NEWSA sea of fire against the frost in spring

A sea of fire against the frost in spring

With unusual measures against unusual cold in April: French winegrowers from Bordeaux to the Loire are currently fighting the frost with thousands of candles and small fires between their plants. As local authorities announced over the weekend, the fires covered rural areas with plumes of smoke, especially in the southeast of the country.

FRANCE (Reims/Dijon/Bordeaux) – Small fires to mitigate frosts between vines and fruit trees, burning bales of straw and tree trunks in addition to candles, are a time-honored method used by farmers. Some vintners also use wind machines to drive away the cold, even helicopters are used. Last week’s nights saw the thermometer drop well below freezing in many wine regions – according to industry associations, 80 percent of French vineyards are currently affected by frost.

The winegrowers expect a “very low” harvest this year and are already talking about one of the most severe frost periods of the past centuries. However, it will take another ten days or so before vintners have an overview of the status of their vines and can give a reliable forecast for the grape harvest. “It was particularly devastating because the pervasive night frost came through after an unusually warm week – in some cases with a difference of more than 30 degrees Celsius within ten days,” informs the Bordeaux Wine Association (CIVB) on request.

Due to the many fires, strong smoke clouds developed above all in the central Loire region and also in the Rhône wine-growing region, which were driven further by winds. The air quality monitoring authorities issued an air pollution warning due to the smoke development in the affected areas, which also affected the city of Lyon, among others. The farmers were acting legally, but alternatives to the fires still needed to be discussed, they said.

Changing with the times

One gets the impression – nothing is normal anymore in times of climate change. Spring frosts are actually quite common, but tend to occur in early May, when temperatures usually drop to -1°C to -2°C. This year, however, spring frosts occurred in early April, when temperatures dropped to -5°C to -7°C, causing severe damage to young shoots.

In addition to the Loire and Rhône wine regions, severe frosts were not only experienced in colder regions such as Burgundy and Champagne, but warmer regions such as Bordeaux and Jura also reported sensitive frosts. The CIVB is still “assessing the damage” but already confirms that this spring’s frosts will have a “serious impact on the 2021 harvest.”

Frost in vineyards, fire as protection
To protect the shoots from frost, fires cross vast areas of France’s wine regions. (Photo: Aurélien Ibanez/Adobe Stock

It’s not over yet

In general, the impact of frost on different grape varieties is variable, depending on the growth cycle, with early-growing varieties generally most affected by frost because the young shoots have already sprouted. In Burgundy, where the white variety Chardonnay and the red variety Pinot Noir are mainly grown, winemakers said that plants with Chardonnay suffered badly, because of its early budding and already large areas of young buds froze. Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is a late bloomer and some of the vines had not yet developed young shoots, so these plants were predominantly less affected by the frost.

Vintners and their helpers will continue to be vigilant as the weather forecast continues to predict low temperatures for the coming week. Looking back, the last time a severe frost damaged shoots in such a way was in April 2017, which subsequently resulted in a very low crop. Further frost damage was suffered in 2016 and 2019, although not to the same extent as in 2017. “The current frosts could lead to record damage,” the CIVB fears.

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