Two months of rainfall in just three hours has caused extreme flooding in France's Languedoc region, prompting concerns about damage to vineyards during the 2014 harvest.

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Image credit: Midi-Libre

Officials have declared 73 communes in the Herault area of Languedoc, near to Montpellier, as disaster zones after what weather body Meteo France described as the region’s worst flooding for 60 years.

Entire vineyards have been submerged in some places, although it is hoped many have already picked their grapes for the 2014 vintage. The regional chamber of agriculture was still assessing damage on Tuesday night (30 September).

There have been conflicting damage reports so far. Around 200 winemakers and farmers have been affected according to Jerome Despey, president of the wine section of FranceAgrimer and a winemaker in the Hérault. He said some vineyards and farmland were under water, and so still inaccessible to fully assess damage.

In some of the worst-hit communes, such as Saint-Pargoire, Plessan and Belarga, dozens of hectares of vines have been entirely washed away, he added.

However, he also said that many winemakers in Herault had already finished picking. It is estimated that only 15% of vines were still to be harvested in the area.

Pierre-Yves Rouille, director of cave cooperative the Marseillan, told Decanter.com that the warehouses saw between 10-15cm of water, but that it didn’t reach the tanks, and around 90% of the 250 winemakers had finished harvesting at the weekend.

‘Luckily the weather forecast had warned us that flooding was on its way. We may have brought a few plots in four or five days earlier than we would have ideally liked, but overall only around 25 hectares of vines were affected. Things could have been much worse.’

Earlier flooding around 18 September across the Languedoc-Roussillon region had already caused localised disruption to the harvest and caused around €22m worth of estimated damage.

Sixty communes were still on orange alert on Tuesday night, although the fiercest of the storms seemed to have abated. Around 4,000 people spent at least one night in railway stations, local gymnasiums and schools after being stranded by rapidly rising water levels.

French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced he would visit the region.

Written by Jane Anson