Bad Weather Hammers French Vineyards

From Bordeaux to Burgundy, and the Loire to Languedoc, French growers are struggling with weather conditions.

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Having to contend with mother nature year-in, year-out lends viticulturists a relatively sombre outlook on things in the vineyard. Yet, with this in mind, it certainly seems that the start of the 2024 season in France has been less than ideal across many of the country’s wine regions.

Already, Cahors, the Jura, Bergerac and Chablis have all been hit by major frost events or hailstorms. Cahors, in particular, was badly mauled with an estimated 80 percent of the region’s 2024 harvest lost frost events at the end of April.”[Frost] threatens the survival of vineyards in the Cahors appellation,” said local deputy Aurélien Pradié in France’s Assemblée Nationale last week.

The story was echoed in the Jura. In Château Chalon, Hélène Berthet-Bondet of Domaine Berthet-Bondet told local newspaper La Voix du Jura that she had lost “70 percent of my harvest across the board”.

“Of 11 hectares, I have lost eight,” Jean-Yves Noir, of Domaine Noir Frères in Poligny, told the paper. “The remaining three hectares are 60 percent hit.”

Again, the region’s winemakers are beginning to question the longevity of their profession.

“We’ve experienced four frost attacks in eight years – it’s starting to take its toll,” regional prefect Serge Castel told an assembly of the region’s wine and fruit growers.

Just to the west, despite a relatively early start to the growing season in Beaujolais and Burgundy, major rainfalls in the regions have slowed vine growth in the vineyards and the threat of mildew here is beginning to echo that in Bordeaux (see Mildew Threat to Bordeaux from earlier this month).

“The start of the growing season has been particularly hard,” Brieg Clodoré, of organic organisation AgriBio Rhône et Loire, told wine news website earlier this week. “We’ve had rainfalls over 30-40mm over two to three days and very short spray windows. We regularly see [mildew] spots on leaves – of course, the swing from heavy rain to hot weather is ideal for mildew.”

It’s not just moisture on the leaves causing problems, either. Sodden vineyards are making it hard for tractors to enter sites and apply treatment sprays against mildew. “Last week, we had to spray 30 hectares [70 acres] with backpack sprayers because we couldn’t get in with the tractor,” one Beaujolais winegrower told Vitisphere.

While some growers are even raising the possibility of black rot outbreaks (another form of fungal infection on the vine), others are taking a more positive attitude.

“We are going into the summer with water reserves in the ground – which hasn’t been the case in the last few years,” said Brief Clodoré.

Further north in Burgundy, it’s a similar story. Wet weather has also hampered tractors, particularly in the Maconnais, with others stating that, in the Côte d’Or, weed and grass growth has been causing some headaches.

While thunderstorms across the Burgundy heartland threatened the region on Monday, the only hail to fall appears to have done so within the confines of Dijon town. Mildew, however, has also been reported in the region.

Further north again, in Chablis, the weather continues to frustrate growers. A widely reported destructive wave of hail hit the region in April, causing major damage just north of Chablis town.

“Three villages were particularly badly hit: Fontenay-près-Chablis, Villy and Chapelle-Vaupelteigne,” said Jean-François Bordet of Domaine Seguinot-Bordet. “There, almost all the vines were 100 percent hit – there won’t be any grapes.”

While those in the region continue to assess the hail damage, disease pressure has not relented. 

“[Disease] pressure appeared much earlier than in previous seasons, and some started spraying at the beginning of April,” Audrey Cellier, of the Yonne (Chablis region) Chamber of Agriculture, told

However, while mildew spots have been seen in the Côte d’Or, Christophe Deola of Maison Louis Latour told the publication that “everything’s under control at this stage”.


Damage control

To the north, and the damage caused by the violent hailstorm reported in Champagne in mid-May appears to have been quantified. The storm reportedly ravaged around 200 hectares (500 acres) of vineyards in the Aisne department (corresponding to around 0.6 percent of the region’s total vineyard area).

Since then, the region’s wine trade body, the CIVC, has come out with a more concrete appraisal. The organisation believes that an area of 4-500 hectares (1000-1200 acres) was affected, with an estimated 70 percent reduction in yield in this area.

Furthermore, the CIVC says frosts in April will also impact the 2024 yield, albeit to a lesser extent.

“Overall, the [CIVC] estimates a loss of 9 percent of primary buds across the entire Champagne appellation,” said local newspaper L’Union. “This is considerably less than 2021 [which experienced a much-publicised series of major frost events] – a year during which 30 percent of the Champagne vineyards was frosted.”

Meanwhile the Muscadet region in the west of the country, is facing an unprecedented challenge. Vitisphere last week reported that unusually cold weather has prompted vines in the region to abort flowering through a process called “filage”. This effectively sees what would be grape-bearing offshoots on the vine revert to being a standard tendril – a process which, if widespread, would have a significant impact on yield.

 “We are faced with a significant amount of filage, particularly on the Melon de Bourgogne [the region’s flagship variety,” said Florent Banctel, viticultural advisor to the Pays de la Loire Chamber of Agriculture. “With the low temperatures we’ve been having, the vines vegetated for a month. To continue growing, they’ve chosen to sacrifice bunches.”

“It’s hard to assess,” he added. “I have never ever seen this before. It’s quite a worry for the potential yield.”

“We will have significant losses,” said Eric Vincent of Domaine de la Foliette, just outside Nantes, “but I don’t know how to assess them. We should do some [bunch] counts but I’m busy with my spray treatments.”

While here, too, mildew is threatening the region, it appears to be under control for the moment.

Further to the south, Bordeaux is again reporting a resurgence of mildew. Although current reports are nothing like those of last year (see Bordeaux Hit by Second Bout of Mildew), it is precisely the damage caused by last year’s mildew outbreaks that are driving responses in the region.

“For the moment, the [mildew] attacks are not as virulent [as 2023], but they are particularly early,” said local radio station France Bleu Gironde. “[The outbreaks] also seem to have concentrated in certain sectors, notably around Libourne and even Saint-Emilion.”

Indeed, the early arrival of mildew pressure has been one of the noted factors of the 2024 harvest. The precocious nature of the threat in Saint-Emilion was dubbed “completely crazy” by one grower at the weekend.

“We’ve got our noses glued to the weather apps, monitoring the rainfall, to find a time slot to put on a spray,” Nathalie Châtonnet-Castan of Château Belle-Nauve told the radio station. “We talk about [spray] windows – at the moment it’s more like blinds, because sometimes we’ve only got two hours to act.”

The Limoux region was licking its wounds this week following a major hail storm which slammed into its vineyards last Friday. The storm cut a swathe through a corridor just north of Limoux town.

“The leaves are gone, the bunches are gone and the shoots have been cut back to 10cm,” said local viticultural consultant Giacomo Pinna. “It’s as if the growers have gone through with their hedge-trimmers.”

The destruction is not widespread in the appellation although just to the east, in the western Corbières, several hailstorms on Friday and over the last weekend have reportedly come close to wiping out around 1000 hectares (2500 acres) of vineyard.

Good news in Corsica, though, where so far the island has been spared hail, bad weather, and much (but not all) of the mildew pressure seen on the mainland.

“Overall, the vines are eight to 10 days ahead of the 2023 vintage,” Nathalie Uscidda, head of the Corsican wine research centre (CRVI), told


Source: Wine-Searcher

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