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Burgundy mans the battle stations...

In what seems like cruel and unusual punishment, the threat of killer frosts has loomed over much of Burgundy multiple times this spring. Twice the week before, and twice again this week, the temperatures were due to dip below freezing in the early morning hours - just at the time of year when the young shoots and new leaves are at their most vulnerable. Unusually warm weather in March and early April had pushed to vines to a vigorous and early start, only to be subjected to the possibility of an early death due to rare spring freezes. Last year's April 27th frost cost Burgundy dearly, with up to 80% crop loss is some sectors. That was considered a freak occurrence - after all Burgundy hadn't suffered a damaging frost since 1983. It may no longer be freakish it seems...

Last week, when the first threats arrived, the vignerons armed themselves with gel candles and smudge pots, which they placed strategically in and around parcels that were most susceptible to the oncoming frost. That's Domaine Huber-Verdereau's Clos du Colombier in Pommard above, with candles aglow in the early morning hours last Thursday.

By the time the frosts were looming again this week, there were no gel candles to be had - virtually all of France's wine regions had been under the threat of attack and the supply of the bougies had been exhausted - none were to be found anywhere. So, huge groups of vigneron neighbors banded together and trucked in massive bales of straw - from as far away as Lyon in some cases - to place around the vineyards and light them on fire, thus raising the temperature hopefully just enough to protect the young buds, and to provide a cloud of smoke over the vines so the morning sun could not burn the fragile leaves and emerging clusters. It must have been quite a sight.

Burning straw bales in Savigny-lès-Beaune

Burning straw bales in Savigny-lès-Beaune

Early reports we're getting are encouraging - they seem to have warded off the worst of it, but some damage has been suffered. Thierry Violot-Guillemard reports losing an entire parcel of Bourgogne below Pommard - they sadly just didn't have enough straw to cover everything. Fortunately, there are no more frosts in the forecasts for the coming week, and the threat may finally be over. At least for now. We can start to worry about the hail next. (Actually, they've already had a couple of small hail episodes, with only minimal damage reported. Whew... Winegrowing in Burgundy is not for the faint-hearted, that's for sure...)