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. Keep reading
One of the extraordinary aspects of hail is how one vineyard can be badly hit, while another just a few hundred metres away looks as if nothing untoward has happened. It isn’t entirely random, however. The storm will follow a certain route and anything in its path is at risk, while vines either side can remain unscathed.
The contrasting fortunes of the vineyards around us at Chateau Bauduc, on the outskirts of Créon, is quite amazing. (I should qualify that: amazing for those who are vaguely interested, which excludes half of this household.)
Chateau Bauduc is in the centre of the image above, where a little red A marks the spot. Our vines surround the Chateau and winery – a single vineyard with woodland on three sides and the town on the northern boundary. To give you an idea of the scale, the estate covers 75 hectares, a third of which is planted with vines.
We lost around 50% of this year’s harvest in the storm on 2 August 2013 due to hail damage to leaves and grapes. It could get worse here if rot sets in now or later, or if the remaining grapes don’t ripen. We can only wait and see.
Here’s the thing, as the map shows. Vineyards just 2kms to the west of us were untouched because the storm passed by to the south. Keep reading
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.) Keep reading
The 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.
We 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. Keep reading
The week of the 16th June was a shocker in the vineyard.
When I was a lad, the week beginning the 16th was a special one. It was the start of the coarse fishing season in England and, as long as it wasn’t pouring with rain, a time to sneak off to catch carp, perch and other freshwater fish. (I still don’t think of these specimens as food, like the French do.)
This year in Bordeaux, the glorious 16th saw Chateau Mouton Rothschild unveil its spanking new cellars in a blaze of sunshine and glory by the banks of the Gironde. What a tremendous way for the privileged few – those of us that made the cut for dinner – to begin the week of Vinexpo, the trade fair. (We had soufflé de brochet, otherwise known as pike soufflé, to start; it was delicious.)
Unfortunately, Sunday was the last we saw of the sun. From Monday onwards, it was pretty grim for vines and visitors to Bordeaux alike. As I’ve said recently in The Flowering, this is a critical period for vine growers. (That post was also published on Livex and jancisrobinson.com – Jancis wittily called it ‘Bordeaux’s blooming gloom’.)
Hail apart – and they’ve had some of that up the road in the Loire valley – the weather could hardly have been worse. Not only is the flowering really late but it has poured during the crucial time, with potentially disastrous results for the crop. The tiny flowers are vulnerable to cold, damp weather and poor fruit set is likely, affecting quantity and quality. Keep reading
It’s a scary time for vine growers. We need half-decent weather at the right moment or the size and quality of crop could be at risk. 2013 is the latest flowering we’ve witnessed and, what with sunshine one day and unseasonably heavy downpours the next, it’s the stuff of nightmares.
Visitors to Vinexpo, the huge trade fair that’s taking place in Bordeaux this week, can see the flowering for the first time ever during the show – if they have the chance or the inclination to get out into the vines. Normally, between 16 and 20 June, you’d have missed the floraison and the annual Fête de la Fleur, held this year at Chateau Lagrange in St-Julien on the 20th, is supposed to celebrate the end of the flowering, not the middle of it.
This report was first published on Livex and Jancis Robinson‘s site.
There hasn’t been a poor vintage in Bordeaux for twenty years but the cold, damp weather, as we approach the critical month of June, is a gentle reminder that anything can happen.
Cabernet Sauvignon in Pauillac, 26 May 2013
The harvest this Autumn will be my fifteenth (a rookie still) and the development of the vines across Bordeaux in 2013 is the most backward I’ve seen. Our vineyard manager, Daniel, will tell you the same thing, and he’s been working here since the 80s.
It’s certainly going to be another late harvest, like 2012, and we all know that ’late and great’ rarely go hand in hand when it comes to Bordeaux vintages. ’Comeback of the century’ is the best we can hope for and I, for one, would settle for that. (If you’re visiting Bordeaux at harvest time, the reds won’t be picked until October.)
At the start of June, the vines should be flowering or about to flower. May, however, has been so wet and cold (my unofficial stats show a chilling monthly average to date of 12.5°C, compared to a thirty year average in May of 16.5°C) that we’re still a little way off the floraison and, worse, the vines have a lot of catching up to do beforehand. It’s all rather worrying, although the forecast for early June looks more promising. Keep reading