The frost has affected 80% of vineyards in France’s primary wine growing areas, according to the European Committee of Wine Companies. “This is expected to cause a yield loss ranging from 25% to up to 50% in some regions,” the trade body told CNN Business on Wednesday.
The destruction spread across the Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Provence and the Loire Valley, said Anne Colombo, president of the Cornas appellation, a wine-growing area in the Rhone region.
“In some regions there will be very, very few grapes [this year],” she said, adding that the frost in Cornas is the worst in more than half a century.
Winemakers tried to keep air temperatures up by lighting candles and braziers in their vineyards, but in many cases it was not enough to protect their budding vines.
“An important share of the harvest has been lost. It’s too early to give a percentage estimate, but in any case it’s a tragedy for the winegrowers who have been hit,” said Christophe Chateau, director of communications at the Bordeaux Wine Council.
The frost also threatens other crops, including beets and rapeseed, according to the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions. “The anguish is immense in vineyards, orchards and fields,” the organization said in a statement last week.
The French Ministry of Agriculture and Food last week activated its “agricultural calamities” program, triggering tax relief and other financial support measures for farmers. Government officials held an emergency meeting with bankers, insurers and agricultural representatives on Monday to identify additional support mechanisms.
Exports of French wine and spirits fell nearly 14% to €12.1 billion ($14.5 billion) in 2020, with sales to the United States tumbling 18%, according to the Federation of Wine and Spirits Exporters of France.
Winemakers grapple with climate crisis
The frost was particularly damaging for winemakers because it was preceded by unusually warm temperatures, which meant that vines grew faster and earlier than usual, making them more sensitive to the cold.
Temperatures in the Champagne region went from near 26 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) to around minus 6 (22 degrees Fahrenheit) in less than a week. “Although temperatures are closer to normal now, another cold outbreak is on the way,” said Myers.
“Now we harvest in the first week of September and [20 years ago] it was the last week of September,” she said.
The National Federation of Farmers’ Unions said the episode is a “stark reminder” of the importance of preventive measures and “a risk management regime that meets the climate challenge.”
— Elena Pompei, Antonella Francini, Barbara Wojazer and Judson Jones contributed reporting.