Frost and Hail Wreak Havoc on Europe's Vineyards

Late frost in April caused damage to Europe's largest wine-producing nations. Then, on 1st May, a hailstorm struck Chablis, with devastating consequences.

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Frost candles in the vineyards of Burgundy. (Photo: Oscar Oliveras Gea, Wirestock Creators/
Frost candles in the vineyards of Burgundy. (Photo: Oscar Oliveras Gea, Wirestock Creators/

The frosty nights at the end of April triggered reactions in every wine region in France. To mitigate the most severe damage, winemakers burned hay bales in the vineyards, apparently with varying degrees of success.

Smaller regions were hit hard, but better-known regions were prepared

Smaller regions like Jura were hit hard, approximately 40% of vineyards were affected. The impacts here are comparable to the frost of 2017. In Cahors, the damages were even more extensive. Vitisphere reports that around 90% of vineyards in Cahors were affected.

The better-known regions were the most prepared. In response to inquiries from the German wine trade magazine Weinwirtschaft, the Conseil Interprofessionel des Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB) stated that while the Bordeaux regions were affected by the frost, the impacts remained minimal. "The percentage is very low," said Christophe Chateau from CIVB.

Similarly, according to Cécile Mathiaud, there are hardly any losses due to frost in Burgundy. While the entire region was affected, the frost only caused minimal damage.

Hail devastates Chablis

Just as the winemakers in Chablis had weathered the April frosts, a so-called supercell thunderstorm with hail partially devastated the region on May 1st.

The villages of La Chapelle Vaupelteigne, Fontenay, Villy, and Chablis itself were struck by a very small yet extremely strong storm, affecting roughly half of the appellation. 

A supercell thunderstorm (Photo: Gavin/
A supercell thunderstorm (Photo: Gavin/

Cécile Mathiaud from the Bureau Interprofessionel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB) said upon inquiry that there is the VCI program for such cases, which stands for Volume Compensatoire Individuel. It refers to a reserve system that allows winemakers to replenish their harvest with reserved wine volumes. This is aimed at preventing significant fluctuations in the market quantity. However, it's still too early to assess the damage. 

Spain experienced significant frost damage

The frosts have also affected some regions of Spain. Reports from Rioja indicate that more than 4,000 ha / 10,000 acres of vineyards were damaged by frost, accounting for approximately 6.6% of the total cultivation area. Particularly affected are the areas of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Briones, San Asensio, and Labastida.

The regions of Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha were also affected. In Castilla y León, 7,600 ha / 19,000 acres suffered damage, with the well-known regions of Ribera del Duero and Rueda reporting significant losses. In Castilla-La Mancha, 3,000 ha / 7,500 acres were affected. These figures are based on damage reports submitted to the insurance company Agroseguro. Overall, a total of 18,200 ha / 45,000 acres were reported across Spain.


The late frosts that struck Europe's wine regions on the nights of 22 and 23 April 2024 hit Germany particularly severely.

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Damage exceeds millions of euros in Germany and Austria

The Austrian newspaper ‘Kurier’ estimates the extent of damage in the wine and fruit growing sectors at a total of €56m, citing information from the Austrian hail insurance. However, the majority of the damage is attributed to fruit growing (€44m), while damage in the wine sector is lower at only €12m. The hardest hit region was Styria (€37m, of which €5m were in the wine sector), followed by Lower Austria (€17m), with the remaining regions totaling €2m in overall damage.

According to the Austrian wine magazine 'Der Winzer' (English: 'The Vintner'), early varieties such as Muskateller, Blauer Wildbacher, Chardonnay, and Zweigelt in lower-lying areas — as well as in premier sites — were affected by the frost in Styria. Shortly afterward, there was substantial snowfall in southern Styria, increasing the risk of breakage in the already unusually long shoots. Damage manifested to varying extents across all regions of Lower Austria, with the districts of Krems and Tulln particularly affected, with subsequent snowfall compounding the situation.

Ludwig Holzer, Managing Director of Winzer Krems, explained to Weinwirtschaft, however, that the operation had not been hit as severely, as the more severe frost damage occurred more towards Kamptal, from where they source fewer grapes.

In Kamptal, as well as in the upper Wachau, Wagram, and parts of Weinviertel, temperatures dropped as low as -4°C / 24.8°F. According to the Austrian magazine Vinaria, even vineyard sites not usually prone to frost were affected, since the frost came in the form of cold air currents.

Protective frost candles and fires

In many regions, winemakers attempted to protect their vines with frost candles and fires. According to ORF, the police in Weinviertel and the Baden district are therefore investigating whether these fires may have been the cause of several traffic accidents. However, all protective measures had been previously registered, and the fire department had also issued appropriate warnings, as reported by ‘Der Winzer’.

From Switzerland, damages to 700 ha / 1,700 acres of vineyards were reported. Approximately 85% of the frost-insured establishments in Geneva and 40% in Valais had reported damages to ‚Hagel Schweiz‘.

In Europe, perhaps most severely affected were the vineyards in Germany. Here, the insurance company ‘Vereinigte Hagel’ estimates the damage to wine and fruit cultivation at a total of €500m, with the majority - estimated at €300m to €350m - occurring in viticulture, as stated by a spokesperson for the insurance company to Weinwirtschaft. This estimate already takes into account how the policyholder has valued the vineyards, although there are naturally maximum and minimum values.

Regionally, temperatures as low as -7°C / 19,4°F were recorded. The use of frost candles was of little help this year, as the air at a height of two meters was also sufficiently cold, and not just ground frost occurred, according to ‘Vereinigte Hagel’. Particularly in the eastern federal states and in Rheinhessen, the damages were catastrophic. MS/VM


Robert Joseph looks at a phenomenon that rarely gets discussed — the discomfort some people, including wine professionals, suffer after drinking a glass or two of red.

Reading time: 2m 45s



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