French winemakers' extreme measures to protect crops

Helicopters and fire used to protect delicate buds from early May frosts

Winemakers across France have been forced to resort to extreme measures to protect their crops and livelihoods as the country falls into the grip of a late-Spring cold snap.

Château d'Arsac, in the Médoc, resorted to helicopters to protect its 110 hectares of crops. Bosses hired three choppers to fly low for more than an hour on Sunday over the crop to warm the air in the vines. It will be a few days before they will know if their efforts have worked.

"We had to do it," Philippe Raoux, owner of Château d'Arsac, told news website 20 Minutes. "At 6:22 this morning [Sunday], it was -2°C and the three helicopters did their job well, even though the effectiveness of the operation will not be measured for three to four days.

Two years ago, the estate lost 90% of its harvest when five days of frost ravaged vineyards across large parts of the country.

"We didn't hesitate because we didn't harvest in 2017, we didn't want to take any risks," Mr Raoux said.

"It's scary, for the last four or five years, we've had a sword of Damocles over our heads because of the climate change and there's not much we can do about it."

He was not alone. Numerous wine-making colleagues also took extreme measures to protect their crops.

Several vineyards in the Bergerac wine region of Dordogne lit fires between their vines in a bid to keep the frost off.

"These periods of spring frost are a real anguish for me," Sylvie de Bosredon of Château Belingard de Pomport, told France Bleu. "A time of panic, of terror. We don't want to relive what we experienced two years ago, in 2017, when we lost all our crops because of the frost."

Meanwhile, in the Alsace region, winemakers wasted no time preparing for the late arctic blast. As temperatures dipped, they laid down straw bales to set on fire in case the mercury fell below zero and threatened to freeze grape buds.

"If the sun hits frozen buds, there will be a magnifying effect, it will then burn. The harvest may be compromised," Thibault Specht, a winegrower in Mittelwihr, told France 3.

Like wine growers in the southwest, many vintners in the Alsace were badly affected by late frosts in 2017.

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