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France eases rules on wine stocks to temper weather threat

French vineyards will be allowed under new rules to hold back more of their production each year to protect them in case harvests are damaged by extreme weather including storms and drought.

France eases rules on wine stocks to temper weather threat
Damaged vines following a violent storm in the region. Photo: AFP
The move comes after a series of fierce hailstorms battered fields across France in May, the latest in a series of weather-related losses that many growers attribute to climate change.
 
The National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO), which sets the rules governing France's prestigious wine appellations, said Thursday that producers of red and white wines would now be able to stock 20 percent of their annual output, for a total of 50 percent over a three-year period.
   
Previously they were allowed to keep just 10 percent of their stock.
 
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Photo: AFP
 
“This decision will reinforce the resilience of vineyards against recurrent weather hazards, by playing a role similar to crop insurance,” the INAO and the top government official for the Gironde department, which includes Bordeaux, said Thursday.
   
The storage rules were originally rolled out across France starting in 2013 to ensure vineyards would have reserves in case quality or quantify suffered for a particular vintage. 
   
Dessert wines and champagne were not included in the programme.
   
But the INAO said the new rules would now be tested for producers of three sweet wine appellations: Sauternes, Barsac and Monbazillac — the latter a popular pairing with foie gras.
   
An increase in early frosts and summer droughts have taken a toll on winegrowers as well as food producers in France and elsewhere in Europe in recent years, often causing price spikes for consumers.
   
Europe's wine production dropped to levels unseen since World War II last year as extreme weather battered top producers Italy, France, Spain and Germany, the main farmers' union said last October.
   
A spring cold snap in the Bordeaux region last year, for example, slashed the 2017 harvest by 40 percent.

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FARMING

Cold snap ‘could slash French wine harvest by 30 percent’

A rare cold snap that froze vineyards across much of France this month could see harvest yields drop by around a third this year, France's national agriculture observatory said on Thursday.

Cold snap 'could slash French wine harvest by 30 percent'
A winemaker checks whether there is life in the buds of his vineyard in Le Landreau, near Nantes in western France, on April 12th, following several nights of frost. Photo: Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

Winemakers were forced to light fires and candles among their vines as nighttime temperatures plunged after weeks of unseasonably warm weather that had spurred early budding.

Scores of vulnerable fruit and vegetable orchards were also hit in what Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie called “probably the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century.”

IN PICTURES: French vineyards ablaze in bid to ward off frosts

The government has promised more than €1 billion in aid for destroyed grapes and other crops.

Based on reported losses so far, the damage could result in up to 15 million fewer hectolitres of wine, a drop of 28 to 30 percent from the average yields over the past five years, the FranceAgriMer agency said.

That would represent €1.5 to €2 billion of lost revenue for the sector, Ygor Gibelind, head of the agency’s wine division, said by videoconference.

It would also roughly coincide with the tally from France’s FNSEA agriculture union.

Prime Minister Jean Castex vowed during a visit to damaged fields in southern France last Saturday that the emergency aid would be made available in the coming days to help farmers cope with the “exceptional situation.”

READ ALSO: ‘We’ve lost at least 70,000 bottles’ – French winemakers count the cost of late frosts

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