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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine