Hail is one of the vine’s worst enemies. A serious hailstorm can, in just instants, destroy an entire year of painstaking work by the winegrower. To mitigate the increasing risk, nets are now part of a panoply of measures used to combat hail.
Château Paloumey witnesses a hail shower
In the Haut-Médoc, July 15 was expected to be challenging, but the scale of the phenomenon surprised Pascal Lamarque, the Château's technical director. With leaves and grapes torn apart, 60 to 80% of the 24-hectare vineyard had been damaged, he told us. In the 24 years he's been at the estate, Pascal had never seen anything like it.
The previous hailstorm (May 26) had spared them, but was just 300 m away. The later in the season the damage occurs – or closer to harvesting – the more it will affect the quality and quantity of grapes harvested. However, the few remaining weeks could be enough for Paloumey's vines to overcome the damage. Fortunately, the vines, which are already 25 to 30 years old, had not undergone cluster thinning, a practice whereby a few clusters of young grapes are removed so that the plant can concentrate its energy on the remaining clusters. There is still hope, therefore, that the remaining bunches will develop more. Unfortunately, the tangible lack of water is not really making matters any easier!
At Château Paloumey, the crop is insured against hail, but not against frost. It is an expensive option, but one that will probably prove judicious in 2018.
Nets are now authorised
Long used for fruit production, nets were prohibited for quality French wines (appellations). Bones of contention included the impact of nets on increased sunlight on the clusters, their ability to allow air to circulate – often a prerequisite for healthy grapes – and their visual acceptability in vineyards where wine tourism is growing. The fundamental issue at stake was, do they lead to a modification in terroir? In June, appellation institute INAO said no, they do not. Its answer is based on three years of tests carried out mainly in Burgundy’s Chablis. The region, which has suffered significantly from hail in recent years, is indeed in desperate need of solutions.
It is now up to each appellation to ratify this decision so that winegrowers can install nets. The authorisation involves protection nets fitted along the vine rows, and not above them. They do allow for some vineyard management, including pruning of the foliage, spraying and tillage but of course they come at a cost.
Will Pascal Lamarque be introducing nets at Château Paloumey? “It is a possibility, we will discuss it with the owner of the chateau”, he says.
By Alain Echalier