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Published:  23 July, 2008

Champagne has suffered its worst frost damage for more than half a century (1951), following sub-zero temperatures throughout the region from 7-11 April. According to the Comit Interprofessionnel des Vins de Champagne (CIVC), losses may be as high as 50% of the total, and this allows for the successful development of some of the second buds (contre-burgeons). The worst damage was caused on 10 April, when conditions changed from dry to humid, and according to Magister, the extent of the damage varies widely depending on the sub-region and variety. Chardonnay, with the earliest budbreak, has suffered most. In the Cte des Blancs, the most famous sub-region for Chardonnay, losses ranged from 38% in Oger to 96% in Vertus, averaging 74%. Jonathan Saxby of Champagne Jean Moutardier describes the scene in many villages as catastrophic'. In the Cte de Szanne, another prime source, average losses were even higher, at 81%. In the Montagne de Reims, the most famous region for Pinot Noir, losses ranged from 30% in Rilly-la-Montagne to 82% in Nogent l'Abbesse, averaging 52%. In the Grande Valle, another prime source, average losses were 68%. In the Cte des Bars, where Pinots Noir and Meunier are sourced, losses ranged from 13% in Les Riceys to 95% in Montgueux, averaging 31%. Losses were lowest in the Ardre and Massif St Thierry (both 10%), and in the Valle de la Marne (28%). Overall losses of Chardonnay are in the region of 80%, Pinot Noir 50% and Pinot Meunier 30-40%, the average across all three varieties being about 47%. The frost risk will not be over until May, and with the annual gauntlet of coulure and millerandage still to be run, the probable size of the vintage will not become clear until July. According to Daniel Lorson, communications director for CIVC, growers are not as worried as they might be, given the safety net now provided by the quality reserve, releases from which will almost certainly be authorised later in the year. Lorson emphasised that companies would try to keep prices as stable as possible, and representatives of Roederer and Veuve Clicquot stressed that it was too early to predict the effect on grape and wine prices. Chablis was also hit by frost on 7-8 April, though the exact extent of the damage is still unknown.