Late frosts blanket French vineyards, threatening fruit trees

CHABLIS, FRANCE – French grape growers are lighting candles to thaw their vines in an attempt to save them from a late frost following winter warmth, a temperature swing that is threatening fruit trees in many countries family.

Ice-covered vines stretched across the hillsides around Chablis as Burgundy woke up Monday to minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 F). Fruit growers worry that frost will kill off a large number of early shoots, which appear in March when temperatures rise above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) and disrupt the entire growing season.

Frost is especially frustrating after a similar phenomenon hit French vineyards last year, resulting in about 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) in damage. Scientists later found that the damaging frosts of 2021 were more likely to be caused by climate change.

Before dawn Monday, rows of candles flickered beneath the icy vines of Chablis. As the sun rises, it illuminates the ice crystals entwined with vines.

Some growers have tried to warm the vines with power lines, or spray water on the shoots to protect them from frost. The water creates a thin layer of ice to ensure that the flower’s temperature stays around the freezing point but doesn’t drop much lower.

Chablis vintner Daniel Defaix, whose vineyard has produced wine for 400 years and lived through countless climate disasters, calls what is happening now “a very, very severe frost.”

He noted that temperatures are falling several degrees lower than last year, down to minus 7 degrees Celsius in places, and have reached warmer hilltop areas as well as cooler valley areas. .

He placed paraffin candles on the land or set up special irrigation systems to protect about 5 hectares of his largest and most valuable top grapes, but had to leave the remaining 25 hectares to face the forces of nature. course.

At a cost of 10 euros per candle – and 600 candles per hectare – it is too expensive to invest in saving the remaining grapes.

“Then you have to cross your fingers and pray to God,” he told The Associated Press.

Beatrice Ruettimann, a spokeswoman for Swiss Fruit, an association of fruit producers, said that in neighboring Switzerland, fruit growers scrambled on Sunday to protect their crops, using heater and kitchenette at night and around dawn. Some plastic sheets spread out to shield their trees.

Temperatures fall below freezing in most fruit-growing regions in Switzerland, she said. Northwest Switzerland suffered the aftermath of the cold snap, which is most important for stone fruits – such as cherries, apricots and plums – as they are in bloom and “thus in a fragile stage”, she said. Several early apple varieties including Gravensteiner and Williams were also affected.

In the Dutch fruit-growing region of Betuwe, farmers spray their plants with water on Saturday night and into the early hours of Sunday morning to ensure a layer of ice protects delicate flowers from sub-zero temperatures.

Last April’s frosts led to what French government officials described as “perhaps the greatest agricultural disaster of the early 21st century”. Similar pattern: an intense frost from April 6 to 8 followed by a prolonged warm period in March.

Researchers from the World Weather Attribution team studied the effects of the 2021 frosts on winegrowing regions with many Champagne vineyards, France’s Loire Valley and Burgundy, and found that March’s warmth caused it’s especially serious.

The researchers concluded that warming caused by anthropogenic emissions caused trees to sprout young leaves early, before an arctic cold hit Europe in April.

However, cold weather isn’t bad news for everyone. In the town of Winterswijk, central Netherlands, skaters took part in Sundays on the ice at the local skating club. “This is unique: Ice skating naturally in April,” the club’s “ice master,” Hendrik ten Prooije, told local network Omroep Gelderland.


Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands contributed

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