Many of you will have heard about the damage to Bordeaux vineyards (and quite a few other areas including Burgundy, the Loire and Champagne) caused by late frosts this year.
In Bordeaux, we have had two late frosts; 20/21st and 27/28th April, with temperatures of -3 to -4°C overnight and early in the morning. This is the first late April frost of this magnitude since 1991, and before that (I believe from talking to neighbours) April 1977 was particularly bad, when it snowed heavily at the end of April. Therefore, this is a once every 25-year event, more or less.
The impact this year is severe in most areas of Bordeaux, with near 100% losses reported for around a fifth of estates, a fifth unscathed (either by suitable local topography or where the property could take measures to protect the vines, for example lighting fires or lanterns in the vineyard), and the remaining 60% of properties (including us at Chollet) somewhere in between.
The vines can recover to a certain extent, as there is a secondary shoot that may appear after the main one has withered and fallen off, but this shoot can only produce smaller bunches of grapes which may not even ripen (we are already a month into the season). We will have more of an idea at flowering time in a month or so.
There are also knock on effects beyond 2017; next year’s crop will be affected, as the shoots that are left may not leave enough mature wood to prune properly for 2018, reducing the size of that crop too.
For us here at Chollet, we estimate that we have lost 40 – 50% of the production this year. The Cabernet Sauvignon is 80 – 90% gone or damaged, Merlot about 30% and Cabernet Franc 50 – 60%. The whites seem OK as they are planted at the higher parts of the vineyard. We are lucky in that we will be able to produce red, white and rosé this year – albeit in much smaller quantities than usual. Compare that with one of our neighbours who has lost 10 out of 12 hectares, including all their whites. With many of their vines located just a few metres away from ours, it is just a slightly different lie of the land that meant the frost affected them worse than us. To illustrate, see the rough sketch below which approximates how the land lies from N – S (right – left), with a ditch at the lowest point. On the left of that are vines belonging to our neighbour, on the right are ours.
Below the red dotted line is a frost pocket where damage occurred to the vines – starting from partial to full damage (see photos).
See below for a view of the vines themselves at the moment (our neighbours vines taken with my back to ours) – this block of vines should be a sea of green, but the majority is brown where the shoots have shrivelled, with just the vines in the background being green (meaning OK or partially damaged).
This is what a healthy block of vines (our Sauvignon Blanc which emerged unscathed) should look like at the moment;
Below is a partly damaged vine; note the shoots in the middle and right have drooped and will fall off, whereas the shoot on the lower left will be OK – just the odd bunch or two of grapes will be picked from this vine, versus the normal 8 – 10 bunches.
Here we have a completely damaged vine (a bit hard to tell where the shoots were – therefore indicated with arrows), and everything behind also 100% gone – this is typical for a patch of vines lying in a hollow or valley;
We will update you further in our summer newsletter.