Mother Nature is a beautiful, yet wayward and sometimes very moody lady. The weather can be unpredictable and at times very, very brutal, crushing people’s hopes and dreams simply by turning down the temperature a couple of degrees at the wrong time.
I was in the NSG vineyards this week from 5:15 a.m., and the “bougies” were already alight in Les Saint-Georges. Two young vignerons were quietly monitoring the bougies (torches) and relighting the ones that had given up on this very cold morning.
As a non-vigneron, I had envisioned stress and hectic activity filling the air, but that is not how things were.
There was an aura of quietly facing destiny, looking down the abyss of devastation and silently doing your utmost to prevent further damage.
Two vignerons were out in the southern end of the Nuits-Saint-Georges, on the border with Premeaux: Clement Chicotot and Antoine Gouges were facing off with Mother Nature.
I am not sure more could have been done, and the damage in Nuits-Saint-Georges was in the end more limited than that in the south.
Seeing the numbers coming in, it’s clear that damage has been the worst in the southern appellations. The Côte de Beaune and even further south tell tales of devastation, while the appellations in the Côte de Nuits have suffered, but perhaps on a more manageable and survivable scale.
The facts and numbers?
It’s too early to get a complete picture. The damage will probably never be fully measured, but there are some strong tendencies – or almost foregone conclusions – as the chardonnay vines were too far along in their annual development to endure a hard frost like this.
The damage has been far more devastating in the white appellations; the Côte de Beaune and further south are looking truly bad.
The chardonnay plots were further along in the vegetative cycle, and hence sitting ducks, while the pinot noir was more spottily hit, if viticulture and luck were on your side.
In some vineyards, total destruction; in others, very big losses – 80% or even more for certain vineyards and appellations as a whole. Most vignerons say this is far worse than in 2016.
❤️ Courage to our friends in southern Burgundy. ❤️
In the northern Côte de Beaune – Beaune and Corton – the result is as yet unpredictable. But it seems that the more advanced state of the vines has resulted in huge damage in these appellations, although presumably with some variability – again chardonnay being the one to take most of the hit.
In the Côte de Nuits, the damage appears somewhat more limited – manageable to some or even most – at perhaps 15-50% loss according to the variation of viticulture and luck. It is too early to say and even to see!
Consequences – the market approach
At the end of the day, this event will be translated into numbers and bottles, and as much as this is the lives and dreams of vignerons, we all have to accept the monetary and vinous consequences.
My advice is the following:
Get the great whites before prices soar
There will be huge demand for 2019 and 2020 whites, with 2020 being what appears to be a very fine vintage. With a large proportion of 2021 missing, prices of these whites will shoot through the roof.
So, get some great whites early: get some now.
Get 2019 and 2020 reds
The outlook for the reds is more mixed, but clearly I would advise to get what you can of 2019 and 2020.
The 2021 reds will be somewhat limited in production, and one could fear they won’t necessarily be vins de soif, as frost-year wines often end up more concentrated and less forwardly fruity. This is of course guesswork, but that said, the 2019s and partly also the 2020s are at least known quantities.
The 2020s appear at this early stage to be a sure bet, although the effects of the drought remain to be fully evaluated – 2020 is presumably not a 100% level playing field. Stay tuned; 2020 is as yet largely unexplored by tasters, critics, and journalists.
I will therefore accelerate my initial tastings of the 2020s; especially as the whites will prove important to the market.