If you’re a regular reader of the Xtrawine blog, you probably noticed a slightly worrying article that we posted last week.
We talked about an unseasonable cold snap that hit Italian wine producers.
This cold snap led to widespread frosts throughout the country. Thankfully, producers aren’t as badly hit as they could have been. While some grape varieties, particularly reds that mature early, will be hit, Italy’s grape diversity has played in its favour in this instance. Despite the frost, Italy looks set to come out of this period relatively unscathed.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for France.
Before arriving in Italy, the frost travelled through practically the entire country of France. And it left in its wake a trail of devastation that some are calling the worst climate-based issue to hit the French wine industry in decades.
In this article, we’re going to examine the true scale of the April frosts and the damage that they’ve done. We’re also going to look at what’s being done to help the French wine industry during a time of true crisis.
The Frost And Its Effects
For those who are unaware, 2021 has offered some difficult climate-based challenges for the global wine industry.
The early months of the year brought with them some unseasonal warm periods. While this may seem like an advantage at first, as warm weather allows red wine grapes to mature much faster and fulfill their full potential, we had no idea what was waiting in store after these warm months.
And it brought with it frosts that have engulfed almost all of France.
These frosts have hit hardest in regions such as Bordeaux, which focus almost exclusively on red wine grapes. The early warm weather caused the grapes grown in this region to start maturing much faster. The vines grew quickly and the grapes started to sprout, only for the frosts to hit them at their most vulnerable.
Millions of vines have practically shrivelled up and perished due to the cold weather.
The impact on the French industry looks to be substantial. The latest estimates stated that at least a third of the country’s wine production has been devastated by the frost. And the chances are that the real number will be much higher.
This loss will devastate many producers.
Estimates state that almost €2 billion of crops have been destroyed by the frost. And that’s without mentioning other fruit production, which has also been hit hard. When people call this the worst agricultural crisis to hit France in decades, they are not overestimating the impact. The frost is so severe that it may unfortunately lead to the closure of many smaller producers.
This is especially the case in Bordeaux.
The region is one of France’s most popular, which means that there are dozens of producers there all working with the same types of grapes. And these red wine grapes are exactly the types that have been most affected by the climate.
The challenge couldn’t have come at a worse time.
After all, it’s also important to remember that we’re still in the grips of a pandemic. Coronavirus has already had a marked impact on wine production and consumption. And now, the crop of 2021, which would have become vintages sold over the coming years that could have helped many producers make up for their losses, has been devastated to the point where many may not be able to make anywhere near the volume of wine that they typically make.
And as for quality…
That will naturally take a hit as well. The vines that have managed to survive the frost will still have been damaged. The grapes that underwent early maturity may lose many of their most attractive qualities. So, in addition to the loss of crops, the frost may lead to consumer sentiment moving away from French wines for a while, until the quality that they’re renowned for is restored.
What’s Being Done to Help
The effects of the climate on crops are nothing new.
For years, experts have warned us about climate change and agricultural sectors, such as the wine industry, are the ones that are likely to be the most affected. With unstable climates comes an inability to predict what the weather will do. That opens the door for surprise occurrences, such as this frost, to have such devastating effects.
In fact, one study, predicts that we could lose as many as 85% of our wine-growing regions if climate change isn’t averted. Even if we’re able to limit the change to 2 degrees Celsius, as outlined in the Paris agreement, there’s a possibility that up to 56% of wine-growing regions will disappear.
This is a serious issue.
Not only does it affect the wines that we love, but it also affects the economies of the affected countries. For France, wine is one of the country’s biggest exports. The loss of so much wine territory could devastate the country financially and culturally.
The good news is that the French government is treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves.
The government has already prepared, and is beginning to roll out, a €1 billion support package to the producers in Bordeaux and beyond who have been affected by this unseasonal frost.
That stimulus package will hopefully help many producers to survive a difficult period for wine production in the short term.
But there are still long-term ramifications to deal with.
This frost may be the worst disaster that France’s agricultural industry has faced in decades. But unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be the last, especially if we’re not able to slow down climate change and adapt how we live to what the Earth is telling us.
We hope that the changes put in place by things like the Paris agreement will help.
We hope that these unseasonal frosts, and similar issues, will continue to be rare events rather than the standard that we live in.
But that won’t be the case if there aren’t more long-term plans in place to deal with climate change.
This frost is just the latest reminder that the world we’re living in is changing. Hopefully, we’re able to influence that change for the better before it’s too late.