At 7:30 am today 27th April 2017, the temperatures dropped to minus 4.5 degrees C (24 degrees F). We see around us many vineyards devastated by the frost. The vines that had just flowered were frozen.
The last few weeks of really warm weather (up to 27 degrees C), have advanced the vines 12 to 15 days, compared with previous years, making them more vulnerable to the sudden frost.
The morning papers report that in our department of Charente approximately 25,000 hectares of vines have been damaged – in some areas up 80% of the vine flowers have been destroyed.
There is very little the farmers can do to protect their crop against low temperatures. However, from very early morning some farmers tried setting fire to straw bales near their vines to raise the nearby air temperature. Others called in helicopters to fly low over the vines, to create turbulence and avoid cold air staying low on the ground. This managed to increase the temperature by up to 2 degrees. But sadly even these efforts were not sufficient to avoid the extensive damage.
The French farmers as in other parts of Europe believe strongly in the Saints de Glace. The three important are: St Mamert (11 May), St Pancrace (12 May) and St Servais (13 May). They say in France: “Beware, the first of the ice saints, often you will see its trace. Before Saint-Servais, no summer; after Saint-Servais, no more frost.” There are even those who recommend caution planting fragile plants outdoor until 25th May (St Urban) as a frost can occur up to then. They say: “Quand la saint Urbain est passée, le vigneron est rassuré.” When St Urban is passed, the vineyard owners are assured.
Our pretty garden was also touched by the sudden frost. The potato crop is partially frozen and the lovely lagerstroemia that was so kindly given to us last autumn by Michel and his wife is frozen.
Our hydrangea is well protected against a stone wall, but some of its leaves are badly damaged.
A few other more fragile flowers and plants have also suffered, but my heart goes to the farmers that for the last twelve months have laboured really hard in their vineyards and have overnight lost so much.