“This episode of frost has just wiped out a significant part of the work of the winegrowers and the harvest”

Burning operation in the vines against frost, at Château La Dominique – Dominica

  • Several burning operations in the vines have followed one another in the last forty-eight hours, making themselves felt as far as Bordeaux.
  • However, the effectiveness of these measures remains difficult to measure, especially during severe frost episodes, as was the case the last two nights.
  • Temperatures fell to -7 ° C in Sauternes, and destroyed 90% of some plots in the north of the department.

“A little smell of burning when you get up”, “Bordeaux plunged into a smokescreen” … The testimonies of Bordelais multiply this Thursday, while a cloud of smoke came to rub against the Girondin capital early in the morning. From Médoc to Saint-Emilion, it is in fact a large part of the Gironde which felt the effects of the burning operations, carried out during the night in part of the Bordeaux vineyard.

The winegrowers have indeed embarked, sometimes a little desperately, in an attempt to rescue their plots, faced with the major episode of frost that has befallen the department over the past forty-eight hours. Last night, temperatures dropped below -5 ° C, affecting all 65 appellations in the Bordeaux region, which has 111,000 hectares of vines.

Difficult to measure the effectiveness of burning operations

“The city dwellers who have smelled this burning smell these last mornings, think that all the winegrowers carry out these burning operations, when in reality it is only a very small percentage”, because of their cost, assures to 20 minutes Stéphane Gabard, winemaker in Fronsac, and president of the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieurs union. “What is really effective is to scatter candles or braziers every 5-6 feet of vines,” he continues. However, it is very expensive: it takes between 5,000 and 7,000 euros per hectare of investment. And behind, there is a huge labor cost, since you have to install them, turn them on, then remove them. “

Afterwards, “there are also wind turbines equipped with thermafrost, or helicopters, which work quite well to disseminate heat. But a wind turbine is 30,000 to 40,000 euros, to protect 5 to 7 hectares. This is why the burning was carried out more in Saint-Emilion, Pomerol or certain castles of the Médoc, than in the less valued appellations. “

Are these measures at least effective? “It’s difficult to measure, relativizes Stéphane Gabard. The objective is to gain 2 to 4 ° C maximum by heating the soil with candles or braziers, but also to establish a smoke screen that prevents radiation from the soil, to maintain a slightly less cold atmosphere in the vineyard. . But here it depends a lot on the winds. So, yes it works, but it’s not the silver bullet either. For some, it is a bit of a cry of despair and, instead of watching all the work of a year disappear, they say to themselves that they have at least tried everything… ”

“It is already certain that this spring frost will severely impact the volume of the harvest”

It is still too early to take stock of the damage caused by this virulent frost episode. But professionals already know that it will be considerable. “The Graves and Sauternes appellations in the south of Gironde have suffered enormously, since temperatures have dropped to -7 ° C, and in the north of the department, sectors have suffered 90% damage,” assures Stéphane Gabard.

“It is already certain that this spring frost will severely impact the volume of the 2021 harvest” announces for its part the CIVB (Interprofessional Council for Bordeaux Wine). “Plots which had been spared by the virulent episodes of 2017 or 1991 sometimes froze entirely” assures the senator of the Gironde Nathalie Delattre (Mouvement Radical).

“A large majority of Bordeaux viticulture has been going badly for years”

The elected wrote to the Prime Minister to alert him to the situation. “The hour is serious and even desperate for the wine industry,” she said. Faced with the various successive crises experienced by wine professionals in recent months, it even calls for a “rescue plan” for the wine-growing territories. “This episode of frost has just wiped out a significant part of the work of the winegrowers and the harvest, in a period already very trying both morally and economically” abounds the CIVB. “Faced with the scale of the disaster, the best response to give to support viticulture is to buy wine …” implores the interprofession.

“We are very worried, confirms Stéphane Gabard. A large majority of Bordeaux viticulture has been going badly for years, due to the succession of climatic crises, declining wine consumption on the French market, export problems on markets such as China and the States. -United… The health crisis, and now this new climatic episode, could precipitate bankruptcies of winegrowers. “

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