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article imageFrance: Burgundy vineyards 'machine-gunned' by hailstorm

By Robert Myles     Jun 30, 2014 in World
Pommard - Hailstones like “bursts of machine-gun fire” laid waste to large parts of one of France’s leading wine regions, the Burgundy vineyards, at the weekend.
On Saturday, Burgundy's Côte de Beaune region, home to a host of fine appellations such as Santenay, Meursault and Pommard was pummelled by hailstones some the size of golf-balls.
Burgundy is one of France’s most important wine-growing regions producing some of the most expensive wines in the world. Stretching from Auxerre in the North to Mâcon in the south, Burgundy is no stranger to unpredictable weather with rain, hail and frost all possible around harvest time. But the weekend hailstorm was exceptional.
One Pommard wine-grower, Anne Parent, told the Daily Telegraph, “It was like a machine-gun attack.”
But the hailstorm that left such vast oenological devastation lasted a mere three minutes.
Another prominent wine-grower, Jean-Louis Moissenet, whose vineyards are famed for production of a range of Pommard (Côte-d'Or), Premier Cru, described a “desolate landscape,” despite a number of vineyards having deployed anti-hail generators earlier this month.
Moissenet told Sud-Ouest the ground was covered with grapes knocked off their vines by the staccato of hail. Vine foliage had been shredded and even the vines themselves had taken a bruising.
Crop losses in some Pommard vineyards were put at between 50 and 90 percent, “Even worse than last year,” lamented Moissenet.
2014 will be the third consecutive year vineyards in the Côte d’Or department, centred on Dijon, and comprising a host of premium appellations like Nuits-St. Georges and Gevrey-Chambertin have fallen victim to violent hailstorms.
Saturday, around 4.30 p.m. hail fell in a swathe across Côte-d'Or, scything grapes on the vine between Beaune and Santenay. With this being the third year in a row the weather has played havoc with Burgundy’s viticulture, the economic consequences for some wine-growers could be terminal.
In efforts to protect southern Burgundy’s vines, thirty hail-busting silver iodide cannons had been put in place across the region in early June. This tactic has also been used in the past by winegrowers in another major French wine region, Bordeaux.
The cannon are designed to reduce the number and size of hailstones by firing silver iodide into the atmosphere. The idea is to transform hail into rain. In Burgundy, they appear to have offered little protection from the weekend’s onslaught.
On Saturday, after French meteorological organization Météo France issued the second-highest level orange alert for storms affecting 32 departments across France, the cannon were put into operation for the first time in Burgundy’s vineyards.
Moissenet reflected philosophically that the protection offered by the hail-busters appeared to have been ineffective, adding, “These devices are meant to halve the size of hailstones. Perhaps, without them, we’d have had hailstones twice as big.”
In its monthly report, Météo France describes June 2014 as having been “hot and stormy” in France. The eastern half of the country, part of which comprises the Burgundy vineyards, had experienced extreme heat between June 7 and 14, with temperatures often exceeding 35°C between June 9 and 12.
The June heat, coupled with a wet spring meaning plenty moisture in the ground, held out the prospect of a good wine harvest later this year.
But, in three short minutes, for many Burgundy winegrowers, Saturday’s hail-burst dashed any hope of 2014 being a vintage year.
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