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Hail Ravages Vineyards in Alsace

For the second season running, growers face difficult growing conditions and low volumes

Bruce Sanderson
Posted: June 25, 2007

On the same day that hailstorms ripped through Côte-Rôtie in the Rhône Valley last week, hailstones also ravaged parts of Alsace north of Colmar, destroying grapes and branches and stripping the vines of leaves. Some growers have lost their complete crop; others have damage to more than 80 percent of their vineyards.

According to several producers, the worst-hit areas are the vineyards in the villages of Bennwihr, Beblenheim, Ammerschwihr, Mittelwihr and Sigolsheim. "The Mambourg and Marckrain [two grand cru vineyards] are severly hurt. At least 80 percent are lost, with great damage to the wood," said Laurence Faller, coproprietor of Domaine Weinbach in Kaysersberg. "I have never seen our vineyards with more than 60 percent damage. In Mambourg and Marckrain, there are very few leaves and whole berries left. The vineyards look fragile, weak and almost as bare as they do in winter," she added.

Faller also reported damage in the grand cru vineyards Schlossberg (about 25 percent to 35 percent damaged) and Furstentum (30 percent to 40 percent), as well as in other nearby vineyards.

Olivier Humbrecht of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht called it "the biggest and most devastating hailstorm that many growers have seen in their lives." Humbrecht's vineyards in Hunawihr and Turckheim received the "edges" of the storm, "so we have 5 to 20 percent of the grapes touched," he said. "We were very lucky, because what the pictures show is catastrophic: Not only is there no crop in 2007, but 2008 will also be affected with poor-quality pruning wood and most buds are damaged," Humbrecht explained.

When it strikes wine regions, hail tends to cause very localized damage, destroying some vines completely while leaving others planted nearby completely unscathed. Not only can hail damage the leaf canopy, which would hinder or prevent the vines from ripening their grapes, it can damage the grapes themselves, as well as vine's wood, including the nascent bud growth for the ensuing season.

Etienne Hugel of Hugel & Fils, which owns vineyards in Riquewihr, just north of where the hail hit, noted that there was hardly any damage to their vineyards, but that devastating damage was "just a mile away from us. Terrifying."

Faller returned to Alsace from Vinexpo in Bordeaux and spent Thursday through the weekend assessing the damage. "Looking at the Mambourg and the Marckrain makes you cry," she said. "I cannot imagine having all our vineyards destroyed at 80 percent and more. I feel deeply sorry for the growers who have most of their vineyards there."

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