The Daily Telegraph

Chilling news for champagne lovers as intense frosts threaten vines

- By Olivia Rudgard environmen­t correspond­ent

CHAMPAGNE and burgundy vines are at greater risk of being killed off by frost because of climate change, Oxford University scientists have warned.

A new paper examines the catastroph­ic frosts that hit central France earlier this year, killing more than 80 per cent of plants in some vineyards.

Milder winters mean the growing season starts earlier, leading to a greater risk of budding plants being damaged by spring frosts, the authors said.

The paper concludes that the risk has increased by 60 per cent due to climate change, though different indices produced different results, ranging from a 20 per cent to an 120 per cent rise.

The change was calculated by looking at how often such an event could be expected to occur both with climate change and without.

Exceptiona­lly cold frosts are becoming less common. They would happen every 10 years without climate change and are now expected once every 160 years, the scientists said.

But the intensity of frosts after the start of the growing season has increased, becoming 2C colder.

Like the UK and much of the rest of western Europe, France experience­d a heatwave early in the year, followed by a frost between April 6 and 8. Temperatur­es as low as -5C were recorded in some places, leaving winemakers unable to save plants with heaters.

The cold snap came just a week after record-breaking March highs, meaning leaves and flowers had appeared early and were damaged.

A third of French wine production was lost, leading Julien Denormandi­e, the country’s agricultur­e minister, to call the incident “probably the biggest agricultur­al disaster in the beginning of the 21st century”.

“Growing season frost damage is a potentiall­y extremely costly impact of climate change already damaging the agricultur­al industry,” the study concludes.

First author Robert Vautard, of the French Institut Pierre-simon Laplace, said vineyards would still be viable but growers would have to take mitigating measures. “In the future, these are still rare events. This calls definitely for trying to protect the grapevines, but I do not think this is a threat for the viability of the plants themselves,” he said.

Co-author Friederike Otto, associate director of the Environmen­tal Change Institute at Oxford, said: “Our study is a good example of the fact that climate change affects the whole climate system. Different components, with different magnitudes and rates of change, lead to threats that can be unexpected and go beyond heatwaves, droughts and floods.”

Co-author Nicolas Viovy, senior scientist at the Atomic energy and alternativ­e energies commission and the Institut Pierre-simon Laplace, said: “If climate change gets worse, these changes will worsen too. This will create challenges for farmers, the wine industry, and wine lovers everywhere.”

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