Two major hailstorms struck Italy's Piedmont region this week, damaging top vineyards and worrying local winemakers. On two evenings, July 26 and July 27, large bands of clouds moved across the Langhe, pelting ripening grapes with rain and hail. Tuesday's storm was particularly damaging, due to high winds that exacerbated the effect of the hail. "It was like a real tornado," Pietro Ratti, owner of Renato Ratti in La Morra, told Wine Spectator.
Unlike most hailstorms, which tend to be localized, this was a broad band of weather that affected a large part of Barolo as well as Monferrato to the northeast. "The bulk of the storm arrived from the southeast [in Monforte and Novello], but hail started to hit once it passed over the town of Barolo and the lowest part of Cannubi," reported Alberto Cordero di Montezemolo, whose namesake winery is in La Morra's Annunziata hamlet. "It became aggressive in the Annunziata and Santa Maria MGAs [menzioni geografiche aggiuntive, the Langhe version of a cru site], then continued north in the direction of Verduno."
Oddero winery is located in Santa Maria, though it has vineyards in several MGAs around Barolo. Isabella Oddero noted that the worst damage was in their Santa Maria plots. "We can already estimate a loss of about 20 percent in the vineyards on San Biagio hill where we cultivate our [young vines] Nebbiolo for Langhe Nebbiolo, Riesling and Chardonnay grapes," she said. "Also Bricco Chiesa, the parcel located around our winery, we can probably estimate a loss of about 30 percent. From this vineyard we obtain the major percentage of grapes we use in our Barolo Classico."
Fortunately, Oddero's vines in Brunate, Bussia and Rocche di Castiglione are protected by netting and were not damaged. Its parcels in Villero and Bricco Fiasco, both in Castiglione Falletto, have no nets and suffered minor damage.
Parts of Monferrato were hard hit, especially the commune of Nizza. Norbert Reinisch of Braida in Monferrato's Rocchetta Tanaro commune said 12 acres of Barbera grapes were completely destroyed near Castelnuovo Calcea, just outside of Nizza Monferrato. At Braida, approximately 20 percent of the crus suffered damaged.
Hail has long been a threat in the Langhe, and growers are becoming increasingly proactive about protecting their crop. Silvia Altare at Elio Altare, also in Annunziata, said, "We are lucky to have nets on all our vineyards. We have used the netting system on the canopy since 2006, and what 10 years ago was considered a crazy investment in money and time is now turning into our salvation. The crop is pretty much all saved."
Netting is expensive to purchase and manage, but Ratti said he believes more vintners will invest in nets in the future.
The other significant factor that may have helped limit damage is Nebbiolo's late-ripening nature. The grapes were still green and hard and therefore more resistant to hail. Dolcetto, which had already turned color and softened, was more susceptible to damage, growers report.
Giacomo Conterno, whose family winery Podere Aldo Conterno has holdings in the Bussia MGA in Monforte d'Alba, is optimistic. "I just did my check on all my plots and I am quite happy," he said. "Some grapes were hit, so there will be slightly less quantity." But they have yet to do the green harvest and he feels 2016 looks like a classic vintage, with harvest occurring neither too early nor too late.