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‘Unprecedented’ hailstorm hits Bordeaux vineyards

A fierce hailstorm has torn through thousands of hectares of vineyards around Bordeaux, creating uncertainty in some areas for the prospects of the young 2018 vintage. .

One of the worst hailstorms in recent memory struck Bordeaux vineyards on the night of Saturday 26 May.

Headlines so far:

  • 7,000 hectares affected after hailstorms on 21 and 26 May;
  • Côtes de Bourg and Blaye worst hit, with southern Médoc and Pessac also reporting partial damage;
  • Wine union calls for urgent financial reforms in agriculture sector to help winemakers adapt to extreme weather caused by climate change.

Early damage reports found that hailsones fell on 7,100 hectares of vines, said Bordeaux’s federation of ‘grand vins’ (FGVB).

Of this area, 3,400 hectares of vineyard saw more than 80% of vines hit, ‘compromising the 2018 harvest and, for some, also the 2019 vintage’, said the FGVB.

Vines in Pessac-Léognan were among the first hit, although damage assessments were still being conducted on Tuesday (29 May) and the region looked to have escaped more lightly than some other areas.

Even so, Château Brown saw ‘approximately 50% to 70%’ of its vines at least partially hit, according to its director, Jean-Christophe Mau.

The storm’s ferocity appeared to have increased by the time it moved north and crossed the Gironde estuary.

In Côtes de Bourg, 2,500 hectares – or nearly 40% of the appellation – was affected. In the Blaye appellation, 1,000 hectares of vines were destroyed, according to initial estimates.

After losses due to the spring frost of 2017, some Bordeaux growers will again face a complicated vintage in 2018.

‘The intensity of the storm is unprecedented,’ said Pierre-Henri Cosyns, winemaker in Bourg and owner of Château Grand Launay. ‘The next day, the ice had still not completely melted.’

Before hitting Bourg and Blaye, hailstones hit parts of southern Médoc, including the vineyards of Château d’Agassac, among other estates, and the communes of Parempuyre, Ludon-Médoc and Macau.

Around 1,200 hectares of Médoc vineyards were damaged, with approximately 400ha sustaining more than 80% damage to vines, said the FGVB.

‘It is our plots located to the east, near the estuary, that are severely affected,’ said Jean-Luc Zell, the director of Château d’Agassac in Ludon-Médoc.

‘The danger for us is now the risks of ‘coulure’ (when partially-formed berries dry up) and the quality of wood for next year. We’re going to have to make a decision about whether to prune the vines or leave them as they are,’ he told Decanter.com.

Château Cantemerle said on Facebook that it was also among those affected, along with Château La Lagune, albeit to a lesser extent.

Wine bodies said that they were considering how to help owners left in difficulty. French officials also promised support.

The FGVB linked a rise in extreme weather events in Bordeaux in recent years with climate change. It called on the government to reform the agriculture sector, especially in terms of fiscal policy, to better sustain growers in the face of such challenges.

Weather forecasters have warned that more storms may be on the way.

Bordeaux is not the only region to have been affected; Cognac, and also Luberon and Languedoc, have all seen recent strong storms.

Extreme weather is becoming the new normal, warn leading science bodies

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