In Depth

Fires and frost: French wine industry hit by wildfires and ‘historic’ low harvest 

Rosé wine-growing areas in Provence were devastated by the blaze

France’s wine industry had already been hit by forecasts that this year’s harvest could be “the smallest vintage for at least 50 years”, Decanter reported earlier this month. Now vineyards in the south-east of the country are assessing the damage from “heartbreaking” wildfires.

A blaze broke out last week in the Var region, located between Provence and the French Riviera, which forced thousands of people to evacuate. Spread by strong winds, the wildfires were mostly in forests, but several rosé wine-growing areas were also badly affected, the BBC reported.

The CIVP, Provence’s wine producers’ association, said it was unclear how much damage had been caused. But on Thursday, the National Federation of Agricultural Workers’ Unions in France estimated that 73 wineries and five cooperatives were affected, though not necessarily damaged, Food&Wine said. 

Fires are a regular occurrence in the south of France, but they are usually “smaller and quickly contained”, Decanter said. More than 1,200 firefighters worked to contain the blaze, which “ravaged” 7,100 hectares of land and caused two deaths.

Philip Collins, a writer for the New Statesman, was on holiday at a French farmhouse when the fire hit. “I felt as if I was in a scene from a disaster movie,” he said.  

Maison Mirabeau/Instagram

Maison Mirabeau/Instagram

‘All our life’s work is put at risk’

Maison Mirabeau, a Provence vineyard that produces rosé, was one winery hit by the fires, Sky News reports. The vineyard’s British owners Jeany and Stephen Cronk revealed the extent of the damage in a post on Instagram

“The past few days have been heartbreaking to watch as the devastation has unfolded over Provence with fires sweeping across 7,000 hectares of land and protected forest,” they wrote. “We have been watching in agony and praying for our Domaine Mirabeau and the vineyards of our colleagues and partners in the area, as all our life’s work is put at risk by the raging fires.

“We are still assessing the impact of the fires on our estate, but for now we are pleased to share that everyone from Mirabeau, the animals and houses at the Domaine have been saved.”

A Chablis vineyard in Auxerre which was hit by frost in April

A Chablis vineyard in Auxerre which was hit by frost in April

Philippe Desmazes/AFP via Getty Images

‘Strenuous’ harvest ahead across the Med

It’s not just France that has seen its wine industry hit by wildfires. The “scorching and dramatic summer” around the Mediterranean has also caused “unprecedented destruction” in Turkey, Greece and southern Italy. “Producers in many of the countries’ wine regions have been forced to start planning for a strenuous harvest, upset by infrastructural damage, labour shortage and smoke taint,” Decanter said.  

Fire is the latest problem to hit French wine producers this year, the BBC reports. In April “rare deep frosts” destroyed buds on grapevines in the vineyards of Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Languedoc and the Rhône valley.

The “devastating frosts and problems with mildew fungus” means France is facing a “historic” low in terms of harvest size in 2021, Decanter said. A preliminary forecast from the French government said production is likely to fall between 24% and 30% overall from last year. This would make 2021 the “smallest French wine harvest since at least 1970”. 

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