A huge storm ravaged Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune on the afternoon of July 23, dumping several inches of water and hail from Aloxe-Corton and Pernand-Vergelesses to Volnay. Areas to the north and south were barely affected. After small harvests in the past three years, winemakers are disheartened that 2013 is bringing more bad luck.
The size and scope of the storm were what made it so damaging. Hail is no stranger to Burgundy, but typically its effects are localized, hitting one parcel of vines while leaving the neighboring plots untouched. “Savigny was entirely damaged from 60 to 100 percent,” reported Patrick Bize, a Savigny-lès-Beaune grower. “We know storms and hail, but normally they are very local. But this time, the whole of Savigny suffered. I’ve never seen this before.”
Pommard was another village hit hard by the storm. “After 20 minutes of hail, we think we’ve had 60 to 80 percent of damage in our vineyards,” said Anne Parent, proprietor of Domaine Parent in Pommard. “It is definitely a hard blow for Côte de Beaune once again, whereas the 2013 vintage was promising in terms of quantity,” she added.
Indeed, after three small harvests in a row—2010, 2011 and 2012—growers in Burgundy desperately hoped for at least a normal harvest in 2013. Spring already brought a lot of rain and caused some flooding in cellars. For many, yesterday’s storm dashed those hopes and was another cruel reminder of nature’s force.
Yet, assessing the damage from hail immediately is tricky at best. Alex Gambal, a Beaune-based négociant who also owns parcels in some of the areas hit, explained that there were a number of factors at play. The amount and severity of damage depended on the orientation of the vines—hail falling parallel to rows is less damaging than when the wind is blowing stones straight into vines. If the vines had not been recently trimmed, the canopy can act as a shield. If the vines were de-leafed for aeration, there was much more exposure to the hail. There was great variation in the damage within each village, so the location of the parcel was important.
Philippe Drouhin, estates manager for Maison Joseph Drouhin, also noted the difficulty in assessing the damage. “Just after a hail we are depressed, the vineyards look ugly. And within 100 meters things can change quite a lot. So it is not easy to be accurate in reporting the damage. Plus there is the current damage but also induced damage that might show up later.” Hail damage can lead to rot, downy mildew and stem damage.
The ensuing weather will play a big role as to whether this induced damage manifests itself. “Hail does not necessarily mean bad wine, particularly with white wines and particularly before veraison,” explained Drouhin.
“Work will continue in the vines over the next several days to dry out the damaged grapes and to limit mildew,” said Gambal. “It is early enough in the season where the damaged grapes should dry out and fall off or can be removed at harvest by the destemmers.”
However, even if quality is not affected, quantities will be lower. And this could put pressure on prices. Parent, stoic in the face of nature, nonetheless understood the reality of the situation. “After two years of small crops [2010 and 2011] and two years of hail [2012 and 2013], it will be difficult for us to meet our clients’ needs.”