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Record cold spell: France fears crop damage, but spring to return

Winemakers fear that record-breaking freezing temperatures over the weekend may have caused damage to vines

A vineyard covered in frost and wintry weather

Freezing temperatures and frost can wreak havoc on vines Pic: Juergen Bauer Pictures / Shutterstock

Winemakers in France are waiting to discover if the recent cold snap has damaged their vines, as temperatures hit record lows over the weekend – but warmer weather is on the way this week.

The record for the coldest April night since 1947 was broken over the weekend, said forecaster Meteo France, after the mercury descended to -9C in the Champagne-Ardenne region (Grand Est) on Sunday night (April 3). 

Temperatures dropped to freezing or below across the entire country over the weekend, except for in central Paris, and at the coastlines along the Channel and Mediterranean.

Météo France forecaster Patrick Galois said: “It froze in more than 90% of the country and it was more intense in some areas. There was a sharp drop in temperatures overnight but it is now heating up quickly.”

Records were broken in Mourmelon (Marne, -9.3C), Châteauroux (Indre, -5.6C) and Vannes (Morbihan, -3.2C).

Electricity network managing company RTE even  issued a statement asking people to “moderate their consumption” of electricity today, as increased heating demands would likely put a strain on the country’s already “tense” national grid.

Read more: Why people in France are urged not to do their washing today 

Winemakers: ‘It was just too cold’

Winemakers across France now fear that the cold snap may have damaged their vines.

Temperatures plummeted to -3C to -7C in Bordeaux. President of the AOC of Bordeaux area, Stéphane Gabard, warned that these temperatures would be too low for the vines. He said: “From -2C, we already see damage.”

President of producers’ association la FNSEA, Christiane Lambert, told Le Figaro: “It's very serious, it hit hard last night. There are many affected regions such as Dordogne, Burgundy, Alsace, Centre-Val de Loire, Lot-et-Garonne, Maine-et-Loire…”

She added: "We will need support [from the state] because there is a catastrophe to be declared.”

‘Too early to tell’

Yet, it is “still too early” to say if permanent damage has been done.

Ms Lambert continued: “We cannot yet make an assessment because the damage is visible when it thaws.”

Jean-Francois Galhaud, president of le Conseil des Vins de Saint-émilion, said: “The buds were just beginning to open. We will only have an idea of the damage caused when all the buds are out.”

The damage could be less severe than last year, as the buds did not come out too early this season, in contrast to 2021.

Mr Galhaud said: “Last year, the buds came out a fortnight early. This year, the vegetation cycle has been normal. But we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves, we won't know more for a few weeks.”

Winemaker Romain Garrigue told France 3: “We fear there will be another night of frost, so we have more dues to pay. [But] we will fight to the end.”

Protective measures

Another producer, Christophe Château, said: “Many winemakers anticipated the freeze, by pruning their vines late, and working the land less to allow heat to be retained.”

In Alsace, producers lit paraffin crop candles in a bid to keep temperatures high enough.

But some producers say that they were not able to save their crops, especially those who do not have the means to protect their entire property. 

Valérie Arnathaud, said: “I thought I had saved part of my crop, as it is near a wood that protects it, but the night was just too cold.”

Daniel Dettling, a producer in Alsace, only has enough crop candles for one of his 16 hectares. He said: “We cannot protect everything, we physically don’t have the means, and it’s financially impossible.”

Tree farmers growing stone fruits were also severely affected, the FNSEA said.

Warmer temperatures on the way

Thankfully, the cold temperatures seen over the weekend will be the “last night of cold for the next few weeks”, Météo France said, and warmer temperatures are on the way. 

The forecaster explained that the very cold, thin air dissipates quickly as soon as the sun comes up, and takes very little time to lift.

While temperatures are now set to rise to between 11-15C across the country,this is likely to bring some rainfall, especially in the Alps and Grand Est, where 15 centimetres of rain are expected to fall in a few days.

In the southeast, temperatures are expected to hit 20C at the end of the week – but wind and humidity mean “it may not feel that nice”, said forecaster Gilles Matricon.

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