A double whammy for French wine production

The French wine industry has been hit by a double whammy. 2012 production was down and last week the prime wine-growing area in the Burgundy region was smashed by a freak hail storm, completely obliterating the entire harvest from some vineyards across an area of 2,000 hectares.

Burgandy Hail

Burgundy is 7th largest wine producing area in France in terms of volume (2011) but it’s most expensive with an average price of 8.7 Euros per litre compared to 6.3 Euros for wine from Bordeaux.

It was a rare conjunction of two storms, cold air from the north crashed into hot air from the south, which caused an intense 20 minutes of violent hail which pummelled the grapes and bashed the vines. The hail was quickly replaced by heavy rain with several inches of water flooding vineyards from Aloxe- Corton to Volnay in the Burgundy region.

Hail in Burgundy

The storm was so violent that two people caught in the storm were hospitalised; some of the worst affected vineyards could take up to three years to recover.

It’s yet more bad news for the growers in the region. They have had three consecutive small harvests since 2010 and were hoping for their luck to turn in 2013.

The French Ministry of Agriculture reported that up to 40% of vineyards in the Côte de Beaune (which make us about 10% of Burgundy’s annual 200m bottle production) were affected. Crop damage ranged from a manageable 10% to a devastating 100%.

Hail in Burgundy

The Burgundy wine board estimates a loss of more than 4m bottles from some well-known areas including Pommard, Volnay, Monthélie, Beaune and Meursault. One of the worst affected producers is Domaine Coste-Caumartin in Pommard which produces a celebrated premier cru Le Clos des Boucherottes.

More wet weather is predicted which will only exacerbate the situation causing disease and rot in the surviving grapes.grapes_hail

Perhaps not surprisingly given the strong state intervention in France’s agriculture, the French government are rushing to the rescue.  Affected vineyards will be excused from property taxes and the state will take over the health insurance contributions for their employees.

The local government is now looking at aerial defence measures like cloud seeding; dry ice or silver iodide are put in to clouds to weaken storms allowing precipitation to fall as rain rather than hail. It’s a highly controversial move; there are huge costs involved and it’s efficacy and effect on long-term weather patterns are hard to measure.

Sources and further reading:

FT – Burgundy vineyards devastated by storm

rfi English – France compensates Burgundy winemakers hailstorm damage

rfi English – Hail ravages Burgundy vineyards as storms hit France

Daily Mail – Burgundy’s vineyards in crisis as severe hailstorms destroy 90% crop

Decanter – Burgundy to revisit anti-hail measures

Dr Vino – Storms ravage parts of Burgundy

Big Red Diary – Hail in the Cotes

Wine Searcher – Cote de Beaune Ravaged by Storm

France 24 – Hail deals catastrophic damage to Burgundy vines

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