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Cold Freezes the Heart of France

April 24th, 2021 · No Comments · France, Wine

It is not uncommon for Americans to travel to Paris and return home believing they now know La France.

The reality is often missed.

What we consider a refined, cosmopolitan place … well, that is Paris all right.

France is the biggest nation in Western Europe and also its emptiest. It has miles and miles of villages of vines in the southern half of the country.

This is mostly a rural nation, where the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, and the raising up of animals provides sustenance and income.

But the biggest product on the French menu is wine, and has been for 2,000 years.

Thus, a cold-snap in early April, after the vines have begun to sprout, becomes a regional economic disaster. Particularly in the region where we live, the Herault.

Have a look at the frost-bitten vines, above.

The wine-producing part of France was one of its hardest-hit.

A week or so ago the local newspaper printed a map of the grape-growing areas of the region known as Occitanie, and the Herault was one of the hardest-hit regions in France.

An estimated 80 percent of grapes here were destroyed during a handful of cold nights, April 6-8. What made it more devastating was that in late March an abnormally warm stretch prompted most of the plants to get busy, to go into overdrive. Then came April and the cold nights.

Farmers always assume the worst, and this time it was true. The vignerons burned “candles” in barrels in the fields, trying to keep the buds just warm enough to survive. Some places put a protective gel on the buds.

Wealthy growers rented helicopters to hover over fields and make the air move, perhaps moving the temperature up a few critical degrees.

Fruit-growers also held vigils, trying to save apricots, apples, kiwis. None of it really worked.

We know people whose vines were scalded by frost ruining most of their crop. To wander through the vineyards a few steps from our village is to feel deeply affected. Bereft.

“This field is gone. So is this one. And that one …”

The blackened vines are empty of buds. Those proto-grapes were reduced in many cases to ash; pluck one from the vine and it falls to pieces in your hand.

This kind of freeze is rare here but there was a lesser freeze in 2017. The past few years went off like clockwork, with a bit of warm rain in April and glorious green buds in May.

Looking ahead to the next harvest, the next vintage … don’t expect much from the Herault. If you get a drinkable bottle, you have a collector’s item.

People here in the Languedoc will get their wine from other regions of France. That is the sort of drama that Paris knows nothing about.


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