The “Worst Frost in Decades” Is Decimating French Vineyards

Harvest losses across the country could be up to 90%

An example of a vineyard in Bordeaux, one of many areas in France hit hard by low temperatures
A vineyard in Bordeaux, one of many areas hit hard by extreme temperatures.
Árpád Czapp / Unsplash

Rare freezing temperatures across France have damaged grape vineyards in many prestigious wine-making regions of the country, according to The Guardian.

“It’s a national phenomenon,” Jérôme Despey, the secretary general of the FNSEA farming union and a winemaker in the Hérault region, told the paper. “You can go back in history, there have been [freezing] episodes in 1991, 1997, 2003 but in my opinion it is beyond all of them.” The head of a local wine producers group in Rhône Valley suggested that, due to the frost (which followed warm weather), the region is bracing for “the smallest harvest of the last 40 years.”

Officials in Burgundy, Hérault and Champagne echoed these concerns, and the vineyard owners are obviously distraught. “[The vines] break like glass because there’s no water inside,” Dominique Guignard, a winemaker in the Graves area near Bordeaux, told The Guardian. “It’s completely dried out, there’s no life inside.”

Vineyards were reduced to drastic measures, including the lighting of several small fires and even the use of helicopters to keep the heat close to the ground. While the government has already declared an “agricultural disaster” (which could lead to some funding help) there are issues beyond lost grapes: many farmers can’t afford frost insurance. As well, this weather comes during a pandemic (when wine sales are down) and after both a series of damaging tariffs (some of those admittedly on pause) and the continued uncertainty and disorganization wrought by Brexit.

While the vineyards can’t do much to fix pandemics or governmental bureaucracy, they are doing their own part to save the industry against climate change: Bordeaux just introduced six new grape varietals, which are more resistant to water stress.


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