French 2017 wine output may fall to record low after frosts

PARIS (Reuters) - French wine production may fall 17 percent this year to a record low after spring frosts damaged vineyards, notably in the Bordeaux region, which might lose half its output, the farm ministry said on Friday.

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In its first estimates of this year’s output, the ministry estimated this year’s wine production in France, the world’s second-largest producer, at 37 million to 38.2 million hectolitres, down from 45.5 million in 2016.

The median value, at 37.6 million hectolitres, would be 17 percent less than last year’s output and 16 percent below average. That would be “historically low” and less than the output in 1991, when vines were also badly hit by frosts. The ministry did not say how far back its records go.

“This fall in production is primarily due to the severe frosts in the spring, which affected, at a sensitive stage of the vine’s growth, all the wine-growing basins to varying degrees,” the ministry said in a note.

Wine growers used candles, heaters and even the down-draught from helicopters during the cold snap in April to try to save crops.

France’s wine output had already fallen in 2016 because of bad weather. Champagne was among the worst hit, with the harvest down more than 20 percent from the previous year as spring frosts were followed by other problems, such as mildew.

This year’s production in Champagne was expected to recover slightly, up 8 percent, but still 9 percent below the 2012-2016 average.

Late April, frosts severely damaged the Bordeaux vineyard, which could lose half its output from the large volume produced in 2016 and fall 40 percent below the five-year average, the ministry said.

The Bourgogne and Beaujolais region, which suffered major damage in 2016, were better off this year, with output expected to rise 14 percent.

The estimates were provisional and did not take into account the weather until harvest, which usually takes place from August to October in France.

Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, editing by Larry King