Choppering across sections of the French vineyards, this weekend’s hailstorms are throwing those who were hoping to stock up on grapes and wine back into the spiral of harvesting nothing. After having hit the vines of Bordeaux and Bergerac, the hailstones have just knocked down the growing leaves and budding bunches of the next harvest in new plots, particularly in Gers, Landes and Indre-et. -Loire (the feedback on hail damage is far from exhaustive to date, but the vines of Burgundy and Champagne would be spared).
This Saturday, June 5, several storms hit the vineyards of the Loire Valley where, it seems that the Vouvray, Bourgueil, Chinon and Azay-le-Rideau appellations were affected to varying degrees by hail. “This is a major incident in several municipalities” indicates Benoît Gautier, the president of the Federation of Wine Associations of Indre-et-Loire (FAV 37), who underlines that it is currently difficult to advance harvest losses (hail mixed with rain having chopped the chopped foliage , with damage to bunches still difficult to estimate).
Making an appointment with the prefecture, the winemaker is already ranting: “this is the third vintage in a row where there is a small harvest. It risks bringing despair, there is a fed up effect with the succession of frost and hail”. Reassembled, Benoît Gautier calls for awareness: “The fight against hail is not only up to winegrowers, it benefits local authorities and insurers have everything to gain from it. You have to invest in diffusers and organize real protection. I am annoyed, we have been fighting for years and that with each disaster we are told that we should have anticipated. We are in the thick of it, let’s act! »
Same exasperation in the South-West, where on the evening of this Friday June 3, hailstones reduced the vegetation of thousands of hectares to nothing in Gascony, in the Gers and the Landes.. ” It was apocalyptic, with hailstones like marbles, without water. The storm came up from the great Bas Armagnac to Condom » sighs Patrick Farbos, president of the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac, who reports substantial losses (on the vines, but also on corn and sunflower). “The damage is impressive, there are plots of vines where there is nothing left. In the ground, we see the impacts of hailstones” indicates the president of the cooperative cellar of Hauts de Montrouge (Nogaro), stressing that the“We didn’t need that. Armagnac production is once again compromised. »
Peeled and scraped
If the AOC Armagnac is very affected, the IGP Côtes de Gascogne is also. “It’s terrible: peeled and scraped” reports Joël Boueilh, the president of the section of the Vignerons Coacteurs de la Coopération Agricole, who knows the vineyards of the South-West well (being based in Saint-Mont, which was spared). Evoking 3 to 4,000 hectares affected to varying degrees, the winegrower testifies to real bad luck: “We had a favorable commercial dynamic on the Côtes de Gascogne. We were hoping for a 2022 vintage that arrives earlier and is more generous [après le très petit millésime 2021, gelé] “. While the hail would have affected emblematic domains of the IGP known for its aromatic white wines, this means that the delivery allocation and restriction systems will continue: “we will no longer be able to deliver to certain customers” underlines the former president of the cooperative cellar of Plaimont. But before the market losses, it is the loss of funds that worries in the vineyard, generally less well insured for more money.
“If ever we don’t manage to make it through the year, it will be the fault of the insurers. They pressured and changed the terms of our contracts (increase in contributions, deductible increased from 10 to 20%, no redemption of yield, etc.)” David Piquemal poses bluntly, from the Danis estate (40 hectares of vines in Castelnau d’Auzan, in the Gers). Reporting 100% loss, the winemaker is now walking through vines that seem to have been pruned: “It’s winter honestly. It will grow back, but I will have losses the following year, as the floral induction takes place in June and July. » With this nil harvest looming, the Olympic average in his field will further reduce his insurable production potential. In 2022, “when you remove the best and the worst from my last five years of production, there is always one left at -85% production… I have a production potential of 80 to 100 hl/ha and I guarantee 40 to 50 hl/ha this year. It does not cover my production costs: if the margins of the vineyard were 50%, it would be known! » coldly indicates David Piquemal.
“When the insurance system does not even cover production costs, that is no longer possible” confirms Jérôme Despey, the president of the specialized wine council of FranceAgriMer. For the Hérault winemaker, “We can no longer conceal with climate change that the Olympic average is no longer suitable. Given the magnitude of the impacts (it’s really an earthquake for the winegrowers affected), there must be a response from the government and the European Union on the Olympic average at the time when there is reform of the insurance system . »
Almost zero compensation
Privileging their financial balances to the management of a growing risk, the calculation of the insurers to have projected themselves on the new climate insurance system planned for 2023 by skipping the transition year 2022 is “an unforgivable mistake. They failed by not maintaining the purchase options of price, deductible, yield… There will be a destructive effect on the shock absorber that is multi-risk insurance” regrets Jean-Marie Fabre, the president of the independent winegrowers of France, for whom “Winegrowers today insured and affected by hail will not have a level of compensation allowing them to pass the course. It is a year where people who have paid for insurance and have been affected by hazards will have almost zero compensation. »
The Fitou winegrower’s dismay is all the stronger because for him the scenario was predictable for him: “The exceptional year will become one without climatic hazards”. Calling for a paradigm shift by modifying the international texts on the calculation of historical reference production (otherwise the reform of climate insurance will remain “a beautiful car, with a beautiful body, but without the engine adapted to move forward”), Jean Marie Fabre invites the executive to invest massively in crop protection: “We are exhausting the solutions (exemptions from social security contributions, suspension of taxes on unbuilt land, etc.), but these are only palliatives. The billion euros mobilized last year for frost must be put on the table again to equip ourselves over the next few years with equipment for prevention and protection against hail (with cannons, balloons or nets, etc.) but also against frost and lack of water (hill reservoirs, connections to irrigation, deployment of drips, etc.). » The paradox is indeed that while some vineyards have just been hit by downpours, others have been waiting for rain for months, from Provence to Alsace.
“Hardly has the vine ‘passed flower’; the future harvest covers the hillside; but it seems that she is there like those young beasts that the hunter ties up and abandons in the darkness to attract wild animals; roaring clouds revolve around the offered vines” writes with accuracy François Mauriac in the Knot of Vipers (published in 1932). Photos by David Piquemal.