A week after a series of violent hailstorms struck some of Bordeaux's key appellations, wine producers are assessing the damage to affected vineyards and are predicting decreased yields for the 2009 vintage.
The storms caused extensive damage in the Côtes de Bourg, Premières Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Castillon and Entre-Deux-Mers appellations, and also hit a few major appellations, including St.-Emilion, Margaux and Graves.
On the Left Bank, vineyards in the southern part of the Margaux appellation were worst affected, including Châteaus Palmer, Brane-Cantenac and d'Issan. Châteaus further north in the appellation, including first-growth Margaux, were largely untouched, according to producers.
Two-thirds of Château Palmer's vineyards were damaged when hailstones the size of golf balls tore into the vines during a 15-minute hailstorm on May 11, reported Thomas Duroux, director of the château. This was the second year in a row that the estate was hit. "Last year's hail came later, as the vines were beginning to flower," Duroux said. "Although earlier this year, when the vines had yet to flower, the hailstones were much larger, stripping leaves and cutting shoots. Our job now is to make sure that the secondary buds grow well, to make new leaves that will protect the grapes."
Duroux predicted that the storm should not affect the eventual quality of the 2009 vintage, but that the crop was likely to be low—between 20 percent and 65 percent of a normal yield. "We will know better around mid-June," he said, "after the flowering and fruit set. Then we will see our potential crop."
In St.-Emilion, the worst damage was in the northern part of the appellation, around the town of St.-Christophe-des-Bardes.
"For Château Soutard, there will probably be no 2009 vintage at all," said Claire Thomas-Chenard, who manages both Soutard and nearby Château Larmande. Soutard was one of the hardest hit by a hailstorm early in the morning on May 13, suffering around 95 percent vineyard damage. "We really don't know what to do just now," Thomas-Chenard said. "We will just have to prepare the vineyards for 2010, hoping that there will be no consequences for that vintage."
The hailstorms came just as Soutard was preparing to announce the price for its 2008 vintage en primeur, but Thomas-Chenard said that the prospect of no production in the 2009 vintage would not affect the release price of the château's 2008. "We want the 2008 price to reflect only the good quality of the wine that year," she said.
Producers on St.-Emilion's plateau, home to prestigious names such as Ausone and Angélus, report only slight damage. "For us there is no real problem," said Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, manager of Château Angélus. "We can still expect a good crop, in terms of both quality and quantity."
The storms come at a difficult time for Bordeaux, just weeks after a number of the region's top estates released their 2008 futures at considerably lower prices than those for recent years, prompted by a lack of consumer demand due to the current economic climate.
According to Duroux, the prospect of a low-volume vintage in 2009 will only add to the difficulty of pricing the wines when their futures are released in 2010. "If 2009 turns out to be a great vintage, with low volume and high demand," he said, "this will obviously have an effect on the price for that vintage. But we'll have to see how the vintage turns out and how the economy is faring at the time."
"We're not really smiling here at the moment," Duroux added. "But this sort of thing happens, reminding us that we don't have total control. We just have to deal with it."
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