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Frost damage in vineyards linked to climate change – study

Weather patterns linked to climate change have made severe frost damage in French vineyards more likely, suggests new research by a group of leading scientists. 

Global warming and sub-zero temperatures may not seem related, but new analysis suggests that ‘human-caused climate change’ made this year’s damaging spring frosts in French vineyards more likely.

That’s according to research involving scientists from a range of institutions, including France’s national scientific research institute, CNRS, and the University of Oxford.

Climate change has led to warmer winters, creating an earlier start to the growing season in general, said the report, published in June 2021 as part of the World Weather Attribution initiative

‘The consequence is that vineyards grow and mature faster now, but this leaves them more exposed to eventual colder snaps,’ said Robert Vautard, senior scientist at CNRS.

Vines are particularly vulnerable after bud burst, which is also taking place earlier, said the authors, who based their analysis on data from Champagne, the Loire Valley and Burgundy.  

‘Our study is a good example of the fact that climate change affects the whole climate system,’ said Friederike Otto, associate director at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. 

‘Global warming is affecting the way plants and animals behave,’ said Nicolas Viovy, senior scientist at France’s Atomic and alternative energy commission (CEA), as well as at the Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace.

‘If climate change gets worse, these changes will worsen too. This will create challenges for farmers, the wine industry, and wine lovers everywhere.’

However, not all grape varieties grow to the same schedule. Some are known for a later bud burst, potentially giving them more protection.

And not all winemakers agree that bud burst is necessarily happening significantly earlier on a regular basis. 

A vineyard’s particular location within a wine region can affect its vulnerability to frost, too.  

There are a number of ways for winemakers to fight against frost during high-risk periods, from candles, fans and sprinklers to helicopters. 

Some research has found links between climate change and a growing frequency of extreme weather events in general.

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