Insurance

The vineyard in suspense after heavy frosts three consecutive nights

“It was colder than we feared but the vegetation was less advanced than last year, summarizes Christophe Chateau, director of communication for the interprofessional council of Bordeaux wines (CIVB). Many plots have nevertheless been affected and we could approach the level of losses of last year”. Since Saturday, three consecutive nights of frost have hit the vineyards (notably Médoc, Libournais, Graves, Sud-Gironde, Sauternais, Entre-deux-mers and Saint-émilionnais) with up to -6 .8 degrees in some places.

Two sisters, Valérie and Christelle Gonthier, at the head of Chateau du Haut Lerm for more than 20 years, located between the terroirs of Saint-Emilion and Graves, near Sauveterre de Guyenne, expect to lose between 10 to 30% of their harvest after peaks at -3 degrees. Last year, losses amounted to 40% on their 13-hectare estate. “Based on the experience of the 2017 and 2021 frosts, we had put in place measures to limit breakage: we stopped tilling the soil as soon as the cold arrived, to keep the heat there, and we pruned very the plants that had already frozen in previous years later,” says Valérie Gonthier, who assures us that their precautions have saved a lot of buds.

Some buds could start again

“The vegetation was less advanced than last year, notes Philippe Abadie, director of the Business Unit at the Gironde Chamber of Agriculture. The vine had started to bud (open its buds) but not in a generalized way”. The Gonthier sisters hope that once the thermal shock has passed, the sap can start flowing again and that the buds can still bear fruit. “For the buds affected superficially, the vine should start again, estimates the Chamber of Agriculture of the Gironde. But for those touched in the heart, it is the harvest which is compromised. For the moment, we cannot distinguish them. Hence the wait to draw up a full report of the bad weather.

“It’s serious because it’s too frequent, analyzes Christophe Chateau. When we had a frost every 20 years or every ten years, the winegrowers hunched over and managed to fall back on their feet, there if it’s every three years or every year (frost in 2017 and 2021) that is not going to be economically sustainable”. More winegrowers had equipped themselves with antifreeze devices compared to last year, but this remains too heavy an investment for the smallest properties and the effectiveness can also be discussed from certain temperatures.

“Our insurance is a bit like our stock in the cellar”, comments Valérie Gonthier, who had not installed any particular device to fight against frost. And insurance, which is based on the average of the last five harvests, becomes less interesting if the vagaries of the weather are repeated too often because the basis for reimbursement is then very low.

The precise losses will be known in December, when the harvest declarations are made by the winegrowers.

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