In March, temperatures in some parts of France reached 26 degrees C, resulting in strong bud burst of the vines and growth of tender new shoots. Then in April, a series of hard frosts, with temperatures as low as minus 7 degrees C, have caused havoc to 80 per cent of vineyards across France and also to much of the Piedmont region of Italy, with estimates of between 30 per cent and 90 per cent loss in some vineyards.
The worst late frosts for decades have prompted the French Government to declare an ‘Agricultural Disaster’ and has pledged nearly €1 billion of support for the industry. Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire, Rhone and Languedoc have all been affected and it is estimated that losses to the French agricultural industry could be over €3 billion.
Whilst the exact extent of the damage is still being assessed, different vineyards and estates have been affected differently due to their position. Grape varieties which tend to develop earlier, such as Chardonnay, have also been hit harder than later varieties, such as Pinot Noir. Whatever the final outcome, it is evident that the wine producers have been hit hard.
Many of these producers are small family-run affairs, just making a living from their vines. Consider their plight. With the 2020 pandemic, many of the producers were unable to sell much wine due to lockdown and closure of hospitality venues. With excess 2019 stock in their cellars, many were forced to send their wine for distillation in order to make room for the 2020 vintage. Much of this remains unsold due to the latest French lockdown and now it looks likely that the 2021 crop will be wrecked! Who would be a wine producer?
Support for the industry is thus crucial, from a Government aid perspective and from a consumer perspective. Happily, The Wine Society had already pre-planned a big drive for French wines, even before the frost problem had arrived. For all the wonderful and exciting wines coming out of what is still termed ‘the New World’, there is nothing quite like the elegance and finesses found so often in wines from France. In fact, the variety of French wines is unmatched by any other wine-making country in the world.
Members of the Wine Society buy more French wine than anything else, underlining the popularity and consistency of quality of wines from this country. The wine buying team at the Society not only has huge amounts of experience but has unrivalled networks of contacts and has built long-standing relationships with top producers across the country.
Wines considered to be outstanding examples of their type in terms of quality and typicity are given the ‘Exhibition’ label. The Society’s Exhibition Sancerre, for example, comes from the first-class Domaine Serge Laloue and is a classic, fresh, vibrant Sauvignon Blanc, with white flower and grassy aromas, with hints of conference pear and gooseberry on the palate and a long, mineral finish. £17.
For a recommended red, the Society’s Exhibition Vacqueyras 2019, from one of the great appellations of the Southern Rhone valley, comes from Domaine le Clos des Cazaux. Full bodied and fruity, yet remaining light, it is a blend of Grenache and Syrah and is fabulous value at £12.50. Spicy, plummy, with a hint of black pepper.