Loire Valley 2016: The Frost
Earlier this year the vignerons of the Loire Valley experienced one of the worst frosts for decades, probably the most destructive since the catastrophic frost of 1991 in fact. In this terrible experience they are not alone of course, as many other regions have had a trying time this year; Chablis and other parts of Burgundy were also particularly hard-hit.
Over the coming month or two, as vignerons complete their harvest work, we will finally see the true and exact extent of the damage. Up until now the damage assessments have been nothing more than estimates, but once the vats are full (half-full is more likely I am afraid) the vignerons will know their final yields for the vintage, and we can see how these stand compared with the norm.
I will be out in the Loire Valley next week, only for a couple of days sadly, but I may be able to see a little harvesting, and perhaps pick up a few vibes. In the meantime though, here are a few data points from Bourgueil, Chinon, Vouvray and Montlouis, gleaned from some visits I made a couple of months ago.
In all parts it seemed as though there was considerable variation, with some losing a vast proportion of their crop, others losing a ‘mere’ 20%. Jérôme Billard (pictured above) of Domaine de la Noblaie was one of the lucky ones (if you can call any of this ‘lucky’).
“I knew 2016 was going to be difficult, as we had such a mild winter. It was so mild that our almond tree, which sits in the courtyard of the house, flowered on December 26th. The frost came at a tricky time as we have had a string of short vintages, the four preceding vintages being variable in quality but all were 30-40% smaller in terms of volume than what we were hoping for”.
The frost only affected the lower sections of Jérôme’s vineyards; above the tree line which separates the upper slopes from the vines on the plain there was no damage. Total loss across the entire domaine was estimated at between 10% and 20%. The problem in Jérôme’s eyes was not solely the frost though, as subsequently he had mildew on leaves and berries, and also a touch of black rot. He deleafed (and planned to green harvest too – this will have been done long ago now), and when I visited in July the vines were looking in rude health.
Elsewhere in the region his peers were not always so fortunate. On the other side of the Vienne, Matthieu Baudry lost 50% in total. Mirroring Jérôme’s experience the worst-hit vineyards were those on the terraces, and any lower flatter land (so Les Granges and Les Grézeaux then), where the loss was estimated at 70%. The damage was less significant on the slopes. Anne-Charlotte Genet of Charles Joguet gave a similar report, estimating loss of 60% of the crop. Up the road just past Bourgueil Benoit Amirault (pictured above), the son of Yannick Amirault, was singing from the same hymn sheet.
“We had no frost on Le Grand Clos, which is positioned well up the slope. But we had lots of damage secondary to the frost elsewhere. The vines worst hit by the frost were those on the terrace, below the road. Overall we lost about two-thirds of the crop to the frost”.
Moving upstream to Vouvray and Montlouis, François Chidaine (the focus of my tasting report today) lost 70% of the crop in Montlouis, 50% in Vouvray and 80% on his Touraine vineyards. Whichever way you look at it, that’s another massive blow for François. Similarly, Jacky Blot reported losing about 70%. Vincent Carême, meanwhile, considers himself fortunate to have lost perhaps 20%, no more than that. His estimate may perhaps be a little more accurate than others because he has frost insurance (I am not sure about the others – I confess I didn’t think to ask) which means he has undergone a vineyard inspection by an assessor. Vincent also told me that François Pinon’s vineyards were very badly hit, which would be disastrous. If I see François anytime soon, I will check this out for myself.
Now, as spectators, all we can do is wait to see how the harvest goes. If I learn anything new during my visit I will post it here.