One winegrower described it as an "apocalypse that lasted 15 minutes." At 3 a.m. June 9, hail began violently pelting Bordeaux's northern Médoc region, as well as Cognac's vineyards just to the north. "It left a corridor [of destruction] 2 kilometers wide from Lesparre to the river," said Alain Meyre, owner of Château Cap Léon Veyrin and president of the ODG Médoc, a winery trade group whose members own 12,355 acres in the region. Lesparre lies a short distance northwest of St.-Estèphe.
Meyre told Wine Spectator that preliminary reports indicate 7,413 acres in Bordeaux were damaged by hail. The hardest hit zone covered 2,223 acres and suffered 80 percent to 100 percent crop loss. Hail stripped the vines of leaves and flowers and shredded the wood. Another 494 acres lost 50 percent of their crop. The area is home to well-known cru Bourgeois estates as well as other wineries and growers working with the local cooperative.
"We lost a third of our grand vin," said Guy Durand Saint Omer at Château Loudenne, an iconic pink château on the Gironde. "Out of 60 hectares [148 acres], we have 17 hectares gone and another 8 hectares lightly hit."
While devastating for yields, the quality of the 2014 vintage is not in danger. "We are in the flowering period, so there is no impact on the quality, only the quantity," said Pierre Graffeuille, commercial director for the Delon family estates, which includes cru Bourgeois Château Potensac and second-growth Château Léoville Las Cases. "The same thing for the 2015 vintage, when the weak wood will impact the quantity but not the quality."
The entire vineyard at Château Potensac—210 acres—suffered damage. "We estimate that we lost about 50 percent of the crop," said Graffeuille.
In the Cognac region, the warm, stormy weekend delivered two hail storms. Sandrine Cazaux, director of communications for the Charente Chamber of Agriculture said that the preliminary, unofficial tally showed damage in nearly 20,000 acres—roughly 10 percent of the area's vineyards. "Some of the vineyards had 20 percent to 30 percent damage but others had 80 percent to 100 percent damage—completely destroyed, the wood shredded."
The storm dashed the optimistic plans of Cognac producers to increase Cognac sales this year. Unfortunately the impact will not be confined to the 2014 vintage. In some cases, the part of the vine that would bear fruit next year was damaged, making it vulnerable to disease. Weakened, the plant will have a reduced crop next year.
Most growers do not have hail insurance, due to its prohibitive cost. But because insurance is available, the government won't rescue the growers. An emergency measure allows them to buy grapes from another grower in the appellation. While Potensac has hail insurance, Graffeuille fears for his neighbors, many of whom live from vintage to vintage, without a stock of older vintages to sell. "I'm really worried about the small family vineyards," said Graffeuille. "They are going to have a lot of financial difficulty."