Hail in Bordeaux, part 4 – FAQs of Bauduc

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Shreddies. 2 August 2013 at Bauduc

We were hit by hail on 2 August. 5000 hectares of vines in the area have been stripped of this year’s grapes and another 5000 hectares, like us, have seen damage to vines to a greater or lesser extent. Here are a few questions and answers, mainly as far as Bauduc is concerned.

1. Are you insured against hail?

No. You can buy special hail insurance but the premiums are outrageously expensive. Those sharp-suited insurance folk are no fools.

The authorities believe that only 15%-20% of the vineyards that were hit were insured against hail. Henri Feret of Ch Feret-Lambert, for example, makes excellent Bordeaux Supérieur and he’s not insured, which makes us feel slightly less dozy.

It would be surprising if the leading Chateaux of Bordeaux are not insured, but some appellations like Pauillac and St-Julien have not been hit for a long time, so premiums should be affordable compared to the price they get for the wine.

2. Didn’t you have hail before?

Yes. In May 2009 – twice, in fact, a fortnight apart – and in June 2003. So we’ve been hit in three out of fifteen harvests – or, more recently, two out of five. Our recent form isn’t good.

There’s a threat of hail quite often and it’s one of nature’s threats you live with. A hailstorm went past us in September 2011 and landed on nearby Grézillac. They were hit again this year, so there are worse spots to be in than ours – but only just.

3. Is it as bad as 2009?

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Hail in our vines in May 2009

Yes, but it’s different, and a little too early to say for us. The hailstorms of 2009 trashed our vines in May (left) when the shoots were new and tender. The season’s growth had only just started in April and the little bunches hadn’t flowered into grapes. We lost about 80% of the crop then, before it had even got going.

This time, the hail on 2 August damaged young, unripe grapes and shredded many leaves on the west facing side of each row. Some parcels escaped more than others, mainly because the rows run east to west, rather than north to south (the storm came in from the west and hit the rows side-on) and because some vines had a bit of shelter from our woods.

The cost is higher this year because there has been a huge amount of work in the vineyard to prepare the vines up to this point. The branches on 100,000 vines have been lifted twice between the training wires, for example, unwanted shoots removed by hand, we’ve sprayed five or six times against mildew, trimmed the tops of the rows, and so on.

4. How much have you lost?

The immediate loss of grapes is about 50% – that’s really a guess – and we don’t know just how the other half will cope. There’s seven weeks before the white harvest and around nine or ten weeks before the red.

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Hail damage to Bauduc grapes in August 2013

Daniel, our vineyard manager, now believes there’ll only be a small amount of grapes, if any, that will be worth harvesting.

My feeling is that we’ll only make 10-20% of a normal yield of wine of the right quality, but it’s early days. That’s 500-1000 litres a hectare, instead of 5000+. We have 24 hectares in production, so it might be about 15,000 to 30,000 bottles, compared to 160,000. (We are allowed to produce over 180,000.) It costs about €240,000 to run the vineyard, before bottling and packaging costs at about €0.80 a bottle.

It all depends on the weather and we don’t know if the remaining grapes in a bunch that’s been bashed on one side will ripen. There’s also damage to leaves and branches. Some parcels fared better though.

We also need good weather to stop the battered grapes from rotting and the mould spreading to other bunches, like bananas in a fruit bowl. If they stay dry the knackered grapes should brown and shrivel like raisins. If mould sets in now or later, they’re buggered. As are we.

5. Is the damage localised or more widespread?

Storm cloud over Bauduc, 2 Aug, moments before the hail

Storm cloud over Bauduc, 2 August, moments before the hail

The damage is localised – and widespread. The hailstorm decimated vines in a relatively narrow band of a few kilometres across, along a path of more than 40kms.

About 5,000 hectares of vineyard have lost 100% of this year’s crop, I’m reliably informed, with about 10,000 hectares affected in total.

I’ve written two detailed posts, ‘Hail in Bordeaux, part 2 – the path of destruction’ and ‘part 3 – the lottery of storms’ on that point for our blog, and this article for Jancis Robinson’s website.

6. Can you buy more grapes to make Chateau Bauduc?

This is France, and nothing’s that simple. Brits tend to think ‘let’s do our best to get a quality product to our customers’.

The French think ‘Let’s get the rule book out’. Half of them then think ’Let’s find a way around the rules.’

To make a wine with ’Chateau’ on the label, we are only able to buy grapes from another vineyard if we’ve leased the land. It’s like wanting to stay over at a friend’s house at the last minute but asking to sign a lease arrangement first: no-one would put you up.

There is a special type of lease in place for such eventualities but we’d have to find another vineyard and sign for it before the end of August, under the rules (the deadline’s been extended from the end of July, as if that’s some kind of bonus).

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The label on our 2009: we leased another vineyard.

This one-year contract is called a ‘Mise à disposition’. In May 2009, when we were hit, we had much more time before the harvest to research, track down and lease another vineyard for one year, and to work with the grower.

To find another vineyard before the end of August, when thousands of hectares have been hit, will be like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. There’d also be no guarantee of course, with a month to go, that the harvest will be any good, so it would be another gamble.

7. Can you buy grapes and make a non-Chateau wine?

Special dispensation has been given for growers to buy grapes from other growers in the same appellation to make non-Chateau wine or ‘branded’ wine like ‘Mouton Cadet’, ’Sirius’ or ’Dourthe No 1’ without the need for ‘negociant’ status.

Normally, you can’t buy grapes because a negociant’s or wine merchant’s winery has to be quite separate from a grower’s winery, and they must separated by a main road to prevent any foul play. (This is France, after all.)

Although UK retailers sell more own-label or ‘branded’ wine than wine from separate vineyards (e.g. wine from Domaines, Chateaux, Bodegas or Estates), our approach has been the old fashioned one of making wine from our own vineyard.

Even if we wanted to make wine from bought-in grapes, there isn’t going to be a lot of good stuff on the market now. Yields were low before the hail, due to poor fruit set on the merlot, and chances now of finding high quality grapes at this price point are slim.

If we can find a sensible way around it, we might, but we don’t really want to compromise.

34 thoughts on “Hail in Bordeaux, part 4 – FAQs of Bauduc

  1. Annie

    So sorry to hear about the hail. As a fellow vinegrower I know just how much hard work has gone into the vineyards, it must be soul destroying.

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you Annie. Daniel – who has driven up and down all season in the tractor and organised the seasonal workers – is especially hacked off. Hit twice in 5 years. All that work, by so many people, for so little.
      Not sure if it's better to know that there won't be a harvest and stop fretting about it, or to have some glimmer of hope. In limbo for the moment.
      Hope all's well in Camel Valley.

  2. David Richards

    Sounds like a time to compromise Gav. I am sure your regulars will understand and support you. And I think the bash street kid will probably end up at the Bridge..hope it works our for you all. Best david and Lynnie

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks David and Lynnie.
      Ah, the good old days at the farmhouse of laughing at the reviews section on Amazon, for Veet Men hair removal cream.
      (Google it if you're looking in and haven't come across the hysterical comment.)
      All the best

  3. Nick

    Very sorry to hear about this. Is there no sort of physical protection you can install to protect against hail?

    I know the scale and cost is likely to be incredible, but it sounds as if the industry needs something like a "hail baffle" – cheap, conical umbrella-like structures that sit atop posts and deflect a proportion of the hail – to save you and your neighbours from the heartache.

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Nick. A hail baffle sounds good. If a solution is possible, there's a good market. We pay a lot in subsidies, fees etc (10k € a year) – they could put some of that towards research, I reckon.

  4. Oscar

    Hi Gavin and Angela, I was very upset to get your email with the various blogs today. As you can imagine, all the Tymons feel even closer to Bauduc now than we did before. What terrible fortune. I'll get Alexis working on a song to chant to the remaining fruit to make fantastic wine that you can sell at special cuvee prices! Thinking of you all here in the London 'burbs. Best wishes, Oscar

  5. Richard Bampfield

    Sobering stuff. Gavin, how about coming to some "arrangement" with a wine producer in another part of the world (perhaps Australia, where crops also seem to be inconsistent in recent years) whereby, in a year when one of you suffers, the other offers some wine to be sold through your existing distribution system? A sort of in-house insurance policy. Complicated to define the contract but it would guarantee some extra revenue in years in when production is small. Could also deliver some quite useful PR…….

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Richard. I like your thinking, although I'm sure we don't need to go as far afield as Australia.

  6. Margaret

    Gavin – feeling for you and all at Bauduc. We had our first experience of serious hail damage 2 weeks ago at our vineyard in SW France and so are reading your blogs with heightened interest. We felt sick to our stomachs as we went out in the rain to see the damage. So random and completely out of our hands. We'll keep our fingers crossed for some good weather to help your remaining crop and the vines.

  7. Will Bentley

    Dear Gavin, Angela & Team,

    This is my first ever comment on any blog, but I felt I had to commend you on such an incredibly insightful, clear and fascinating blog you never wanted to write (again!). All I can do is wish you the best of luck and like you, pray for some sun and a light breeze for the next two months.

    After a tricky 2012, my contacts around France say that 2013 is likely to be even tougher. Cold spring, hail in Loire and Burgundy etc. We're off to the Rhone in October for a trip planned to be 3-4 weeks after harvest, but it looks like we'll be put to work.

    If you can 'get by' the rules I would be very confident that the name Bauduc on a bottle , even if it is not Chateau (or even explicit that you made it), will sell the wine given your great reputation and direct relationship with your customers, who will understand what has happened. Allegrini decided to ignore the rules a few years ago and seal their Valp Classico under stelvin even though it meant they could not label it as such – did them no harm.

    Good luck!

    Will Bentley
    (UK sole retail outlet for Cuvée Andronov – availability 1 x 75cl)

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you, Will, for your first ever comment on a blog.
      I think you should do so more often, although in this day and age, with the torrent of words on social media passing by at an ever increasing rate, people aren't stopping as often to comment on wine blogs, I think.
      As for the Bauduc brand using other grapes, I do agree. But this year is a tricky year to do so, what with high demand now for, well, mediocre quality. Most consumers – and even the press – don't understand the difference between winemaker and winemaker/grower (huge..).
      Now, we could change the chai/winery to that of negociant status (we have both grower and negociant status as a business). If we did that, we could make or blend as we wish. But that's another story… tbc

  8. Mark Johnstone

    Gavin, Angela
    I could barely believe what I was reading following your hail tale. Having seen the effects of the last one in what seems no time ago, here is another. How heartbreaking. And now seemingly a frequent occurrence. I am sure, put down to jet streams, gulf streams and on and on. It doesn't detract from the horror of it all.
    I am at a loss of words-so sorry for you all. And Daniel too, who must feel like throwing the towel in at times.
    The wine remains wonderful, and it is still a haven to be part of it, to visit.Hang on in there-we are all behind you every inch of the way.

  9. Andy Benson

    Hi Gavin,
    Thank you for your message regarding the hailstorm. Truly amazing pictures and very saddened for your 50% losses. Hopefully the weather conditions will keep your losses to a minimum.
    Best wishes
    Andy

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Andrew. Good to see you earlier this summer, on your way through – when it was all looking a bit better in the vines. All the best.

  10. James KP

    Hello Team@Bauduc,
    What desperate bad luck. I feel quite lost for words, which is all the more feeble as you have composed such excellent blogs at such a devastating time.
    I am sure most people have experienced some kind of disappointment at work or home in the last few years, but when your work and your home are inextricably linked and it's nine months of hard toil that has been battered to shreds its a whole different story.
    I was at a party last night and lots of your loyal customers were saying how terrible it is that you have been hit so hard and worrying about what they will be drinking next year. We all feel rather helpless.
    That said, if you feel like taking some time out please come and stay in Norfolk. I can't guarantee good weather but you won't have to sign a lease! Keep your spirits up and remember that the Premier League kicks off next weekend…

    1. GavinQuinney

      James, thank you. And a very kind offer. The links at Brancaster and the fine ales in all those Nelson pubs sound pretty appealing right now. (Can't guarantee good weather here either. Obviously.)
      All the best and we'll be doing what we can to look after our loyal customers.

  11. Philip Jepson

    Gavin,
    You don't know us although my wife and I visited Bauduc in May 2011. We were touring by bike and ordered a couple of cases which Graham, our long suffering tour organiser collected. We have bought stuff online from you since. I am not involved in the wine industry but do run a small business. So have some insight into how you must feel at the moment.
    I was really sorry to hear the news. On some levels your life seems idyllic but I know it is underpinned with very hard work, great skill and that you need your share of luck because you are so exposed to the vagaries of nature.
    For what it's worth you are in our thoughts and I hope that you recover from this.
    I really admire what you have achieved and hope that you will come out of the other side.
    Regards
    Phil Jepson

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you for the kind words, Phil. Didn't we meet when you came to Bauduc on bicycles? We tasted our wines out in the garden, I think. You're in the legal game, no, with your own business? Our eldest, Georgie, has just done well enough in her BAC at her lycée in Bordeaux to read Law at Bristol next term. Thought I'd mention it…

  12. Christopher Godber

    This is devasting news for you. We do so feel for you.
    As a Bondholder we will work with you to achieve a solution
    like extending the Bond for a year.
    I hope you get some reasonable outcome for 2013 despite all the problems

  13. Hugh Bishop

    Mary and I were very sorry to hear of this devastating loss. We greatly enjoy your wine and other than a couple of decades of the rosary probably the only practical help we can offer is to keep buying your wine, which we will do
    Best wishes Hugh and Mary

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you, Hugh. We were just saying today how many customers we have who are in the medical profession, especially surgeons. Makes what we do look like a breeze.
      Love to you both.

  14. Diane Ohanian

    Dear Gavin,

    I so enjoy your newsletter, but am saddened by the devastation caused by the hail storms of August 2nd. We hope that you will find in the weeks to come that the vines are still healthy enough for next year and, perhaps, that the damage is not as bad as it first seemed.

    We publish a free quarterly newsletter, FRANCE On Your Own, and in our mid-August issue we will be mentioning the storms that affected Bordeaux and Burgundy this year. May I use one or two of your photos in the article (credit given, of course) and perhaps some of the facts you provided about the track of the storm and the specific areas hit hardest? I will be happy to point people to your web site and blog as well.

    Best regards,

    Diane
    FRANCE On Your Own http://www.franceonyourown.com
    San Diego, California
    **********************************

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Diane, as you know I replied by email earlier. No problem with using the pictures and thank you for asking.

  15. Neil and Gill Vivian

    Can't believe this has happened to you. We were so sorry to hear about the hailstorm, and our thoughts are v much with you all. To think that when we were collecting our wine from you in June the worry was about the floraison!!!! How quickly things can change, and in this case, in just a matter of minutes. You are v much in our thoughts as your wine is very much on our table. Deep sympathy from all your friends and supporters in Padstow.

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thank you, Neil and Viv, for the kind words and support. It was good to catch up – and moan about the flowering. Actually, the flowering on the white was fine in the end. Then this… bugger.

  16. Anabelle Matthews

    Bloody weather, just devastating – so sorry to hear your latest news, I can't believe so much damage is done in so few minutes. I hope this year can be salvaged in some small way and the few bottles that are produced are the most delicious. See you soon, love to all x

  17. Malcolm Beill

    Hi Gavin & Angela
    I have just spent the past hour reading and pondering your blog and then contemplating how my business would be if I had all the overheads but only 20% of the sales in a given year – and the answer is I probably wouldn't have a business left.
    The thought that this has happened twice before and, apart from insurance, there is really nothing that you can do to protect yourselves in the future.
    Making wine in the French countryside sounds like an ideal way of life – the reality is living on a knife edge when you realise what pitfalls can beset you.
    I can only sympathise and hope that you manage to find a way through this year and wish you better years ahead.
    I'm sure that all your bondholders and loyal customers will remain in support.
    Hang on in there -I know you will.
    Best Wishes – Malcolm Beill

    1. GavinQuinney

      Thanks Malcolm. What's surprising, from a business planning perspective, is that I don't think that we ever considered after the debacle in May 2009 (with the hail) that it would happen again. Lightening striking twice and so on. Onwards and upwards… or sideways.All the best.