Second Smallest French Wine Harvest?

Latest estimates place the 2021 harvest at the lower end of previous expectations.

French harvest estimates
French harvest estimates

France‘s Ministry of Agriculture's Sept. 1, 2021, figures now project a total volume of 33.3m hl, just above the bottom of the 24-30% (32.6m-35.6m hl) fall forecast in August.  

This is 29% smaller than 2020, 25% lower than the average of the past five years, and smaller than the short harvests of 1991 and 2017. These estimates place it close to 1977, when the yields were the worst on record.

French regions were affected to varying degrees by the spring frost, hail, drought stress and extreme rainfall. The latter subsequently led to heavy fungal infestation. Delayed ripening has caused a delay to the harvest of between up to two weeks. 

Looking at the regions in more detail

In a long, varied area like the Loire Valley, there were unsurprisingly large differences in weather patterns and impacts. The overall effect likely to be a harvest that’s 39% smaller than last year.

Bordeaux producers report significant losses to disease in Merlot vineyards, while Sauvignon Blanc vines were badly hit by frost. As a whole, the harvest is expected to be cut by 25 percent. 

Nearby in the South-West, severe weather conditions had a heavier impact, leading to expectations of a harvest reduction o fas much as 44%.

Moving eastwards, April frost did significant damage in Languedoc-Roussillon, where the harvest is feared to be 32% down on 2020 

In Provence, of course, the problems of frost and fungal attack were followed by fires, which could collectively reduce yields by 20 percent. 

The Rhone may be be slightly less impacted than other regions, but the effects of the spring frosts are likely to have contributed to harvests across that – on average - are at least 20% smaller than in 2020. As in the Loire however, the extended nature and diversity  of the region make for very varied yields in years like this.

Beaujolais is expecting to make half as much wine as in recent  years.  

Detailed reports from the Côte d’Or and Mâconnais have yet to be delivered by the regions, but in late August there were expectations that a combination of poor conditions earlier in  the season, oidium, rot and hail are likely to have more than halved the vintage, with some parts of the region being far worse hit than others.

Chablis, a frequent victim of climatic problems, and a frequent victim of frost, has lost two thirds of its crop.

One of the luckiest regions, Alsace was spared from frost, and despite flooding and fungal disease, only prognosticates a 20% fall in production. 

Jura and Savoie are often treated as one region, but this year highlights the differences between them. The former region, whose producers are enjoying a wave of interest from critics and sommeliers, may lose 80% of its harvest, while the latter hopes to produce normal volumes. 

Champagne is bracing itself for the worst harvest in 40 years, with a loss of 60% of the crop – and the almost certain use of harvest reserves from previous years. 

Far enough away from the mainland, Corsica was able to escape the cold weather front. Here, a modest harvest reduction from last year of 4% is blamed on drought.

Finally, in the Charentes the Ugni Blanc vines were not hit by frost and the harvest is likely tob e in line with the five year average.

So, maybe wine drinkers will be well advised to switch to Cognac.

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