“They buy Porsches and Ferraris, apartments in Royan or Miami…  And when the hailstorms arrive they shamelessly cry for aid,” so says Alain Philippe, the former director of the BNIC via Facebook on June 10, 2014.

I wish I’d read these false, derogatory remarks sooner, because I’d have taken photos of these so called ‘Charantaise Ferrari Wine Growers,’ who gathered in Pons today for a crisis meeting.

This follows the violent hailstorms of the last few days, particularly on the night of June 09, that have literally ruined the hopes of a good year’s harvest.  These storms have guaranteed that the (ambitious) target of 11.7 hectolitres of pure alcohol per hectare will not be achieved.

It appears that, according to initial estimates, nearly 10 per cent of the complete area of cognac vineyards have been ravaged.  That’s more than 7000 hectares…  The storm raced through the region in a 5 kilometre wide ‘avenue,’  attacking with winds and massive hailstones (some of which were still littering the ground 5 hours after the storm had passed).

As the daughter of a winemaker and a future that’s very much associated with Domaine de Birius in Petite Champagne, I took a tour of the vines the day after the event.  The foliage has been literally shredded and branches torn down.  However, the damage to our vines is less severe than that of other growers, some of who’ve had 100 per cent of their crops affected, meaning their vines will now not produce this year at all, and barely next year.

The image below depicts the scene a week after the event.  Severely damaged vines:

Cognac Vines Ravaged by Freak Hailstorms

So, what’s to be done now?  Well, the best (and, to be brutally honest, only..) solution is to wait until the vines begin to re-grow.  There is no treatment or curative measures.  Few wine growers are prepared for an event of such magnitude.  When this has happened in the past, the episodes tend to be limited to just a few plots or areas.  But this year it was not the case.

So will the victims of the storms be offered any financial compensation?  The meeting this morning was in order to clarify this very situation, and to meet Philippe (who was quoted at the beginning of the article).

Because vines are a crop that can be insured, there is not specific state aid in such a situation.  And the wine growers are well aware of this.  However, only a paltry 10 per cent actually insure their crops due to the fact that the price charged is prohibitive when weighed up against the actual compensation insurance provides.

Today in Pons the feeling was that of sadness and resignation.  In these challenging times our thoughts go out to the victims, their families and employees.

Written by Elodie, translated by Jacki

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Jacki has been with Cognac Expert from virtually the beginning. She's the senior editor of the blog, and has spent much of her life living in rural France. Today she's based back in the UK, where she splits her working life between writing for Cognac Expert and working as a Paramedic at a large regional hospital.

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