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Yet More Hail Woes for France

Storm clouds gather again for French vineyards
© Fotolia | Storm clouds gather again for French vineyards
The hits just keep on coming for French growers as another wine region is devastated by hail.

The latest hail victims in the French vineyards are located in the south where a violent hailstorm, with very high winds, hit late Sunday afternoon.

A total of 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of agricultural land – mainly vineyards – are said to be affected. The two wine regions worst hit are Malepère, west of Carcassonne and Minervois, between Carcassonne and Narbonne. Parts of Corbières were also in the hail zone.

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Weather in Languedoc-Roussillon this summer has veered from one extreme to the other. It started out unseasonably dry and hot, with concerns about drought. Vintage is expected to start very early in mid-August, making this a potentially disastrous time in the vines' development for storms to hit.

After a visit to one of the producers in the affected area, the director of the local Chamber of Agriculture, Philippe Vergnes, described the situation as “a catastrophe, a cataclysm”. He pointed out that one quarter of the vineyards in the Aude department (one of the most-planted parts of France) was hit. Only an estimated 10-15 percent of producers have hail insurance.

At the main wine cooperative in Malepère – whose members own around 1000 hectares – about half the vines are estimated to be severely damaged.

Jérome Despey, the president of the wine advisory section for Agrimer (the French agricultural ministry) commented that there had been a growing phenomenon of storms in the past few years and no region had been spared.

Despey expects there to be another drop in French wine production this year, leading to supply problems. In recent years bad weather conditions have led to the smallest production levels ever experienced. There has been an estimated 22 percent drop in volumes in France between 2002 and 2013.

Hail also hit the vineyards of Lavaux in Switzerland’s Vaud canton on Sunday, while eastern French wine regions suffered storms that caused some localized hail, flooding and high winds.

Northern Bordeaux, Cognac and La Clape in the Languedoc all suffered devastating hailstorms recently, while producers in Burgundy are still reeling after the severe hailstorm 10 days ago, which damaged around 3000 hectares (7400 acres).

It was the third consecutive year that the same zone in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or has suffered hailstorms and, last week, producers called on local government for assistance.

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