Frost makes farmers fretful. As the English climate changes, we have found that early warmth triggers an early budburst. This year we again had budburst in the first week of April.
This seems like a good thing – and it is, as it starts the growing season – but it also makes vineyards vulnerable to late frosts. T.S Eliot was right, ‘April is the cruellest month’: its frosts can devastate vineyards by freezing the emerging buds and tender shoots. Sadly Champagne has already been hit this year reporting losses of 20% to 50%, and now the weathermen are forecasting frosts for England. Some vineyards have already suffered.
There is very little that can be done. Some vineyards light candles in the vineyard which sometimes works, but sometimes doesn’t. Others spray the shoots with water or something similar to protect them under ice. Californians use huge frost-busting fans like wind turbines and Australians use helicopters to circulate the air.
This week we will be watching the thermometer slide and hoping it stops before zero. Although the steep slopes of our vineyard encourage frost to roll off and leave the vine shoots unharmed, it’s a tense time. Our weather station sends alarms to our mobiles so if it gets too chilly we will go and move air around. This is usually at 3am. Who needs sleep?