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Hail Crushes Hopes for Bumper Burgundy Vintage

Volnay's vineyards have been ravaged by hail
© Amanda Regan | Volnay's vineyards have been ravaged by hail
Hail has once more devastated the vineyards of Burgundy, leaving growers worried about their livelihoods.

High hopes for a good vintage in Burgundy have been dashed by fierce hail storms that have devastated vineyards between Aloxe Corton and Chagny in the Côte de Beaune.

Growers reported “machine-gun” hail that lasted a mere three minutes on Saturday, but may have damaged as much as 80 percent of the crop in some vineyards. At this stage, officials said that losses were between 40 and 80 percent of vines in the Santenay, Meursault, Volnay and Pommard appellations.

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After two poor vintages, wineries in Burgundy were praying for a good crop this year and all had been going well. Fine weather, warm temperatures and judicious rain had the vineyards in ideal condition for a crop that should have been high in both quantity and quality.

Last year hailstorms wiped out as much as 60 percent of the vintage. This year even the use of 33 “hail cannons”, which fire silver iodide into the clouds to dissolve the hailstones, failed to protect the vines. The president of the association representing Pommard growers, Jean-Louis Moissenet, said the storm was “a catastrophe”.

"It's a disaster. We were gearing up for a good year, but now it's gone by the board."

Pommard and northern neighbor Beaune were the worst-hit appellations, with 30-70 percent of vines affected in southern Pommard and 70-90 percent in the north. In Beaune, not a single vineyard was left untouched, although damage varied from as low as 10 percent to as much as 90 percent.

Cécile Mathiaud of the BIVB regional association has said it is too early to determine or confirm any statistics. Growers had to wait to carry out restorative spraying against damage and diseases until the vines have dried out sufficiently.

Hosts of the annual “Elegance des Volnays” festival were celebrating the 10th anniversary of the event in the vineyards and serving their wines when the hail struck. Pierre Boillot of Domaine Lucien Boillot & Fils in Gevrey Chambertin, who also has vineyards in Volnay, held a bunch of desiccated grapes in his hand. His immediate assessment was 30 percent lost and he feared worse was to come. 

Hail has been the bane of French wine producers with brutal storms carving a swath through Bordeaux, Cognac and Languedoc this year. Losses have reached hundreds of millions of dollars in an industry where 70 percent of growers are not insured for weather events.

At Bordeaux' Fête du Vin, Saturday evening's events, including a major firework display held at the quayside, also had to be cancelled due to a severe weather alert.

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