Hail in Bordeaux, part 2 – the path of destruction


Gavin Quinney of Ch Bauduc writes:

Thousands of hectares of vines between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers in the Entre-Deux-Mers were devastated by the hailstorm that ripped through this corner of Bordeaux last Friday evening, 2 August.

I've seen hail damage to Bordeaux vineyards in 1999, 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2011 at varying stages of the season, from one end of Bordeaux to the other. In our 15 harvests, as I pointed out in yesterday's report, we've had hail at Château Bauduc in 2003, 2009 and now in 2013. But I have never seen anything as bad as the vine damage sustained by some of our neighbours last Friday. Others, meanwhile, were untouched.

The week before, late on Friday 26 July, a hailstorm ruined part of the crop in the Entre-Deux-Mers around Génissac, near Libourne on the banks of the Dordogne. (Strong winds the same night also caused considerable damage to the famous willow trees at Château Lafite 50km away near Pauillac but as there was no hail, there was no loss in the vines.)

Last Friday evening, at around 8.45 pm on 2 August, this second, much more violent hailstorm destroyed this year's harvest in many more vineyards in the Entre-Deux-Mers and over the Dordogne in part of the Côtes de Castillon. Official estimates vary, with figures being bandied about of between 5,000 and 10,000 hectares having been affected to a greater or lesser extent. (That's about 4% to 8% of the whole of the Bordeaux vineyard.)

We were hit, as I say, at Château Bauduc in Créon. Pretty badly, in fact, losing 50% of the crop for sure and we'll have to see how the other half fares in the next two months.

Here's the thing. Vineyards just 3 km to the west of us were untouched, as the storm passed by to the south. Yet on the other side of our woods on our southern boundary, 3 km from our house, the vines were stripped bare by the hail. That's 100% loss for this year, after all the work in the vines which started last November.

The contrast is extraordinary, and worth a detour in the next month or two if you're thinking of buying a vineyard. You might think twice.

I traced the path of the hail beyond our immediate area at the weekend, and the impact in some vineyards is shocking. It should be noted, that the corridor of destruction is in a fairly specific zone. It's not simply a case of 'Bordeaux hail reduces crop': none of the more famous appellations have been hit, with the exception of a corner of St-Émilion down by the Dordogne.

The destruction ran in a straightish line from Tabanac on the Garonne, up through Haux, alongside Créon, La Sauve, St-Léon, Espiet, Daignac, Grézillac, Guillac and Branne. Then it hopped over the Dordogne and trashed its way up through St-Magne de Castillon and beyond. Many vineyards have been totally devastated, with 100% loss for this year. Next year doesn't look too clever either, given the mashing that the vines took.

At Château Castelnau, an old fort between St-Léon and Espiet, the vines and posts have been absolutely battered (pictured above left). You can only wonder at the force of the hailstorm, as leaves from trees carpeted the lane nearby.

The landscape around the Lurtons' Château Bonnet near Grézillac, for example, one of the largest and best-known estates in the Entre Deux Mers, is shocking. As you drive from Daignac towards Guillac, the landscape is made up of hundreds of hectares of vines. Last week, it was a sea of verdant green. Today (below), there's hardly a leaf left on the vines, as far as the eye can see. Car drivers pull over to take pictures. Close to the château itself, the branches in the vineyard have been stripped bare.

It is a great pity that so many high-quality vineyards were hit, along with vines in poor condition too, while so much crap lies outside the hail zone.

Near Ch Bonnet in Grézillac, poor Henri Féret at Ch Féret-Lambert (pictured above, before,  and below, after), who makes one of the best red Bordeaux Supérieurs, has been hit for the second time in three years. This year he lost the lot and, like me, doesn't have hail insurance as the cost is huge. 

The Despagne family have one of the best white vineyards near Branne (Tour de Mirambeau, for example). I saw the vines, at 10,000 vines per hectare the highest density of vines in the Entre Deux Mers, in excellent shape for this year just a week ago.

Not any more.

The Entre-Deux-Mers is both a geographic region, by the way, and an appellation, which confuses a lot of people. As an appellation on a label, it is for white wine only, like St-Émilion is for red. Yet most of the grapes in the Entre-Deux-Mers are in fact red wine grapes, and mainly Merlot, because growers found it easier to sell Bordeaux Supérieur and straight Bordeaux red than dry white. Added to which, many growers, such as our close neighbours Château Thieuley and ourselves, use the Bordeaux Blanc appellation for our whites, not Entre Deux Mers.

The Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon were looking much better this year than the more widely planted Merlot, in general. There is a lot of coulure and millerandage on the Merlot, leading to poor fruit set, which had reduced the size of the crop long before the hail.

So there will be much less 'co-op' level bulk wine available for négociants to sell to supermarkets this year, on two counts. But it's the independent growers who make and bottle their own wine, from carefully tended grapes in their own backyard, that I feel really sorry for. Naturally.