Two late frosts destroy Bordeaux 2021 vintage dream

It only takes a couple of hours and a couple of degrees below zero and the dreams of a whole wine vintage are gone. Big expensive mitigation exercises like helicopters to keep the air circulating through the vineyards or hundreds of giant industrial candles in the rows of vines only work in part.

I understand that words like ‘Climate Change’ are emotional and quickly divide groups of smart people everywhere. But it has! The climate in Bordeaux – the world’s largest single vineyard – has changed. Vines burst their buds earlier exposing fragile delicate new foliage and the tiny potential fruit clusters to the weather. In turn the weather is overall a bit warmer with bigger variations, which increases the potential for late April frosts. It only takes a couple of hours at -1C or lower to rapidly deep freeze the new shoots and their fruit. No amount of love, organic pick-me-up tonics or a warm day afterwards can reverse the process. The damage is done and the season is over for that bud, fruit plus potential wine.

And so it was early on two early mornings late last week across the vineyards of Bordeaux and even more sadly across many other French and European vineyards. Reports continue to come in from France with figures as high as 80% loss rates. A colleague partner of ours with a vineyard just 10km away from us on the west side of the River Garonne reported a similar tragic figure. There are not many words of consolation that one can offer. There aren’t many other practical counter mitigation strategies that one can think of using to protect one’s vines next year.

Young vine leaves are very sensitive to damage from frost.

And this isn’t the first time this has happened. Bordeaux with a more moderate partial maritime climate is better placed than many of the various sub regions of say Burgundy or Northern Italy, where these events are more common. The last significant April frost event in Bordeaux occurred in 2017. Human resilience will again be tested.

In 2017, in Paradise Rescued, our (then) younger newer Merlot vines on the west side of the sloping Merlot block suffered some damage and seemingly protected the rest of their siblings. This time around, the lower seemingly more protected Cabernet Franc took a few hits, with maybe a 10% loss rate – but nothing compared to many neighbours further away from Cardan. I guess we were fortunate again?

Loss or no loss, there is still shock for the vines – whatever their age profile. Thankfully, we still have a potentially successful season ahead. Our vineyard team have been through the rows of vines and administered an organic valerian tonic plus lots of encouragement to get them going again, ready for whatever comes next. Mother Nature always has another trick coming up soon.

Our vintage 2021 dream lives on. Our thoughts and best wishes are with those colleagues of ours who have been less fortunate.

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