Frost patrol: Sunday April 14th April 15th, 2019

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On Friday 5th April Burgundy suffered a frost episode which has certainly caused some damage in spots all the way up from Beaujolais to Chablis. The cool north wind returned over the weekend of 13th/14th April but this time the vignerons were prepared. I set out in the early hours to find out…

I rose at 4.00am and made a thermos of tea (Yunnan Imperial Gold Tips) noting that the temperature outside our house is currently -2.3c. That in itself is not necessarily significant as we are cooler than the vineyards. The car offered -3 as I headed down the valley to Savigny-lès-Beaune but by the time I got to the hill of Corton it was hovering around zero.

From the vantage point of the Ile de Vergelesses I could see across to the glowing hillside, with the substantial Louis Latour holding of Corton-Charlemagne lit up with ‘bougies’ or smudge-pots (below). By now the roads were beginning to fill up with little white vans transporting vignerons to check out their vines and what was happening on the temperature gauge– plus a few people like me taking photographs.

Corton Charlemagne candles

From Corton I passed through a sleeping Beaune out towards Meursault. At one point (5.15am) the little vineyard road was blocked by a convergence of white vans, spilling out vineyard workers to light up the bales of straw which had been pre-loaded along the edges of the roads (below).

Lighting the bales

The thermometer in the car was still registering just above freezing but there was certainly a chill wind whenever I nipped out for a quick photo-op. “Efficace” I said to the vigneronne preparing the straw – “oui”, she replied “efficace et pas cher!” (effective and not expensive!). This laying down of smoke is controversial being neither environmentally friendly, nor safe for those out on the roads. However it is currently permitted as long as the prefecture is pre-warned 24 hours in advance.

I decided to take the back road through Blagny, and the highest vineyards of Puligny before it drops down into St Aubin, and here the temperature dropped a point or so without dipping into the negative. All the vineyards in the cuvette between Chassagne and St-Aubin had bougies lit, and one enterprising soul let off a firework rocket just as I went by.

One cheerful character was tending his bale of straw at the foot of le Montrachet, in the freezing dark – in shorts! Almost every plot of Montrachet had its bougies burning, but not, I noticed DRC. The southern half of Bâtard had been ignored however, except by Ben Leroux (below).

Leroux Batard candles

I bumped into Ben later on – he had been checking his thermometers which he has placed at ground level in each plot (below).

thermometer at zero

By now I had received a message from Ludivine Griveau (below) saying that she was looking after two small straw bonfires on the edge of Meursault, Rue de la Velle so I decamped over there and kept her company through to dawn.

Ludivine in the smoke

Jasper & Ludivine

Just above, in Les Crotots, was one of the new wine machines which can be installed temporarily where needed (below). Meursault has bought 5 of them at a cost of €38,000 each.

mobile windmill

They work by circulating the warmer air above, though it also makes sense to light braziers below as well.

Back home for breakfast I found that the dawn thermal inversion had pushed the temperature down to minus 4 – so that’s put paid to our wisteria for this spring. Annoying, but at least it looks as though the vines have been saved this time round.

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  1. Scott Handwerker says:

    Thanks for Sharing, Sir. This was really great to read.

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