Burgundy’s wine growers are used to the quirks of nature, especially rain, humidity and the disease pressure that accompanies them. However, 2012 has been particularly challenging. On Aug. 1, the third hailstorm in 2 months unleashed its fury on some vineyards in the Côte de Beaune.
“It’s been hard, really hard,” said Alex Gambal, who grows grapes as well as purchases grapes and wine for his Alex Gambal label. “Everyone is keeping the proverbial stiff upper lip, but no one I have talked to remembers when it’s been like this.”
The latest in a series of violent storms affected vineyards in Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and parts of the Hautes Côte de Beaune. In a region where most of the row orientation runs east to west, the south-facing side of the vines were damaged, with as much as 50 percent of grapes lost.
Aggravating the situation is the fact that many growers had already removed leaves to promote air circulation to combat the spread of mildew. This left grape clusters exposed and more susceptible to damage from hail.
This was the latest setback in a year that has been unrelenting. April brought cold, wet conditions that retarded the growth of the vines. The precipitation continued into May, with alternating periods of heat and cold, perfect conditions for mildew.
The fight against mildew has required more treatments than usual, but the wet weather has made it difficult to get machinery into the vineyards. Growers have resorted to spraying from canisters carried on the backs of workers. “Labor costs this year are already through the roof,” exclaimed Gambal.
Violent storms in June resulted in the first hail striking parts of Beaune, Savigny-lès–Beaune and Chorey-lès-Beaune. The continued cold, wet weather resulted in a long, drawn-out flowering with coulure (poor fruit set) and the constant threat of mildew. The second hailstorm hit Volnay and Pommard on June 30. It has rained on and off since.
Mounir Saouma, co-owner of the boutique négociant-eleveur Lucien Le Moine, acknowledged that 2012 has been difficult, but said it’s too early to determine the potential quality. “Burgundy is a mysterious place,” he said. “Until the wines are completely done (after [malolactic fermentation] and a year of aging) we don't know the quality of the vintage.” He cited 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 as examples of vintages that overcame difficult growing seasons.
Gambal estimates his volume could be down by as much as 50 percent. “We could end up with good grapes,” he said. “The problem is there are no grapes.”