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French Wine Makers Liken Widespread Vine Damage to ‘the Loss of a Family Member’

A frost across France’s wine regions has devastated the industry, which was already hit hard by COVID-19 and tariffs imposed by the Trump administration

Rows of frozen grape vines in western France Photo by SEBASTIEN SALOM-GOMIS/AFP via Getty Images
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

The French wine aisle may look sparse in the years to come, as France’s wine growing regions has been hit with the worst frost in decades. An estimated 80 percent of French vineyards have been affected, with some losing nearly half of their crop. “I heard someone say it was like the loss of a family member,” said Eric Pastorino, the president of the Côtes de Provence appellation. “It may seem puerile, but that is close to what I feel. Perhaps only winegrowers can understand this sentiment, but we have found ourselves out in the vines in the morning with tears in our eyes.”

It’s been a bad few years for the French wine industry: First, former president Donald Trump imposed tariffs on French wine imports in order to recoup money lost, according to the World Trade Organization, by subsidizing the European aerospace company Airbus. The 25 percent tariff was a blow to winemakers, distributors, and retailers who all had to figure out how to absorb the cost. And while the pandemic led people to drink more, it also shuttered restaurants and bars around the world, leaving vineyards with fewer stable clients. According to CNN, exports of French wine and spirits fell almost 14% in 2020.

President Joe Biden’s administration and the European Union agreed to suspend the tariffs last month to improve trade relations, and many — especially grape growers and vintners — hoped this would bring positive trends. But the frost was particularly devastating this year, coming after unseasonably warm temperatures that caused the plants to grow and fruit faster. Winemakers filled vineyards with small fires on cold nights to try to keep the frost from settling in, but the method often failed. French president Emmanuel Macron tweeted to farmers earlier in the week, writing, “To you, the farmers throughout France who have fought relentlessly, night after night, to protect the fruits of your labor, I want to tell you that you have our full support in this fight. Hold on tight! We are by your side and will remain so.” Farmers are receiving aid from the government, though it may not be able to cover all the losses.

The frost has affected other crops too, like beets and almonds, and is just the latest example of how climate change continues to upend the food supply. As it’s likely that French wines will be scarce, at least we can make up for it with...White Claw Surge.