Lafite’s weeping willows

DSC_0486We had a storm in Bordeaux late last Friday and in the early hours of Saturday. Summer thunderstorms here are not uncommon after protracted heat waves, but there was some significant, localised damage. Heavy rain caused flash floods in the city, strong winds brought down a few trees around the region, and vine growers prayed that any hail would pass them by.

The most photogenic damage was to the willow trees of Chateau Lafite Rothschild that sit between the lakes and gardens of this illustrious property and the D2 main road. Many were brought down in fierce winds between 11pm on Friday and 2am on Saturday.

Several estates in Pauillac, such as Pontet Canet, Lynch Bages and Fonbadet, suffered superficial damage – to trees, mostly – but it was in the valley below the buildings at Lafite that tourists stopped to take pictures. At least twenty trees were lost or broken and by Sunday evening there was still a great deal of clearing up to be done.

The mass devastation to the willows is all the more extraordinary when viewed from the hill just half a mile away, looking down from Cos d’Estournel in St-Estèphe. The impact was extremely localised, not unlike the hailstorms that ran through the same area – a few hundred metres to the north – on 1 September 2011. This time, thankfully, there was no damage to any vines whatsoever. Low rows of trellised, deep-rooted vines can withstand even the strongest winds.

As has been seen elsewhere this month, it’s hail that viticulteurs fear most. The large, red ‘G’ on the weather forecast – for risque de grêle – can spell acute danger to the crop.

DSC_0238The only hail of any note fell on the low-lying vineyards of Génissac and Arveyres on the banks of the Dordogne, just south of Libourne, located in the Entre Deux Mers but where they grow mostly red grapes for Bordeaux Supérieur. You have to feel for Jean-Pierre Angliviel de la Beaumelle of Chateau Larteau near Arveyres, the vineyard that many in the wine trade would have passed on their way heading north east to the bridge over the river into Libourne, before turning right to the offices of JP Moueix on the Quai du Priourat.

The Angliviel de la Beaumelle family have invested heavily in this attractive Chateau since buying it in 2007, including a Mistral grape sorting machine. This year, there will be little worth sorting from his 25 acres of merlot. Hail, if you’re one of the unlucky ones, can be devastating.

A few miles to the north, Jacques Guinaudeau was quietly clearing a few branches from a fruit tree at Chateau Lafleur in Pomerol, and they’ll be removing a fallen branch from a huge cedar at Vieux Chateau Certan shortly. I need to go and do the same here, reflecting that it could have been far, far worse.

Here’s a gallery of snaps. Scroll over any photo for a brief description – and if you click on any of them, you can flick through the larger versions of each picture (in a normal browser) using the arrows on the right and left of the picture. To return to the post, click the X on the top left of the screen.

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