2021, a trying year for French viticulture

On April 8, Emilie Faucheron could not hold back her tears in a video she posted on YouTube. She had just seen the frost damage on the rows of vines after a night when the mercury had fallen to -6 ° C. “80% of the property has frozen, it takes me to the guts”, testified the upset young winegrower. She works, with her husband, 60 hectares of vines in organic farming, in Montady, in the Hérault.

The moment of truth is approaching. On Friday August 20, she began the harvest with a plot of Sauvignon. “I collected half as much as usual on this plot which represents 10% of my farm, she notes. The ambitious goal we have set for ourselves is to have a half harvest. We will not know until the end of the harvest, at the end of September, if it will be reached. We have worked to make it happen. We used biostimulants, we warmed the floors, we didn’t give up ”, says Mme Falcheron.

“Historically weak”

Without waiting for the first blows of the secateurs, the Ministry of Agriculture lent itself to the delicate exercise of forecasting. At the beginning of August, he delivered an estimate of the French harvest expected in 2021, between 32.6 million and 35.6 million hectoliters, in decline over one year from 24% to 30%. The yield of this harvest “Historically weak” would then be the lowest on record for forty-five years.

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The spring frost gripped a number of wine growers. Sometimes for one, two or even three nights, they tried to save the scorched vines from the frost bite. Often without much success. The freezing wave hit most of the wine-growing areas. The Vallée-du-Rhône, Burgundy and the Center being the most affected areas. The buds of the earliest grape varieties, Chardonnay and Merlot, suffered the most. “The damage was significant in Chablis and Mâconnais where yields are high. We expect half a harvest in Burgundy, ie one million hectoliters ”, affirms Thiébault Huber, president of the Confederation of appellations and winegrowers of Burgundy.

Repeated rainy episodes during the summer led to the appearance of diseases, such as downy mildew and powdery mildew

Among the rare vineyards almost spared following this episode of freezing temperatures are Alsace but also Charente, the Ugny blanc grape variety, keystone of cognac, being late. But Alsace has not escaped the vagaries of the weather. The repeated rainy episodes during the summer led to the appearance of diseases, such as downy mildew and powdery mildew. “It rained for four weeks in a row, it’s unheard of. The harvest potential should be cut from 20% to 30% ”, explains Gilles Ehrhart, president of the Alsace winegrowers association.

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