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In many of the best vineyards in Piedmont this past weekend, it looked more like January than early September just before harvest. Most vines had been stripped of their leaves, although they still carried a crop of battered grapes four days after a massive hailstorm ripped through parts of the region's Barolo-producing territory.
The hail did the most damage in the vineyards near the town of La Morra, one of the greatest areas for legendary Barolos, and left many grapegrowers stunned by the prospect of not bringing in a crop for the 2002 vintage.
"As a result of the storm, I won't be harvesting the Cannubi vineyard this year," said vintner Luciano Sandrone. Cannubi, near the town of Barolo, produces grapes for Sandrone's highly regarded Barolo Cannubi Boschis. "The vines still have a few leaves, and the grapes are still attached," he explained, "but they are damaged to the extent that no winemaking technique could possibly remedy."
During a three-day visit to the region, Wine Spectator interviewed more than a dozen producers, and Sandrone echoed the view of most on the thoroughness of the hail's destruction.
Government controllers are in the vineyards this week, still assessing the extent of the damage, but reports coming in from all around the Barolo-producing area suggest that few zones were left completely untouched by the hail. This may mean that consumers are unlikely to see many Barolos on the market in 2006.
Barolo producer Elio Altare said there would definitely be no 2002 vintage of his top-quality BaroloVigneto Arborina. He added, "The hailstorm missed two of my vineyards, so I may be able to make some Barolo from these -- maybe a quarter of the usual quantity -- but only if the weather allows the grapes to mature properly, so that I can make decent wine."
Before the Sept. 3 storm, weather conditions during the growing season had been some of the worst seen in decades, according to veteran winemaker Bruno Giacosa, who, at 73, has witnessed more Piedmont vintages than most. "I've never seen a vintage like this before," he said. "Just rain, rain and more rain."
Giacosa reported that his holdings in Barbaresco, in the Asili and Rabajà vineyards, were untouched by the hail. However, the Falletto vineyard in Serralunga d'Alba, from which he makes his Barolo Falletto and Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto, suffered up to 70 percent damage.
"But I'll be making neither Barolo nor Barbaresco this year," he said. "The grapes are full of water, and there's no way they are going to mature properly. Disease and mold are spreading through the vineyards too. It would have been better if the hail had taken everything."
Other producers, with vineyards in areas less affected by the storm, said they were still resisting total pessimism. In fact, one of the most frequently repeated statements heard over the weekend was: "If the sun comes out tomorrow, and we get a hot dry period from now till the harvest, we should be able to salvage something."
Weather forecasts for the area, however, offered little hope, predicting unstable weather, with clouds and rain for the foreseeable future.
Roberto Voerzio, one of the best Barolo producers in La Morra (his 1997 Barolo Brunate scored 100 points), went out the day after the storm to try to salvage some Dolcetto from his vineyard below the town of La Morra. He said, "The smell of volatile acidity in the air was so strong that we just dumped the grapes on the ground and went home."
Having already determined that his Barolo-making vines in the Brunate, La Serra, Cerequio and Sarmassa vineyards are unworkable, Voerzio is resigned. "This year is over for me. So I might as well start thinking about next year."
Read our earlier report on the Sept. 3 hailstorm:
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