Dangerous Spring Frost Hits Burgundy

Vintners used numerous methods to protect the emerging buds and shoots as temperatures dropped below freezing
Dangerous Spring Frost Hits Burgundy
Smudge pots blaze in vineyards across Burgundy's Côte d'Or, as vintners battle frost. (Courtesy Vincent Dancer)
Apr 22, 2019

The aerial photos look pretty, but there was nothing pleasurable for Burgundy vintners during the long nights of April 4 and 5 and again over the weekend of April 13 as they banded together to fight a potentially damaging spring frost. In some vineyards, countermeasures or good luck prevented extensive harm. In others, young tender buds were badly damaged.

In Chablis, four nights of temperatures as low as 23° F from April 11–14 caused vintners to send teams into the vineyards, lighting smudge pots and turning on sprinklers to try and protect buds from the cold.

"I think our different protections did well and I do believe we escaped any big damage," Christian Moreau of Christian Moreau Père & Fils told Wine Spectator. "The vines actually were not [in a vulnerable stage], especially [where we did] the late pruning," he added, referring to the practice of removing the majority of the previous year's woody parts late in winter to delay budbreak, when the new growth is most vulnerable to frost.

In the Côte d'Or, the first frost affected Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault; the later frost, the weekend of April 13, was more widespread. Temperatures dropped as low as 25° F. Vintners burned straw to create smoke, mitigating the frost, or lit smudge pots to warm the cold air at ground level.


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"Although the thermometer went down to [25° F] in some areas, less humidity and wind blowing up to [12.5 mph] limited the impact of these temperatures," said Dimitri Bazas, technical director for Maison Champy. He noted that damage in Champy's vineyards ranged from 3 to 20 percent.

Several factors affected which vineyards suffered the most damage: Chardonnay vines were more advanced in growth than the Pinot Noir, making them more susceptible; the second bout of frost occurred under drier conditions, limiting damage; and once the vegetation starts growing, there may be secondary buds that develop.

"Growth stages varied," reported Philippe Drouhin, who manages the vines for his family's Maison Joseph Drouhin in the Côte d'Or and Chablis. "Its early to tell true damage. My impression is that this past weekend we did not suffer much damage on our estate in Côte d'Or."

Others were not so fortunate. "Where I've seen most damages are on the lower parts of Chassagne, Puligny and Volnay, likely also Savigny and Chorey," said Alexandre Brault, managing partner of Maison Alex Gambal. "I guess where we have the most damage, we're close to 60 to 70 percent."

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