Thousands of hectares of vines between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers in the Entre Deux Mers were decimated by the hailstorm that ripped through this corner of Bordeaux last Friday evening, 2 August.
I’ve seen hail damage to Bordeaux vineyards in 1999, 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2011 at varying stages of the season, from one end of Bordeaux to the other. In our 15 harvests, as I pointed out in yesterday’s report, we’ve had hail at Château Bauduc in 2003, 2009 and now in 2013. But I have never seen anything as bad as the vine damage sustained by some of our neighbours last Friday. Others, meanwhile, were untouched.
The week before, late on Friday 26 July, a hailstorm ruined part of the crop in the Entre Deux Mers around Génissac, near Libourne on the banks of the Dordogne. (Strong winds the same night also caused considerable damage to the famous willow trees at Château Lafite 50kms away near Pauillac but as there was no hail, there was no loss in the vines.)
Last Friday evening, at around 8.45pm on 2 August, this second, much more violent hailstorm destroyed this year’s harvest in many more vineyards in the Entre Deux Mers and over the Dordogne in part of the Côtes de Castillon. Official estimates vary, with figures being bandied about of between 5,000 and 10,000 hectares having been affected to a greater or lesser extent. That’s about 4% to 8% of the whole of the Bordeaux vineyard. (I’m a little sceptical of the 20,000 hectares/50,000 acres now being quoted as a result of state aid being mentioned by the press.)
We were hit, as I say, at Château Bauduc in Créon. Pretty badly, in fact, losing 50% of the crop for sure and we’ll have to see how the other half fares in the next two months. I’ll cover the damage to the area immediately around Créon in a separate post because the contrast from one vineyard to the next is amazing.
I traced the path of the hail beyond our immediate area at the weekend, and the impact in some vineyards is shocking. It should be noted that the corridor of destruction is in a fairly specific zone. It’s not simply a case of ’Bordeaux hail reduces crop’: none of the more famous appellations have been hit, with the exception of a corner of St-Emilion, down by the Dordogne.
The destruction ran in a straightish line that widened out from Tabanac on the Garonne, up through Haux, alongside Créon and through La Sauve, St-Léon, Espiet, Blésignac, Daignac, Faleyras, Grézillac, Guillac and Branne. Then it hopped over the Dordogne and trashed its way up through St-Magne de Castillon and beyond.
Many vineyards have been totally devastated, with 100% loss for this year. Next year doesn’t look too clever either, given the mashing that the vines took.
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At Château Castelnau, an old fort between St-Léon and Espiet, the vines and posts have been absolutely battered. You can only wonder at the force of the hailstorm, as leaves from trees carpeted the lane nearby.
The landscape around Château Bonnet near Grézillac, for example, one of the largest and best known estates in the Entre Deux Mers, is shocking. As you drive from Daignac towards Guillac, the landscape is made up of hundreds of hectares of vines. Last week, it was a sea of verdant green. Today, there’s hardly a leaf left on the vines, as far as the eye can see. Car drivers pull over to take pictures. Close to the Château itself, the branches in the vineyard have been stripped bare.
It is a great pity that so many high quality vineyards were hit, along with vines in poor condition too, while so much crap lies outside the hail zone.
Near Ch Bonnet in Grézillac, poor Henri Feret at Ch Feret-Lambert, who makes one of the best red Bordeaux Supérieurs, has been hit for the second time in three years. This year he lost the lot and, like me, doesn’t have hail insurance as the cost is huge.
The Despagne family, who make one of the top Entre Deux Mers called Tour de Mirambeau, have one of the best-kept white vineyards, near Branne. I saw the vines, at 10,000 vines per hectare the highest density of vines in the Entre Deux Mers, in excellent shape for this year just a week ago. Not any more.
The Entre Deux Mers is both a geographic region, by the way, and an appellation, which confuses a lot of people. As an appellation on a label, it is for white wine only, like St-Emilion is for red. Yet most of the grapes in the Entre Deux Mers are in fact red, and mainly merlot, because growers found it easier to sell Bordeaux Supérieur and straight Bordeaux red than dry white. Added to which, many growers, such as our close neighbours Chateau Thieuley and ourselves, use the Bordeaux Blanc appellation for our whites, not EDM.
The Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon were looking much better this year than the more widely planted merlot, in general. There is a lot of coulure and millerandage on the merlot, leading to poor fruit set, which had reduced the size of the crop long before the hail.
So there will be much less ’co-op’ level bulk available for négociants to sell to supermarkets this year, on two counts. But it’s the independent growers that make and bottle their own wine, from carefully tended grapes in their own backyard, that I feel for.