Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the night we were badly hit by hail. The evening of 24th June, 2003 lives long in the memory. After a period of steamy hot weather, a hail storm swept through part of the region, starting in the Graves to the south west of us and petering out beyond St-Emilion to the east. Hail on its own can be a bruiser but it’s the combination of hail and gail force winds that inflicts serious damage. We lost half the crop in just a few minutes, and with it half our income for the year. Some of our neighbours’ vines were wiped out, whereas Esme Johnstone’s Château de Sours, just five miles away, remained untouched.
Ironically, we had cancelled our hail insurance policy the year before as the premium had rocketed, and we believed a local pundit who claimed that the geography and shape of the hillsides of Bauduc would force the winds around the estate and that we were unlikely to be hit in just such an event. This turned out, of course, to be complete tosh.
Although the report by Decanter claimed that ‘in the Créon area, virtually every grape has been destroyed’, we were able to save a part of the crop. But it was twice the work for half the quantity. Thankfully, our efforts were rewarded by the fact that in 2007, the top selling wine at Gordon Ramsay’s three Michelin star restaurant in London was our top red cuvée from 2003. And Oz Clarke selected our Clos des Quinze 2003 as one of his top 250 wines of the year in his 2007 Buyer’s guide. Which is all very gratifying but we took a bath, financially.
This year’s disaster is less dramatic but just as damaging for the sauvignon blanc – a key ingredient in the recipe for our Bordeaux Blanc Sec. I was worried by the cold snap we had back in April, with a very frosty morning on 7th April and another a week later. This is the view from the château on the 7th, which may look pretty but it struck a chord of horror for me.
It was much colder still on the 15th. Bud break had already begun, and although the merlot (below) was hardly affected, the sauvignon on the lower slopes caught a very bad chill. The buds were just popping out and the cold snap seriously stunted the cycle, with some buds burnt by the freezing temperatures. As a result, many shoots have developed much later, with very few potential bunches in evidence.
Mercifully, we have a new plantation coming into production this harvest, although with far fewer bunches than expected after four years, and we’ve taken out a lease on 5 hectares of old, white vines nearby. Meanwhile, 30,000 young sauvignon blanc vines at Bauduc are not yet in production.
The hunt for sauvignon is on, because we have only until the end of July to find more white vines to lease. As a château, we cannot simply buy in grapes to make up the shortfall, as you would in New Zealand, for example. If we are not successful, you might find me standing outside the local cave co-operative come September, inspecting trailers of sauvignon grapes and loitering like a ticket tout outside a football ground.