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High hopes after hail

06 September 2013

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AS I write this, reports are coming in of hailstorms in Burgundy, causing great damage in the vineyards. The newspapers talk of 90-per-cent destruction of this year's crop in the adjoining villages of Pommard and Volnay.

Just as in every other form of farming, weather plays an essential part, and there are good years and bad years. Also, hail tends to be very localised. In Burgundy, the vineyard holdings of the majority of growers are spread over a number of villages. For example, one grower has plots of vines in both Pommard and Volnay, but he also has vines in Beaune, Meursault, Savigny, Monthélie, Gevrey-Chambertin, and the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune; so while he might have lost part of his harvest, he still has high hopes for the majority.

It is probable that there will be some shortage this year of wine from these two villages, and a resultant increase in price, but I would suggest that there will be plenty of wines from elsewhere.

You can insure against such damage, but the premiums are high. Some years ago, when the risk of hail damage was highest, there was a plane on standby at the nearby airfield of Châlon-sur-Saône. At the same time there was constant radar watch, and, when potential hail-storms were spotted, the plane could take off to seed the clouds with chemicals, which meant that any precipitation would be of rain, not hail.

Naturally, this was not cheap, and the project was abandoned because of the unwillingness of the growers to support the cost. Now, I read, this solution is on the table once again.

Occasionally, you can come across, in the vineyards, the historical solution: the canon grélifuge. This looked something like a vertical foghorn, 15 feet high - the theory being that if you fire this at the hail clouds it causes enough turbulence in the air to protect an area of up to 60 acres. Some growers rely on prayer as the most effective - and cheapest - protection.

Perhaps surprisingly, the vineyard area in the world where hail is the biggest problem is in Mendoza, Argentina. Here, many of the vineyards are netted, so that the bunches of grapes are protected against the hailstones.

I am a big fan of the red wines of Argentina, and one of its big attractions is the wide range of grape varieties grown there. As well as the ubiquitous Malbec, you can find the Sangiovese and Bonarda from Italy and the Tempranillo from Spain. Of the Malbecs, my current favourite is Callia Bella 2012, from San Juan (Majestic £8.99, but £5.99 if you buy two). Other great reds include Finca Flichman Reserva Shiraz 2012 (Waitrose, £9.90; and, at a more reasonable price, the Co-op's Fairtrade Bonarda Shiraz 2012, from the Famatina Valley, at £4.99.

Burgundian devotees who bewail the loss of their Pommards and Volnays might find some consolation in Domaine Girardin's Monthélie 1er cru Riottes 2009 (Waitrose, £19.99). If budgets are tight, I can recommend Sainsbury's House Pinot Noir, which comes from the Cramera winery in Romania. Although it might lack complexity, it is full of luscious fruit - and is only £4.99 a bottle.

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Sun 03 Jul @ 02:45
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