Frost strikes European vineyards

Frost candles Cote d'Or 7 April 2021 by Vincent Dancer

Reports of severe frost damage to vines in a wide range of European wine regions are flooding in. Chablis, the Côte d'Or (where Vincent Dancer's drone took this picture of frost candles in vineyards this week), Beaujolais, southern Rhône and Bordeaux all seem to have suffered – not least because the days have been warm, encouraging early vine growth. See this video from Katie Jones in Tuchan. Below, Walter describes the situation in northern and central Italy. See also Walter's follow-up and Matthew Hayes on frost in Burgundy.

Large parts of Italy, from the north to the centre, have been hit by frost damage due to exceptionally cold nights last Tuesday and Wednesday. The violently cold spell, made more severe by strong winds and clear skies, is said to be the coldest since 2003. The unusually warm weather in the previous week triggered shoot growth, especially of early-budding varieties, while enormous damage to crops cultivated on the plains, such as peach, kiwi and vegetables, have been reported in Emilia-Romagna, the Veneto and all the way down to Marche and Molise.

First reports from the Langhe speak of widespread frost damage, although the real situation will become clear only in the next few days after a thorough inspection of the vineyards. Although Nebbiolo is an early-budding variety, the most important crus of Barolo and Barbaresco tend to be on slopes, and hence relatively protected from spring frost. Lower parts of the Langhe have reportedly been hit more severely.

Alberto Cordero of Cordero di Montezemolo in La Morra commented on Wednesday about the sudden frost:

'Unfortunately here too! It hit tonight quite intensely. We took a quick tour of the vineyards and the frost hit almost everywhere but to have an idea of the damage we will have to wait another two of three days when the damaged shoots dry up. It is difficult to understand what can happen. We'll see. Too bad because the winter was fantastic and the spring seemed to have started well. I am still positive. In the past the plants have reacted well and brought forth new shoots which are generally sterile (no flowers) but it depends a lot on the weather over the next 20–25 days. It's part of our life. We have to accept it and I do.'

Alberto Cordero took this picture of frost damage to his vines in La Morra in the Barolo zone
One of many pictures Alberto Cordero took this morning, 9 April, of frost damage to his vines in La Morra in the Barolo zone

In the Veneto, after a week of daytime temperatures nearing 27 °C, the cold spell came as a total shock to vineyards and fruit trees, with temperatures in Gambellara and Soave dipping below -5 °C, while the plains around Verona experienced temperatures of -3 °C for five nights in a row. Valdobbiadene, the centre of Prosecco production, seems to have largely escaped the brunt of the cold spell, although the weather forecast is for at least two more nights of freezing temperatures.

The first reports from Tuscany speak of heavy damage in the area of Pistoia, with vineyards planted with Sangiovese particularly hard hit, with a loss of 50% already estimated, going up to 90% in cases where Sangiovese had already formed shoots and buds due to the warm weather preceding the frost. The frost has also destroyed a large part of the tomato production here.

While Valtellina and parts of Piemonte resorted to burning hay bales in between vine rows, Trentino reportedly used irrigation systems, normally allowed for use only in emergency situations during extremely hot and dry weather, to protect vines as well as fruit trees.

Reports from Chianti Classico indicate that especially the higher parts, such as Radda in Chianti, seemed to have been spared since Sangiovese is slightly delayed here due to the relatively long and cold winter and the elevation. The higher parts of Montalcino seem to have seen little frost damage although this will become clearer in the next few days, while lower vineyards are believed to have suffered badly.

Matthew Hayes, who will be reporting on frost effects in Burgundy, sends this short video taken by Guillaume Boillot.

Video file