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Rain in southern Rhône kills 13 [updated 10 Sept]

Thirteen people have been killed as a result of torrential rain in the southern Rhône Valley.

Sixty centimetres of water have fallen in just 12 hours on Uzes in the Gard departement, the area worst hit. Orange, just north of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is an island, cut off by floods. A woman has been killed there, as well as another person in the nearby Côtes du Rhône village of Camaret. Eight people have lost their lives in the Gard. According to reports a further seven people are missing. One village is completely under water.

The rain started on the night of Sunday 8 September. It had been forecast, so some growers were clearing any vulnerable cellars and bottle stocks through the night.

The autoroute at Nîmes was cut off for four hours with water at the top of the safety barriers. Daniel Brunier of Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe said, ‘We’ve had 14 inches (35cm) of rain in two days, the vineyards are lakes, we haven’t brought in a single grape yet. If it could be dry for two days, we might be able to pick the white grapes. But the dilution this year will be severe, obviously.’

A few growers at Châteauneuf-du-Pape had started to pick their white crop, but the Grenache now becomes the last hope for 2002, with the Syrah looking poor. Gigondas has been hit, but less severely than Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Gard incidents bode ill for Costières de Nîmes and for many of the Côtes du Rhône wines that use its fruity Syrah as a mainstay.

The flooding is so severe most growers can’t get to their vineyards to assess the damage. All are hoping that the sunny weather forecast for today and tomorrow actually arrives.

Frederic Albar, patron of Hotel-Restaurant La Mere Germaine in the centre of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, one of the worst-affected villages, said, ‘Imagine a storm that just keeps going for 24 hours – massive rain, rolls of thunder, lightning, and then the same again and again. We took in people lost on the road, and the village opened the main function hall to house more of them. Some of the roads have been ripped up and any low-lying vineyard is full of new ravines.’

  • Later this afternoon the weather relented somewhat and some growers have been able to start picking white grapes. The higher-standing villages are in the best shape.

    In St-Victor-la-Coste, Luc Pelaquie of Domaine Pelaquie said, ‘There are no floods here. The area a little north around Bagnols has been worse hit. We had over 30 centimetres over the past two days, but will be able to start picking some white grapes tomorrow. The challenge is to bring in acceptably ripe grapes. We’re still waiting on the Roussanne, while the Grenache has best resisted the weather so far. We had rain at the end of August, so there was a touch of rot from that before all of this.’

    Denis Alary of Domaine Daniel & Denis Alary at Cairanne said he had been picking today. He added he welcomed the 40-60km/h Mistral because it would dry the grapes and stop the danger of rot.

    Written by John Livingstone-Learmonth10 September 2002

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