The Surprisingly Old-School Way This French Winemaker Protected Its Crop

If you're a fan of Old World wines, you'd know that France, Italy, and Spain are seeing historically low levels of grape harvests, thanks mostly to climate-related problems including frost, hail, drought in some areas, and excessive rains in others. These problems are such that European farming cooperatives Copa and Cogeca expect to see 18% less wine in the 2021 to 2022 period, when compared to 2020 to 2021 or last year. 

Of the three dominant wine-producing areas, France is expected to see the sharpest drop in wine production. Copa and Cogeca says producers there had already started the year on the wrong foot because unseasonal frost periods which happened during the spring already hurt an estimated 30% of grapes around the country, and this was before the start of an active rainy season. Thanks to this, the French agriculture ministry is warning that production for this year will likely be the worst on record.

Some French wine producers used modified candles to keep their vines warm

It's not all bad news because a few of France's grand cru vineyards may have escaped some of the worst of this year's spring frosts — including those belonging to Laurent Pinson. The winemaker, who makes Chablis, tells Reuters he managed to save his crop by burning candles. And these aren't exactly candles like we know them, but cans of paraffin which were illuminated and placed among the vines to keep the buds from getting cold. Tens of thousands of candles were lit in parts of pre-dawn France back in April to keep buds going, and as a result, "All the grand cru (wines) were more spared than the others because of the protections," Pinson says. He added that without the candles, "on some plots that were completely frozen damage can reach 80%-90%," he said.

Pinson is one of the lucky ones. The Guardian reports that in the Burgundy-Beaujolais region, frost, hail, and an outbreak of fungus triggered by high humidity wiped out so many grapes that its wine output is expected to be halved this year. French winemakers have said they plan to make up for the shortfall by releasing reserves that they held back from previous years.