Crisis looms for Sauvignon Blanc - Richard Esling September 8

Domaine Michel Thomas Sancerre. 2020 Stock ready for export and tanks ready for 2021 harvest. SUS-210609-142758001Domaine Michel Thomas Sancerre. 2020 Stock ready for export and tanks ready for 2021 harvest. SUS-210609-142758001
Domaine Michel Thomas Sancerre. 2020 Stock ready for export and tanks ready for 2021 harvest. SUS-210609-142758001
Owing to a number of climatic factors around the world, a shortage of wines from the Sauvignon Blanc grape variety looks almost certain for 2022.

As reported by the trade magazine ‘The Drinks Business’ back in May this year, New Zealand, the world’s second largest producer of Sauvignon Blanc after France, may not be able to meet global demand in 2021 due to “an exceptionally small harvest.” The harvest in the Southern Hemisphere is six months earlier than in Europe and took place in March/ April. An early budburst followed by extreme frosts was largely to blame for one of the smallest harvests for many years.

On top of these woes for one of the most popular of white wines, France is heading for one of the worst grape harvests for decades, affecting many grape varieties, including Sauvignon Blanc. In similar circumstances to New Zealand, a very extreme late frost in April hit hard right across France, after an early budburst in March, when temperatures had already topped 30 degrees C. And the troubles had only just begun. Cool, damp weather through much of spring and summer has been perfect for mildew which severely reduces harvests, and intermittent storms have caused substantial damage from hail.

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Domaine de Marcé in the Touraine area of the Loire wine region of France produces outstanding Sauvignon Blanc in the Sauvignon de Touraine and Oisly appellations. “We were severely affected by frost in April for the first time in many, many years and then we were hit hard by hail in June,” commented Nathalie Godet, one of the owners. “We will be lucky if we produce 10% of our normal amount of wine in 2021,” she continued, still managing to keep a smile.

In similar stoic style, Nelly Thomas of Domaine Michel Thomas et Fils in Sancerre, reckons that they will be at least 40% down on their normal production this year, a combination of frost and mildew wreaking havoc in their vineyards, where some of the top Sauvignon Blanc wines of the world are made. Although financially they are able to weather the storm, orders to customers will have to be reduced by 50% for the 2021 vintage sold next year. Importers in the UK, such as Drink Warehouse based in Kent, will thus be hit by shortages from both France and New Zealand.

Luckily, the 2020 harvest in France was excellent in terms of both quality and quantity, but it remains to be seen how long those stocks will last, with many customers already increasing their pre-Christmas orders in an attempt to maintain their stock levels.

Another effect of global warming, changing global weather patterns? Possibly, although grape growing has always been subject to the vagaries of the elements. There have been three good vintages in a row in Europe starting with 2018, so perhaps it was inevitable that a poor year was around the corner. It’s just unfortunate that it should affect both the Southern Hemisphere and Northern Hemisphere Sauvignons at the same time.