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Bordeaux and Cognac regions devastated by hailstorms

Over 17,000 hectares of vineyards in the Bordelais and Charente-Cognac wine-growing regions have been confirmed as destroyed after devastating hailstorms hit the region.

Winemakers in the area have confirmed that over 7,100 of Bordelais vines, and over 10,000 in the Charente-Cognac valley were destroyed by violent hailstorms and thunder last week.

The damage comes one year after unseasonal frost damaged the same region in April 2017, and with many winemakers already suffering the effects of excess rain and low yield in 2016-2017.

More than half of all vineyards in Blaye and Bourg, to the north of Gironde, were affected, accounting for 5,500 hectares.

Over 1,200 hectares in the region south of Médoc, which had already suffered bad hail on March 21, were also affected, as were 400 hectares in Entre-Deux-Mers east of Gironde.

Of this, over 3,400 hectares saw destruction of up to 80%, according to estimates by Cognac board, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC).

The Charentais vineyards stretch across 78,000 hectares, of which a full 72,000 will go to make the famous Cognac liqueur.

Around 500 vineyard owners have been affected to differing degrees - including some whose vines have been “completely chopped up, ravaged and destroyed, with some looking as though it is the middle of winter”, said Christophe Château, communications director of Bordeaux wine council, the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB).

One winemaker, Hervé Descouvières, owner of the Château Macay in the Côtes de Bourg region, who has lost nearly all of his 26-hectare crop, told news source 20 Minutes that the hail had wiped out over six months’ of work.

He said: “Everything will dry out and fall to the ground. You would think it was October.”

He, like many others in his position, does not have insurance for adverse weather, because it is “too expensive for us”.

The grower, who usually sells 180,000 bottles per year at between €3-8 before tax, said: “We cannot take out this kind of insurance. The prices we have to sell our wines for do not allow us to do so.”

Mr Descouvières said that he was already in a bad position after last year’s frost, which saw him lose 20-25% of his production, and the heavy rain of 2013, which also damaged the harvest.

He said: “Every year, something happens, and this repetition really causes problems. If we are able to get back 50-60% of what we have lost by 2019, we will be happy. It will take a lot of manual work, lots of time, and be expensive.”

He is hoping that the region’s trade body, Le Négoce de Bordeaux, will step in to help, with the possibility of goverment subsidies to prop up the stricken region.

He said: “What is going to happen if we have nothing to sell?”

On Sunday, Gironde department president, Jean-Luc Gleyze, said in a press release that he would "give all of [Gironde's] support to winemakers who have suffered".

The last bad hailstorm episode in the area happened in August 2013, which affected 22,000 hectares, and came after years of bad rain and a 2017 harvest that was down by 40% compared to 2016.

And yet, Hervé Grandeau, president of Bordeaux wine federation La Fédération des Grands Vins de Bordeaux (FGVB), who called a meeting with the most-affected winemakers, sought to play down the extent of the damage.

He said: “Although this is terrible for those affected, this [damage] is not comparable to the frost we had last year.

“Today we are talking about 4-5% of the Bordelais vineyards, and not the 40-50% or even 80% that were affected last year.”

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