Hail as big as golf balls ripped apart the 2018 vintage in French vineyards as violent storms tore through the country. In Portugal, heavy rains drowned Douro Port producers, dumping 10% of the region’s annual rainfall in about an hour.
A series of storms ravaged vineyards as far apart as Bordeaux and Cognac in the southwest, and Champagne in the northeast. The threat of hail is expected to continue.
Growers in both countries sought their governments’ help. In France, the agricultural minister promised to aid the wine producers. In Portugal, a team from the Ministry of Agriculture was sent to the area to assess the damage.
The worst hit producers were in Bordeaux on May 21 and 27, as the storm left between 5% and 6% of the total vineyard area damaged. Estimates vary, but have centered on 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres), which covers damage to both Bordeaux and Cognac.
In some cases, the hail hit the same vineyards where crops were lost to the spring frosts of 2017, meaning that some growers lost crops two years in a row, according to Vins de Bordeaux (Bordeaux Wine Council).
Hervé Grandeau, president of the Fédération of Grand Vins de Bordeaux, which unites all the appellations of the Bordeaux wine region, told Wine Enthusiast, “Unless they have insurance, these growers will be seriously hit financially, and some may have to sell up.” His organization has demanded financial assistance from the government and local authorities.
In Champagne, the storms damaged 1,800 hectares (4,500 acres), of which 1,000 (2,471 acres) have been 100% destroyed, the Champagne Wine Council’s spokesman said.
“Freak Storm” Hits Douro
“We had a freak storm that hit the Douro valley on Monday afternoon, dumping an extraordinary amount of rain starting from 5:45 p.m. and ending around 9 p.m.,” Rupert Symington of Symington Family Estates told Wine Enthusiast in an email. It was “the heaviest (rainfall) in living memory for this time of year,” he wrote.
“On the higher elevations, the rain turned quickly into hail and has done considerable damage to my cousin Paul’s Netas and Alvito vineyards near Provesende (over 50% of the potential crop is expected to have been lost), and reportedly also in Quinta do Noval on the opposite side of the valley,” Symington said, adding. “At Warre’s Cavadinha there has apparently been less severe damage to the vines, but many roads are still impassable, and we cannot fully assess the impact on the vineyards at this stage.”
Adrian Bridge, CEO of Fladgate Partnership, the producers of Croft, Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca, said, “We were hit worst at Quinta do Junco where we had 74mm (2.91 inches) of rain in one hour out of 84.8 (millimeters or 3.3 inches) that fell that day. This is about 10% of (our) annual rainfall coming in one hour…
“It is probable that the one hour of rain cost us about 400,000 euros ($466,475) in losses, damages to land and infrastructure,” he estimated. “We are lucky in that as a big company we have resources, but many small farmers are counting a loss that has wiped them out for the year.”