The INAO, the body that controls viticulture and wine production in the protected Appellations of France, have given approval for the use of anti-hail nets following some extensive tests in Burgundy. Until now, growers in Appellation Contrôlée vineyards have not been allowed to install nets against hail because the effect on the grapes and on the vines hasn’t been properly understood and they can alter the nature of the terroir. Or something like that.
In the big picture of things, this may not seem to be especially significant news but it’s an interesting development for us and for any wine growers who have to live through the fairly regular stress of hail storm alerts. And, from time to time, the real losses from hail damage.
The successful Burgundy tests have taken three years and this coincides with the experimental nets that we installed at Bauduc in June 2015 (above). Our trials were not so much to see if they work against hail (we think they would, though mercifully they’ve not been put to the test) but to assess how long they might last, and what impact there is on the vines, the labour, and the grapes. Now that we’ve been given the feu vert, in effect, we will spend more time and effort really understanding how the grapes behind the nets perform and how they taste during this harvest, compared to the neighbouring rows.
There are numerous considerations. The first being the cost of installation being around €20,000 per hectare, depending on the number of vines, and the width and height of the rows. We have 25 hectares of vines, so the projected lifespan of ten years is a pretty key element. One also imagines that there will be a significant demand on what is currently a tiny service industry in France, for obvious reasons. The supplier who jumped at the chance of installing the test nets at Bauduc may be a little bit more in demand from from hail-prone zones. (A decent business opportunity, I’d say.)
Since we’ve been here, and to my knowledge, hail has struck different regions in Bordeaux in (our first month of) September 1999, June 2003, July 2007, May 2008, May 2009 (twice), September 2011, July and August 2013, August 2017, May 2018 and July 2018.
We ourselves were hit in June 2003, May 2009 (twice) and August 2013. In those last two, we lost over 50% of the crop. Is it getting worse? People often ask. Possibly, and there are certainly more storm alerts. Perhaps, though, that’s down to easier communication.
I’ll put together a brief history of hail at Château Bauduc and, separately, my experiences of hail around the Bordeaux region this century. In the meantime, here’s a taster of why anti-hail nets might just help.
Wink Lorch wrote this piece for Wine-searcher here, quoting yours truly.