In what has become a summer of hail across European wine regions, with stones raining down on Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Languedoc, the latest bad weather has hit Italy's Piedmont region. A violent storm swept through the vineyards of Barolo on the evening of July 8, with hail, rain and, in some cases, strong winds. Though reports vary, early assessments say the damage is minimal. Growers told Wine Spectator that vineyards experienced damage to about 5 percent of grapes on average, with some parcels experiencing as much as 20 to 30 percent loss of grapes. Protective netting in the top crus helped reduce the impact.
"Here in La Morra it is worse toward the Santa Maria side, more than Annunziata, pretty randomly bad in Novello and Barolo, [and] where we rent a small Dolcetto piece in Monforte really, really bad—most of the grapes got wiped out," said Silvia Altare, whose family owns Elio Altare. "We are almost all covered up with hail nets, so pretty safe on the top grands crus. We might just have some issues on the Dolcetto."
Even with netting the clusters were not immune to hailstones the size of walnuts. "In some areas the hail had larger dimensions and some bunches were a little damaged despite the nets," said Isabella Oddero of Fratelli Oddero in La Morra. "The most damaged vineyards are those positioned on the top of the hills."
In Monforte d’Alba, Elio Grasso’s parcels in Gavarini Chiniera, Ginestra Casa Matè and Runcot were mostly spared. "It appears, logically, the first rows of the vineyards at the top of the sites took the initial impact of the hail and luckily the intensity was mild," said winemaker Gianluca Grasso. "In the next few days I should have a better idea, but it doesn’t look that bad."
According to Chiara Boschis, proprietor of Pira (Chiara Boschis), she suffered 20 to 30 percent loss of grapes in her vineyards in Barolo and Monforte d’Alba. She noted, however that the crop was abundant and would have been reduced anyway through green harvesting.
Nonetheless, growers must now control the spread of botrytis in the affected berries by treating the grapes, which will result in greater expense. "This harvest will cost us more, because our workers will have to be very careful when selecting the grapes," said Oddero. "The next hours will be fundamental—tomorrow we will promptly start our treatments with copper sulfate to heal and sanitize the bunches."
According to Barbara Sandrone of Luciano Sandrone, more hail fell near Monforte d’Alba on July 9. It appears that the storms and strange weather patterns plaguing Barolo, Burgundy and the rest of Europe will continue to keep growers nervous over the summer.