Burgundy vineyards face storm catastrophe

Prime region still reeling from hail damage last year, plus spring floods

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 July, 2013, 3:19am


Violent hailstorms have lacerated vineyards in a prestigious part of the Burgundy wine region, causing what local winemakers have described as "catastrophic" damage to this year's crop.

A strip of vineyards in the Beaune region were lashed by hailstorms and winds in a violent downpour on Tuesday afternoon, causing major damage in an area that covers four or five key wine-growing villages including Pommard and Volnay, prized for well-known and expensive crus. The worst-hit risk losing 90 per cent of their crops.

It's awful to see these vines ripped by hail and several years of wine growers' work destroyed by the weather in one afternoon

"It's awful to see these vines ripped by hail and several years of wine growers' work destroyed by the weather in one afternoon," said Xavier de Volontat, head of France's independent winemakers after the storms.

The local trade body said all the Cote de Beaune appellation area, which stretches for about 20 kilometres, was affected.

Burgundy, alongside Bordeaux, is one of France's two classic, best-known wine-producing regions. It is a big export area, currently prized by the Asian market, and produces some of the more expensive wines in France. The same area was hit by hail last year, causing high losses. This spring had also seen poor weather for local wine-growers, including flooding.

Jasper Morris, Burgundy director at wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd in London, said: "Four or five villages have all suffered. Some of them produce some pretty prestigious wines that may sell at £50 (HK$595) a bottle retail. It will affect this year's crop." He warned that around 75-90 per cent of this year's fruit in the worst hit of those village areas could have been lost.

"Locally, this is a disaster. For the industry as a whole it's bad news, but it's not catastrophic. Overall there will be huge parts of Burgundy that haven't been touched. But in villages such as Pommard or Beaune it's very serious. The real problem is that this is the second year in a row."

Blair Pethel, a small producer in the Cote de Beaune region, who was formerly a political journalist in Washington, has now been a wine grape grower in Burgundy for 10 years. Several of his vineyards, both white wine and red, have been hit.

"I've lost more than 50 per cent of my total crop for this year," he said. "Emotionally, we've got to carry on. We've put so much work into it. But the mood in the village is not good at all. A lot of people are very concerned. It's two years in a row that major hailstorms have hit the area. The economic conditions in France were already not that good. This doesn't help."