SHARE
COPY LINK

WINE

French wine production set for ‘historic low’ after disastrous frosts and wet summer

France's wine output this year will go on record as one of the worst in history, after severe spring frosts devastated vines, the Agriculture Ministry said on Friday.

French wine production set for 'historic low' after disastrous frosts and wet summer
France wine production in 2021 is set to fall below output seen in 1991 and 2017, when frosts wrecked vines. Photo: Raymond Roig / AFP

The world’s second-largest wine producer after Italy is likely to see production drop between 24 and 30 percent in 2021, taking it to a “historically low” level, the ministry said.

It is already certain to fall below output seen in 1991 and 2017, the two most recent years of disastrous harvests, which followed bouts of late frost.

“For now, it looks like the yield will be comparable to that of 1977, a year when the the vine harvest was reduced by both destructive frost and summer downpours,” the ministry said, raising concerns that this year’s harvest could be the worst on record.

Several nights of frost in early April caused some of the worst damage in decades to crops and vines across the country, including its best-known and
prestigious wine-producing regions from Bordeaux to Burgundy and the Rhône valley to Champagne.

Overall output, also affected by an onslaught of mildew prompted by heavy summer rains, is projected to come at in between 32.6 and 35.6 million hectolitres, the ministry said. A hectolitre is the equivalent of 100 litres, or 133 standard wine bottles.

The 2020 wine harvest was around 45 million hectolitres, the Agriculture Ministry announced last September. That had followed a mild winter and the second warmest Spring in 120 years.

As well as wine producers, growers of kiwis, apricots, apples and other fruit have been badly hit along with farmers of other crops such as beet and rapeseed.

Apricot production is headed for its worst year in more than four decades, the ministry said, falling by half from its average seen over the previous five years.

Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie has called the frost attack “probably the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century”.

Some scientists say that climate change has sharply increased the odds of such events happening again.

World Weather Attribution, an international organisation that analyses the link between extreme weather events and global warming, said in a study in June that a warmer climate had increased the probability of an extreme frost coinciding with a growing period by 60 percent.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

FOOD & DRINK

What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean – and are these products better?

If you're shopping in France it's highly likely that you will see food and drinks that proudly declare their AOP or AOC status - but are these products actually better than the rest?

What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean - and are these products better?

The French take their food very seriously – a country has to when its gastronomy and baguettes are both listed on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage lists.

Yes, France is a fast food fountain with an insatiable appetite for burgers and pizza – but it is also justifiably proud of its own traditional cuisine, from boeuf bourguignon to cassoulet – and has put a legal premium on restaurants serving ‘homemade’ food.

That pride extends to food production, with farmers and artisan manufacturers fearlessly defending their techniques – taking their disputes to court in many cases.

READ ALSO French court rules on the appearance of striped cheese

The French developed a labelling system that meant consumers could buy certain agricultural products – from vegetables to cheeses and wines – safe in the knowledge that its production and processing have been carried out in a particular geographical area (the terroir) and using recognised and traditional know-how.

This is the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC).

The designation can indicate a particular geographical area, or that the producer has followed the traditional technique or both.

Under French law, it is illegal to manufacture and sell a product under one of the AOC-controlled indications if it does not comply with the criteria of that AOC. In order to make them recognisable, all AOC products carry a seal, with a number as well as the name of the certifying body. The colour of the seal indicates the product classification: green for field products and red for dairy products.

The origins of AOC labelling date to 1411, when the production of blue Roquefort cheese was regulated by parliamentary decree. 

On August 1st, 1905, AOC rules were introduced for wine – and, in 1919, the Law for the Protection of the Place of Origin was passed which specified the region, right down in some cases to the commune in which a given product had to be manufactured to bear its name. 

As well as wines and cheeses, AOC status has been awarded to Poulet de Bresse, and salt marsh lamb raised in the Baie de Somme; Haute-Provence Lavender Essential Oil; lentils from Le Puy-en-Velay; Corsican honey; butter from Charente, Charente-Maritime, Vienne, Deux-Sèvres and Vendée; and certain spirits.

And these classifications are taken seriously – during the summer of 2022 several cheese producers had to temporarily stop using their AOC/AOP labels because the classification specified that the cheese was made with milk from grass-fed cows and their cows were being fed on hay because of the drought.

The European Union operates a similar geographical protection system that recognises products that are the “result of a unique combination of human and environmental factors that are characteristic of a given territory”.

This is the more common Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP).

The difference? Scale. The two labels are fundamentally the same. Just the former is French and older, while the latter European. 

Most products with AOC designation also have AOP protection under EU law, so they use AOP. However, certain wines with AOP status can still use the French AOC designation, and many use both.

So are AOP/AOC products better than non-AOP ones?

Neither of these labels are a quality mark, they refer only to how and where the product is made or grown, so there is nothing intrinsically better about an AOC/AOP cheese, lentil or wine.

However, the marks tend to go to the smaller, artisan producers who take great pride in their products, so in reality many of the AOC/AOP products are the better ones.

Producers of Camembert have fought a decade-long battle over labelling that pitted the AOP camembert producers (whose product must be made with unpasturised milk, at least 50 percent of which is produced by cows that have been grazing on Normandy grass) against the big factory producers who have no such constraints. 

While both are camembert, the AOP producers will tell you (at some length, if you let them) that theirs is an infinitely superior product. 

SHOW COMMENTS