Frost: a Vigneron’s endless dispute with Nature

Frost: a Vigneron’s endless dispute with Nature

From Champagne to Languedoc and from Côtes de Gascogne to Alsace, last week, a polar vortex swept through continental Europe, causing unsurmountable damage to vineyards, in some cases, 100% of vintages were lost in a matter of hours. France, Germany, Italy and Spain were all sadly damaged. As vine growers ourselves  it is impossible not to feel compassion and grief for our fellow producers, especially when its devastating effects are starting to lurk closer to home… 

Frost is one of the worst natural phenomenon that can affect wine regions in cooler climates, it happens when temperatures fall quickly and the humidity in the air and environment turns from water to ice, freezing and burning the growing green parts of the vine plant. There are 2 types of frost: radiation frost or white frost that happens when the air is too still, and advection frost (or wind frost or black frost) caused by very cold and strong winds blowing. The latter was what caused the worst part of the damage in continental Europe. Frost damage is something that has been happening in wine regions during the early growing season of the vines for quite some time and with no 100% effective solution. One of the most impressive, and angering, facts about frost is that you can predict it, you can know exactly when it will happen, and although there are methods you can employ to mitigate its effects, there is nothing you can really do to completely avoid it and its trail of destruction. The vigneron’s hands are completely tied… frozen. It is incredibly frustrating to know something like this is coming, to know that you have done everything technologically possible to mitigate its effect and yet, you know there’s the possibility that you can be left with nothing. Often times, and more than we like to admit, it is down to sheer luck that buds survive.

This is the deal every wine producer has struck when starting their journey: to bargain with nature each and every day. And knowing that often, you will lose.

Although the English climate is less prone to frost than continental Europe – because it is an island - the maritime influence helps control extreme weather phenomenon. This week, temperatures fell drastically all throughout the UK, making the frost threat very real to us. Here at Hambledon Vineyard, although we have meticulously worked to mitigate this kind of risk and our vineyard team have been constantly monitoring our weather stations to closely oversee the vine’s growth cycle, disaster can still strike. This year, we have been lucky, due to a cooler Winter and Spring, the growth cycle of the vineyard has been delayed. Bud break, which happened last year and in 2019 around the 8th of April, is still a week away. This keeps our precious vines safe from frost damage, for now.

There is nothing more beautiful and at the same time more painstakingly hard than working to the whims of Mother Nature. She’s extraordinary… She’s ruthless.

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