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French winemakers face devastation after worst weather conditions in 30 years

The frost affected 80% of the vineyards of the main French wine regions, according to the European Committee of Wine Companies. “This is expected to cause yield loss ranging from 25% to 50% in some areas,” the trade body told CNN Business on Wednesday.

The destruction spread across the Rhône Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Provence and the Loire Valley, said Anne Colombo, president of the Cornas appellation, a wine region in the Rhône region.

“In some regions there will be very, very few grapes [this year]She said, adding that the frost in Cornas is the worst in more than half a century.

Winemakers tried to maintain the air temperature by lighting candles and braziers in their vineyards, but in many cases this was not enough to protect their budding vines.

“A significant part of the harvest has been lost. It is too early to give an estimate in percentage, but in any case it is a tragedy for the winegrowers who have been affected”, declared Christophe Château, director of communication at Bordeaux Wine Council.

The frost also threatens other crops, including beet and rapeseed, according to the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions. “The anguish is immense in the vineyards, orchards and fields,” the organization said in a statement last week.

It is not since 1991 that farms have faced such a devastating weather event, according to French Prime Minister Jean Castex.

The French Ministry of Agriculture and Food activated its “agricultural calamities” program last week, triggering tax breaks and other financial support measures for farmers. Government officials on Monday held an emergency meeting with bankers, insurers and representatives of the agricultural sector to identify additional support mechanisms.

“To you, the farmers, who throughout France have fought tirelessly, night after night, to protect the fruits of your labor, I would like to say that we give you all our support in this fight. Stand firm! We are by your side and will remain so, ”French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter.
The crisis comes at a particularly difficult time for French wine growers, who are suffering from declining sales due to coronavirus lockdowns in major international markets, the collapse in tourism due to the pandemic, and US tariffs linked to a dispute. with the European Union on grants to planners Airbus (EADSY) and Boeing (BA).

Exports of French wines and spirits fell nearly 14% to 12.1 billion euros ($ 14.5 billion) in 2020, with sales to the United States falling 18%, according to the Federation of Exporters of wines and spirits from France.

Winegrowers grappling with the climate crisis

The frost was particularly damaging for the winegrowers as it was preceded by exceptionally warm temperatures, which allowed the vines to grow faster and earlier than usual, making them more sensitive to the cold.

“France experienced near record heat from late March to early April,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. This was followed by a “brutal arctic epidemic” in Europe over the Easter weekend, Myers added.

Temperatures in the Champagne region have dropped from nearly 26 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) to around minus 6 (22 degrees Fahrenheit) in less than a week. “Although temperatures are closer to normal now, another cold outbreak is on the way,” Myers said.

French winemakers face devastation after worst weather conditions in 30 years
Climate change has advanced growing seasons in France and elsewhere, putting crops at a higher risk of damage from cold snaps. “It’s when they start to grow that they are more fragile,” Colombo said, adding that the temperature changes also affected the harvest.

“Now we are harvesting in the first week of September and [20 years ago] it was the last week of September, ”she said.

The National Federation of Farmers Unions said the episode is a “stark reminder” of the importance of preventive measures and “of a risk management regime that responds to the climate challenge”.

– Elena Pompei, Antonella Francini, Barbara Wojazer and Judson Jones contributed reportingg.


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