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Government aid for French wine producers who gamble with the weather

The French government is offering aid for wine producers who are gambling with the weather due to the high cost of vineyard insurance.

Frost in Burgundy
Frost in Rully Premier Cru les Cloux on 7 April

As reported by, the French government has promised to provide financial support for vignerons who have lost their potential crop from this year’s vintage due to the severe frosts last week.

With temperatures plunging as low as -6 degrees Celsius in areas such as Champagne and a few degrees below freezing in places as far south as Provence, early-budding grape varieties in exposed sites have suffered damage to newly-emerging foliage, threatening this year’s vintage, with some areas, such as Burgundy, believed to have lost as much as 50% of the potential crop.

Notably, according to the article, only 30% of French agricultural land is insured, which provides compensation for crop losses due to extreme weather, as well as damage by pests and disease, depending on the level of cover.

The same news story also recorded that 80% of growers in Burgundy are not insured against the vagaries of the weather, mainly due to the high cost of financing such protection on an annual basis.

Indeed, one producer, a winegrower in Charnay-lès-Mâcon told that he pays €15,000 per year to insure 25 hectares of vines, while pointing out that any payout – if agreed – will be 20% short of the total expected income from the crop.

Meanwhile, Thiébault Huber in Meursault was not covered for last week’s frosts having recently cancelled his vineyard insurance because the premiums had become too expensive. This was due to the elevated risk of crop losses in the area as a result of the increased incidence of hail in Burgundy.

Also, the article noted that insurers will only provide compensation for the average production across the region over the past five years, which has been lower in Burgundy due to drought and other extreme weather events.

Like Huber in Meursault, a grower in Chasselas – a commune in the Saône-et-Loire – admitted to playing “poker” with the weather, rather than pay for insurance.

The vigneron, the 63 year-old Patrick Rivet, has lost up to half the harvest on his 9 hectare vineyard.

He, like others not just in France, but worldwide, would rather risk suffering a financial loss from extreme events than pay huge premiums to insurers on an annual basis, especially if compensation is hard to secure, and covers only part of the lost income.

It’s a topic the db has explored in detail in a past edition of the magazine, which considered the threats to vine growers worldwide, and the costs of crop losses.

As the article states, crop insurance is expensive, and not only can it reimburses less than half of the actual loss, it also isn’t available for certain threats.

According to the Bordeaux Wine Council, there are two types of insurance available in France.

“One is called multirisques climatiques,” said the council’s Cécile Ha, “covering crop losses following hail, storm and frost.”

It is partially funded by the European Union and “requires long and fastidious administrative procedures”. Between 30% and 40% of winemakers in Bordeaux are covered by this insurance.

The other is grêle parcellaire, insurance covering exclusively the consequence of hail. The winemaker can insure only some plots and not all their planted surface area, according to the council.

Elsewhere, David Bowley of Vinteloper in Australia told db that “crop insurance is ridiculously and prohibitively expensive for wine grapes”.

Describing it as “uneconomical”, he said “I don’t know of any growers in the Adelaide Hills who have crop insurance for their vineyards.”

Read more

Kicking up a storm: the impact of natural disasters on wine production

French vineyards hit by ‘worst frost in decades’

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