Frost damage to Europe’s sparkling wine


Europe’s top sparkling wines, ever-vulnerable to the elements due to the cool growing conditions required, have suffered a massive blow from April frosts.

Sparkling wine, particularly Champagne and England’s top brands, are grown more northerly than most wines and as a result are more susceptible to dropping temperatures and weather variations.

The fears of these winemakers were realized when in late April and early May, a sudden drop in temperature to below freezing decimated vineyards.

These freezing temperatures, particularly when sustained often several days, kill off the buds on blossoming vines, always reducing yields, and often meaning that the vine will not fruit at all that year.

The current estimates from producers place the average losses to vineyards in Champagne at around 25% of their crop.

After good conditions earlier in 2017, winemakers were delighted to see early blossoms which often mean larger yields. These good conditions were a welcome relief after a tough 2016 which saw a similar April frost leave Europe’s winemakers struggling.

The impact this has had on producers cannot be overstated. Champagne producers who, excluding the well-known major players such as Bollinger and Veuve Clicquot, often struggle to make ends meet and operate on very small margins.

The damage to France’s sparkling wine industry has been estimated as being around 1.1 billion Euros,   and will see even major players having to tighten their belts this year.

The only saving grace for Champagne is that due to the majority of bottles produced being non-vintage, reserve wine from previous years can be used to soften the blow somewhat. However, smaller Champagne houses which have smaller stocks of reserve wine are at risk of losing a full year of revenue.

This damage was not limited to France; Prosecco growers are estimated to have lost around 30% of their crops, whilst cognac producers have in some cases lost between 50% and 100% of their crops.  

England’s burgeoning sparkling producers were not spared either. Chris Foss, head of department for wine at Plumpton College, stated that “I’ve been in English wine for 30 years and never seen anything like it... It looks like there will be a 50% drop in this year’s expected yield – if not higher.”

This is confirmed by many English winemakers, with prestigious producer Nyetimber reportedly   losing up to 90% of its crop in certain vineyards. Nyetimber’s winemaker Brad Greatrix stated that “Our yields could be down by around 50% across the board but we lost 90% of our buds in our Hampshire vineyard. Some areas were more affected than others.”

Whilst this damage will be catastrophic to producers, and dismaying to consumers who enjoy a glass of bubbly, it will spell opportunity to others. Fruit Cider producers continue to target Prosecco drinkers, whilst craft beer aims to tempt premium seeking consumers away from their favorite tipples. Resurgent Cava, which is grown more southerly and as such has avoided frost damage, will also be looking to capitalize.