Après le déluge: Bordeaux’s winemakers fight back

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Yet again, summer storms have devastated Bordeaux’s vineyards. Now growers are counterattacking, using everything from cannons to rockets

French winemakers have declared war on the weather. Even before the storms that dropped hailstones as big as tennis balls on the Bordeaux vineyards last weekend, one month before the wine harvest begins, producers had lined up an arsenal of gadgets to protect their precious grapes from bad weather.

Some methods have been tried and tested over time; some have been abandoned as ineffective; others have tried to harness new technology to the age-old industry.The 15-minute hailstorm that swept across the vineyards of Bordeaux last Friday destroyed 5 per cent of the vines in the area. The region of Entre deux Mers, which produces dry white wines, was particularly badly hit. At least 7,000 of Bordeaux’s 115,000 hectares were devastated. Wine crops have also been destroyed in the Burgundy and Beaujolais regions.

The storms have brought fresh attention to the counter-measures available to winemakers, who say none of them are perfect. Julie Mounet-Brun represents 450 vintners producing Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux wines. She says that in her area, cannons are used to fire silver iodide into the atmosphere. The iodide dissolves the hailstones, which then turn into rain.

“The trouble is that there aren’t enough of them to be effective,” she says. “The storms we get come from the Landes region, so the cannons need to be positioned correctly. And we need enough warning.”

There are also vortex generators, but they need to be switched on three hours before the estimated arrival of the hailstones. And they must be installed every 10 kilometres over a large area to be effective.

Some growers used an anti-hailstone rocket that was developed in the 1970s. It was fired into the atmosphere, where the sodium iodide it contained was supposed to dissolve the hailstones. But producers gave up on the method in the 1990s as it proved ineffective, dangerous and costly. Michel Dubois, a retired winemaker in the Loire region, said that another option was to erect nets over the vines which would catch the hailstones before they caused damage. “But that didn’t work. Sometime the hailstones would be so heavy that they broke down the nets.” He also said it was impossible to work in the vines because of the netting.

For Mr Dubois there is only one foolproof method against hailstones: insurance. But 70 per cent of growers do not take out insurance in the hope that they will not be affected by a freak hailstorm.

Christophe Vaudoisey, a winemaker from the Côte d’Or region of Burgundy, told France2 television this week that he could no longer afford not to take out insurance. Hailstorms used to hit every 20 years, “but now they’ve [struck] six times in the past 12 years,” he said. Each time, between 60 and 90 per cent of the wine harvest has been destroyed.

Vintners dread hailstorms but they are just as afraid of frost, which can decimate a crop – particularly if it comes in late spring, when the buds are bursting. Spraying vines with water is a popular way to keep their temperatures above freezing. Wind turbines are also used across the vineyards to protect against frost. The giant turbines mix slightly warmer air with the cold air lower down, raising the temperature at vine level by a couple of degrees.

Traditional fuel heaters and paraffin torches remain widespread. The heaters switch on and off automatically in response to the temperature. But they have been criticised for damaging the environment, so some wineries have substituted gas as the heater fuel.

Mrs Mounet-Brun said some grape  producers used to burn tyres among their vines, giving off acrid smoke.

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
Sport
A view of today's Spanish papers
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
News
people

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
books

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

Learning Support Assistants-Nantwich area

£8 - £9 per hour: Randstad Education Chester: We are currently recruiting for ...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London