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Producers in the La Morra area of Piedmont, home to some of the best sites for Barolo -- such as Brunate, La Serra and Cerequio -- threw up their hands in defeat yesterday, as a 30-minute hailstorm put an end to any idea of salvaging the 2002 vintage for Barolo.
After a summer of trying weather, with consistent rain and lack of sun since the beginning of July, producers who make Barolo in this hilltop town had remained optimistic about the possibility of at least a decent vintage from the La Serra and Brunate vineyards located on the nearby hillsides. But Tuesday afternoon's storm dashed those hopes.
"It was the most violent storm I've ever seen," said Manuel Marchetti of Marcarini. "It was pitch-black for an hour, with violent winds bending and twisting the vines this way and that. And then the hail -- not huge hail, but coming down with such force that the vineyards didn't stand a chance."
According to Marchetti, little is left to harvest in the Brunate, La Serra and Cerequio vineyards, along with the Cannubi vineyard, near the town of Barolo, which also lay in the path of the storm. However, he added, it hasn't been possible for most producers to assess the damage yet, as the steep terrain is so wet that tractors have not been able to get to the sites, and it is still too dangerous to do so on foot.
His gloomy prognosis was echoed by Roberto Voerzio, another top producer in the area. (His 1997 Brunate, La Serra and Cerequio Barolos were top scorers in Wine Spectator senior editor James Suckling's tastings last year.) "We're talking about 100 percent damage here," he said. "And there's no chance of any 2002 harvest [in the Brunate, La Serra and Cerequio vineyards]." Voerzio added stoically, "I suppose now we just have to be sad for a couple of days and then get on with thinking about next year's vintage."
Hail is a potentially dangerous phenomenon that is no stranger to any Barolo producer, often striking in isolated areas throughout the early summer. But, according to Voerzio, the intense violence of this storm, coming so late in the season, took everyone by surprise. The area's last major hailstorm was in early August 1995.
Damage reports are still coming in, from other Barolo-making areas too. Angelo Gaja has reported 100 percent damage to his Conteisa vineyard in La Morra commune and up to 50 percent damage to his Sperss vineyard in the commune of Serralunga.
Read James Suckling's recent Barolo tasting reports: