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Freak hail storm hits Napa Valley vineyards

Hail stones the size of walnuts peppered north California over the weekend, causing bewilderment and consternation among Napa Valley winemakers.

Freak hail storms struck the Napa Valley on Sunday 11 June.

hail walnuts

Some reports told of hail stones the size of walnuts. Credit: Wiki Commons

Thunderstorms brought lightning, wind, rain and hail—as well as snow in the Sierras—and temperatures fell by as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Some observers in the Bay Area reported hail stones the size of walnuts.

Such weather is distinctly unusual for this time of year and it caught many winemakers by surprise.

‘This was the most intense hailstorm we have seen in our 31 years on this property’, said Carole Meredith, of Lagier Meredith, who grows varieties including Zinfandel, Mondeuse and Syrah on Mount Veeder.

Lagier Meredith survived with only torn leaves, and no damage to fruit or shoots, but not everybody was so fortunate.

Daniel Ricciato, who manages grower relations and quality control across Northern California for consultant winemaker Thomas Brown, said there had been ‘about 5% damage in Beckstoffer To Kalon’ — where grapes sell for as much as $35,000 per ton.

Turley Wine Cellars was among the hardest hit. Its winemaker and vineyard manager, Tegan Passalacqua, estimated losses as severe as 50-70 % in some parcels.

In Oakville, Graeme MacDonald cautiously estimated his losses at around 10%. ‘We’ll thin off any damaged fruit’, he said.

Others fared better.

‘It seems variable based on factors such as row direction and canopy coverage, but so far it seems like we have been quite lucky,’ Harlan Estate’s Cory Empting told Decanter.com.

Shredded canopies and damaged fruit on Atlas Peak Turley Wine Cellars

Shredded canopies and damaged fruit. Credit: Turley Wine Cellars / Tegan Passalacqua.

Dunn Vineyards on Howell Mountain was also largely spared. ‘Leaves weren’t damaged, but some of our Cabernet Sauvignon hadn’t finished flowering, so we’ll see what the consequences are down the line,’ said Mike Dunn.

The story was the same at Kongsgaard on Atlas Peak, and at Spottswoode in St. Helena, where Aron Weinkauf saw damage to ‘neither leaves nor clusters, even on our most exposed Sauvignon Blanc’.

In Carneros, the hail storm was very brief and similarly did ‘no damage at all’, according to Stéphane Vivier, of Hyde de Villaine.

Editing by Chris Mercer.

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