A recent hailstorm in the Aube region of Champagne has inflicted heavy damage on local vineyards, leaving many growers with almost nothing to show for 2012.
Overall, 2012 is proving to be a very difficult year for Champagne growers. April brought frost—temperatures dropped well below zero, damaging vines in highly regarded vineyards in Avize, Chouilly and Cramant. Chardonnay in the Côte des Blancs and Grande Vallée de la Marne was particularly affected. Despite the damage, growers remained optimistic that there was still time for new buds to sprout.
But trouble struck again in May and early June, as extreme rain brought hailstorms, this time in Epernay and, more severely, in Aube, or the Côte des Bar. The timing was cruel—vines were just blooming and vineyard workers were starting canopy management, or pallissage. A severe storm began June 7, south of the Aube district in the village of Riceys. The storm than spread north and gained in intensity, as hail fell on the villages of Fontette, Saint-Usage, Arconville, Bergères, Couvignon, Fontaine, Meurville, Urville and Baroville. Overall, the hail damaged 2,700 acres of vines, most of which were Pinot Noir. The damage to particular parcels varied from between 10 percent to 100 percent, with some lots stripped bare of any green.
The best-known producer and négociant of this area is Drappier, but most of the big-name Champagne houses buy grapes from this area. Champagne commands some of the highest average grape prices in the world, and this year's challenges may cause prices to rise even further, though they do have stocks of reserve wines from previous vintages. While this can be relied on to replace the volume lost in 2012, it essentially means growers are forced to deplete their savings to continue with production.
For growers, the damage hits closer to home. Vineyard managers are also concerned about long-term effects, since vines that have been damaged by hail may struggle in years to come. Grower-producer Benoit Tarlant, of Champagne Tarlant, said there is a lot of pain in Aube right now. “When you have no more vines to work with, you can imagine how people are feeling," he told Wine Spectator. "Personally, we have no vineyards in this area, but a storm can happen until the very day before we harvest. So we can say 2012 is a hard beginning—but who knows, it could still result in great wines.”