During the week of April 25 a devastating cold weather system and frost ravaged Burgundy. Below is a report from Alex Gambal. Alex Gambal is an American who went to Burgundy and, literally starting from scratch, has been able to establish a thriving business in less than 20 years (to read more about Alex and the 2015 Burgundy vintage click here).
Some of you have read, and I have spoken with some of you about the frost damage. Here is a summary of what happened and where we are today.
…during the week of April 25 many parts of greater Burgundy and in particular the Côte d’Or were subjected to a killer frost just as the buds and leaves appeared.
The frost greatly damaged the Savigny-Chorey-Pernand-Ladoix areas Monday morning April 25 with below freezing temperatures. Tuesday night after wet snow at 7-7:30 PM the temperature dropped with clearing skies. Between 4-7:00 AM Wednesday, April 27 temperatures were in the -2-3 degree Celsius range causing frost over a great part of the Côte d’Or (along with Chablis, the Loire, and parts of Champagne). With the rising sun the young leaves and buds were literally burnt as the frost acted as a magnifying glass. The frost continued into Friday morning especially in Meursault causing further damage.
Alexandre, Michael and I did a full tour of our vines over the last two days and the damage is extensive. Our vines in Batard, Puligny-Enseigneres, Chassagne Maltroie, St. Romain, Volnay and Pommard were greatly damaged and virtually all of our other parcels were touched from 30-70%. The frost was unprecedented in area and duration and appears to have caused far greater damage than the last large frost in 1981. It is estimated that 7,000 of the Cote d’Or’s 8,000 hectares were touched to some extent. Total crop loss estimates at this moment are 30% overall throughout the Cote d’Or and perhaps as much as a 50-100% loss in parts of the Cote de Beaune.
After the initial shock and damage assessment everyone is back in the vines turning the soils and encouraging as much as possible a second bud growth. In general there can be a second set of buds but there is no rule of thumb as to their quantity or fertility. The vines too are in shock and we are seeing some parcels resume their growth but many others are just beginning to show slow growth also due to the continuing unseasonably cool weather. Needless to say this is going to be a complicated and difficult growing season.
I need all of you to prepare yourselves for no or little wine in the coming year/years and some serious practical and strategic decisions we will be proposing. We should be prepared for at most 1/3 of a “normal” crop and in certain parcels such as the Batard and Enseigneres no grapes at all. As in all “crisis” we need to navigate through the challenges and be prepared for the worst and pleased with a better outcome. (Please note we have yet to go through the growing season; flowering, fungal disease, hail, etc.)
Below are two photos of our Batard-Montrachet that I took on April 27 and the third and fourth on May 19.
* The first is of an undamaged leaf/bud.
* The second is with frost damage that covers the entire vineyard (including Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, etc.). Please notice the grey/slate like color of the leaves and buds in photo on the right and how the tips of the leaves are curled. You can imagine a leaf under a magnifying glass. (Another image is lettuce freezer burn in your refrigerator.)
* The third from yesterday are the leaves/buds rotting and falling off. Note also the black necrosis on the cane.
* The fourth, shows the entire empty cane and the growth on the vine trunk. The vine is “pumping” carbohydrates (sap) that have nowhere to go because the cane and shoots are dead. Thus it literally bursts from the trunk as it sends new shoots in all directions. The goal is to salvage these renegade shoots and develop one into next year’s cane. Notice that there is one bud on the cane under Michael’s hand that might form into a shoot but the odds of this being fertile are low.
Thank you for your help, understanding and support.
Burgundy is known for rapidly changing extremes in weather. In fact, there is a saying that if you do not like the weather in Burgundy just wait until the next day. But, this storm was of historic and devastating proportions as described by Alex. Other reports indicate areas like Chassagne, Meursault, Pommard, and Saint Aubin were especially hard hit. And that certain vineyards like Vergers, Chenevottes, and Montrachet were badly damaged with producers such as Ramonet and Coche-Dury suffering major damage. Without question, some producers will have no 2016 production from certain vineyards. And, overall there will be a lot less wine. What is not yet known is how many vines were permanently damaged and what the harvest will bring. It is indeed a sad time for the Burgundy producers and all lovers of Burgundy wines.
In Vino Veritas,