Spring frosts, summer heatwaves and hailstorms have combined to lower France’s 2019 wine harvest by an expected 12% compared to 2018 – with that year already 4% lower than the five-year average. Worst hit this year was the Jura, estimated to have lost about 63% of its production to frost.
The latest figures from Agreste, France’s agricultural statistics bureau, make for sobering reading. While almost every wine growing region suffered, the report outlined a series of worst hit areas by season. The damp, cold spring, it said, was particularly difficult in the west of France, while the summer heatwaves took their greatest toll in the Midi, Gard, Hérault and the Var.
In August, it was the turn of Beaujolais which was devastated by hailstorms. Average losses were estimated to be between 20% and 50%, with a potential volume loss of 25%.
On the upside, Agreste said the health of the country’s vineyards in mid-August was “globally good” with most diseases and pests well under control.
The country’s total 2019 wine harvest volume is expected to come in at about 43.4m hectolitres. If those figures bear out, that would be one of the lowest in the last five years. Barring, that is, the historically low 2017 harvest (36.7m hectolitres) which was hit by widespread frost.
To compensate, drinkers may find themselves reaching for Corsica and the south east (Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence), the only regions where total production rose, 1% and 5% respectively. Or, possibly, a Bordeaux red. Here, overall losses are expected to be in the more reasonable range of about 5%.
“The frost was pretty bad,” said Jonathan Ducourt, sales and marketing manager for Vignobles Ducourt. “In our case it really hit the whites. Of 120 hectares, mainly in Entre-deux-Mer, we lost 25% to 30%. That’s because they are on lower ground. We also had to deal with coulure [where younger berries fail to properly develop].”
His Côtes de Castillon reds were damaged too, with losses of about 50%. “But that is only about 10% of our total red area,” he said. For the remaining 300 red hectares he was optimistic. “We just need a bit of rain to plump out the grapes and then a nice bit of sun.”
Ducourt hesitated to blame climate change. “Last year was good. This year, yes, the frost was a bit worse than normal. And the summer was hotter. But in Bordeaux a loss of 5% is not dramatic. It’s really not bad compared to 2017.”
In terms of the wine quality, Ducourt said what was left of the whites, already being harvested, was fresh and crisp. The reds, meanwhile, given the right conditions over the next few weeks, could be equally promising.