Frost and rot put se­ri­ous dent in French wine out­put

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - BUSINESS - By Rudy Ruiten­berg

French wine­mak­ers are lament­ing the smallest vin­tage in 60 years af­ter spring frost dam­aged vines at Bordeaux chateaus like An­gelus and Canon La Gaf­fe­liere, while sum­mer storms caused grape rot in Cham­pagne.

Wine vol­ume will fall 19 per­cent to the equiv­a­lent of about 4.9 bil­lion bot­tles, the Agri­cul­ture Min­istry fore­casts. That would be the least since 1957, an­other year when a freeze de­stroyed spring buds, based on data from the min­istry and the Euro­pean Union’s sta­tis­tics depart­ment.

“The drop in pro­duc­tion will be mainly on ac­count of the hard spring frost,” the min­istry said. “The per­sis­tent drought in the south­east fur­ther re­duces pro­duc­tion.”

France and Italy typ­i­cally com­pete for the rank of world’s big­gest wine pro­ducer, with weather a key fac­tor. While Ital­ian vine­yards also suf­fered dam­age from frost, drought and hot weather, vol­umes are still ex­pected to out­pace those in France. The Ital­ian as­so­ci­a­tion of wine-in­dus­try tech­ni­cians fore­casts out­put of 47.2 mil­lion hec­to­liters, com­pared with 36.9 mil­lion hec­to­liters for France.

Bordeaux was among French wine re­gions hard­est hit by frost in late April, with the vol­ume of wine car­ry­ing the re­gional la­bel fall­ing 39 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the agri­cul­ture min­istry. Even so, out­put was slightly higher than the min­istry was ex­pect­ing in Au­gust.

The frost struck in April as the vines that pro­duce the likes of Chateau Petrus and Chateau Mar­gaux were at their most vul­ner­a­ble, gen­er­at­ing fresh shoots af­ter their win­ter dor­mancy. Grow­ers in Bordeaux re­sorted to fires, fans and he­li­copters to take the edge off the bud-killing cold.

In Cham­pagne, where the frost was less de­struc­tive than in 2016, pro­duc­tion of des­ig­nated-ori­gin wines is seen fall­ing 9 per­cent. That’s a re­ver­sal from an Au­gust out­look for an in­crease, af­ter sum­mer storms caused grape dam­age and rot that re­quired wine­mak­ers to sort their fruit more rig­or­ously.

Cham­pagne houses such as LVMH’s Moet & Chan­don keep re­serve stocks in their cel­lars that al­low for reg­u­lar pro­duc­tion even in lean years.

Wine is France’s most valu­able farm­ing prod­uct, with value-added pro­duc­tion of $13.5 bil­lion in 2016, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics of­fice Insee. It’s also the coun­try’s top agri­cul­tural ex­port with a value of $9.7 bil­lion last year, with Bordeaux and Cham­pagne in the lead.

While frost was the prob­lem in much of France, the coun­try’s south­east suf­fered from the op­po­site blight. Hot, dry and windy weather parched the grapes, re­duc­ing yields and grape juice, and har­vest­ing was com­pleted ear­lier than usual. Langue­doc-Rous­sil­lon near the Mediter­ranean, where much of France’s bulk wine is grown, also saw sharply re­duced quan­ti­ties.

De­spite lower yields across much of France, the Bur­gundyBeau­jo­lais re­gion ex­pects a 6 per­cent rise in the vol­ume of wine car­ry­ing a re­gional la­bel. That’s good news for fans of Bur­gundy’s pinot noir-based reds and chardon­nay whites, who’ve watched prices of some of the world’s most ex­pen­sive wines soar in re­cent years.

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