At least a third of French wine production worth almost £1.7bn in sales will be lost this year after rare freezing temperatures devastated many vines and fruit crops across France, reports The Guardian.

“This is probably the greatest agricultural catastrophe of the beginning of the 21st century,” the French agriculture minister, Julien Denormandie, said this week as the government declared an “agricultural disaster” and began preparing emergency financial measures.

The unseasonal wave of bitter frost and ice hit suddenly after a bout of warm weather, which worsened the damage. The warmth had encouraged vines and fruit trees to develop earlier than usual, only to be withered by the sudden cold. The destruction has hit a swathe of France, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and Provence, damaging vines but also hitting growers of kiwis, apricots, apples and other fruit as well as crops such as beet and rapeseed.

Wine-makers tried to save the crops by lighting thousands of small fires and candles at the vineyards, however these attempts had little effect.

“There were still some green shoots but then the snow came. It was catastrophic. Currently, we’re looking at 100% loss on this year’s harvest. We’ll know in a month if anything has survived,” Michel-Henri Ratte, a winemaker from Jura told The Guardian. “We live close to nature, we’re used to dealing with changing weather, but we were damaged by cold snaps in 2017 and 2019. For it to be happening every two years, and for weather to be going swiftly from very hot to very cold, raises questions about climate change. It wasn’t normal cold, it was a polar cold, much more intense than usual.”