It was the Saint de Glace a week or so ago. It marks the moment when all fruit growers can heave a sigh of relief – the risk of frost has passed. Too late this year! There were no sighs of relief as the damage had already been done.
Winter returned to parts of Bordeaux. In one fell swoop we rewound some two months backwards to end February. Freezing cold air, heavy and toxic, eradicated any green matter in its path in lower lying vineyards. On the 27th April the bright fresh foilage and baby little green fruit were burnt to a frazzle.
Affected growers are still looking for the regrowth…. but the vines seem to be in a state of shock and although are are some new leaves coming through they is no sign of future flowers or berries. The sap is circulating so it is just a question of time say the most optimistic. Temperatures are in the mid 30°Cs, like the height of summer. Following the heavy rain last week what more do these traumatised vines need…. There is still hope for new growth, new leaves and possibly some ‘contre bourgeons’ that could flower, fertilize and become grapes. That Nature will find a way of compensating. There is a little time apparently up their sleeves as the spring prior to the cruel cold snap was early and exceptionally warm. But not a lot seems to be happening in the vineyards….
The frost when it hit affected any areas in dips or at the foot of slopes on both sides of the estuary (Medoc; parts of Margaux, Listrac, Moulis) – the right bank seems worse hit particularly Saint Emilion, Lalande de Pomerol. The cold air accumulates in dips and valleys and at the bottom of hills. Vines on the top of the slopes survived, those at the bottom scorched. Again particularly the smaller producers have been most effected. Hopefully there will be some aid for those who will not be making any wine this year. Most of the Grand Cru Classé, the top properties were not touched at all.
Of course everything in Bordeaux is long term. The pain of this will not hit until 2018/19 when their stocks run dry (currently got to sell 2014, and then the excellent 15 and 16).
Some fortunate growers employed helicopters to avoid the deathly cold air from settling that hovered at 20m above ground level (Figeac and Petrus). Others used burners and others windmills. In cooler climates such as Champagne, Chablis and Burgundy in general they are better prepared for this annual winterly risk. The vineyards are lined with small burners and they even spray water (the latent heat helps to keep frost at bay). Some burn straw bails to deter the frost which strikes in the early hours of the morning.
Flowering has started already in the unaffected vines happily oblivious of the foe of their compatriots in the valleys and some two weeks early. If these do flower the difference in the ripening will mean that these will reach perfect ripeness some time in November (if mother nature decides to be gracious). Perfect ripeness happens 110 days after mid flowering.
Delaying the flowering by a couple of weeks means that ripening is delayed pushing it closer to the risk of winter storms and rains. The weather conditions are critical during flowering. What we are looking for is a little wind and dry sunny conditions so the pollen from the male stamens can sprinkle onto the female egg.
At Figeac they have been removing the dead leaves and future flowers and grapes with secateurs to help the vine to move on. The most important is that there is a healthy branch for next year. Yields are set in the spring one year before so this will even impact 2018 yields.
Whatever the yield will be, it will be low and concentrated. Fingers crossed for a good flowering and sunny summer and long late indian summer….Sevens are not usually a luck number in Bordeaux. Let’s hope it can be like 1947, a legendary year, fraught with hardship but a great wine in the end!