On 1st September a violent hailstorm struck both St Estephe in the Medoc and 30km around Branne/Grezeillac in Entre Deux Mers (including southern St Emilion). The storm lasted 20 minutes but caused devastation at its epi-centre with hailstorms the size of eggs stripping leaves and slashing grapes on the bunches. Here up to half of the harvest has been lost in some cases and some producers have been forced to harvest immediately.
In the St Emilion communes of St Laurent des Combes, St Sulpice and Vignonnet the damage was less but grapes on many bunches were slashed open. Here the hail stones were between the size of a walnut and a marble. The foilage helped to protect the grapes in many cases (if not too many leaves were removed during “effeuillage” leaf-pulling). The photo shows the slight hail damage on Merlot in a vineyard in St Laurent de Combes (the Cabernet grapes suffered more as the leaves are smaller and do not offer the same protection).
The fear for everyone now is rot, botrytis which feeds on the sugar in the open grapes, its grey fur quickly spreading through the bunch. If this begins to happen, vigerons have no choice but to harvest quickly and carry out extensive sorting in the cellar.
Fortunately with the very hot June experienced this year, which started the ripening period extra early, harvest is predicted to be 10 to 15 days early around mid-september. So this is good news. Despite an inclement July sugar levels are already high enough to give a potential alcohol of around 12° but acidity levels are still high (5 g/litre total acidity) for grapes in the communes of St Emilion affected. This needs to come down before picking starts ideally. So still good potential. For the next two weeks producers will be walking their vines and studying their grapes to see the effect of the hail. They have to be ready to react quickly. It may be a duel between rot and ripeness…….that depends on the weather. Need the sunshine to finish off the ripening but not too much heat which favours the botrytis!