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
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
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 -
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.