Frost – the new normal?


On May Day, we present a photo-report on a particular hazard of springtime.

I'm just back from what I sincerely hope is not a pre-Brexit tour of Europe: Languedoc, Rhône, Burgundy, Baden, Alsace and culminating in a couple of days tasting the super-ripe 2018 German wines at the Mainzer Weinbörse.

The frost that virtually wiped out the 2019 crop in parts of Anjou in the Loire in early April seems to me to have been under-reported. Similarly with those parts of Burgundy, notably Rully, that have already suffered two fatally severe frosts earlier this month. Part of the problem seems to be that winters are getting milder, so early budbreak is increasingly common, putting young vine growth at risk – particularly in our increasingly unpredictable weather patterns. As Walter pointed out in his recent survey of the 2018 vintage in Italy, frost can now be a serious risk in Italy too. In Burgundy last month, strong winds played havoc with vignerons' anti-frost measures and simply blew the potentially protective smoke away.

Travelling along the Côte d'Or (see Nick's rave review of a restaurant there, to be published two weeks on Saturday), it was all too easy to see signs of how worried the vignerons there are about the unavoidable frost risk. There were hay bales everywhere, ready to be lit in case of a recurrence of the frosts that were so successfully staved off in 2017, as reported in Burgundy 2017 – when smoke saved the grapes.

Also in evidence, sometimes already neatly arranged along the vine rows, were the anti-frost candles labelled, imaginatively, stopGEL. I took the two pictures below in Le Montrachet vineyard.

The picture below, and that shown top right, show what the Côte d'Or vignoble looks like when these candles are lit. The night-time pictures were kindly provided by Suzanne Gazagnes, proprietor of La Chouette, the well-run, superior bed and breakfast on the outskirts of Puligny-Montrachet. (Her husband runs the posh hotel, Le Montrachet.)

Let us hope that the 2019 crop is saved from any more frost. Someone, incidentally, must be making a mint from selling those stopGel candles. Suzanne suggests they may be made in Hungary. Somewhere with a continental climate, presumably.