Lafite's weeping willows


Gavin Quinney' writes:

We had a storm in Bordeaux late last Friday and in the early hours of Saturday. Summer thunderstorms here are not uncommon after protracted heatwaves, but there was some significant, localised damage. Heavy rain caused flash floods in the city, strong winds brought down a few trees around the region, and vine growers prayed that any hail would pass them by.

The most unusual and photogenic damage was 40 miles downriver on the left bank of the Gironde estuary. Many of the famous willow trees of Château Lafite-Rothschild, those that sit between the lakes and gardens of this illustrious Lafite_willows_6property and the D2 main road, were brought down in fierce winds between 11 pm on Friday and 2 am on Saturday.

Several estates in Pauillac, such as Pontet-Canet, Lynch Bages and Fonbadet, suffered superficial damage – to trees, mostly – but it was in the valley below the buildings at Lafite that tourists stopped to take pictures. At least 20 trees were lost or broken and by Sunday evening there was still a great deal of clearing up to be done.

The mass devastation to the willows is all the more extraordinary when viewed from the hill just half a mile away, looking down from Cos d'Estournel in St-Estèphe. The impact was extremely localised, not unlike the hailstorms that ran through the same area – a few hundred metres to the north – on 1 September 2011. This time, thankfully, there was no damage whatsoever to vines. Low rows of trellised, deep-rooted vines can withstand even the strongest winds.

As has been seen elsewhere this month, it's hail that growers fear most. The large red 'G' on the weather forecast – for risque de grêle – can spell acute danger to the crop.

Larteau_2The only hail of any note fell on the low-lying vineyards of Génissac and Arveyres on the banks of the Dordogne just south of Libourne. The region is the Entre Deux Mers but they grow mostly red grapes for Bordeaux Supérieur. You have to feel for Jean-Pierre Angliviel de la Beaumelle of Château Larteau near Arveyres, the vineyard (pictured) that many in the wine trade pass on their way heading north east to the bridge over the river into Libourne, before turning right to the offices of JP Moueix on the Quai du Priourat.

The Angliviel de la Beaumelle family have invested heavily in this attractive château since buying it in 2007. Their recent installations include a Mistral grape sorting machine. This year, there will be little worth sorting from the 25 acres of Merlot. Hail, if you're one of the unlucky ones, can be devastating.

A few miles to the north, Jacques Guinaudeau was quietly clearing a few branches from a fruit tree at Château Lafleur in Pomerol, and they'll be removing a fallen branch from a huge cedar at Vieux Château Certan shortly. I need to go and do the same here, reflecting that it could have been far, far worse.