The modern answer to hail damage

  • French vineyard owners got the green light to use hail nets last year — at a cost of about $10,000 per acre

    French vineyard owners got the green light to use hail nets last year — at a cost of about $10,000 per acre

I first saw anti-hail nets while visiting Mendoza, Argentina. They were on frames that ran along the vine rows and could swing open, rather like an Andean condor spreading its 5ft wings (10ft span).

When not in use, they folded up vertically and this protection has reduced fruit damage by about 80 per cent during storms.

Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine refers to many hundreds of millions of euros of hail damage done to crops in France each year and the fact that climate change is making it worse. (Please note that I use the term climate change and not global warming.)

It is my understanding that French vineyard owners were not allowed to use nets, but in the summer of last year these devices got the green light; at a cost of about $10,000 per acre it remains to be seen how many will be installed.

In March of last year, hail storms in the Rhône Valley destroyed about 30 per cent of the vine buds and this week we have an e-mail from one of our suppliers that talks of up to 70 per cent damage in some vineyards this June. Vignerons have financial responsibilities and so they will up their prices to compensate. I suggest that it could be a good time to stock up on a few Rhône wines — and we have them.

Recently, I wrote about Penfolds of Australia and mentioned that Drinks International selected them as the number one winery in the world. On that top-50 list, Michel Chapoutier, of the Rhône Valley in France, placed fifth overall — the highest spot for any in that great wine country.

During the 19th century an Austrian scientist, Rudolf Steiner, laid the groundwork for biodynamics. His idea was simple: a plant never lives alone, it belongs to an ecosystem. It finds nutrition in the ground and, if it grows, with the energy provided by light.

It sounds simple, but it was a revelation at its time. In 1991, Chapoutier made the decisive choice to apply these biodynamical methods to the vine. This was questioned by many, but he remained confident about one thing: he would reveal the truth of his terroirs.

I like to think of biodynamics as not only doing no harm to our precious planet, but also restoring and healing soils that, in some cases, have given their all for many centuries of vine cultivation and lost some of their individuality and sense of place (some would say “soul”).

What could be better on a hot summer day than Chapoutier Domaine des Granges De Mirabel 2016 Viognier? It has a quite deep greenish-yellow colour and lovely nose of apricot, pear and marmalade; roundness and freshness are characteristic of the volcanic soils on which it grows. Made in stainless steel and with yeasts naturally occurring in the vineyard. $24.55.

Another very reasonably priced offering is our 2017 Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche at $20.35. This blend of 60 per cent grenache and 40 per cent syrah is a deep red garnet colour and shows intense aromas of blackcurrant and raspberry complemented by notes of white pepper.

In the mouth, this wine is juicy, powerful and fruity with red fruits and lovely roasted notes. The mouthfeel is accompanied by silky and delicate tannins. James Suckling gives it an 89/100 and refers to a bright, easygoing style.

Chapoutier 2017 Gigondas is in an area that can ripen slightly later than its famous neighbour, but it can show the seriousness and authority of Châteauneuf du Pape.

Wine critic Robert Parker rates it an impressive 90-92/100, which indicates that it will get better with age. With 70 per cent grenache along with mourvèdre and syrah, there are mocha and meaty notes along with plum, cola and dried spices. This is a big wine. $36.80.

Although I recently wrote about Châteauneuf du Pape, I cannot finish without mentioning Chapoutier la Bernadine 2015 Chateauneuf du Pape. In fact, I will ask Parker to do it: “The entry-level Châteauneuf du Pape release is the 2015 Châteauneuf du Pape La Bernardine, which is a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre that was completely destemmed and will be brought up all in concrete tanks. This ruby/purple-coloured beauty gives up lots of black raspberry, garrigue and floral aromas and flavours to go with a medium to full-bodied, impressively concentrated, impeccably balanced profile on the palate. It’s another 2015 that might be a best to date, and it will shine right out of the gate.”

I should add that Chapoutier makes quite a few of the very top wines in this category and hence Parker refers to “entry level”. $47.40.

One reader kindly pointed out to me in an e-mail this past week that they cannot always find what I write about in our Burrows Lightbourn stores and asked why he could not find them at Discovery Wines either. The truth is that we each have our own unique wines, but also carry some of both in all our stores. I am doing my best to write a week ahead of publication to give more time for our stores to react.

That’s it for now, but we are considering adding to Burrows Lightbourn some of the fine Rhône wines that Discovery Wines has, such as Delas, Domaine de Pegau, Jean Louis Chave and Laurence Feraud.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit

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Published Jul 19, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 19, 2019 at 8:13 am)

The modern answer to hail damage

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