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Golf Ball Sized Hailstones Ravage Famous French Wine Region

Golf Ball Sized Hailstones Ravage Famous French Wine Region

A cataclysmic hailstorm wreaked havoc on many vineyards in Chablis, the northernmost AOC in the famous French wine region of Burgundy Wednesday evening. This is the second weather blow for the local Chardonnay winegrowers and winemakers, after being hit with frost just a few days ago. Being a farmer is definitely not an easy job. They may not be dealing with a busy commute, or the hustle and bustle of city life, but they have their own kind of stress… Which they can’t do anything about because they are completely at the mercy of mother nature. Let’s take a closer look at what just happened.

Golf Ball Sized Hailstones Ravage Famous French Wine Region

Chablis:The Wine Region & Its Vineyards

Huge hailstones, the size of golf balls, rained down on the Yonne department, with Chablis particularly badly affected. Chablis is located at the north end of Burgundy, just below Champagne. The region only grows Chardonnay grapes and does not allow any other varietals in the four Chablis Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. The region’s cool climate produces a Chardonnay with more acidity and less fruitiness than Chardonnay wines grown in warmer parts of Burgundy.

Golf Ball Sized Hailstones Ravage Famous French Wine Region

The recently affected vineyards were young vines that could not resist the sheer power of the storm. The storm passed through the entire area and did not spare the local vineyards, leaving behind shattered parcels. Some winemakers lost their entire harvest, according to French television network France2.

Supercell Storm: A Weather Phenomenon

I spent part of my childhood in France and thunderstorms are very common this time of year. They bring intense rainfall and large hailstones. We call them ‘giboulées’ – less thrillingly known as showers in English. But Météo-France said what happened on May 1st was “particularly virulent.” It was what meteorologists refer to as a supercell storm, during which hailstones can be more numerous and much bigger. That phenomenon occurs when the rising hot air doesn’t feel any resistance from the cold air. Warm streams rotate and change intensity as they gain altitude, which transforms the hot air at the heart of the cloud into a whirlwind, a much more powerful dynamic which allows the hailstones to grow bigger. Furthermore, those storms can grow as big as 20 miles in diameter.

Grapevines: The Damages & The Loss

“Grapevines froze during a sharp drop in temperatures last week, and now hailstones… Everything is destroyed!” Eric Crochet, a winegrower, told France2. The hailstorm tore down 47 acres of Eric’s estate. He reported to the news crew an estimated financial loss at €400,000. Though those administrative procedures take time, Eric is hoping to get some monetary compensations from the government.

Golf Ball Sized Hailstones Ravage Famous French Wine Region

Shortly after the storm, French agriculture minister Marc Fesneau shared on X his “full support to the Chablis winegrowers who have been hit hard by this exceptional episode. As of this morning, our services, which I thank, are mobilized to assess, support and identify the support levers that can be mobilized.”

Wine Ponder Logo – Grape OnlyMay 3rd News Report: According to the latest reports from local wine professionals, the recent hailstorm has destroyed 25% of the entire region of Chablis. Angélique Boudin, a winemaker from the Chantemerle Domain, has lost 80% of her entire crop for 2024. She and her team probably won’t harvest anything this year. She said “It’ll take the vineyards two years to start producing again.”

Winegrowers & Winemakers: The Dedication

Will prices of Chablis go up for the 2024 vintage due to shortage? Probably not. Chablis is home to 364 wine estates and its actual area under vine is about 14,000 acres. Chablis sells roughly 38 million bottles of Chardonnay wine every year, generating an estimated $340 million turnover, according to the Burgundy wine association. That’s not too shabby! Moreover, the region allows winemakers to stockpile a certain percentage of old vintages. Wineries can sell the stock later to help compensate years of low production. Though the recent storm ruined many crops, Chablis as a whole will survive this incident and continue to prosper, as it always has.

Extreme weather patterns, including drought and heat as well as frost and hailstorms are a growing concern, and they are having a devastating impact on the wine industry. Many winegrowers and winemakers are under constant pressure partially due to the unknown. Their livelihood depends on the success of their craft, but so much remains out of their control. And yet, many of them remain hopeful. Winegrowers and winemakers alike are generally quite combative. They always find the solutions that allow them to produce a way of life, and for that I am eternally grateful.

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