A series of major storms swept through France starting July 26, flooding railways and towns and leaving behind significant damage in vineyards from Champagne to Bordeaux.
High winds knocked down trees and power lines at the châteaus of the Médoc, damaging the roof at Pichon Longueville Lalande and uprooting Lafite Rothschild's famed willow trees, but it wasn't until the storm reached Right Bank vineyards near Libourne that hail struck. Three nearby communes suffered the worst—Arveyres, Vayres and Génissac.
The entire area of Génissac, with 1,977 acres under vine, was hit. "It's the first time in history that the entire commune was hit by hail. The damage is between 30 to 100 percent," said Jean-Charles Cholet, deputy mayor and owner of Château Pinson. Cholet told Wine Spectator that growers are requesting disaster relief funds from the government, but he had little hope.
A few miles away, hail pummeled vines on the plateau of Vayres. Several growers mourned the fate of hard-hit Château Larteau. "I don't know if they'll even have a harvest next year," said one grower. But even those who were largely spared felt the storm's impact and are predicting a tiny crop. "This year we've already had millerandage [poor fruit set], so low yields," said Catherine Berté, spokesperson for the Graves de Vayres syndicate.
Crossing the Dordogne into St.-Emilion, the storm relented slightly, scattering hail on Château Quinault L'Enclos, but sparing the harvest. "We had hail here and there, but nothing too serious," said technical director Pierre-Olivier Clouet. To the north, Lalande de Pomerol also suffered. "Trees are down, we didn't have electricity for three days and hail hit 10 to 15 percent of the vineyards," said Philippe Durand-Teyssier, president of the local wine syndicate and owner of Château Viaud-Lalande. "The vineyards suffered, but less than you might think. And it was nothing as dramatic as elsewhere in France."
Five hundred miles to the north, Champagne seems to be among the hardest hit, suffering nearly a week of nature's wrath.
"We have had a succession of serious storms over the past five days with strong local winds and lots of rains," Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, cellar master and associate director of Champagne Louis Roederer, told Wine Spectator. Wind reached more than 60 miles per hour in Verzenay on the night of July 27 and almost 3 inches of rain fell, with floods in Cumiere and Ay. "Last but not least, we have suffered hail damage on Friday morning with some damages between 10 to 20 percent in Cramant, Chouilly and part of Avize. We also have had some hail on Cumiere and Hautvillers, with about 10 percent losses."
Technicians for the Champagne trade group, the CIVC, are currently inspecting the damage. One of the key concerns was the impact of the torrential rain, which fell hard and fast, sweeping topsoil away. "It was a problem in Cumiere where the topsoil arrived in town," said Lecaillon. "The slopes of Cumiere are some of the steepest of Champagne."
Still, the Champenois say the damage must be kept in perspective. Yields were reduced but the crop had looked potentially large. "And we cannot complain too much compared to our dear friends in Volnay or Meursault," said Lecaillon. Prime Burgundy appellations were hit hard by hail just a few days earlier.