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Burgundy winemakers go hi-tech in fight against hail

Burgundy vineyards could soon be protected from devastating hail storms by technology that supporters say can control weather patterns in the skies above.

Hailstorms caused havoc in parts of Burgundy last year, notably Pommard and Volnay.

Burgundy’s new regional association for the study and fight against atmospheric issues, or ARELFA for short, is seeking funding from producers to employ the technology in vineyards.

The move follows several years of severe hail storms in Burgundy, with Volnay alone receiving six major outbursts since 2001 and several winemakers losing 90% or more of their crop on at least one occasion.

The Cote de Beaune and the Cote Chalonnaise have been the worst affected areas, according to Thiébault Huber, president of ARELFA, as well as president of the Volnay wine syndicat.

Philippe Garrey, from AOC Mercurey, is association vice-president and told decanter.com that, while no system was 100% failsafe, this offers the best chance of success within a reasonable budget.

‘We had looked at anti-hail rockets, but they are prohibitively expensive, and are not attractive, so were considered to run contrary to the UNESCO candidature for the Burgundian vineyards,’ Garrey said.

Attention has now switched to ground generators that cause tiny particles of silver iodide or copper acetylacetone to rise to the clouds above, where they stop the formation of hail stones.

‘Tests suggest they can limit the ferocity of hail storms by 50%,’ says Garrey. ‘At the moment, we can’t do better.’

The association wants to raise €100,000 for 2014 and plans to install 34 generators, one every 10 kilometres along the Cote de Beaune and Haut-Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise and Couchois by the end of May this year. That would protect 9,000 hectares of vines.

Unless funding is found from outside sources, such as insurance companies, individual wine growers will be expected to pay €10 per hectare via their local unions.

Written by Jane Anson

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