Hail in Bordeaux, part 1 – Bauduc

Bauduc Hail - 016The children were playing in the garden. The long wooden tables were laid for supper under the vine-covered trellis; grown-ups chatted, rosé in hand.

Last Friday was supposed to be just another lovely summer’s evening with old friends who were staying at our farmhouse. It’s what you imagine life to be like when you own a vineyard.

I’d been walking the dogs around the vines, half-inspecting the thousand, neatly presented rows at the end of the season’s labour. We’d completed the manual work just that morning, and now we needed a fine August and September to ripen the grapes.

The skies out west though – towards the Atlantic in the distance – didn’t look right. It was warm and sunny but there was a chill in the air, similar to the lull before the storm in September 2011, when hail narrowly missed us, and in May 2009, when it didn’t.

Before

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The weather forecast for this second Friday running had said there was a risque de grêle. Grêle, or hail, is a Bordeaux vine grower’s deadliest enemy.

“There’s a big storm coming in and it’s coming our way. Smells like hail,” I said as I joined our friends. I even tweeted it. Why, I’m not sure, although it might have been to show that I wasn’t crying wolf.

We were debating if there was still enough time to have dinner outside – it was just after 8.30 – when the wind picked up. Then rain. Hard rain. Within seconds, as the wind moved up a gear, the dreaded hail, hurtling from west to east – small icy white balls, bouncing on the ground, clattering on the tiled roof overhead and pinging loudly on a watering can.

During

For some of us, this was all quite entertaining. For me, this was bad hail. The hailstones weren’t especially large – gobstoppers, perhaps – but they came in low, from the side, propelled by fierce winds. Not good for young grapes, not good for leaves and branches, not good at all. The minutes passed. Was it five, was it ten?

Bauduc Hail - 060That’s the harvest gone, I thought, with a few choice expletives thrown in.

Hailstones lay all around between pools of water. The younger children came out and paddled briefly before they realised just how freezing the puddles were. Thinking it was all clear, a friend and I went out to survey the damage. This wasn’t entirely sensible as thunder and lightning followed several minutes later, just as we were out in the middle of the vineyard. (We were close to a row of vines that had been taken out by a lightning strike a few years ago. I didn’t mention that to James as he stood there in bare feet.)

We had enough time, before being warned off by the son et lumière all around us, to see what had happened.

The hail had smashed into the grapes on all the west facing rows, splitting and bruising them. Leaves lay all about, with the little icy balls interspersed amongst them. Many leaves still on the vine looked bedraggled, some in tatters. Branches were pockmarked.

The rows that run from east to west were more protected, as the greater mass of foliage protected the grapes from the impact. Unfortunately, we have fewer parcels planted in that way, as we opted to plant vines from north to south, so that both sides of the rows get the sun – one side in the morning, the other in the afternoon. We didn’t think about the right strategy to combat hail, at the time.

Straight after

We met up with our vineyard manager, Daniel, looking forlorn and talking about changing his métier. We agreed that we’d lost about half the crop. As for the remaining 50%, that would depend on the weather to follow. Sunshine over the weekend would help to dry out the split grapes, which would help stop the spread of rot. In time, they’d dry out like raisins, hopefully. But how would the rest of the grapes in the damaged bunches ripen? Would the leaves recover in time to ripen what was left?

The following day, Saturday, we toured the vineyard early. The bruised grapes were now going grey and brown, and the battered leaves curling up and fading.

The morning after

 

Timothy, our vineyard consultant who provides us with treatments for the vines, advised us on a course of action but it was really down to nature now. There wasn’t much we could do.

When you’ve been hit by a hailstorm, it feels like it couldn’t have been worse. Then I went to see how our neighbours had got on.

What I saw was truly shocking and made me feel that our glass was, in fact, half full. See Part 2.

We welcome any comments or questions. (Update: this article was also published on jancisrobinson.com.)

104 thoughts on “Hail in Bordeaux, part 1 – Bauduc

  1. Stuart D-M

    Dear Mother nature sometimes has a very cruel streak!, hope you manage to recover at least some of the crop.

    All the best
    Stuart

  2. Janice Biggin

    This is dreadful news. We've experienced a freak hailstorm in August ourselves, some 13 years ago, followed by quite deep snow, but the destruction of our summer garden display doesn't begin to compare to the apalling damage to your vines. Fingers crossed for a good recovery.

  3. Yeatm an

    What rotten bad luck. Just growing vegetables or flowers is tricky, let alone your wine crop. Do hope it's not as bad as you thought. Anthony says what about distilling whisky instead! Best wishes, Anthony and Wendy Yeatman

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you both. Whisky? Nah, not for me. When I was about 15 I drank half a bottle at school, presumably to escape the deprivations of a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. Put me off the stuff for life, unfortunately. Quite partial to Chartreuse VEP but that's another matter.

  4. Allan Christian

    Blimey, my in-laws grow up the road in St Foy La Grande, and said it was 'a bit nippy' (well the French equivalent) last week!

    Sad news, but just like the Aussies, I'm sure you can salvage something from the Ashes…

    All the best, Al Christian

    1. GavinQuinney

      Ho ho.. Thanks Allan.In the good old days in my corporate life in computers back in London, we used to have POTA meetings when we lost a large deal. Thankfully, not too many. (Piss On The Ashes: very 80s and 90s.)Cheers.

  5. Ian & Pam

    What a disaster Gavin, we wish you all the best for August and September and fingers crossed your glass remains half full plus a bit more!!
    Best Wishes, Ian and Pam

  6. Dan C

    Gav and Ange – so sorry to hear that you have been so unlucky again so soon. We had such a wonderful weekend in June when we came out with the Fenway football crew, and the vines were looking so perfect then.
    I am now doubly happy that I invested in a Bauduc Bond – so that whatever limited production you manage to salvage, I will be at the front of the queue.
    All the best of luck
    Dan

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks for taking the trouble to reply, Dan. Very true about the Bond – we should have enough for Bondies, just about (?!). Love to you and Zella, and the boys.

  7. Peter Creswell

    God that must be heart braking after all the hard work. Can't you erect some cover for future years? Best of luck Gavin with what remains, lets hope its not a total disaster.

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Peter. A cover might be tricky but we should look into it. A good market for them – 5000 hectares taken out in this area alone. Anti-hail 'cannons' too. Love to you and Carol.

  8. David Birt

    What an appalling attack! I felt that the comments – in the circumstances – were very restrained. Best wishes for the remaining half of the crop. Perhaps an amazingly exclusive vintage…? Do let us know if we can buy into it.

    Very best wishes, Deryn and David Birt

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks David and Deryn. As a historian, David, no surprise to you that things like this come around a second time. ('Repeats itself'.)

  9. harry turcan

    So very sorry to hear about your disastrous storm. Would be very happy to forgo part of my Bondholder’s allowance for 2014.

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you Harry and Jane. Hopefully restraint over your wine allocation next year won't be required.

  10. Matthew S

    We too were hosting a supper party outside complete with Bauduc wines on a balmy summer evening in England at the same time that your storm struck. What dreadful luck after all your hard work. We know you will rise to the challenge and send our best wishes and hope you can salvage something from the mess
    Matthew and Vicki Styles

  11. Oliver Sporrer

    Gavin, Angela

    I'm so sorry to hear about the bad news. I can only hope that you will still be able to harvest a good part and that the quality of the remaining will be outstanding.

    All the very best and good luck!

    Best regards
    Oliver

  12. Jim

    Wow, my heart really goes out to you guys …. I sincerely hope it won't damage my chances of continuing to stock this wonderful white as my house wine at Chez Nous … regards with fingers crossed …. an Irish fan – Jim (@winebanter)

  13. Kevin Thomas

    Hi Gav,

    Sorry to hear the shit news about the hail….again…

    Fingers crossed for the balance of the crop.

    Love to Angela.

    Cheers,

    KT.

  14. James Birkin

    I am so sorry to hear the news – really quite devastating – the more so for coming literally out of the blue
    Best wishes

    James

  15. Melissa Campbell

    Poor Gav and Ange, we feel so desperate for you and hope you manage to salvage some of your crop. Life wouldn't be the same without Chateau Bauduc!! We're thinking of you and send loads of love and luck Mellie and Gregor xxx

  16. Mickel & Daniela

    Gavin/Angela
    Sorry to hear about this – hope something positive does come out of it.
     
    Maybe sell as ready made chilled white wine spritzer?

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Mickel & Daniela.
      I like your thinking. We could perhaps make a hail cocktail – WBBs and Fusion Drinks are all the rage.
      (No, I didn't know what a WBB was until today. I thought it was something to do with wrestling but apparently it's a Wine Based Beverage.)
      x

  17. Corin Fairchild

    Hi Gavin and Angela
    Really sorry to hear you got hailed out guys.
    We share your pain – we lost 2010 and 2012.
    I’m trying to convince the locals that we need to be cloud-seeding here as the hail is becoming more frequent. Don’t know if you’ve looked into it at all?
    They do it all along the Pyrenees, but stop just short of us for some reason.
    I hope you can buy some grapes in and don’t have to argue with the insurers too much.
    Best wishes
    Corin

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Corin. You lost 2010 and 2012? Jeez.

      I haven't looked into the cloud-seeding but I should. Presumably you mean the cannon business. Generally speaking for the Entre Deux Mers, with 5000 hectares absolutely trashed and another 5000 damaged, I feel a hail cannon (like the one at Chateau d'Issan in Margaux) might have been no more useful than a pea-shooter in a gunfight. But it's time everyone got together to research it. Twice in five years for some, like us… and you.

      Sadly, no whiff of an argument with the hail insurers. We don't have insurance against hail. More on that in FAQs post. All the best.

  18. Alan Phipps

    Such rotten luck to have this hail again. I'm very sorry, and do hope that things turn out better than you fear.

    I've ordered a little wine as a small gesture of solidarity.

    Best regards.
    Alan Phipps

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you Alan. That's the spirit. I believe you came across us when we last had a hailstorm in 2009, and duly bought some wine from us then. Silver linings and all that..
      Best regards.

  19. Justin Marking

    Gavin,
    What a complete nightmare – not least because we’ve been drinking your rosé all summer.

    Seems desperately unfair/unlucky.Do vineyards ever put mesh screens arounds the fields or is that barking?
    Chin up. Justin

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Justin. Pretty unfair and unlucky to be lose a large chunk of the crop twice in five years.
      As I say to Corin above, I'm sure there will have to be more urgent research into hail damage prevention. Might feel like the horse has bolted but needs to be done.

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Gary. Can't help thinking that we saw an awful lot of netting on all those apple trees at Magners/Bulmers near you in Tipperary.
      And that pub sign springs to mind: 'Pub, Restaurant, Undertaker.'

  20. Harry McAdoo

    This is miserable news! As a huge fan of your wine I hope
    you guys can rise phoenix like from out of what remains. Harry

  21. David

    As a bond holder i am so sorry to hear about you loss again. Life can be so cruel but to come back from it again is what makes us so strong.Good luck to you all and hope to visit soon

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you David. Funnily enough, the children played Kelly Clarkson's 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger' on the iPad speakers last night. Bit of a silly sing along but hey. Best regards.

  22. Grahame P

    Gavin and Angela,

    Commiserations – nature’s a hard master.

    Keep fighting.

    Kind regards,
    Grahame

  23. Martin and Diana L-B

    Enter text right here!

    What dreadful news! What more can we say – except that you obviously have the resilience and ‘go’ to cope with the disaster.
    Martin & Diana Lee-Browne

  24. gilesfraser

    We're so sorry to hear about this latest hailstorm. Nature obviously hasn't heard the lightening doesn't strike twice adage. Massive commiserations from all of us. We know how you picked yourselves up from the last one and made your vineyard even better. There is no family better qualified to do the same again. Go Quinneys!
    Love The Frasers

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Giles and all Frasers. If we have any cunning plans/hair-brained schemes we might well run them past you. Love to all.

  25. Dee Dee Shelley

    Hey, hi

    Thanks for the newsletter. I enjoy reading all your trials and successes. Dam the hail, and we had it in the Charente Maritime too bizarrely, isn't nature so unforgiving and beyond control, but good luck this year!

  26. Peter Everard

    We are all really sorry to hear about the 'Bloody Hailstore'! Hope there is some of your crop to harvest. I wounded if there would be a system to protect the vines with a temporary mesh we used covering our tomatoes in Oman?
    Good Luck
    Peter and Stephanie Everard

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Peter and Stephanie. A temporary mesh would be more welcome than the temporary mash, that's for sure. Got to be looked at.
      Best wishes, and I hope you enjoy all that wine.

  27. Geoff Bowen

    Hi Gavin

    We exchanged emails in the past after my Dragons Den experience!

    just to say I was very sad to see the devastation the weekends hail caused to part of your vineyards – we have had a challenging fruit set over the past couple of years but i cant imagine seeing part of my crop disappear in 10 minutes!

    We seem to have been lucky this year with a very good fruit set for once! We are likely to have a surplus of grapes and i realise this is probably impractical and almost certainly not allowed but if you fancy making a wine in Bordeaux with English Grapes let me know (good for a story or 2!)

    Anyway hope you recover quickly from the storm with the rest of your vines.

    Best wishes

    Geoff

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks very much, Geoff.
      I think shipping grapes from Devon to Bordeaux must rank alongside coals to Newcastle or even selling sand to the Arabs. It is almost certainly not allowed which makes it all the more appealing.
      However, perhaps Daniel, Nelly, Steve and I can slip over to England and make a decent white wine with you at your place, and sell it as Shatto Beauduc..

  28. Paul Ploppy Carter

    So sorry to hear this…I did read about the hail storms but hoped it had missed you guys.

    Having a glass of your white as I write. A firm favourite here in Wilts!!

    Hope things turn out OK in the end. We're having a week on some Greek Isle with Jussie and Gay from next friday… sadly some rather dodgy Greek wine will be all we can hold of.

    All best

    Pxx

    1. GavinQuinney

      Ploppy, many thanks. I'll try and forward on some details of sourcing decent Greek wine if time allows, by email.

  29. Bruce Montgomery

    Dear Gavin & Angela
    What awful bad luck, again! Nature is cruel and in your case vicious.
    Still enjoying the fruits of your labor and hoping a little luck will come your way as you deserve some!
    Love from B&B

  30. Bridget Montgomery

    I am so sorry for you. There is nothing any of us can do to make it any better other than keep on drinking the wine you do have and that you do produce in the future. Obviously not difficult!

    My great grandfather coined the acronym OMG just for this situation! Keep up the good work.

    Lots of love Bridget & Brucexx

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Bridget. Bruce replied too, above. I can't believe that acronym was coined by your GGF. OMG!
      Love to you and Bruce.

  31. René Carayol

    Having enjoyed the fabulous wines of Chateau Bauduc for many years now, I’m a very satisfied Bond holder of this special chateau and I was looking forward to many more years of enjoyment until the hail storm. The previous hail storm in 2009 nearly strangled the season’s crop, and it’s a sickening feeling of déjà vu. If there is anything like justice, then Gavin and Angela will recover from this second terrible hand they have been dealt and continue to produce their magic on these wonderful vines

  32. Chris Chandler

    Very sad
    Lets drown or sorrows when I am down next month. Maybe there needs to be another Bond issue to help the cash-flow? I trust the team will keep their chins up and keep producing the fabulous wines that we all appreciate so much.
    Chris

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Chris. We'll have to think of a cunning financial plan, that's for sure. Cashflow will get tighter now that the banks have heard about the loss of 'stock'. Best regards.

  33. Simon Entwistle

    Dear Duc and Duchesse
    What appalling luck. Very sorry to hear about this and after all once is bad enough.
    Best wishes for the rest of your summer too
    Simon

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Simon. Duc… Duchesse? Nice ring to those titles but we're nouveau pauvre here, not aristos.

      Hope all's well in the legal world. By the way, our eldest, Georgie, passed her BAC with a high enough grade to read law at Bristol next term. Better prospects than wine, she reckons.

  34. Mark Charrington

    My thoughts are with you … what a bugger! Let’s hope that’s it for now and there is some recovery.

    Yours,

    Mark

  35. Reasonably Good

    Don't know about you but we're pretty gobsmacked by the recent feedback you've had on the blog. It's a great demonstration of what happens when you build a good relationship with your customers – you get a lot of people who care just as much about the people behind the product as the product.

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Rhys and Andrew. It's a reasonably good thing for you to see that your efforts with our newsletters do end up in the in-boxes of real people. And people do care. Cheers.

  36. Hugh Edmeades

    Dear Gavin

    I am very sorry to read the news of the hail-storm, but I hope that Daniel's pessimism is proved wrong.

    You might be amused to hear that we had James and Henny Pettit (neighbours) round for a barbecue the other night when I served up Bauduc. He tells me that you are mates and that you were once a porter at Christie's!

    He also told me the sad news that you are a Chelsea supporter. Christie's has a box at the Bridge, so if you would like to join us there, please let me know and I will try and get you in. Out of interest, I do have it for the Fulham game on the 21st September (5.30pm kick-off).

    All the best
    Hugh


    Hugh Edmeades
    Christie's International Director, Auctioneering

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Hugh.

      Small world, in many ways. I have known James since we were teenagers in Worcestershire.

      My first job was as a porter in Christie's Pictures department, spending my time brushing watered-down boot polish through stencils onto the back of canvas frames, and stacking paintings. A little while ago now. Mark Poltimore was there, Gregory Martin, Philip Hook, and so on. Toni Rossi was the menacing head of porters, I think.

      Re the sad news about Chelsea, I still have a season ticket, would you believe. Six of us have seats together in the West stand upper, and I use mine when I can. If not, we try to make use of it between us.

      Trouble is that the Fulham game is around the time of the harvest of what's left of the white, so a tad tricky. That's a kind offer though.

  37. Sasha Mikulich

    Dear Angela and Gavin

    I am saddened at hearing the news that hail has destroyed a large portion of your crop..

    However, there may not be a positive side to the loss, but when bad things happen they are overshadowed by good things and hopefully you will be able to recover and next year you will have a good crop which will exceed your expectations.
    Many wine growing regions in Western Australia use netting to protect the crop from birds (mainly) and hail. It is costly but rewarding in the long run. I am not sure if you do this in France.
    Best wishes and hope to visit next year
    Sasha and Michelle

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you, Sasha. Re netting, our vineyard manager is extremely sceptical. We treat the vines about every fortnight, with a tractor driven piece of kit, so the netting would gave to be raised up. It would have to be a helluva bit of kit to cover 25 hectares, or 60+ acres, of vines.
      Birds are not a problem, generally. The French eat most of them, although we have some fantastic birdlife here. Surrounded by woods etc.

  38. Anna

    Dear Gavin and Angela

    We were so sorry to read of the storm disaster. What a terrible blow especially as it was so localised.

    Anna & David

  39. chris butlin

    Dear All,

    So sorry to read this. Good luck and best wishes to all. I always buy your wines when I can.

    regards

    Chris Butlin

  40. Remco Sluis

    Bloody HELLLL,
    That's a lot of work down the drain, literally!
    I sit on the tractor with the " ecimeuse " to prune the long branches away and you don't have any branches left! What a disaster.
    We really hope you've some vines left for production, our thoughts are with you.
    Keep up your spirits,
    Love,
    Remco and Mariska

  41. Patrick G.

    These things are send to try us and with hail you can shrug your shoulders and mutter about Act of God even if the Bank Manager wouldn't see it that way. He decidedly didn't have any sympathy with a winery I was involved with in Western Australia a few years back. A large flock of sheep got into vineyard [somewhat remote as is possible in Australia] and had a pleasant 48 hours munching their way vines just as they were flowering. The sheep might have got the satisfaction of a full belly from their adventure but we certainly didn't get any sympathy or satisfaction from our Bank.

    Will take this opportunity to say it has been great experiencing how the quality of your wines have been steadily improve over the years. Congratulations. Onwards and upwards.

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks for the kind words, Patrick. I remember your involvement with the vineyard in Western Australia. Those sheep would have tasted better after eating all those young shoots. Maybe. And no, I can't see a great deal of (useful) sympathy being extended by banks here, either.

  42. Jen Wall

    Gav Have just watched video of hail storm! Heart-breaking is how I felt so God knows how you all felt in such a helpless situation, I am actually sitting with a very large glass of your fantastic Rose and gutted to read how everyone in the area was affected. our thoughts are with you , Ange and all the family and hope you can salvage something from such an unpleasant experience. Love Jen x

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you, Jen. It's a great pity but you, above all people, will know what I mean when I say that things could be worse – we're fortunate, touch wood, to be in rude health. Love to you all.

  43. Leslie Bishop

    Dear Angela and Gavin,

    We are so sorry to hear about the devastation and loss caused by the hail storm. Those of us who just enjoy drinking the stuff tend to forget what a challenge growing and making it can be. You always cope with these setbacks with courage, determination and humour; we wish you every success in producing some very special wine from the remaining crop.

    Love

    Jill and Leslie

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Leslie and Jill.

      Gosh – I misread your last comment. I thought you wrote "we wish you every success in producing some very special wine from the remaining crap."

  44. Emily Doherty

    Good God (?) – you poor things. Disaster. So sorry to see the devastation to this year's crop and all our future drinking. Hope some grapes managed to hang on for dear life and can be salvaged. Love from the Somerset Gang x

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Em. Perhaps, when you stay in our farmhouse in September, you, Juzzer and little Johnny can do some grape sorting on the vines, pre-harvest. "That one goes, that one stays, ditch that one, keep that one.."
      (Only 100,000 vines, 15-20 bunches on each, 150 (?) grapes in a bunch…)
      xx

      1. Emily Doherty

        Might be a stretch for 15 month old Johnny for whom counting to three is currently a distant dream. But we would, in theory, be there with bells on. Quinneys…..COURAGE!

  45. Ian Haig

    Dear Angela and Gavin

    Belated but nevertheless sincere thanks for the Bauduc Apron that arrived so very promptly. Incidentally , our guests much enjoyed both your pinkers and whiters this week which generated much good discussion. I am so sorry to hear of the devastation, caused by storm, to your vines. Crocodile tears must be washing the remainder. Poor you. Again thank you for despatching the apron.

    Ian Haig

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you Ian. Wear that apron with pride, and we hope you have good enough weather for it to be useful when manning the BBQ.

  46. Jacqui Boyd

    So sorry to hear the terrible news. I can't imagine how awful it must be for you. I'm sitting here drinking a glass of your delicious rosé and it's very sad to think there may be none next year.

    Love from us all

    The Boyds xx

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Jacqui. We will do our very best to produce a decent rosé. Much in demand, from Wandsworth to Padstow.

  47. James Hewetson

    Dear Gavin and Angela

    I can't believe this has happened to you again! Our absolute commiserations. I see that Tom and the Gilbey family were with you at the time – what a rude awakening! Let us know if there is anything we can do, and how things pan out with the rest of the (hopefully) harvest.

    FYI, when we put the wine on the prize table at Burhill for Kathy's Captains Charity Day, and told the story of Angela's connection wth the club, a lady came up to Kathy and said – "what an extraordinary co-incidence, I am an international lawyer, and I acted for Gavin and Angela when they bought the chateau!!" Truly, it is a very small world.

    Very best regards to all

    James and Kathy

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you James and Kathy. Tom was the one saying 'haven't we got time to eat outside first?' All the best.

  48. Doherty

    What a shocker, so sorry to hear about the damage. Let us know what we can do to help. (I wonder if a quiet word with the almighty about his destructive streak might be in order?)

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Juzzer. I'm sure you're right. Perhaps a silent prayer just before the storm might have been more effective than the 'oh fuck' during it. I will work on it for the future.