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Hail wreaks havoc in the vineyards of DO Ribeiro in northwest Spain

Winemakers in Gomaríz have been assessing vineyards for damage and counting the costs of lost crops. Adrian McManus reports...

On Tuesday 31 August, on the eve of harvest, a hailstorm struck one of Spain’s oldest wine regions. Javier González Vázquez, owner of Casal de Armán, told Decanter that some growers had reported losses of up to 70%. He added that everything now depended on the evolution of the vines which had suffered the most structural damage.

Other winemakers spoke of a very close shave. ‘The fact that I had fallen back on shoot-tipping and re-training work in the vineyard kind of saved the day. Excess growth bore the brunt and acted as a shield of sorts which luckily saved most of the fruit,’ said Galicia’s only Demeter-certified producer, Iago Garrido of Fazenda Agrícola Augalevada.

‘To tell the truth I was more worried about all the water that came with it, with harvest being so close. It’s just a waiting game now,’ he told Decanter on Wednesday 1 September.

Much harder hit was Xose Lois Sebio, winemaker at Coto de Gomariz and his own project Viños de Encostas. ‘I hardly had time to get the car into the garage,’ he said. ‘A half hour of sustained pounding from hailstones the size of grapes practically destroyed a whole year’s work.

‘Despite a complicated summer with rain, wildly oscillating temperatures – from 36℃ to 24℃ on the same morning for example – we were looking forward to a very good yield this year. Thirty minutes of freak weather versus nine months of hard graft doesn’t seem to be fair at all, but that’s the world we choose to inhabit,’ he added.

Pilar Higuero of Lagar de Sabaríz, another biodynamic producer, spoke of the virulent and aggressive nature of the storm: ‘It was 30 minutes of absolute hell that seemed like 30 years.’ A total of 4,000kg of grapes were lost at Lagar de Sabaríz and Higuero lamented the fact that only wineries under the umbrella of DO Ribeiro had proper access to compensation funds following natural catastrophes of this type.

‘Just like everyone else that’s making wine here, we pay our taxes, have families to feed and our children’s schooling to take care of, so this discriminatory policy is completely unfair. If you can detect a certain salinity in Galician wines, just think of it as tears shed by ethical winemakers and growers on days like this,’ she said.

Technicians from EVEGA (Estación de Viticultura e Enoloxía de Galicia) were already on the ground yesterday offering advice to DO members on the different antifungal and pest management applications available to winemakers. They will continue to monitor the situation in the days to come.

Galicia’s regional government also stressed the importance of investing in agricultural insurance as a way of mitigating the losses incurred after hailstorms, hard frosts, Asian hornets and fungal diseases such as mildew, oidium, black rot and botrytis.

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