2018 Hailstorm

It may seem that we are always reporting some sort of extreme weather or other, and we wouldn’t want you to get disaster fatigue, so we will try to get some perspective on the latest weather event here in Bordeaux, the hailstorms on 21st and 26th May 2018.

Firstly a look back to last year, where the frosts of April 2017 do count as extreme, being the most severe and widespread for more than 25 years, and given the extent of the damage – for example here at Chollet we lost 56% of the harvest versus our 2016, which was about average. To put that in context, it’s 56% less money and the same cost of production. Many unfortunately lost all.

Back to this year’s hailstorms, whist maybe not extreme, were certainly very serious and of course for those hit is was certainly extreme as the worst affected will suffer 100% crop loss this year, and a follow on maybe 50% next. That is enough to finish off a business that was already suffering, either from loss of income due to the aforementioned frosts or just generally in a precarious financial state – not uncommon outside the prestigious areas of Bordeaux (and occasionally within).

To the facts and figures; officially around 7,100 hectares were damaged (that’s about 17,500 acres or 5% of the entire region’s vineyards), or to put it another way, at normal yields that would equate to around 40 million bottles of wine. Over half of these sustained more than 80% damage, which in reality means no harvest this year, and, again, maybe next depending on the extent of the damage.

The pictures below show the strangely wintry scene in the city of Bordeaux after one of the storms (remember this was the end of May), and below that, one completely hail damaged vine versus a partly damaged one. In a sense, a partly damaged vine is just as much of a pain, as the vineyard workers will spend all year looking after it, only to find the grapes may well not reach maturity due to the damaged foliage.

We were lucky here at Chollet – or, it may be better to say we were not unlucky – the storms here certainly packed a punch but there was no hail. Around 10 minutes from us, around 400 hectares were hit, but the majority of the damage was west of here in a sort of ‘hail alley’ from the Southern Medoc up to the north western appellations of Bourg and Blaye. If you study the map below, you’ll see Bordeaux at the bottom, and the red zones indicate the areas with more than 80% of damage, running roughly NNE from the city, avoiding the major appellations of the Médoc like Pauillac and St Estephe (upper left) and St Emilion (just off the map at the bottom right, close to where we are).

What’s next, we wonder? Well, some sun would be a start, as we are ‘enjoying’ one of the wettest Junes on record. However, the vines seem to be coping OK, albeit looking rather scruffy due to the muddy ground rendering tractor work impossible in between the rows of vine, where weeds and grass are growing at quite a rate – not to mention the frogs which are croaking merrily as they splash around in the puddles.

The biggest risk in these conditions is the spread of mildew which can drastically cut the yield and affect quality. We have seen the first symptom, and whilst not serious yet we really need some decent weather. The current risk evaluation by the dept. for agriculture is not helpful – basically ’threat of epidemic’ – see graphic below. Gulp.

Assuming the weather sort itself out, there’s time for everything to recover before the harvest, but please, pretty please, no more extreme weather!

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