the total amount of damage is yet to be reported, some expect this year’s frost to go down in wine-making record book history.