Late frosts freeze French vineyards and threaten fruit crops

French winegrowers light candles to thaw their vines to protect 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 awoke to temperatures of -5C on Monday.

Fruit growers fear the frost will kill off a large number of early buds, which appeared in March when temperatures rose above 20C, and disrupt the entire growing season.

The buds of the vine are covered with ice which protects them from frost (Thibault Camus/AP)

The frost is particularly frustrating after a similar phenomenon hit French vineyards last year, resulting in some 2 billion euros (about £1.68 billion) in losses.

The damaging 2021 frost was made more likely by climate change, scientists later found.

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 said the country’s harvest of stone fruits such as apricots, prunes and cherries was threatened by the ice storm.

Winemaker Patrick Clavelin repairs a large anti-freeze candle in a vineyard in Jura, central France
Winemaker Patrick Clavelin repairs a large antifreeze candle in a vineyard in Jura, central France (Laurent Cirpriani/AP)

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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