Late frost freezes French vineyards and threatens fruit crops

By THIBAULT CAMUS

CHABLIS, France (AP) — French winemakers light candles to thaw their vines to save them from a late frost after a spell of winter heat, a temperature swing that threatens fruit crops in several countries.

Ice-covered vines stretched across the hillsides around Chablis as the Burgundy region woke up to temperatures of -5C (23F) on Monday. Fruit growers fear the frost could kill off large numbers of early buds, which appeared in March when temperatures exceeded 20°C (68°F), and disrupt the entire growing season.

The frost is particularly frustrating after a similar phenomenon hit French vineyards last year, resulting in some 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) in losses. Scientists later found that the damaging frost of 2021 was made more likely by climate change.

Before dawn on Monday, rows of candles twinkled under the frosty vines of Chablis. As the sun rose, it illuminated the ice crystals gripping the vines.

While some vintners used candles, others tried to warm the vines with power lines, or sprayed the buds with water to protect them from freezing.

In Switzerland, local media say the country’s harvest of stone fruits such as apricots, prunes and cherries is at risk from the ice storm.

Sub-freezing temperatures are raising similar concerns about potential damage to apple orchards and other orchards in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Last year’s April frost led to what French government officials described as “probably the greatest agricultural disaster of the early 21st century”. The pattern was similar: an intense frost from April 6 to 8 after a long hot period in March.

Researchers from the World Weather Attribution group studied the effect of the 2021 frost on France’s vineyard-rich regions of Champagne, Loire Valley and Burgundy, and found that March’s heat made it particularly damaging .

The researchers concluded that warming caused by human-made emissions prompted the plants to expose their young leaves early, before an arctic cold snap reached Europe in April.

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