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

Standing on a steep narrow path amid rows of vines, Michael Gerin wonders whether any of this year's harvest can be salvaged. The worst spring frost in decades has killed off most of the shoots, and the weather forecast is not promising.

'We've lost at least 70,000 bottles' - French winemakers count the cost of late frosts
Michael Gerin at his vineyard in the Rhone valley. Photo: Philippe Desmazes/AFP

“We should have six bunches of grapes per vine. Now we’re hoping for maybe one,” Gerin told AFP at his 17-hectare property in the heart of the Rhone valley, one of the country’s prime wine-growing regions.

The local Cote-Rotie vineyards, famous for their steep slopes overlooking the river, are looking at losses of around 80 percent after a cold snap swept across Europe following a period of unseasonably warm weather.

“We usually produce 80,000 bottles, but this year it’ll be 10,000 or 15,000 at most,” Gerin said.

Across France, growers are counting their losses after the freeze, which affected hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops and vines in 10 of the country’s 13 regions.

IN PICTURES French vineyards ablaze with candles in bid to ward off frosts

A winegrower burns a bale of straw in the vineyards to protect them from frost in the Vouvray vineyard in Touraine. (Photo by GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP)

“This frost wave, we’ve never experienced anything like it,” Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said on Monday.

“This is probably the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century.”

Spring frost can be particularly devastating for vines, because once their sap has risen and buds have appeared they become highly vulnerable to sub-zero temperatures.

“We’re all worried and downbeat. All our work got destroyed in just a few hours,” Gerin said.

While the destruction wrought on vineyards is getting the most attention, France’s wider agriculture sector – the European Union’s biggest – is reeling.

Producers of fruit, vegetables and cereals have also been affected by the cold.

Around 10 percent of France’s sugar beet production has already been lost, the producer association CGB reported.

Consumers will also have “far fewer” apricots, cherries and other fruit this year, driving prices higher, Denormandie warned.

The minister, who has set up a crisis group to coordinate the government’s response, has warned of “significant” financial damage.

Prime Minister Jean Castex has promised “exceptional payouts” to help growers get through the crisis.

But the worst may not even be over.

The weather forecast suggests more damage ahead as abundant rainfall favours frost formation, even in milder temperatures, said Luc Servant, a vice president of France’s chambers of agriculture.

Servant told AFP it was still too early to gauge this year’s total toll on wine production, a part of which could still be saved in cases where buds had not yet appeared.

“But wherever fruit has frozen on trees, there won’t be more blossoms. It’s over,” he said.

The damage comes despite wine-makers taking various measures to mitigate the effect of extreme weather.

As vines blossom earlier due to global warming, growers have taken to pruning them later and later in the year to stop the buds appearing too quickly.

But this year their efforts to outsmart the weather were in vain.

“What’s happening to us now is rare, and we hope that it stays rare,” Gerin said.

Member comments

  1. Crikey – another reason for living in France put to the fire….. I wonder how much we will have to pay for just Vin de Table, let alone the more exotic types. Prices have not gone up yet though.

  2. Just remember the good seasons. One can’t expect to make money every year in a business that relies on the weather.

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School buses cancelled as southwest France braces for more rain

School bus services have been cancelled a storms hit one département in southwest France - with conditions set to remain difficult throughout the day.

Storms are hitting south west France
Storms are hitting south west France. Image: Shutterstock

Firefighters in the Carcassonne département of Aude – which was formally placed on orange weather alert by forecasters at Météo-France on Tuesday afternoon – have so far reported no significant damage after a night of heavy rainfall. 

But emergency services remain on alert with the autumnal storm system set to deposit more rain over the area on Wednesday before it moves away to the east.

So far, more than 144mm of rain has fallen in the area between Durban and Corbières and 133 mm in Coustouge.

To the east of the Corbières’ region, Météo France has recorded between 130 and 150mm of precipitation, and between 70mm to 100mm at stations in Leucate, Sigean and Carcassonne in just three hours early on Wednesday.

According to France’s floods watchdog Vigicrues, several towns in the east and south of the département – Feuilla, Fraissé-des-Corbières, Saint-Jean-de-Barrou, Sigean, Port-la Nouvelle, Peyriac-de- Mer, Narbonne and Gruissan – are bearing the brunt of the rainfall. 

It currently has seven yellow flood alerts in the Aude, indicating a ‘Risk of flooding generating overflows and localised damage, or a rapid and dangerous rise in water levels, requiring particular vigilance, particularly in the case of exposed and / or seasonal activities.’

The weather conditions have prompted the Aude préfecture to cancel school bus services on Wednesday around Bassin Versant de la Berre, Bassin Versant de l’Orbieu, and Bassin Versant du Verdouble, and urge residents to exercise caution as they go about their daily activities.

The system has generated significant snowfall at higher altitudes in the Pyrénées-Orientales, Haute-Ariège and Andorra. Up to 1m of snow is forecast in areas exposed to the easterly wind.

The rains are expected to intensify between Narbonne and the east of the Montagne Noire on Wednesday, with storms developing as the day progresses. An additional 120mm of precipitation could fall in localised areas during the day before the system moves east towards the Hérault then towards the lower valley of the Rhône and the Paca region on Thursday.

Light to moderate rains will persist in Aude overnight into Thursday.