A fifth of this year's Bordeaux wine harvest has been destroyed by two severe hail bombardments in three days.
Vineyards in parts of the Saint-Emilion and Entre-Deux-Mers regions lost 100 per cent of their new growth in storms on Monday and Wednesday. Elsewhere, including parts of Médoc and Graves, up to 80 per cent of the 2009 harvest is feared to have been lost.
"Hail attacks are an occasional problem in May but rarely as severely as this," said Laurent Gapenne, president of the federation of producers of Grands Bordeaux. "Some wine producers are already struggling financially after a small harvest in 2008. For them, this is a catastrophe."
After receiving damage reports yesterday, M. Gapenne estimated that 20,000 hectares – or 50,000 acres – of vines would produce no or limited grapes this autumn. "This is about 20 per cent of the entire Bordeaux vineyard," he said.
"It is as if someone had pelted the vines with pebbles," said Jean-François Lespinasse, proprietor of the Château Bichon-Cassignols in Graves. "At best, I can expect 300 to 500 litres of wine per hectare this year, compared to 4,500 in a normal year."
Big-name and high-price Bordeaux châteaux are believed to have been damaged, albeit less seriously than producers of cheaper wines for mass consumption. Producers of quality wines grow fewer grapes per hectare.
Some wine officials and experts put a brave face on the losses yesterday. "Smaller quantities of grapes means better wines," said Cédric Elia, a wine consultant in Entre-Deux-Mers.
They also pointed out that, with large surpluses of wine worldwide and a slump in sales because of the economic crisis, a smaller 2009 Bordeaux harvest might be welcome.
"That may be true overall," said M. Gapenne. "But it is no consolation if your own vines have been devastated."