What Do the Severe Frosts of 2021 Mean for France’s Wines?

A guest post from the International Sommelier Guild

In the spring of 2021, French vineyards were struck with frost, destroying roughly 30% of the crops in the country. While neighboring countries endured frosts, France is taking the brunt of it, an impact that will affect both the 2021 and 2022 vintages.

Storm clouds were a common sight over the Champagne vineyards near Hautvillers in 2021

Not long ago, the frosts that came in 2017 and 2018 took the wind out of this wine country’s sails. The affected vines were just starting to recover when this spring frost of 2021 befell French winemakers. The French government stepped in to remedy the situation, passing an emergency assistance program for vineyards and agricultural producers to the tune of $1.2 billion even though the frost from the present year hasn’t done the kind of overall crop damage the country has seen many years before.

Still, it makes wine enthusiasts around the globe wonder how the frost from 2021 will impact the price of French wines. Believe it or not, the frost may be the least of everyone’s woes.

Why frost Isn’t the Only Problem

On the heels of the pandemic, with paused tariffs, importers are buying again. The prices of French wine shouldn’t rise due to frost. Other worries, though, such as shipping delays, shortages with containers, currency fluctuations, and late arrivals, are weighing heavily on the minds of winemakers.

As if that weren’t enough, now that people are getting out more in US markets, seeking to live life again after the pandemic shutdowns, the struggle is keeping the price roughly the same so that French wine isn’t passed up for other more affordable options. If they act quickly, though, prices may even seem lower for a time, particularly with Bordeaux. This is because of collapses in sales for Asian and other European markets. Exporters are counting on the US market to help recover the sales more rapidly.

But looking past Bordeaux, other things also stand in the way like previous tariffs, frosts from the past, shipping, and COVID. Because of these, there is little doubt France’s wine industry will be impacted when the 2021 vintages are released. The news is disappointing for winemakers in the country because they could surely use the break. There are still millions of bottles of French wine that made it to the US with a hefty tariff before the pause on tariffs. These also must be sold.

With the changing climate and post-pandemic fallout, France has many significant challenges ahead. Some vineyards were able to ride it out, but for others, it has been cataclysmic. Many producers are now just starting to bottle the vintages of 2018, though some can’t even afford to put their 2019 and 2020 vintages to bottle. Now they sit and await their fate from within the tank.

This may very well clear the market as a percentage of Bordeaux producers were already struggling before the frost came. Many more will join them thanks to these impacts from the freeze, economics, tariffs, COVID, and other antagonizing factors affecting winemakers in France, as well as the world today. Even still, they look to the future to prepare for weather events to pull themselves from a vulnerable position.  

Springtime vines in Vosne Romanee, Burgundy

Frost Impacts for the French Wine Regions

With devastation from the frosts, it’s expensive for the vineyards. While some prices may stay the same, for those that have a favorite French wine, it may be time to stock up while the price is right before the frost impacts and other trauma catches up.

Here’s a look at the wine regions of France and what to expect:

– Bordeaux

Pomerol, Barsac, Saint-Emilion, Graves, Sauternes, and parts of Entre-deux-Mers took a hard hit at 30%. The vineyards found near the estuary and rivers in Blaye, Bourg, and Médoc were somewhat lucky, though with minimal impact. This market is predicted to rise in volume while prices remain the same for now, except the top-tier wines.

– Loire

The Loire endured the suffering of frost from 2016, 2017, and 2019. Now in 2021, it’s the same story. The prices of wine from this region for retail are down, but don’t expect that to last. Once US restaurants are back to being fully open from coast to coast, that will all change.

– Rhône

It is estimated that the 2021 frost hit 30% to 40% of the vineyards in this region. Sadly, this comes on the heels of previous vintages suffering weather damages from heavy rain, hail, and frost. The impacts on prices for Rhône wines remain to be seen.

– Champagne

Those growing Chardonnay in the Champagne region endured a hit though it seems it may be less of a critical hit than what happened in 2017. Because this region retains older stock to blend with, the US won’t likely feel the impact though prices will depend on how things move along as restrictions from COVID lift.  

– Provence

The vineyards on the Mediterranean coast of Provence were extremely lucky though the rest of the region suffered dramatic damages from black frost. Grenache vines may provide a second growing season to mitigate the trauma.

– Burgundy

Sadly, Burgundy endured massive damage. In Chablis, as many as 80% of the vineyards were impacted. In Pouilly-Fuissé it was nearly 90%. Chardonnay suffered in the southern portion, with vineyards in the Mâcon and Lyon areas affected at 30%. The Aligoté vines had the best survival rate, though, and the good news for Chardonnay growers is that their older vintage stock may come to the rescue.  

– Beaujolais

About half the Beaujolais region incurred damages from the 2021 frost. The effect was far less in the mountainous cru regions, though typically bottled wine may be favored in the US market these days.

The time to get them is now for those who love French wines before the prices rise due to this cluster of factors. Undoubtedly, the frost of 2021 didn’t help, but the other impacts that taunt these treasured wine regions will all take their toll, making the beloved wines of France fetch a heftier price tag in the not-too-distant future.

To learn more consider taking an online sommelier course with the International Sommelier Guild (ISG).

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