The En-Primeur Insider: Second Edition, with Alistair Cooper MW

This is Alistair here and, as you already know, the 2020 Bordeaux En Primeur season has well and truly begun. Excitement is building, and we’ll soon see the first En Primeur releases in the coming days.

Just before then, I wanted to share some details of what's been, well, the complete opposite of a hot topic... the worst frost in decades for France a few weeks ago. While this does not impact what happened last year, I thought, as part of the 2nd Edition of the En Primeur Insider, I'll discuss what this means for En Primeur season 2021 (released next year), and a little more detail on what is being described as 'the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the century.

Please find the second report from me below and be sure to subscribe for exclusive access to editorial pieces throughout the En-Primeur Campaign.

Frost Damage

Things can change overnight,’ is an oft-overused, somewhat flippant cliché. The recent frosts that struck France however certainly did exactly that for countless helpless vignerons throughout the country. Early estimates suggest that total losses in the sector could reach €3bn. The French government have already pledged €1bn in aid following what they have described as ‘'the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the century.’

Temperatures plummeted to -7°C in parts of Burgundy, as distressed growers flooded their vineyards with burning straw and oil burning lamps in an attempt to stave off the worst of the frosts. The effects were all the more brutal since the big freeze followed a period of early Spring warmth. This meant that the grapes were further along their vegetative cycle and thus more exposed to the harsh elements. Chardonnay, being an early ripener seems to have been more affected than Pinot Noir throughout Burgundy.

Whilst Burgundy in general (and specifically Chablis) are increasingly accustomed to the effects of frost damage, other regions are not. The Languedoc and Rhône face perennial problems with drought and rising temperatures, but 2021 has delivered a devastating start to the growing season. Languedoc-Rousillon, France’s most prolific and productive region faces significant losses of up to 30-50%. The Rhône is now forecasting it’s lowest yields in 40 years, with Côte-Rotie having been particularly ravaged.

The Impact

Bordeaux is at the forefront of current trade activity with the 2020 En Primeur campaign recently getting underway (keep an eye open for all of our coverage). They too were dealt a considerable blow from the frosts throughout the region. Certain areas on the left bank (Pauillac and St Estèphe)  are aided by proximity to the estuary which moderates temperatures so were less damaged. However anecdotal reports suggest that Margaux, Listrac and Moulis and especially Entre-Deux-Mers have been significantly impacted. I suspect that on the right bank the vineyards (especially lower lying inland vineyards of St Emilion) have also been affected due to the prevalence of Merlot and it’s propensity for early flowering.

What remains to be seen (and we will never really know the answer!) is how the frosts will impact prices for the Bordeaux 2020 En Primeur campaign. It is highly unlikely to result in more moderate pricing given the damage that has already been inflicted on potential yields for the upcoming crop. Current signs are that 2020 is potentially a good vintage in certain areas, but is anything but homogenous. This means that choosing your estates wisely is even more important. It also means that looking at wines from recent vintages is also a good bet right now, the 2019 vintage may merit revisiting.

Alistair Cooper Master of Wine and Esteemed Critic


- Alistair Cooper,
Master of Wine & Esteemed Critic