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Burgundy winemakers trial anti-hail nets

Burgundy's wine council, the BIVB, is overseeing trials of nets in the region's vineyards as a way of defending vines from hailstorms.

Hail in Volnay in late June. Picture credit: Daniel Etienne Defaix, Volnay

A handful of vineyards are working on the project with the BIVB, after anti-hail cannons failed to prevent recent heavy storm damage in Pommard, Volnay, Mersault and Beaune for the third consecutive year.

Up to 5,000 hectares of vines across Burgundy were affected by deluges of hail late last month, according to officials.
Only 30% of producers in the region have insurance that could cover the damage, according to the BIVB’s estimates, and many winemakers have asked the government for financial support.

‘We’ve been looking to see what could be done around the nets,’ said the BIVB’s Cecile Mathiaud.

Nets are already employed effectively in some other wine regions, notably in hail-prone Mendoza in Argentina.

But, as Decanter.com columnist Andrew Jefford noted, there are concerns that tightly-meshed nets could block out a crucial amount of sunshine in Burgundy.

Jasper Morris MW, Burgundy wine buyer for Berry Bros & Rudd and Decanter World Wine Awards Regional Chair for Burgundy, believes there are many unanswered questions.

‘Would one net the vines for the whole of the danger period – several months – which might well have an adverse effect on the microclimate? Or would one rush out to put a net on a prized patch every time the weather forecast threatened?’ Morris wrote in a blog post for Berry Bros.

At the BIVB, Mathiaud said nets would have to be approved by France’s national appellation body, INAO, before coming into general use. ‘Things can move quickly if everyone is agreed,’ she said.

But, it may be too late to ease concerns about wine supplies from some of the worst-hit areas. ‘We have lost the equivalent of two harvests over the last three years,’ said Thiebault Huber, of Domaine Huber-Verdereau and president of the Volnay Wine Council.

Mathiaud added that areas of Burgundy not badly affected by hail were still heading for a good-sized harvest in 2014.

Read more about the repercussions of Burgundy’s third straight year of hail damage in the September issue of Decanter magazine, out on 7 August.

Written by Chris Mercer

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