Late frost in Europe goes further than France – and far beyond wine
Newspapers and magazines featured striking images of France’s most famous wine regions earlier this month, showing romantic French vineyards filled with lighted candles and oil lamps in an effort to protect young grape buds from the effects of a sudden cold snap. Follow-up stories have often focused on the part of the harvest in France that will be lost due to frost and on the great French wines that could be affected.
But the extreme cold that threatened France’s wine regions in early April is less than half the story. In fact, the recent cold snap has spread across the European continent, affecting producers thousands of kilometers or more from Bordeaux and Burgundy. In addition, beverage activities beyond wine are impacted.
In Umbria, in central Italy, waves of freezing nights in early April cooled the Montefalco wine region to the bone. Filippo Antonelli, president of the local wine cooperative Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco, told VinePair that the region’s beloved Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG is unlikely to be affected this year, as Sagrantino is a late-ripening grape.
The bad news? The other favorite varieties of the region suffered. Damage is estimated to be at least 10 to 70 percent, threatening this year’s Montefalco Rosso DOC and Montefalco Grechetto DOC vintages.
“Varieties such as Sagrantino and Trebbiano, being later, were less affected than Sangiovese and Grechetto, which are the grapes most affected. [here]», Says Antonelli. “Consumers can therefore expect price increases, as harvests will be lower, especially with regard to [to] white wines, which often also come out the same year. “
Other wine regions up and down the Italian peninsula have been hit by severe frosts. In Piedmont, the unusual cold damaged up to 40% of early maturing grape varieties, the Quotidiano Piemontese newspaper reported, with particular damage in the Nebbiolo growing areas of northern Piedmont and the Barbera vineyards near Barbera. Asti, Nizza Monferrato and in the Tiglione Valley. Claudio Biondi, president of the Lambrusco Protection Consortium, told ANSA news agency that up to 80% of the Lambrusco harvest in some areas of Emilia Romagna could be damaged.
Daniele Toniolo, a sommelier who designs and hosts tours of Italy’s wine regions for Europe Sideways, says the cold snap is a particularly hard bounce for the country’s smaller producers, as their businesses were already suffering from the pandemic.
“The Covid-19 restrictions have severely affected their economy, as most of them also offer accommodation and cooking classes, truffle hunting trips and other outdoor activities,” says Toniolo. “They’re going to recover, but it’s a tough break, especially at this point. They are really looking forward to welcoming visitors again. “
Other regions of Europe have had similar experiences: winegrowers in Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and elsewhere were forced to take measures to protect their plants during the recent frost. . Although candle-filled vineyards are extremely photogenic, farmers actually used a number of different techniques to protect their crops, including smoke, steam, and even ice, spraying water that when frozen. , protected delicate heads from even lower air temperatures. frozen.
In Piedmont, the Franco Conterno winery lost about 60 percent of its harvest of grapes, mainly the early maturing Nebbiolo, according to co-owner and winemaker Daniele Conterno. The winery has managed to save many of its younger, recently planted vines, he says, by burying them underground.
In Charente, France, the vineyards were protected by tall towers that sucked warmer air from the tallest down to the plants on the ground. Only around 10 percent of Charente vineyards were ultimately affected by frost on the nights of April 7 and 8. However, these grapes are primarily intended for processing into Cognac and not into wine.
For producers in Montefalco, candles, towers and other heating equipment couldn’t really be used to prevent freezing, says Antonelli, due to the terrain and scale of the vineyards. Instead, local growers tried to protect the young grape buds by choosing the pruning dates.
“In our region, it was not possible to use specific deterrents [like candles]», Says Antonelli. “The only deterrent was the timing of pruning. Vineyards that were pruned earlier suffered more from frost than those that were pruned late.
Frost damage extended far beyond the grapes. Half of the stone fruits grown in Piedmont may have disappeared this year; other regions suffered even greater losses. The Mikulov wine region in southern Moravia, Czech Republic, has been famous for its wines for centuries, if not millennia, and was once said to be the source of most of the wine consumed in the nearby town of Vienna. However, among fans of so-called “wild” beers, the region is also known as the birthplace of Wild Creatures, a Belgian-style brewery focused on spontaneous fermentation, often using local fruits. Owner and brewer Jitka Ilčíková says the recent cold snap has been particularly harsh on apricots from South Moravia, which she normally uses in a Wild Creatures beer called Fly With Me.
“This fruit is very sensitive, and when it is cold during flowering, there is no chance for the harvest that year,” she says. “We’ll know more in a week or two. Much of the harvest is certainly gone. But not all trees bloom at the same time, so hope is still alive.
While this year’s freeze grabbed the headlines, producers admit that it’s really not that rare for something to happen. In 2020, for example, Ilčíková lost his entire apricot crop.
“Last year has been a lot more catastrophic,” she says. “It’s a shame that the situation is very similar barely a year later.”
Other manufacturers have learned a lesson from the late frosts of recent years. Pruning times have been changed for grapes at Antidoot, a cult producer of farmhouse beer, cider and wine in Kortenaken, Belgium. Owner and brewer Tom Jacobs says he tried to delay this year’s bud opening, or “bud break,” after losing fruit to an unusually late frost last year. “This year, we made the size of the [grape] very late vines, around mid-March. That way bud break comes later, ”he says.
Although Antidoot appears to have saved his grapes, some of his other fruits have been lost – including the apricots and peaches that Jacobs hoped to use in future Antidoot beers.
While most parts of Europe appear to have gone through the worst of the late frost, the story is not yet over: meteorologists have predicted another round of cold nights in many areas until the end of April, with the possibility of more gel coming back later. in spring. The surprise frost that damaged his grape harvest in 2020, Jacobs notes, actually happened in mid-May.
It could mean another series of striking images to come – and a lot of lingering uncertainty for beverage producers, distributors, retailers and consumers. After a year like 2020, most of us realize that nothing is ever guaranteed. But higher prices and limited availability seem like safe bets in 2021.
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