French wine production ravaged by devastating frost

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PARIS – A sudden frost, the worst in decades, has ravaged a French wine industry already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and what wine growers are calling the ‘Trump tax’.

Candles and small fires twinkled in vineyards and orchards last week, their lovely twinkle belied disaster, as vintners and farmers tried everything to stave off the life-killing frost of newly formed shoots and buds. A layer of smog from the fires formed over Lyon and the south-eastern regions.

But by the end of the cold snap, destruction had spread to most of France’s wine regions, including the Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Loire. Jean-Marie Barillère, the head of a large wine association, told the French daily Le Figaro that the frost had affected “80 percent of French vineyards”.

The frost followed a period of mild weather, so plunging temperatures took rural France by surprise. Vines were the hardest hit, but almond and fruit trees were also hit, along with other crops including beets and rapeseed.

The emotion was high in the French wine regions, the soul of the country in many ways.

“I heard someone say it was like the loss of a family member,” Eric Pastorino, president of the Côtes de Provence appellation, a legally defined and protected vineyard, told Figaro. “It may sound childish, but it is close to how I feel. Maybe only winegrowers can understand this feeling, but we found ourselves in the vineyards in the morning with tears in our eyes.

Anne Colombo, president of the Cornas appellation, a popular wine region in the Rhône region, said it was the worst frost in more than half a century. “We have had more problems with hail than with frost, but this has been a devastating year,” she said.

Unrolling the names of great Rhône wines – Condrieu, Cornas, Côte Rôtie – she said they were all hit hard. The losses could go up to 80 percent. “It is a terrible blow after the virus which closed restaurants and bars, and therefore reduced demand, and after the Trump tax.”

President Donald J. Trump tariffs imposed on French wines following various disputes regarding subsidies and taxes with France. Import taxes contributed to a 14% drop in world exports of French wines and spirits last year. With the drop in air traffic, sales of tax-free wines have also fallen.

French government ministers rushed to promise emergency aid to stricken winegrowers and farmers. The French attachment to the land is fierce; no politician can afford to ignore this. Jean Castex, the Prime Minister, declared that the ceiling of a fund for agricultural disasters would be lifted and that “exceptional” aid would be granted.

Julien Denormandie, the Minister of Agriculture, declared that the frost was “an episode of extreme violence which caused very significant damage”. He called an emergency meeting on Monday with wine growers as well as fruit, vegetable and grain producers to take stock of the damage.

“The government will help us, but probably not match our losses,” Colombo said. “Right now, they’re spending like there’s no tomorrow. “

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the government of President Emmanuel Macron has decided to do everything possible to compensate people for lost jobs and businesses. The final cost and how the debt will be repaid is unclear. It seemed that a similar approach would be taken in the face of the agricultural disaster.

“It’s incredibly hard, very violent,” David Joulain, an almond grower from the south, told Agence France-Presse. “I have the impression that a knee is on the ground. Every tree I tested died, I’m afraid I lost the whole harvest.


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