Have you watched the recent Tour de France stage where hailstones as big as golf balls came down on Dutch stage winner Tom Dumoulin? He did not seem to be bothered much, but these heavy lumps can really transform a car into a dented can. A vine-grower expecting a hailstorm, will feel his blood run cold. Will his beloved vines survive this violent weather? He knows, a strong hailstorm can destroy a complete harvest in the blink of an eye.
In France many ‘vignerons’ are significantly affected by the extreme weather conditions of recent months. It started with unexpected frost at the end of April, especially in the Burgundy and Loire wine regions. In Burgundy more than 70% of the vines was severely damaged. Add the brief but violent hailstorms of last week and there’s not much left to harvest. Especially when you consider that a vine needs two years to pull through.
A farmer can do little against extreme weather. Insurances against this kind of disasters are outrageously expensive. Luckily, vintners are a very inventive bunch. Do you want to know what they do to keep your Chardonnay or Chablis affordable?
*Old-fashioned but effective and visually very attractive are the chaufferettes: little stoves which are installed at an equal distance between the rows of vines. The effect: rising temperatures, so a warm adieu to frost and malheur.
* The modern farmer will ‘shower’ the young vines with fine water spray. This freezes and forms a thin, icy protection layer around blossoms or young fruit. Thank goodness, your Pinot Noir is safe!
* Brasseurs d’air; a special kind of windmill that circulates air. Warm air heats up the cold layers close to the ground. Thus, the Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais can warm up a bit.
*A classic, ánd disputable: the hail cannon. The explosion creates a shock wave, which is pointed towards the hailstorm. The hailstones transform into raindrops, showering the vineyard. Sounds as a nice sales pitch, but evidence that this method actually works has never been provided.
* High towers act as conductors that attract lightning. Hail will not be distributed any further, is, at least, the theory.
* As we speak Chablis grapes are put in safety. Changeable weather is announced and many vignerons in Burgundy are now busy wrapping up their vines in an endless amount of transparent plastic with holes in it. Costs: 30.000 euros per hectare. Absolutely everything will be done to protect our delicious liquid.
PS: Up to now, none of these solutions have proved to be 100% protective…